It seems as if history has taught us time and time again that trying to make it through the freeze is wrought with peril. Frost bite, snow blindness, altitude sickness, pulmonary edemas and avalanches make death almost certain when trying to trek through specific regions of the world. Being unprepared can often be a reason as to why death occurs, however weather can be unpredictable and very unforgiving. According to avalanche.state.co.us in the last 10 years an average of 28 people a year die due to avalanches in the United States alone, and if you plan to travel anywhere higher than 7,000, meters, the death rate due to the altitude is four percent. On Everest alone, the world’s tallest peak, 264 people have died since 1924. And yet people still make it a mission to climb it.
This list explores both old and new tragedies, where brave explorers pay the ultimate price to Mother Nature’s white fury. While the call to explore is strong in many people, this list will show how you must be prepared, stay sharp at all times, and stay humble in the face of nature whether it’s on a mountain thousands of meters high, on the sea, in the arctic or even flying over it. Many of the people on this list were ill prepared and underestimated the true power of Mother Nature.
10. Alaskan Whaling Disaster of 1871
The United States has always been rather ambitious. In August 1871 a fleet of 32 American ships were sent out, carrying more than 1,200 men to the Arctic coast of Alaska to hunt captain Ahab’s nemesis, the great whale.
At the time whales were plentiful and predictable, so it was rather unlikely something would go wrong. Mother Nature had her own plans that day though, and all 32 ships got trapped in the ice.
Thanks to the quick work of the captains (and some miraculous luck) all men managed to abandon the boats and safely row 90 miles south on flimsy life boats past the Icy Cape. Not a single life of the 1,200 people was lost. Unfortunately this is the only story on the list with a happy ending.
9. USS Jeannette Expedition to the North Pole
The USS Jeannette had the ironic fate of a tragic ending while searching for another group of lost polar explorers. Lead by the experienced and celebrated Lieutenant Commander George W. DeLong the USS Jeannette had the task of finding the long overdue Swedish polar cohort of Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld.
USS Jeannette left San Francisco in July 1879 and two months later got trapped in the ice. They stuck with the mission and drifted, incredibly in the right direction, for two years while trapped. Eventually though, the ship was crushed and the men had to abandon the mission. The 32 men then began a trek across Siberia.
They soon discovered that Siberia isn’t as uninhabited as one would think. While not the ideal piece of real estate many indigenous settlements were found that helped the crew. Even with all the help, DeLong and the 20 other men never made it.
8. The Last Voyage of the HMCS Karluk
In 1913, Canada felt the Arctic fever and wanted to give polar exploration a go. The Canadian Arctic Expedition was spearheaded by anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who was accompanied by 24 men.
The first step of the voyage was to meet with the expedition’s other vessels on Hershel Island, but the ship was not destined to even complete this first step. Only 200 miles from the island, and one month in, the ship got trapped in ice. While drifting away a group of the crew, including Captain Stefansson made a rookie mistake and decided to leave the ship to go hunt. They never made it back to the drifting ship, which later on crushed and sank. The 11 men died before they were able to be rescued, they struggled to survive along the icy shores of Wrangle Island.
7. S.A Andree’s Arctic Balloon Expedition
It was the Heroic Age of Polar Exploration and Swedish aeronaut S.A. Andree wasn’t about to miss out. In 1897, when all other methods of reaching the Arctic had failed, Andree was convinced that flying a hydrogen balloon over all the danger would work. He dragged along two others, Nils Strindberg and Knut Fraenkel, and set off in a balloon that had never been tested after it was manufactured.
To Andree’s credit he did study at the Royal Institute of Technology, invented a handful of new equipment for the balloon and even was financially supported by the King of Sweden. Even with these merits the expedition quickly failed. After only 2 days, 300 miles from where they started in Svalbard, the balloon crashed. While the men survived the crash they didn’t survive the cruel terrain and died still in Svalbard.
6. German Expedition to Nanga Parbat
In 1937 a German expedition of the ninth highest peak in the world, Nanga Parbat in Pakistan, was undertaken. During this time many were fascinated by this mountain; this was the third attempt to summit. Karl Wien led this third failed expedition, taking the same route as his predecessors. At Camp Four, all 16 men were killed instantly by an avalanche, once again proving the unequivocal might of Mother Nature.
