The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure
Martin W. Sandler
The dead of an Arctic winter. Whaling ships full of men, stranded in ice. Follow three rescuers in a race against time — and all odds — in this heartpounding true adventure.
In 1897, whaling in the Arctic waters off Alaska’s coast was as dangerous as it was lucrative. And in that particular year, winter blasted early, bringing storms and ice packs that caught eight American whale ships and three hundred sailors off guard. Their ships locked in ice, with no means of escape, the whalers had limited provisions on board, and little hope of surviving until warmer temperatures arrived many months later. Here is the incredible story of three men sent by President McKinley to rescue them. The mission? A perilous trek over 1,500 miles of nearly impassable Alaskan terrain, in the bone-chilling months of winter, to secure two herds of reindeer (for food) and find a way to guide them to the whalers before they starve. With the help of photographs and journal entries by one of the rescuers, Martin W. Sandler takes us on every step of their riveting journey, facing raging blizzards, killing cold, injured sled dogs, and setbacks to test the strongest of wills.
snugly it hauls up over the load and the ends overlap on top. The load is then lashed the whole length of the sled with hide thongs. By this arrangement [the] sled will stand considerable shaking . . . without spilling the load.” With space upon the sleds at a premium, each item packed aboard was carefully chosen, all with the awareness that many nights would be spent camped out in a wild, barren wilderness. “Our camp-gear,” Bertholf would write, “consisted of a wall-tent, stove and pipe, two
skilled in meeting the challenge of camping out overnight in the frozen wilderness areas between villages. “One of us,” Bertholf would write, “would pitch the tent while another chopped a supply of firewood, and still another unharnessed the dogs and unloaded the sleds, [making sure that the provisions were securely covered,] for the dogs would devour everything left within reach. Boots or . . . clothing left carelessly exposed were always found half chewed in the morning, for the poor little
. . . and were compelled to eat their dogs before the storm passed over. We had never allowed the darker side of the stories we had heard to trouble us, except so far as to make our preparations more complete, yet often during our long flight up this coast if one had dared let down we might have been left somewhere on the road.” By this time, Jarvis and Call had become expert at coping with the conditions. “We had now been traveling so long that our camping and packing sleds had been reduced to
stooped so low as to rob their graveyard. But I did my best — and was fairly overwhelmed by their generous response. . . . I was careful to take down the names of all donors, however, and [eventually I] saw that each native was well rewarded. They never forgot that.” From the moment he had arrived at Point Barrow, Jarvis had been appalled at the whalemen’s filthy condition. Making it clear to all the whalers that “cleanliness was an absolute necessity,” he issued to every man one pound of soap
his vessel on account of a dispute with the [captain], and asked that he be taken into the quarters with the shipwrecked men. Upon investigation, his cause for leaving was found to be so trivial that I returned him to the vessel the next day and admonished him to remain there. I suspected and subsequently learned that this man was put forward to try me . . . and if he had been allowed to leave the vessel all the other dissatisfied ones would soon have followed. As he had to walk 50 miles coming