Survivor: The Autobiography

Jon E. Lewis
is a historian and writer, whose books on history and military history are sold worldwide. He is also editor of many
The Mammoth Book of
anthologies, including the bestselling
On the Edge

Jon holds graduate and postgraduate degrees in history, and his work has appeared in New Statesman, the Independent, Time Out and the Guardian. He lives in Herefordshire with his partner and children.

Praise for Jon E. Lewis's previous books:

‘A triumph.’

Saul David, author of
Victoria’s Army

‘This thoughtful compilation . . . [is] almost unbearably moving.’


‘Compelling Tommy’s-eye view of war.’

Daily Telegraph

‘What a book. Five stars.’

Daily Express

Also in the
series, by Jon E. Lewis

Ancient Rome: the Autobiography

England: the Autobiography

London: the Autobiography

SAS: the Autobiography

Spitfire: the Autobiography

World War II: the Autobiography

The Autobiography of the British Soldier

(as John Lewis-Stempel)

Constable & Robinson Ltd
55–56 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP

First published in the UK as
The Mammoth Book of Endurance & Adventure
by Robinson, an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2000

This edition published by Robinson, 2011

Copyright © J. Lewis-Stempel, 2000 (unless otherwise stated)

The right of J. Lewis-Stempel to be identified as the author of this
work has been asserted by him in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition
that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold,
hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover
other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition
including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in
Publication Data is available from the British Library

ISBN: 978-1-84901-818-0
eISBN: 978-1-84901-950-7

Printed and bound in the UK

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2



The Poles

Sir Douglas Mawson
Last Man Walking

Richard Evelyn Byrd
The Blow

Salomon Andrée
Adrift on the Ice

Sir Ernest Shackleton
88° South

Sir John Franklin
The March to Fort Enterprise

W. Elmer Ekblaw
Thin Ice

Robert Falcon Scott
The End


Walter Bonatti
Death Zone

Sebastian Snow

Ed Drummond
Mirror, Mirror

Sir Edmund Hillary
The Long Grind

Maurice Herzog
Extreme Danger

A. J. Barrington
Dog Days

Meriwether Lewis & William Clark
Across the Great Divide

Sir Laurens Van der Post

Oceans & Rivers

Sir Ernest Shackleton
The Boat Journey

Thor Heyerdahl
The Reef

Alain Bombard
Atlantic Ordeal

John Blashford-Snell
The Cataracts of the Zaïre

Sir Ranulph Fiennes
Race Against Time

Charles Waterton
Riding a Guianese Cayman

Theodore Roosevelt
River of Doubt

Steven Callahan

John Ridgway & Chay Blyth

Under the Ground

Norbert Casteret
The Abyss

Jacques-Yves Cousteau


Sven Hedin
Dying of Thirst

Bertram Thomas
Crossing the Empty Quarter

William John Wills
Slow Death at Cooper’s Creek

Nick Danziger
The Crossing

Nikolai Nikhailovich Przhevalski
The Sands of the Gobi

Ernest Giles
Escape from the Outback

Peter Fleming
The Pitiless Sun

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Prisoners of the Sand


Henry Savage Landor
Amazonia Extremis

Colonel Jim Corbett

The Air

Charles A. Lindbergh
The Spirit of St Louis

Sources & Acknowledgements


‘. . . in memories we were rich. We had pierced the veneer of outside things. We had “suffered, starved and triumphed, grovelled down yet grasped at glory, grown bigger in the bigness of the whole.” We had seen God in his splendours, heard the text that nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.’

Sir Ernest Shackleton

Mankind has always been an adventurer. No sooner was he out of his African cradle, than he was questing to see what lay over the next horizon, along the next bend of the river. And there has probably always been an audience for his tales. It is easy enough to conjure up a scene of Early Adventurer entertaining his tribal band around the campfire; certainly the earliest recorded exploration, that of Harkhuf to the land of Yam in around 2300
, dates back almost to the invention of writing itself.

Today’s modern audience, however, is more clamorous for adventure than its predecessors. The reasons are not hard to find. In a world made cosy by a cornucopia of consumer conveniences, people are endlessly trapped in humdrum routines and a surfeit of safety. Few of us would protest against it but all of us know that we have lost sight of something: human mettle, spirit in adversity, the ability to live dangerously. Those who have dared go outside the confines of civilization to pit themselves against Nature remind us of what it is we are made of; their travails, to borrow the phrase of Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, enabling us to see ‘the naked soul of man’. They may thrill us, but more importantly they illuminate us. We need them to do what they do.

