Posts filed under Hero

Scattering Sir Hubert Wilkins’ ashes

Photo by Commander James F. Calvert from National Geographic

Photo by Commander James F. Calvert from National Geographic

On March 17th 1959, the USS Skate reached the North Pole. The American submarine broke through the pack ice into the arctic dusk. A storm was blowing as 2 dozen men gathered, by torchlight, and scattered the mortal remains of the legendary Australian explorer Sir George Hubert Wilkins. Commander James F. Calvert read the traditional Episcal for a burial at sea as a rifle squad fired three volleys and raised the Australian flag.

I first heard of this story many years ago when I read "Icemen", a history of arctic and antarctic exploration. The vivid imagery that this story conjured stuck firmly in my head and in the July 1959 issue of National Geographic Magazine, I found the photograph I'd been searching for since reading about this great Australian.

Wilkins, although little heard of compared to his contemporaries, was one of the most successful explorers to ever live. He saw more virgin land than anyone else in history; he was a polar explorer, ornithologist, pilot, soldier, geographer and photographer. A pioneer of aviation he was the first to pass over the North Pole in an aeroplane and to fly a plane the Antarctic. He was also the first to envision and to undertake a submarine journey under the Arctic ice.

Although he never completed his submarine journey to the floating pole, more than 20 years on Wilkins' widow passed on a copper urn to the crew of the USS Skate who would take the journey he envisioned and scatter his remains at the North Pole.

Mawson's Hut

Mawson's Hut, Cape Denison

Mawson's Hut, Cape Denison

Sir Douglas Mawson was an Australian geologist, explorer and accedemic during the early 1900s. So much has been written about this great man I do not feel qualified to add any more, but I came across a fascinating site which I wanted to share. At "360 Cities" they have a full 360 view inside Mawson's hut at Cape Denison. Looking around this preserved piece of history sends shivers up my spine.

It is well worth taking some time exploring this amazing place.
 Explore the Main Hut hereMawsons Room here and Frank Hurley's Darkroom here

This was the main base used during the 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition. Where Mawson stumbled back to, alone, after his ill-fated 1912 outing to survey King George V Land. His fellow explorers Xavier Mertz and Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis had been killed forcing Mawson to walk the last 100 miles solo. Take a moment to pay your respects at Ninnis and Mertz Memorial Cross, Azimuth Hill.

Mawson's hut is being preserved by the Mawson's Huts Foundation and the Australian Antarctic Division.

Posted on December 31, 2011 and filed under Hero.

John "Snowshoe" Thompson

Snowshoe Thompson

Snowshoe Thompson

Snowshoe Thompson was a legendary Norweigen-American, often cited as being the father of California skiing. In 1855 he answered an ad in the Sacremento Union “People Lost to the World; Uncle Sam Needs a Mail Carrier” he vonlunteered to carry the mail across the crest of the Sierra between Placerville, California and Genoa, Nevada. During the winter months he was the only link between California and the Atlantic States.

Originally from the Telemark county in Norway he mimicked the Norwegian "ski–skates" crafting 10 foot long, 6 inch wide skis from valley oak. For 2o winters he took to the high passes through Hope Valley, carrying up to 100 pounds of mail on his back. The rountrip was 220 miles and took him 5 days. He always travelled alone and never took a map or compass stating "There is no danger of getting lost in a narrow range of mountains like the Sierra, if a man has his wits about him." Thompson took great pride in his work and never received payment for his service.

Jill Beede has written a fascinating history  well worth checking out. Her summary of his gear is particularly interesting.

Thompson always wore a Mackinaw jacket, a wide rimmed hat, and covered his face in charcoal to prevent snow blindness. He carried no blankets, but he did carry matches to start fires, and his bible. He snacked on dried sausage, jerked beef, crackers, and biscuits. When a storm kept him from proceeding he would find a flat rock, clear it of snow, and dance old Norwegian folk dances until it passed, then he would continue on his way. He rested but briefly, and usually only long enough for a crust to form back over the fresh snow, for easier passage.
— Jill Beede

As with a lot of historic heros it is hard to get hard facts but either way it is a great story, there has been a lot written about the great man the most in depth study I came across was by the Norwegian-American Historical Association which is well worth a look.

Posted on December 8, 2011 and filed under Hero.