Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Explorationby David Roberts
On January 17, 1913, alone and near starvation, Douglas Mawson, leader of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, was hauling a sledge to get back to base camp. The dogs were gone. Now Mawson himself plunged through a snow bridge, dangling over an
His two companions dead, food and supplies vanished in a crevasse, Douglas Mawson was still one hundred miles from camp.
On January 17, 1913, alone and near starvation, Douglas Mawson, leader of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, was hauling a sledge to get back to base camp. The dogs were gone. Now Mawson himself plunged through a snow bridge, dangling over an abyss by the sledge harness. A line of poetry gave him the will to haul himself back to the surface.
Mawson was sometimes reduced to crawling, and one night he discovered that the soles of his feet had completely detached from the flesh beneath. On February 8, when he staggered back to base, his features unrecognizably skeletal, the first teammate to reach him blurted out, “Which one are you?”
This thrilling and almost unbelievable account establishes Mawson in his rightful place as one of the greatest polar explorers and expedition leaders. It is illustrated by a trove of Frank Hurley’s famous Antarctic photographs, many never before published in the United States.
- Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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- 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Meet the Author
David Roberts is the author of, most recently The Lost World of the Old Ones, among twenty-six books about mountaineering, exploration, adventure, and Western history and anthropology.
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“Giving respect to the golden age of exploration.” David Roberts book, Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration is a thoroughly fascinating and tremendously exhaustive account (for both the reader, as it most certainly was for Mr. Roberts) of the story of the Australian geologist, Antarctic explorer and Academic Sir Douglas Mawson. Many will recall the exploits of Roald Amundsen, leader of the Antarctic expedition (1910-12) to discover the South Pole along with numerous other arctic exploits, Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition (1910-13), which took the lives of Scott and four comrades, and Ernest Shackleton’s ‘heroic’ account of his Endurance Expedition (1914-17), which has perhaps become the most widely known account of an amazing sequence of events and the ultimate escape from death by an expedition in the Antarctic with no loss of life. Two films have been made of this epic drama, and a museum display with actual film footage shot during the expedition has been on the museum circuit around the world. I saw it while I lived in Anchorage, Alaska. Yet, the story of Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911-13), though written about several times prior to this book, has finally been told by Mr. Roberts in his usual expertise and in a most thorough manner, documenting yes “The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration.” The cast of characters covered in this book is overwhelming from the expedition members who accompanied Mawson, to the explorers before and after, to the loved ones who waited for their return, to the offspring and friends of those pioneers who lived to a ripe old age, and who were able to provide tidbits of information related to this magnificent adventure. Mr. Roberts has done a most thorough job of relating the facts, and he has done it in such a manner the reader feels compelled to hear the whole story long after Mawson’s ‘survival tale’ has been told, which is not the climax his book. I believe Mr. Roberts has done so to bring this story into the limelight of today’s so-called elite adventurers, who often seem more interested in pursuing a career as an adventurer solely to support their own adventures. One such modern day athlete, in the context of Mr. Robert’s book chooses to recreate Mawson’s journey, and at the same time have the whole thing filmed and made into a television show, comparing what was done in the ‘golden days’ of Antarctic exploration with what the modern explorer under simulated circumstances could achieve today. It is an interesting paradox, which Mr. Roberts seems to be toying with. Perhaps today’s adventurers as well as their admirers have lost perspective, and for whatever reason have tried to push the envelope beyond the exploits of those men in whose footsteps they now follow. I am one of those ‘modern day’ explorers, who attempted to follow in the footsteps of those pioneer explorers on Mount McKinley in 1910-1913, ironically during the same time frame that Douglas Mawson and his team of hearty explorers were attempting their miraculous expedition. I am still in awe of what those golden age explorers accomplished, and because of my experiences during a mere 68-day expedition on Denali, my respect and admiration for what those men achieved will be with me until the day I die. My admiration for writers like David Roberts is also felt in a similar vein, since Mr. Robert’s life has not only been dedicated to a life of exploration and adventure, he has more importantly taken the time to document and record the fascinating history of those men and women, in whose footsteps he and other modern day adventurers have chosen to follow. Jeffrey T. Babcock, author Should I Not Return
