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5 True Stories of Solo Survival

Updated on June 3, 2012

Testing the Limits of Human Will, Courage and Endurance

While history and literature are full of stories of survival at sea, desert survival and survival in the jungle, arctic and mountains, there is nothing like being all alone under harsh circumstances to challenge, daunt and sometimes to bring out the best in a human being, to cause him or her to reach deep within and see what really is possible, when there is no other person to rely on.

I hope these true stories will inspire and encourage you by showing what each and every one of us truly is capable of, if pressed to the extreme.

All photos taken by the author

Douglas Mawson led many Antarctic expeditions, but on the one covered by this book he lost both his companions, one to a fall into a crevasse (in which the small party lost most of its food and supplies, also) and the other to vitamin A poisoning resulting from having to eat the livers of their sled dogs, which, like polar bear livers, store levels of vitamin A so concentrated as to be toxic if eaten.

Himself suffering from the same Hypervitaminosis A that had killed his friend, Mawson had to cover the last 100 miles of snow and ice alone, living on dogs and then on nothing, as he sought to stay on course and keep himself going.

Falling at one point into a crevasse similar to the one which had taken the life of his first companion and having to create improvised crampons (ice shoes) by driving nails through the soles of his boots so that he would not lose his footing on steep glacier ice, he finally made it back to the base, where six men had remained behind to wait for him. An incredible story of determination and persistence.

This is a harrowing and extremely detailed first-person account of seventy-six days spent aboard a life raft drifting in the Atlantic, coming after the author lost his boat to a storm.

Adding to the realism of the account, the author has liberally illustrated the text with his own precisely-drawn pen and ink images and diagrams of the various sights he saw while at sea as well as the numerous innovations he created--using the very limited resources aboard the raft--in his struggle to survive. Everything from improvised fishing spears and emergency raft repairs to the sextant he created from pencils in an attempt to chart his course is illustrated in great detail.

Because this book is written by the man who lived the experience, readers are able to live in first-person detail every long and difficult moment of the author's struggles. A very powerful account of human determination and survival.

3. Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Would you be able to cut off your own arm in order to save your life?

That is exactly the dilemma that faced climber Aron Ralston when he ran out of water on the fifth day after being securely pinned by a massive boulder that had shifted and trapped his arm as he explored a narrow, remote desert canyon.

After amputating his lower arm in order to free himself, Ralston, who despite rigging an improvised tourniquet, had by then lost nearly 25% of his blood volume, rappelled down a sheer 65' wall of rock and walked a number of miles before being found and assisted by other hikers. Ralston, now equipped with a prosthetic arm, has continued winter mountaineering, climbing rock and ice and leading a very active life since his accident.

This book is an incredible testament to human will, strength and the ability to push one's self far beyond what most might recognize as both physical and mental limits.

Make sure you are well equipped when venturing into the wilderness... - Aron Ralston had to cut off his arm with a dull knife because he had neglected to carry

Famed Antarctic explorer Richard Byrd knew he was in for a long winter when he set out to spend six months all alone in a tiny, snow-covered research station near the South Pole, planning to make weather and other scientific observations which he would report by radio. What he did not know was that he would end up fighting an invisible and unidentified foe for his health, sanity and ultimately for his very life.

Shortly after settling in to what was to be his home for the following half-year and with both his mind and physical health failing due to what he would only later find out was chronic carbon monoxide poisoning from the stove used to keep him warm, Byrd struggled to conceal his deterioration from the other members of his team, with whom he was in frequent radio contact. This book is grim and fascinating study of one man's thoughts and actions--at times one cannot help but thinking we are getting a glimpse of his very soul--when stranded all alone in the frozen fastness of the Antarctic, and faced with the fight of his life.

5. Wilderness - Stories of Mountain Men John Colter and Hugh Glass

Though somewhat fictionalized in that the authors speculated a bit, on what the two men might have been thinking during their respective ordeals, this book is based solidly on historical fact as it follows mountain men John Colter and Hugh Glass on separate journeys through the American wilderness of the 17th century.

With Colter injured, stripped of his clothing and supplies and being pursued at a dead run into the mountains by a band of angry Blackfeet and Hugh Glass mauled by a grizzly, left for dead and having to literally drag himself through the wilderness for six weeks to reach civilization, the survival and ultimate triumph of these two men presents a very human example of what each of us can do despite the greatest odds, if circumstances require.

This incredibly well-written account is at once a thing of stark terror and incredible beauty, and is well worth reading more than once.


The art of creating what you need, from what little you've got...

Could you create shelter from natural materials in order to keep yourself dry in a rainstorm? Start a fire with nothing more than a few pieces of wood, a handful of thistle down and some plant fibers you find in the woods? Make rope from the bark of a tree, or from your own hair, and then use it to rig up a pack frame to carry your gear? Feed yourself on wild plants or snare animals for food?

