Seeking stories of men and women who -- either by way of adventure or by circumstance -- succumbed to the elements after a protracted attempt at survival...
June 5, 2009 9:57 AM   Subscribe

I've read and loved the histories of Sir Robert Falcon Scott, James Kim, George Mallory, S. A. Andrée, et cetera, and now I would like to be pointed towards more stories of men and women who -- either by way of adventure or by circumstance -- succumbed to the elements after a protracted attempt at survival... preferably leaving a rich and well-written-about story.

Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority... but for my own sake I do not regret this journey, which has shown that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another, and meet death with as great a fortitude as ever in the past. We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of providence, determined still to do our best to the last ... Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale...-Robert Falcon Scott, 1912
This kind of stuff really tugs at me and gets me on some gut-level. I read Scott's journals a couple of years ago, and lately have been devouring everything I can get my hands on regarding James Kim. Which other stories have been documented (either first-hand, or by others) in similar ways. They need not be famous or well-known... just compellingly documented

Despite a past personal interest in dead alpinists and mountaineers, I feel like I've read everything printed on the subject, and it's not my chief interest at the moment... though I can't really see a reason to not include them, past my own personal preference.

Lastly, here are some wikipedia categories I've consulted that may give you an idea of what I've found, so far. Thanks for your help.

Category:Antarctic expedition deaths
Deaths from hypothermia
Mountaineering deaths
Mountaineering deaths on Mount Everest
Accidental human deaths in the United States
posted by cadastral to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

well of course there is Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer.
posted by spicynuts at 10:08 AM on June 5, 2009

A different element from cold, but:

The Perfect Storm and
In the Heart of the Sea
posted by joaquim at 10:27 AM on June 5, 2009

Unflinching: A diary of tragic adventure is a diary of a youth in the first part of the 20th century who, with some more experienced adventurers, goes into the high arctic.

(Danger - spoilers ahead)

Things start to go wrong, they run out of food, and he documents their slow starvation. His final entry is just before his own death, when he realizes he's not going to live much longer, making an effort to secure his diary so that others will find it.

Wreck of the Medusa: The Tragic Story of the Death Raft - another account, this time in the 3rd person, about a french expedition in the 19th century to the coast of africa. Their ships run aground and the survivors create a ramshackle raft. They then descend into a lord-of-the-flies/tales-of-the-black-frieghter type scenario, where base fear trumps civilization and morality.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 10:34 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy the film Touching the Void, even though nobody actually dies. And how about Alive?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:25 AM on June 5, 2009

Touching the Void is an amazing movie, I second that recommendation. You also might want to check out the films that the Explorers Club film festival features, like "The Third Pole":
posted by jacquilinala at 11:37 AM on June 5, 2009

I just read The Lost City of Z and really liked it. It might not be exactly what you are looking for, but it does contain accounts of man vs nature/hardship/stiff upper-lippedness that the above quote exemplifies. And there is death/disappearances as well.
posted by ephemerista at 12:10 PM on June 5, 2009

Lots of hardship without the death by element quality, but you might enjoy reading about Captain Cook or Sir Richard Francis Burton.
posted by benzenedream at 12:56 PM on June 5, 2009

It's historical fiction rather than history, and has a supernatural element as well, but otherwise The Terror fits your criteria very well.
posted by dfan at 1:50 PM on June 5, 2009

No one died, but the greatest explorer of all was Shackelton, specifically the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914–17.
posted by RussHy at 1:59 PM on June 5, 2009

More nautical death: you might check out In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors by Doug Stanton. A good chunk of the book fits your bill: the tale of those who survived the torpedoing of the ship but eventually died while awaiting rescue.

Also, only one death was involved, but Men Against the Sea is the amazing story of William Bligh's journey in an open long boat over 3600 miles after the Bounty mutiny. (Note that the book is actually the second in a trilogy, so you might want to start with Mutiny on the Bounty. While they are technically historical fiction, they are quite accurate.)
posted by robhuddles at 2:42 PM on June 5, 2009

I recently read the Naomi Uemura entry on Wikipedia. I don't know of any stories specifically about him, but they would probably fit your criteria.
posted by soelo at 2:47 PM on June 5, 2009

Seconding anything on the Franklin Expedition (except that one loony book that argues they were eaten by aliens or something; the author never appears to have heard of 'polar bears' as a good reason to have loaded weapons on you in the Arctic!)

Plenty of other Arctic expeditions came pretty bloody close to being lost as well. Franklin's much earlier expedition in northern Canada came close to starvation, and he wrote about his experiences in The Journey To The Polar Sea (I've read an Everyman Library edition of this with an introduction by Captain Scott that talks about how inspired he was by Franklin - creepy as hell with the similar fates of the two men). George Back wrote of his Arctic expedition in Narrative of an Expedition in H. M. S. Terror, which has the ship's surgeon basically telling him they have to break out of the ice this summer or everyone will die; the ship was very nearly sunk when they made it to Ireland.
posted by Coobeastie at 3:10 PM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Weird and Tragic Shores - a very highly rated book about Charles Francis Hall.

- AJ
posted by Alaska Jack at 11:11 PM on June 6, 2009

« Older Dog Boarding in North Jersey?   |   Whats the best way to send painting across the... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.