Monday, February 25, 2013

by David Roberts

In Australia, Douglas Mawson is considered the greatest explorer ever in history. He is, though, virtually unknown in the United States. Mawson has been overshadowed by Robert Falcon Scott (there's a whole dearth of books written about him), Sir Ernest Shackleton (he served under his command from 1907-1909), and the infamous Norwegian Roald Amundsen. While these three polar explorers only were interested in reaching the South Pole, Mawson was not. His interest lay in traversing land that nobody had seen before and to collect specimens (he was a geologist).
Eighteen men joined the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) and spent the first year at Cape Denison in a hut (Winter Quarters). They then were divided into three-man sledging parties so that they could all explore different regions. Two thousand miles of land south of Australia was what they hoped to cover. Thirty-two Eskimo huskies were brought along to haul the sledges. By 1913, they were all gone. Mawson's Far Eastern Party had the most arduous and dangerous trek. Two of his men died leaving him alone to survive and return to the base.
Alone On the Ice is a tremendous tale of endurance, strength, and determination. What these men went through and what happened to Mawson is unbelievable. Author, David Roberts, was able to use diaries that have never been seen before to lay out the story and the exploits. He is a master in writing books about mountaineering and exploration. One of his previous books "Finding Everett Ruess: The Life and Unsolved Disappearance of  Legendary Wilderness Explorer" was reviewed in this blog and that was fantastic.
Sir Edmund Hillary praised Mawson's solo journey as "the greatest story in polar exploration." Mawson is no longer behind those other explorers; he is standing way in front of them.
Highly recommended.