It was known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.
Adventurers from all over the world flocked to the frozen continent. Their blood raged at the idea of new expeditions. Nothing could stop them from embarking on the path of the unknown.
Some made it out alive to tell their stories while many perished under the wrath of nature.
But one man’s shocking story of survival stood out like a red flag in snow.
His name was Douglas Mawson and he was a brave, brave man.
Heck, that’s an understatement. The fact that he refused to die in his worst battle with hopelessness and sickness still seems like a miracle.
Here’s Mawson’s unbelievable journey through hell and back.
It was 1912. Dawson was part of a sledging team with two other men. They set the main base and kick-started their expedition.
But little did they know that the spot they had chosen happened to be one of the windiest places in the world.
The team erected a makeshift hut and got down to business nonetheless, battling monstrous blizzards throughout winter.
When November arrived along with better weather, Mawson and his companions, Xavier Mertz and Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis, continued their survey. They made excellent time and progress initially.
But then a horrific tragedy struck.
Mawson and Ninnis were manning their individual sleds pulled by huskies and Mertz was skiing ahead of them. All was well.
Suddenly, everything fell apart.
Mawson and Mertz stared in bewilderment as they realised that Ninnis had disappeared from the scene.
To their horror, they found out that he had fallen through a 165-foot deep crevasse that swallowed the sled, six dogs, tents, all their food and other essential supplies as well.
They huddled around the 11-foot hole, desperately calling out for their fallen partner, but it was all in vain. There was no response. They had lost him. Only one dead dog could be seen.
Shaking in shock, they said their prayers and headed back to save their own lives. They had enough provisions for a week.
So, they made a 27-hour journey to obtain their spare tent and improvised it using sled pieces as the frame.
Now, the men didn’t have anything to eat, let alone feed the dogs. Soon, the dogs started collapsing in exhaustion. Their dead bodies then became food for those who were still breathing.
Desperate times really do call for desperate measures.
Then began a worse bout of struggle.
Mawson and Mertz didn’t know that Husky liver contains high levels of vitamin A that can be fatal to humans. The two had consumed almost 6 livers.
Soon, the impact started showing, especially on Mertz. He suffered from severe seizers and turned delusional. Mawson had to physically hold him down to control him. He refused to eat or drink.
There came a point when Mertz was incapable of moving forward. He stayed in his sleeping bag and eventually slipped into a coma before passing away.
Mawson buried him in the snow, leaving behind a note explaining what happened.
Now, Mawson was entirely alone in the brutal icy lands.
He too was on the verge of giving up. His condition was a living nightmare. His body was covered in open sores and his skin was falling off.
Eventually, the soles of his feet fell away too. But Mawson taped them back using socks and soldiered on.
Such was his amazing willpower to carry on.
But Mawson was yet to face more.
Aurora, their relief ship, was scheduled to return for the team on 15th January 1914. Mawson mustered his last reserve of determination to make it.
On the way, a freak accident resulted in Mawson hanging over a deep crevasse on his sled, clutching onto the harness rope for life. He dangled for a while, tempted to let go and just end his long suffering.
He was drained; emotionally, physically and mentally. He was about to untie himself and fall to his death when he mustered courage one final time. He used the remaining energy in his body and miraculously hoisted himself out of danger.
Then, he rushed to catch Aurora so he could go home.
But he missed the ship. Just by a few hours. It had waited for the three men for days before harsh weather conditions forced the crew to return.
Mawson’s last shred of hope vanished into the biting cold.
But Mawson was not destined to breathe his last in the snow scape.
Incredibly, six colleagues had volunteered to stay behind to find the missing group.
And they found Mawson. Later in life, Mawson took his time to recover from the ordeal.
He went on to marry and make a family. He wrote about his gruelling experiences. He was knighted and awarded other laurels for his undiminished bravery. He served as a Major and became a professor. He’s on an Australian note.
But most importantly, he lived a wholesome life after that.
He died at the age of 76. And just in case you wonder, yes, he did return to Antarctica one more time.
Douglas Mawson wasn’t afraid of anything. In the epic battle between man and nature, he won, and how!