Kingdom of Blizzards
In 1911, eager to leave behind the workaday world and return to polar exploration, Douglas Mawson, the stoic geologist and control freak, leads a scientific expedition to unknown Antarctica. When one of his sledge party members falls to his death taking their vital supplies with him, Mawson must take control of what is ‘up to him’ and leave the rest to Providence if he and his remaining companion are to survive their 300 mile trek home.
It’s the beginning of the 20th century. Explorers from all over the world seek personal glory on the frozen Antarctic continent. Some die in the pursuit.
Geologist Douglas Mawson, a stoic, strong-willed control freak has just returned from Antarctica. He credits Providence’s divine will for his survival, but he hopes to return. He’s not after fame. He wants to fill in the empty map and do lots of science.
When famous explorer Captain Scott rejects his plan, Mawson decides to raise funds and lead his own expedition. He works hard lobbying governments, hiring his team and purchasing equipment. He even overcomes his future father-in-law’s objections to the expedition.
In December 1911, Mawson and his 30 scientists wave goodbye to their loved ones. The Aurora steams full-ahead south.
After weeks of sailing stormy seas, Mawson finds a suitable harbor along the icy coast. He demands hard work from the men, labors along side them. They build a large hut, but unfortunately they’ve chosen the windiest spot on earth. The bad weather stalls their plans for exploration and the men grow restless. Several resent Mawson’s iron-fisted leadership. Tensions rise until the dissenters have it out with Mawson. He realizes he has been too demanding and lightens the work schedule.
They’re running out of time to explore. Finally, Mawson can wait no longer. He decides to launch separate sledge missions in four directions. He leads the far east party, the longest and most dangerous mission. Ninnis and Mertz, popular and hard-working, and 17 Greenland huskies go with him.
They conquer crevasses and hurricane force winds and make scientific observations along the way. Mertz thinks that God has forgotten this harsh landscape. In a few weeks, they are only 50 miles from their goal. Then in a flash, Ninnis falls to his death in a bottomless crevasse. The team’s food, vital supplies and best dogs go with him.
Mawson and Mertz are stricken with grief for their lost friend. Mertz questions the ways of God, Mawson appeals to God for help. The men struggle against a blizzard across dangerous ice to return to the Hut. They kill, cook and eat the dogs for sustenance along the way, but still they weaken. They don’t know that the dog livers they are eating are poisoning them. One night, Mertz succumbs to exposure and sickness and dies in his sleep.
Mawson carries on, but he’s sick, frozen and alone. Then, he breaks through a snow lid and plunges into the darkness of a crevasse. His harness rope attached to his sledge above saves him but now he’s hanging in a void. He pulls himself up, calling on every bit of his waning strength. Just as he makes it out, the surface ice breaks and he falls back down again.
At the end of his rope, he considers suicide. Thoughts of Providence, his loved ones and the remaining food empower him. With one last, supreme effort he climbs to the surface.
Mawson is empty. Providentially, as he wanders over the next several days, he discovers a bag of food left by a search party. The bag also contains coordinates for home. When he finally arrives at the Hut, he thanks Providence for his good fortune. The men don’t recognize him.
The expedition will succeed in filling in much of the map of Antarctica. Mawson will one day publish volumes of the expedition’s enormous scientific research. Sir Edmund Hillary will call his ordeal “the greatest survival story in the history of exploration.”
But for now, a chastened Mawson recovers at the Hut. He follows the other men around. Not to talk, just to be near them.