Hard Working Traditional Values With A Dash of Fun

Hard Working Traditional Values With A Dash of Fun

Monday, January 27, 2014

Phony Superheroes, Frozen Superheroes

For the past generation Americans have become enthralled by superhero movies where millionaire actors stand in front of green screens pretending to hold super powers that are later added in by CGI wizards. Such phony superheroes may be exciting to watch, but we all understand this is all make-believe because superheroes aren't real.

Well maybe not anymore, but in the not too distant past real men accomplished incredible feats that should leave our generation of video game addicts shaking heads in wonder.

I recently read Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration by David Roberts. This is the story of the Australian born Antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson's scientific journeys in Antarctica during the first two decades of the 20th century. Mawson is unfortunately much less well known than his contemporary peers Roald Amundsen, who discovered the South Pole, Robert Scott, who died on his own return from the race to the pole with Amundsen, and Ernest Shackleton, whose 1913 Endurance expedition was caught in the ice and saved by Shackelton's amazing small boat journey across the ocean for help.  Despite such stellar company, no less an explorer that Everest conqueror Sir Edmund Hillary proclaimed that Mawson's best known adventure was ¨the greatest survival story in the history of exploration.¨

The deed that earned this acclaim was a 300 mile desperate dash in December 1912 - February 2013. Mawson had divided up his team into three men groups that went off in separate directions to explore and map Antarctica. Mawson lead the eastern party with two other men and two sledges pulled by dogs. On December 14, one month of trekking from base camp, one of the men fell into an abyss along with sledge and dogs taking nearly all of the food and needed supplies such as the party's tent. The two remaining men had ten days worth of food to return 300 miles. Slowly starving day by day as they marched back, inadequately sheltered by a makeshift tent, and being unknowingly poisoned by dog meat, Mawson's companion died after 200 miles, leaving Mawson to return the final 100 miles on his own. It took him nearly two months. 

Near the end of his journey, Mawson fell into an abyss but he was tied to his sledge which stayed above. Dangling 14 feet on the end of rope and weakened from lack of food, he still managed to drag himself out only to have the snow shelf break from under him sending him plunging back in the hole.  Again the sledge held anchor and in an even weaker condition he somehow was able to pull himself out again.

He was slowed by storms, hurricane level winds and after loosing his crampons that let him walk across ice, he was able to jury-rig a replacement set of crampons that finally took him back to base camp.

In 2007 Australian adventurer Tim Jarvis decided to see if Mawson's feat could be recreated. Although Jarvis outfitted himself using period equipment, his recreation had a number of advantages. First of all he pick a different route that had no hidden crevasses. Second, he had radio communications and weather reports with his support team that was filming the adventure. He also didn't eat poisonous Husky meat for obvious reasons. Despite these advantages, Jarvis was unable to keep up the same daily pace as Mawson.  With the help of a safety harness, Jarvis even recreated Mawson's desperate self extraction from his 14 foot drop into an abyss.  Jarvis was able to pull himself out, but then the film crew lowered him in a second time to recreate Mawson's second attempt to pull himself out of the hole.  Jarvis did not have the strength to get out the second time and the film crew pulled him out.

Were people from a century ago made of sterner stuff? No doubt. The deprivations and hardships they suffered in the pursuit of knowledge would be hard to match today. Today's movie superheroes are not real, but such superheroes once did walk the earth.

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