Going to Antarctica is a dream for me. As you will read, I love exploring, and one thing I do when I travel is to learn about the local history and people if I can. Interestingly, when I was in Australia this past August to run the Adelaide marathon, I saw that the South Australia Museum had an exhibit on Sir Douglas Mawson. Sir Douglas is Australia's most famous Antarctic explorer. I admit to never having heard of him; he certainly doesn't get the press of the three gentlemen I mentioned. But his tale is more remarkable in many ways. While the big three all attacked the continent primarily to earn national glory of being the first to the South Pole, Mawson (who went once with Shackleton and turned down Scott before his ill fated attempt at the Pole) relished the scientific possibilities. He organized work on finding the magnetic south pole (where the compass needle points straight down to the earth or spins rapidly in circles). He was one of the first to climb Mt. Erebus, the tallest mountain on the continent. He knew he could learn about his native Australia by studying it's closest neighbor.
On his journey during 1911-1913, he set out with two others to survey King George V Land where no one had ever gone before. An accident led to the death and loss of supplies of one explorer, and the other died as Mawson and he tried to return back to base after the first tragedy. In the end, Mawson completed the single most horrific trek in history - some 100 miles by himself in the disappearing Antarctic summer battling icy conditions, double digit wind speeds, climbing glaciers and nearly dying of a number of hardships. Amazingly, he did not go insane while surviving by himself for an entire winter in a small shelter before being rescued. He went on to an amazing career charting the discovery of major minerals in Australia and teaching many future geologists. So, if I think running a marathon in Antarctica is hard, I know I have it easy! Mawson's story inspires me to always push myself in everything I do.
I read Lennard Bickel's great biography of Mawson entitled, "This Accursed Land" - a label Mawson gave to Antarctica during his travails.