Near Death in the Arctic

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  • Edition: Original
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-02-10
  • Publisher: Vintage
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"The fine snow choked his eyes, ears, and throat, and he did not hear his own smothered death cry. Down in cold blackness, 150 feet down, his falling body smashed into a projecting ledge of ironclad ice. With the shattered remains of his sledge, with the doomed dogs, Belgrave Ninnis plunged deeper and deeper into the abyss." Lennard Bickel'sMawson's Will. InNear Death in the Arctic, editor Cecil Kuhne gathers astonishing tales of man versus nature, all set against the bleakly beautiful backdrop of the poles of the earth. On foot, by ship, or by dog-powered sledge, these adventurers brave the most savage and desolate environment on earth, their instinct for self-preservation and survival exceeded only by their desire for excitement and discovery. Also featuring: Captain Roald Amundsen'sThe South PoleThe heart-pounding story of Amundsen's race to be the first man to reach both Poles despite driving snow, exhausted dogs, and towering glaciers. Ernest Shackleton'sSouthA riveting memoir of the doomedEndurance, which became trapped in dangerous pack ice that eventually tore the ship apart. Mike Stroud'sShadows on the WastelandThe unbelievable account of a two-man, ninety-day trek across the Antarctic continent through temperatures as low as minus eighty-five degrees Celsius.

Author Biography

Cecil Kuhne is the editor of two previous anthologies on adventure travel, On the Edge and The Armchair Paddler. A former whitewater rafting guide, he has also written nine books about rafting, kayaking, and canoeing. He lives in Dallas.



An Epic Story of Survival in the Siberian Arctic


Over the Polar Ice Pack

With the runners creaking and pitching like boats plying ocean swells, our sledges moved southward over the ice. We could see that ice hummocks and pressure ridges lay ahead of us, but we were confident there was a passage between them.

Although the route was quite straightforward at the start, and each sledge was being hauled by at least three men (two of them by four men), we did not seem to be making much headway. After half an hour, we made a short stop and discovered that we were still quite close to the Saint Anna.

No sooner had we climbed up one of the first pressure ridges than the runners broke on one of the sledges. We repaired the damage at once and set off again after three-quarters of an hour. Brusilov, who was very concerned about this accident, immediately sent two men back to the ship to fetch two parrels* from the mizzenmast, in case we had to make other repairs in the future. Behind a high rise that hid the ship from view, Miss Zhdanko and Kalmikov, the cook, decided to return to the ship. The weather was rapidly deteriorating. Two hours later a strong south-southwesterly gale began to blow, bringing with it a raging snowstorm.

We pitched camp for the night. The tent was placed in the center with the kayaks propped up all around it for protection. Our pedometer indicated that we had barely covered three miles. Soon we were all gathered together in the tent around our blubber stove, drinking milky tea. To everyone's surprise, Brusilov handed out pieces of chocolate, and even produced a bottle of champagne. Although we had only one mouthful each, it was not the quantity that mattered, but the fact that we were at 83¡ latitude, toasting our respective homeward journeys! We chatted for a while about the past, the present, and the future and then bade a moving farewell to our helpful companions, who set off for the ship on their skis.

The blizzard gained in strength, causing the tent to snap and groan. Exhausted, we slid into our malitsi and immediately fell into a deep, comforting sleep. When we awoke at ten o'clock to the sound of the gale still howling with the same force, we could not imagine traveling on in such conditions. Flurries of snow had been blown into the tent, and our furs were dusted with white. It was a bad start, and most discouraging. The thermometer indicated -9¡ Fahrenheit. But we had to think about maintaining our strength, so we got up to prepare a meal. We had enormous difficulty in opening the tent door, and even more so in uncovering the kayaks buried in the snow. We eventually managed to boil some water for tea, and to warm up some cans of Australian meat, which dulled our hunger. We then climbed back into our malitsi, since the dreadful weather precluded any other form of activity, and that is how we spent the day.

The next day brought no improvement, and in the end we were stopped for three whole days. We stayed in the tent the entire time, bundled up in our reindeer hides, eating and sleeping. My companions preferred sleeping in pairs: they would slip their legs and the lower parts of their bodies into one malitsa, and pull the other malitsa over their heads. This method is recommended for creating and preserving body heat, but it has the disadvantage of disturbing one's sleep each time the other sleeper moves or turns over. For that reason, I always preferred to sleep alone, and later developments would show how right I was. Bed companions often squabbled, which occasionally led to more serious arguments. Generally, the disruptive partner did not even realize how much he had been disturbing his neighbor, and felt that all forthcoming complaints were totally unjustified. Insults would be exchanged, occasionally degenerating into prodding and shoving or half-hearted punch

Excerpted from Near Death in the Arctic: True Stories of Disaster and Survival
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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