People explore for different reasons; perhaps to get away from the city, get an adrenaline rush or to keep fit. What bonds us all together is the strange enjoyment of the susceptibility to danger. Even those who don’t want to admit it, have to accept that being caught in an avalanche is part of what makes off-piste skiing so exciting.
Here I will highlight some of the most famous accidents caused by Mother Nature – some have happy endings and some don’t… (Note how many have been adapted to films and books)
Touching the Void – Perhaps regarded as one of the most incredible survival stories of all time is that of Joe Simpson whilst climbing in the Peruvian Andes in 1985 with fellow climber Simon Yates. After a series of accidents caused by heavy conditions and various bodily injuries including frostbite and a broken leg, Yates was forced to cut a rope attached to Simpson leaving him on a ledge down a crevasse.
Forced to assume Simpson was dead, Yates returned to base camp. To his delight and disbelief, 5 hours before Yates’ scheduled departure, a delirious, malnourished Joe Simpson returned to base camp after a superhuman example of survival instinct. This was adapted to a novel in 1988 and a documentary film in 2003.
White Friday 1916 – Hundreds of Austrian troops stationed in a barracks near the Gran Poz summit of Mount Marmolada were in particular danger. Although the camp was well-placed to protect it from Italian attack, it was situated directly under a mountain of unstable snow.
On December 13, approximately 200,000 tons of snow, rock and ice plunged down the mountain directly onto the barracks. About 200 troops were pulled to safety, but 300 others died. Only a few of the bodies were recovered. By the end of December of that year it was estimated that between 9,000 to 10,000 Italian and Austrian soldiers died.
Red Sky in Mourning – When accomplished sailors Tami Oldham Ashcraft and Richard Sharp left Tahiti for San Diego the sky was blue, the sea was calm and perfect conditions were predicted for their 31 day journey. 19 days in however, they ran into a force 4 hurricane with waves over 5 stories high toying with the 44 foot luxury yacht, Hazana. Waking up after 27 hours of unconsciousness, 23 year-old Ashcraft found herself with a boat containing 3m of water, only a working rudder and no boyfriend. Left with only her native instincts and an often-wavering will to survive, Ashcraft managed to chart a path to the Hawaiian islands, though averaging only two knots an hour. Due to the fact all the electrics had been fried and there was no radio, she was forced to man the steering wheel at all times or risk losing her course.
After pulling in to Hilo Harbour, Hawaii, she weighed only 100 pounds (40 pounds less than when she started), and the boat was declared a total loss by the insurer.
Mark Inglis and Phil Doole could have both been forgiven for giving climbing up after a blizzard on Auroka Mt.Cook led to both of them suffering from frostbite and having their legs amputated.
What is more impressive than the survival story itself is the character the two men have shown to continue their respective climbing careers. Both have now gone on to summit Mt. Cook, and in 2006, Inglis became the first double amputee to conquer Mt Everest, losing five fingertips and more flesh off his legs to frostbite, though none of his strength of character.
He told the New Zealand Herald, “When you lose your legs when you’re 23… something like this is just a minor hiccup, just a bump in the journey, really.”