For Antarctic explorers the hidden crevasse is the mortal enemy.
It lies in wait, ready to devour a man, his sled and his team of dogs.
In late 1913 Douglas Mawson, with Lieutenant Ninnis and Dr.Mertz left Commonwealth Bay. Their intention was to explore an unchartered part of the Antarctic.
The trip had been arduous but generally successful. The group was within a day or two of heading back to base when disaster struck.
Mertz was in the lead on skis, followed by Mawson on the first dog sled. Ninnis brought up the rear. The two in front successfully crossed a crevasse. Ninnis did not.
Without warning and without a sound, except a whine from one of the dogs, Lieutenant Ninnis and the seven dogs vanished into a gaping hole.
Mertz and Mawson were devastated. A friend, companion and boundless explorer was lost in a flash.
After hours of calling down a hole with no bottom they faced the inevitable – their friend was gone.
Not only had they lost a friend. They lost the dogs and the sled.
All three explorers had been aware they could lose a sled down a crevasse.
Mawson had taken the lead. He expected it would be the lead sled that would fall down any holes. His sled was in the lead with the weaker dogs and the less vital supplies. He and his dogs were the test case.
Ninnis’s sled, on the other hand, carried all the food for the dogs. His sled also contained most of the men’s food. It had the tent, floor-cloth, poles, the spade, ice-axe, mugs, spoons and some dry clothes.
With the loss of the third sled, Mawson and Mertz were still weeks from home. They only had 10 days of very meagre supplies.
They travelled as light as they could, going as fast as possible. But they were in the home of blizzards. Winds of more than 160 km/h (100 mph) were not uncommon.
To survive they were forced to eat their dogs. But the dogs, by this stage, were totally emaciated. They were virtually skin and bone.
The liver was the most digestible part of the carcass. Unbeknown to the explorers the dogs’ livers were high in vitamin A. This would prove toxic to Mertz.
On January 7th he fell into delirium. He died hours later.
Mawson was alone. He trudged on. Conditions were treacherous. When he examined his foot Mawson found the sole had separated completely from his foot.
Resolute, determined, he kept walking.
Then it happened! He fell into a crevasse himself.
Fortunately he was tied to the sled. It snared in the snow-drift. It held him, leaving him dangling in space.
He struggled to climb out but as he pulled himself onto the lip of the crevasse, he fell in again, repeatedly.
Exhausted and beaten, he felt how easy it would be to slip from his harness bringing it all to an end.
One More Try!
Douglas Mawson would later write:
Remembering how far Providence had miraculously brought me so far, I felt that nothing was impossible. I determined to act up to the Service’s lines:
Just have one more try, it’s easy to die. It’s the keeping-on living that’s hard.
With that he summoned all his strength and climbed out of the hole.
You can’t help falling in a hole. It’s part of the human condition. It’s part and parcel of trying to get ahead. The question is whether it is worth one more try!
© “Release the Giant” 2019 well imagine that pty/ltd