Shackleton reminds us that the adventurer has other fascinations. In cynical times with very few heroes, he retains an heroic cast. And few were more heroic than Shackleton. As an explorer he was a failure, as a hero he was everything. A true believer in duty and service, he escaped Antarctica and then went back to rescue those in his charge. The ‘boss’ brought every man back safely. It’s small wonder then that Shackleton is a curriculum item in business schools for those wanting to learn leadership skills.

By default, the majority of the eyewitness accounts collected in this book are by those who survived their personal tests of endurance, from Douglas Mawson struggling alone through an Antarctic blizzard to Charles Lindberg’s fight against exhaustion aboard the
Spirit of St Louis
. They lived to bring home the tale. Sometimes, however, the records of the doomed have outlasted their authors, such as the harrowing last diaries found besides the corpse of R. F. Scott in Antarctica – the great white laboratory of endurance – and those of W. J. Wills in the desolate outback of Cooper’s Creek. These diaries, aside from chronicling hardship and perseverance almost beyond imagination, also give a salutary lesson: Nature is not easily beaten.

If the public needs its adventurers, there remains the thundering question of what motivates the adventurer. Over time, the necessities of food, shelter, uninhabited land, trade, warfare and imperial ambition have all whipped adventurers across the unknown. So too, the chance for the big prize, fame and glory (there’s nothing new about the lust for celebrity). In the centuries following the Enlightenment, adventure has frequently been dressed as the pursuit of knowledge, with expeditions to the ends, heights and depths of the world tasked with some scientific or geographical purpose. And yet, as the following pages secretly testify, the real
? Stimulating the modern adventurer is the exploration of an entirely different objective – the self
in extremis
. The proof of this is childishly easy, for almost all exploration in the last hundred years has, strictly speaking, been unnecessary, neither opening up new trade routes nor tracts of land to the touch of ‘civilization’. The relationship between audience and adventurer, then, is purely symbiotic: the public desires adventurers so that they can vicariously experience their own ‘naked soul’; fortuitously for the self-same public, some brave enough – or maybe foolish enough – men and women still feel a desire to test themselves to the limits.

It goes without saying that such a test should be a true endurance, one of mind and body. Endurance is usually conceived as sustained endeavour over time, but the meaning can be stretched to the maintenance of nerve and physical control over mere minutes of dangerous difficulty. Certainly, I have taken such licence in this book. Ekblaw’s sledge ride over wafer-thin ice, Nick Danziger’s gun-running jeep journey over the Afghan border, Charles Waterton’s wrestle with a Guianese Cayman come to mind.

One of the necessary by-products of adventure is that it takes the adventurer – and thus the reader – to the last faraway places, where Nature still lives in unsullied magnificence (and deadly power). If this book is a chronicle of first-hand adventure, it is not least an anthology of white-knuckled travel writing. Sometimes, too, it is the travel writing of the highest art, such as Salomon Andrée’s death-march diary across the Arctic, almost painterly in its depiction of the ice pack as a ‘Magnificent Venetian landscape with canals between lofty hummock edges on both sides, water-square with ice-fountain and stairs down to the canals. Divine.’

The various terrains and elements of Nature have also served as the organizing principle of this book, from The Poles to The Air, via Mountains, Oceans and Rivers, Under the Ground, Deserts, and Jungles. This is a mere anthologist’s contrivance.

None is more intrinsically perilous than another, they are all simply different. And all offer long odds for the adventurer determined upon the ultimate game of Man v Nature.

Jon E. Lewis, 2000

The Poles

Australian geologist and Antarctic explorer. In September 1912 he set off with Dr Xavier Mertz, a Swiss mountaineer, and Lieutenant B.E.S. Ninnis, a British army officer, to explore King George V Land.

14 December 1912
When next I looked back, it was in response to the anxious gaze of Mertz who had turned round and halted in his tracks. Behind me nothing met the eye except my own sledge tracks running back in the distance. Where were Ninnis and his sledge?

I hastened back along the trail thinking that a rise in the ground obscured the view. There was no such good fortune, however, for I came to a gaping hole in the surface about eleven feet wide. The lid of the crevasse that had caused me so little thought had broken in; two sledge tracks led up to it on the far side – only one continued beyond.

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