Could you create a canteen and a cook pot using lengths of firewood and hot coals from the fire, figure out how to make a stopper so you could carry water without spilling it? Cook a meal and boil water to purify it, simply by heating rocks in your fire and adding them one by one to the water in your improvised pot?

These are all skills which were as routine and commonplace to our ancestors as driving a car or flicking a light switch are to us, today, and with a little commitment and lot of study and practice, you, too, can own these skills!

What better time than the present to equip yourself to be better able to survive, should you ever find yourself in a situation similar to those experienced by the people in the books we're reviewing today?

Fancy gear and equipment can be lost, broken or taken from you by circumstances, but once you make these skills your own, they will be with you for a lifetime!

Learn Basic Primitive Wilderness Skills... - And they will serve you for a lifetime!

Have you read any of these accounts of survival at the extremes? - Do you have favorites of your own that you'd like to recommend?

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    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

      I was working in TV news when the Aron Ralston story broke, and would really like to read his book. When I was a teenager I read "Alive," which is about the Andes plane crash. That book really made me think about survival skills.

    • CameronPoe profile image

      CameronPoe 5 years ago

      These stories are testaments to how much we love to live and what we had to go through to stay alive.

    • UKGhostwriter profile image

      UKGhostwriter 5 years ago

      Amazing! great lens

    • profile image

      YourFirstTime 5 years ago

      No, but it's amazing the obstacles people can overcome.

    • ILoveNature profile image

      ILoveNature 5 years ago

      I read the story of survival about Aron Ralston a few years ago, it was/is amazing.

    • TLStahling profile image

      TL Stahling 5 years ago from US

      I haven't read any. But I have seen some movies based on real life survival stories. They're intense, yet inspirational.

    • rrrevolver profile image

      rrrevolver 5 years ago

      Well done my friend

    • mel-kav profile image

      mel-kav 5 years ago

      Such amazing stories of survival. Great lens!

    • MartieG profile image

      MartieG aka 'survivoryea' 5 years ago from Jersey Shore

      Such interesting stories you have highlighted-nicely done! :>)

    • profile image

      Psychologist 5 years ago

      Great lens! Touching the Void is another inspirational tale.

    • Tom Maybrier profile image

      Tom Maybrier 5 years ago

      Great lens and fantastic photos!

    • writerkath profile image

      writerkath 5 years ago

      I well remember when Aron Ralston's story hit the news! My jaw just dropped - and it just dropped again as I recall the tale. I seem to recall a news conference while he was in the hospital recovering, and him saying, "I just want a margarita" or something like that... Courageous and inspiring.

      I also spend numerous working seasons in Antarctica, and have had the good fortune to visit a few of the early explorers' huts - Scott's hut in McMurdo, as well as Shackleton's Hut (I think on Cape Royds?) - and to actually BE in those huts ... you could almost FEEL the isolation they experienced. The tales of Antarctic explorers is always fascinating to me...

      Anyway, this is an awesome lens! *Blessed!*

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      These stories are so inspirational.

    • LadyCharlie profile image

      LadyCharlie 5 years ago

      Good lens pointing to some great adventure stories of inner strength and fortitude...I enjoyed the reading. Blessed

    • HenkWillemse profile image

      HenkWillemse 5 years ago

      Great stories, I've watched a documentary on adrift, nice lens

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 5 years ago

      Amazing stories. I've met others who have survived disasters; they work as speakers telling their story of courage.

    • Steph Tietjen profile image

      Stephanie Tietjen 5 years ago from Albuquerque, New Mexico

      "Touching the Void," the book, also a movie--about 1985 Peruvian adventure in which Joe Simpson was forced to cut the rope on an injured Simon Yates in order to survive himself--Yates amazingly manages to survive. This is a great lens - I will check out these stories. Thanks

    • Close2Art LM profile image

      Close2Art LM 5 years ago

      Great lens, very interesting! Blessed

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I don't have words to praise this lens.. Amazing stories and am awestruck.. :)

    • profile image

      katieross 5 years ago

      Into Thin Air was my most recent survival story read. These are great! Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image

      pawpaw911 5 years ago

      The Aron Ralston story is pretty amazing.

    • ryokomayuka profile image

      ryokomayuka 5 years ago from USA

      congrats on having the rating 9,999 and being on the first page.

    • bushaex profile image

      Stephen Bush 5 years ago from Ohio

      An inspiring lens! SquidAngel Blessings.

    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 5 years ago from Albany New York

      Congratulations on your Front Page! Always love your lenses.

    • flicker lm profile image

      flicker lm 5 years ago

      Stopping back to say congrats on being on the front page!

    • athomemomblog profile image

      Genesis Davies 5 years ago from Guatemala

      I read "Adrift" as well as dozens of other survival books when I was young. I actually do know how to do most of the things you listed because I was an obsessed kid, lol. As a child, I spent many hours every day in the woods, building lean-to shelters and woven wall shelters, hunting grouse and rabbits and squirrels and harvesting wild berries. As a young adult, I spent days hiking up mountains and through forests with nothing but matches, a hatchet and a few food supplies. So far I haven't had to actually use those skills in an emergency situation, but it's good to have them!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I'm doing the dance of joy with you, front page honors...W00t!

