Survival Stories #8: Douglas Mawson

August 11, 2009

I'm Cade Courtley, Navy SEAL and host of Spike TV’s Surviving Disaster. I've heard a lot of great survival accounts over the years.  However, these 10 individual narratives represent true self-preservation through instinct, and a never-say-die attitude. This list is a chronicle--a testament--of what I find most impressive in defining true individual strength and human perseverance.  These few did not just lead to legend, but more importantly and most basic, survival.

For some men the world has no boundaries, and this was definitely the case for Sir Douglas Mawson. An Australian geologist with plenty of guts and, apparently, a superhuman immunity to cold temperatures, Mawson went where no man had gone before--and survived.

In 1912 Mawson and two other men, Xavier Mertz and Lieutenant B. E. S. Ninnis, went on an exploration of Antarctica. Trekking through snow blasts and winds of up to 200 miles per hour, Mawson, Mertz, and Ninnis moved across what became known as the Ninnis Glacier. Mawson and Mertz moved easily across a crevasse ice cap on sled and skis, but Ninnis jogged over it and found it wasn’t comprised of load-bearing material. He, the six strongest dogs, his sled, their tent, and most of the food plunged into an infinite abyss.

Mawson took care of Mertz for much of the 315-mile trek back to the home camp, killing the remaining dogs one by one and feeding Mertz the meat. At one point Mawson even dragged Mertz on the sled himself, taking care of him until he finally died.

At no point did the South Pole relent in its onslaught. During his journey back to the main base Mawson, too, fell into a crevasse and would have died like his friend but for his sled, which had miraculously become wedged between the two walls of ice. He pulled himself to the edge of the crevasse, lost his grip and fell again. He only managed to scramble out on his second attempt. Mawson was tenacious, and it saved his life.

When Mawson made it back to base, his ride home had just begun to head out to sea, but it was unable to return for him due to--surprise, surprise--icy conditions. He spent yet another year at the frigid main base before he was finally able to go back to the warmer world.

Australia did not let Mawson’s brave feats go unrecognized. From 1984 to 1996 his face graced the 100-dollar bill. Now there’s a man worthy of gracing the C-note.

Stay tuned to as I’ll be unveiling the top 10 most inspiring survival stories one-by-one over the following weeks.



Want more? Check out Survival Story #7: Black Hawk Down/The Battle of Mogadishu


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