5 True Stories of Solo Survival
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
1. Mawson's Will
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!