    • nicks44 profile image

      nicks44 5 years ago

      These stories are always so motivating ... Thank you a lot for sharing!

    • Fcuk Hub profile image

      Fcuk Hub 5 years ago

      These true survival stories are inspirational :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      What a great "from one that knows" set of book reviews and survival being based on being able to improvise what you need to do just that from what looks like nothing around you. It is a different skill set that we all would be more prepared with for those unexpected times when there is no time to learn what to do but only to get to work at the business of survival...much like driving a car, you sure do put things in perspective...and always, so fascinating to read your work with your amazing drawing in writing style....oh so blessed!

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

      I love reading survival stories. I've read a few of the books highlighted here and will read more now that you have raised my awareness. There is something so compelling about how the human spirit is revealed in this type of literature.

    • KandDMarketing profile image

      KandDMarketing 5 years ago

      What a great lens! Ive not got the titles you've recommended on my to-read list!


    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 5 years ago from Topeka, KS

      I recently read one that you recommended on another of your articles named 'Hatchet'. That one is my favorite so far and want to read the others about the young guy in the story! Thank you for recommending that one to me. This is a wonderful review article. :)

    • profile image

      sherioz 5 years ago

      These look like exciting stories. Thanks for introducing them to us.

    • profile image

      Terrie_Schultz 5 years ago

      I really liked Endurance, Shackleton's Incredible Voyage. I want to read the ones on your list here. Your photos are stunning!

    • CNelson01 profile image

      Chuck Nelson 5 years ago from California

      Interesting lens. I saw the Ralston story on TV...hard to watch, let alone live through. Well done!

    • Brandi Bush profile image

      Brandi 5 years ago from Maryland

      Incredible stories...I'd love to read every single one! Just a heads up...the first book is not showing up...looks like you need to fix the Amazon module. :) Another excellent lens!

    • charlb profile image

      charlb 5 years ago

      Great lens and a very interesting read from you as usual. I recently watched the movie about the Ralston story, 127 hours I believe it is called. Gripping story. Look forward to reading the book as well.

    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 5 years ago from Albany New York

      Amazing what we can endure if necessary. Very well done lens.

    • profile image

      atomicgirl24 5 years ago

      I remember the Aron Ralston story well (the guy who cut off his arm) and to this day I can't even I M A G I N E how he or anyone else could've done it. I'm guessing it must have been numb from being trapped by the boulder or something because otherwise... *shivers*

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I haven't but I'm intrigued. Look like some good reads here. Well done lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I just couldn't even imagine what it would be like

    • DIY Mary profile image

      DIY Mary 5 years ago

      These stories really give me the willies (especially the one about the guy having to amputate his arm)! I admire the bravery of all these survivors. Great summaries and photos.

    • Country-Sunshine profile image

      Country Sunshine 5 years ago from Texas

      I haven't read these particular ones, but have read others. A person never knows what they are capable of accomplishing until put in such situations. I enjoy these summaries, and look forward to reading the books in full!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Yes, I have and am always fascinated at how humans put in those situation react differently. I wonder how we can make ourselves harness such potential in our everyday lives.

    • profile image

      LowerGolfScore 5 years ago

      I simply don't know what I could do if put into one of those situations; the Lord willing, I never will!

    • MarcNorris LM profile image

      MarcNorris LM 5 years ago

      It really amazes me what we are capable of and these stories really hit home with me.

    • ViJuvenate profile image

      ViJuvenate 5 years ago

      What amazing stories. I would love to read them and give to my son and his friends. You can always learn from situations like this.

    • profile image

      entertainmentev 5 years ago

      I've read "Between a Rock and a Hard Place" and absolutely loved it. It was so inspiring. I appreciate your other suggestions and will have to read them soon.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      These people are amazing and inspiring.

    • profile image

      Auntie-M LM 5 years ago

      I am in awe of these explorers.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      It really is remarkable what humans are capable of when they need to survive. Great lens, blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      I've read and enjoyed Adrift, but will have to put the others on my reading list. One adventure book I love - it's not solo, but definitely survival - is Chris Bonington's Everest the Hard Way. Great story, great photos, and bonus unforgettable title: as if there's an easy way to climb Mt Everest? :)

    • DuncanBoud profile image

      DuncanBoud 5 years ago

      Great photos (yet again!) - have to say your lenses are always worth looking at just for your great camera work! As for me, I have to say I can't really imagine amputating part of my arm even if I had the benefit of a good knife!!

    • profile image

      Gala98 5 years ago

      I've never read any survival stuff until I found your lenses :) But I do adore watching a British guy called Ray Mears - he's done quite a few tv series over here & travels to some of the loneliest places to test his skills & learn from the natives. Interesting lens, ty :)