5. 2008 K2 Mountaineering Tragedy
This goliath, K2, is the second highest mountain on earth, falling short of Everest by only 800 feet. It is regarded by experts, however, as far more challenging than Everest. And in August 2008 the single worst accident of K2 mountaineering history occurred.
The climbing season was already off to a rough start that year as the ascent was pushed back a whole month. The 22 climbers who were waiting to go had spent the last two months getting acclimatized to the altitude and so by August 1, 2008 they were ready to go. Little did these expert climbers know that over the next three days 11 members of their team would die.
The first to die was Dren Mandic, who unclipped himself to let other climbers pass. Some of his team went to retrieve their partner only to have another teammate, Jehan Baig, also slip and fall to his death as well.
Many climbers summited that day, despite the deaths. A total of 18 climbers summited 16 hours after leaving camp. But, contrary to popular belief, it is easier going up than it is coming down: for every four climbers that summit, one will die on the descent. The sun went down and by the 3rd of August, 9 more people had died.
4. Soviet Expedition of the Pamir Mountains
In 1990 the remote Pamir Mountains in Soviet Central Asia claimed the lives of 40 climbers one cold July day. The expedition consisted of a 140-member international group of experienced mountaineers. While the cohort was primarily Soviet it also included Czechoslovak, Israeli, Swiss, and Spanish climbers.
The Pamir range houses the highest mountains in the former USSR and had ( they have since changed) such names as Communism Peak, Stalin Peak and Lenin Peak. That fateful day not even the most patriotic were spared from a frozen fate. An earthquake in the mountain range set off an avalanche that engulfed the well-established camp only two miles below the summit of Lenin Peak.
3. May 1996 Everest Disaster
Many gruesome accounts have been told of this tragic May day. During that spring season in 1996, 15 people died, and on that specific stretch of May 10th-11th, eight of those lives were claimed by the white abyss.
That day in 1996 claimed the lives of both rookie and expert climbers; Three of the eight were expert guides and another three of the eight were Indo-Tibetan Border Police. The reasons for the disaster are heavily debated to this day. Factors included the absurd weather, the lack of oxygen, and the extremely ambitious inexperienced climbers who had paid huge sums of money to summit that day.
2. 2014 Everest Avalanche
Everest makes a second appearance on this list, this time with more fatalities and further from the summit. This time tragedy hit near Base Camp, a relatively safe location on the towering mountain. Similar to the previous disaster in 1996 which raised questions about the commercialization of Everest, this disaster instigated debate as well.
There were 25 men working on setting up ropes for the climbers when the fall of an enormous piece of ice known as a serac triggered an avalanche. One of the interesting facts about this Everest tragedy is that all 16 deaths were Nepalese guides. After the avalanche and the deaths of these 16 Sherpa on April 18, 2014, the Sherpas staged a strike and refused to work on Everest for the rest of that year.
1. Terra Nova Expedition
The Terra Nova Expedition of 1912 is a classic tragedy. The Greeks couldn’t have written a better Arctic Tragedy if they had been there themselves. The ambitious British Antarctic Expedition, led by the experienced Robert Falcon Scott, set off in January 1912 with the fancy of becoming the first to reach the South Pole.
Sixty five men were chosen from an applicant pool of 8,000. The modern equivalent of£3 million ($4.5 million) was poured into the venture from private funds. The top scientists were brought along and the best naval ship was chosen. The voyage starts off great and has a few stops along the way, including a certain Norwegian encampment that they are destined to see again.
OK, so Scott’s team wasn’t exactly the dream team, despite the hype at the time. They were not even the only team at the time trying to make it first to the South Pole. Around 25 km away from their goal they discovered that a certain Norwegian team (yes, the same one from before!) had beaten them by 34 days. Roald Amundsen is the Norwegian credited with being the first to reach the South Pole, with no casualties. Perhaps it was from heartbreak, but after this discovery Scott’s men started to die off. The first death is on February 17th and in a month every single man in the British Antarctic Expedition perished.
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