Just before Christmas he realized how intensely lonely he was, and he started going a little batty. He watched herds of caribou wander across the ice of the lake, and he decided that he NEEDED to meet the caribou on Christmas day. So for several days he took huge quantities of salt from a distant mountain and spread it on the ice, letting the caribou get used to his smell on the salt that they apparently craved. On Christmas he went and stood motionless on the ice, and after a bit of uncertainty the caribou herd surrounded him to eat the salt. Within hours he was walking among them, feeding them out of his hands...hundreds of wild caribou. That was his Christmas miracle, and it got him through the winter.
But now I'm reading a somewhat less happy book: "Ice: Stories of Survival from Polar Exploration." The editor (Clint Willis) has found all the most harrowing and gruesome excerpts, perfect for a person like me who -- for some reason -- NEEDS to know how terrible and unforgiving nature can be. And also likes to hear gory stories.
In 1912, Douglas Mawson went on an Antarctic expedition with two other men and a dog team. Far from shelter, one of the men and most of the dogs fell into a glacial crevasse, taking most of the supplies with them. If there's one thing I'm learning it's that glaciers are really frightening places to be, and if you fall into a glacial crevasse you're never coming out.
During Mawson's 100-mile walk back to shelter, alone, starving, he starts noticing an "awkward, lumpy, squeltching feeling" in his feet. The following description is not for the faint-hearted, and it's kept me in a state of low-level anxiety for about 24 hours:
The sight of his feet was a hammerblow to the heart. The lumpy, awkward feeling came from underneath--where both his soles had separated into casts of dead skin. The thick pads of the feet had come away leaving abraded, raw tissue. His soles and heels were stripped; an abundant, watery fluid filled his socks, and it was that which had caused the squelching feeling. A wave of despair rode over him. He sat aghast, staring at the ruined feet he had trusted to carry him to Aurora Peak. He was to write later: "All that could be done was to heavily smear the red inflamed exposed flesh with lanolin--and luckily I had a good supply--and then replace the separated soles and bind them into position with bandages. They were the softest things I had available to put next to the raw tissue."This man walked almost 100 miles with the soles of his feet detached. And you know what? He made it and lived another 40 years.