Hanging by a thread

Mawson plunged down a crevasse, dangling on a rope
Mawson plunged down a crevasse on January 17, 1913, dangling 14 feet on the end of a rope. 'So this is the end,' thought Mawson. From the film 'Mawson the Survivor', with Paul Butler as Mawson. Australian Antarctic Division

On a humid, sunless morning Mawson struggled through snow in a heavily crevassed region in the upper reaches of the Mertz Glacier, luckily missing ‘several large open crevasses’. In the warm conditions he was wearing little clothing. He was tied by a length of rope to his sledge in case of mishap.

Suddenly he found himself dangling on the end of the rope down a crevasse, with his sledge slowly moving toward the edge.

I had time to say to myself ‘So this is the end’, expecting every moment the sledge to crash on my head and both of us to go to the bottom unseen below. Then I thought of the food left uneaten in the sledge – and, as the sledge stopped without coming down, I thought of Providence again giving me a chance.

It seemed only a ‘very small’ chance, given that the rope was sawing into the overhanging lid, his fingers were damaged, he was weak and he was wearing little clothing, but it was enough for Mawson to give it a try.

With the feeling that Providence was helping me I made a great struggle, half getting out, then slipping back again several times, but at last just did it. Then I felt grateful to Providence. I was wet and cold and overcome, so decided to put up tent.

This page was last modified on January 23, 2014.