In "Alone on the Ice," David Roberts tells the true story of what Sir Edmund Hillary called "the greatest survival story in the history of exploration." Hillary was referring to the 1912 expedition of Australian explorer Douglas Mawson and his fellow members of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE). Mawson and cohorts set out to explore Antarctica with the intention of gathering specimens and to make scientific observations of the continent. What has left Mawson's considerable accomplishments and amazing survival story obscured by the layers of newsprint and time is--unlike Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott--he wasn't a pole bagger. Mawson, never grabbed headlines by "summiting" the south pole. Mawson and the AAE's expedition went virtually unnoticed by the public. Now, at the 100th year anniversary of the expedition, Roberts tells the story of Mawson, alone after his companions had died during the expedition, an expedition that saw them trek over 600 miles round trip while being face with 100 miles per hour winds, and left with little of their original provisions. Left as a lone explorer, Mawson was forced to make a ninety-five mile trek across the Antarctic Ice while battling extreme hunger, madness, and the deadly terrain of the continent. During his trek Mawson often had to crawl as a result of losing the flesh from the soles of his feet. And at one point, he fell into a deadly crevice that would have likely killed almost anyone else. However, Mawson, inspired by a poem by Robert. W. Service, was able to extricate himself out of the crevice with what could only be considered superhuman strength, determination, and extraordinary will. Roberts tells Mawson's story well and has seemingly done his research thorough, including some great, rarely-seen photos (one of an iced-over face is bizarre, as is the shot of an explorer's contortions to stay upright in a 100-mile an hour wind). The photos are by Frank Hurley, who is famous from his Endurance photos. In sum, this is a very engaging read. Robert's detailed description of Mawson's determination, perseverance, and courage gives Mawson the heroic recognition while provided classic adventure story entertainment. In this genre, I'd also recommend Endurance about the Shakleton expedition and the lesser known Arctic Adventure: My Life in the Frozen North (which was a classic in its day). Like Alone on the Ice, Arctic Adventure has plenty of good adventure, but it also gives unique insight into Eskimo culture. The author lived among the Eskimo for 15 years and had an Eskimo wife and two kids. He really got an insiders view of the culture, which is fascinating because developed in the harshest environment any humans live in, it is an interesting mix of harsh and generous.
Alone On The Ice by David Roberts is a book about the arctic adventures of Sir Douglas Mawson. The book focuses on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Mawson, where he and his two companions, Metz and Ninnis, aim to map out the last “Terra Incognita”, or unknown land in Antarctica, the region directly below australia. It was Mawson’s dream to explore the last region of the world unseen by human eyes, a dream which he would fulfill alone. The book goes into detail about Mawson’s earlier experience in Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition or the British Antarctic Expedition, where he reached what he thought was the magnetic south pole. Also, It bridges the gaps between expeditions with detailed backstory. The continuing theme in this book is the all too familiar tale of the stubborn human spirit. This is demonstrated by the many people in the company of Mawson that continually trudged through the unimaginably harsh antarctic landscape, unrelenting ‘till death took them. By Ernest Shackleton, in his years of fundraising and paying off debts for the expeditions. By Sir Douglas Mawson, who escaped an icy death by sheer force of will. This you will find in all survival books, and it never disappoints. The books initially starts off the reader at the dawn of Mawson’s AAE to find uncharted land. The reader gets a look into the characters’ personalities and relationships with each other, as well as how the worked together to cross the antarctic terrain. Their journey becomes more and more perilous and exciting for the reader, leading up to the death of one of the explorers. After this, the story abruptly cuts off, and it transitions to the story of how Mawson’s early life and how he first joins Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition. In this contains exciting tales of its own, but in the back of one’s mind the reader cannot help but wonder how the first story will play out. Perhaps the book would be better with two clearly defined stories, following one another. On the other hand, this could be seen as a strategy to keep the reader glued to the book so he can discover what the fate of Mawson and his men was. Continuing from the last point, Roberts can get a little too detailed in some areas. The detail is mostly relevant to the story, but can get a little too specific. The reader may often find himself absorbing too much information to sort out coherently. However, In some areas, this adds to the book, such as when the explorers discovers the ice formations inside the antarctic volcano, evoking a sense of wonder in the reader. This is the perfect book for someone who wants to learn about the life and Sir Douglas Mawson, or more about “The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration”. While this book is exciting, some readers may find the pace a bit too slow and the tone a bit too formal. Readers looking for a more personal and fast paced book should read Surviving The Extremes by Kenneth Kamler, a doctor who gives a first hand account of the mental and physical stresses of many survival situations. By all means, Alone On The Ice is a worthwhile read, and if you are interested in the genre, pick it up.