David Roberts presents Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration

Date: May 12, 2013

Time: 7:00 PM

Location: Back of Beyond Bookstore - 83 North Main Street

Price: Event is free to the public!

David Roberts presents Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration

When people imagine Antarctic exploration, they generally think of Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910-1913 Terra Nova Expedition, which reached the South Pole thirty-two days after Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s team, but ended with the tragic deaths of the five-man polar party; or they think of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-17 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, remembering Frank Hurley’s dramatic photographs of the Endurance trapped, and later crushed, by ice. In ALONE ON THE ICE: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration, David Roberts documents the harrowing journey of Douglas Mawson’s Australian Antarctic Expedition (AAE), which rivals the stories of Scott and Shackleton in feat and temerity. Mawson’s survival in the face of disastrous losses and almost insuperable odds secures his legacy as an extraordinary figure of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

From an early age, Douglas Mawson was interested in exploration. After taking a bachelor’s degree in mining, Douglas would go on to become a lecturer in mineralogy and petrology at the University of Adelaide. His first expedition, in 1907-08 with Ernest Shackleton, further fueled his desire for exploration of Antarctica. In 1912 Douglas Mawson and his crew set up base at Cape Denison in Commonwealth Bay. Mawson was not interested in reaching the South Pole; rather, the mission of the AAE was to explore a 2,000 mile stretch of Antarctica that lay directly south of Australia – a land that had previously gone unexplored. After wintering in Cape Denison, Mawson split his crew into eight different parties. Mawson, along with Xavier Mertz and Belgrave Ninnis, would take on the most arduous mission – to explore 350 miles of uncharted territory to the east and south.

On November 10th the three men set out; after only a month, the first tragedy struck. Belgrave Ninnis plunged to his death in a crevasse, taking with him “nearly all the men’s food, all the dogs’ food, the tent, their spade, their pick, and numerous other pieces of gear.” Five weeks away from their Winter Quarters, and with only a week and a half’s worth of rations, the men faced a formidable task. Killing and eating the remaining dogs one by one, the two men forged on, but Mertz soon succumbed to illness and died on January 8th. Now alone, Mawson still had over 100 miles to traverse before reaching Cape Denison. His body slowly disintegrating – the soles of his feet completely detached from the flesh beneath, his skin cracked and unable to heal, his hands rapidly losing skin, his weight dropping drastically, and his hair falling out – Mawson continued his painstaking journey towards home base. On January 17th, Mawson fell into a crevasse similar to the one that had claimed the life of his companion Ninnis. By sheer luck, his sledge stuck fast in the snow and halted his plunge. Unable to gain a foothold, Mawson had to climb the rope hand over hand – an incredibly difficult task for his failing body. Just as Mawson reached the lip of the crevasse, the lip broke loose, causing him to once again plunge the 14 feet. He would have to perform the agonizing task of climbing the rope again if he wanted to survive.

David Roberts meticulously recounts Mawson’s struggle to survive, and in doing so, reaffirms Mawson’s place as one of the greatest polar explorers and expedition leaders. With 24 pages of illustrations, many by famed photographer Frank Hurley and never before published in the United States, ALONE ON THE ICE is sure to excite and amaze.


David Roberts is the author of The Mountain of My Fear and Deborah. He lives in Massachusetts.

TITLE: ALONE ON THE ICE: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration

AUTHOR: David Roberts

ISBN: 978-0-393-08371-2

PRICE: $27.95 hardcover


PUBLICATION DATE: January 28, 2013

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