Douglas Mawson's Trip Into the Unknown

In 1912, Douglas Mawson and 31 other men set out to explore the uncharted territory of Antarctica in the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE). They traveled in teams of three men each, with sleds, sled dogs, and supplies. But Antarctica, unmapped and with no wireless communication, was a treacherous place to explore. Mawson's team suffered from weather and calamities, until Mawson was alone, trying desperately to get back to the staging area before the annual supply ship left. But then he fell into a crevasse.

Miraculously, the sledge stuck fast in the deep snow, anchoring him. But as his eyes adjusted to the semidarkness, Mawson saw how hopeless his predicament was. He dangled free in space, the crevasse walls too far away to reach even with the wild swing of a boot. His first thought came as a searing regret that he had not had the chance to eat the last ounces of his food before he died.

His only chance to escape was to pull himself hand over hand up the harness rope. Providentially, he had tied knots in the rope at regular intervals. He seized the first knot and pulled himself upward, then lunged for the next. Even for a fit, healthy man, such a feat would have been barely possible; yet Mawson pulled, rested, and lunged again. He reached the lip of the crevasse and tried to roll onto the surface above.

That effort broke loose the overhanging lip. Mawson fell all the way to the end of his harness rope. Despair overwhelmed him. He pondered slipping out of the harness to plunge to the bottom of the crevasse, ending things at once rather than by strangling or slowly freezing. At that moment, a verse from his favorite poet, Robert Service, flashed through his mind: “Just have one more try—it’s dead easy to die, / It’s the keeping-on-living that’s hard.”

Read the story of Mawson's first Antarctic expedition at National Geographic magazine. Link


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