Chart an exploration into this listing of nonfiction titles featuring courageous, yet catastrophic, expeditions into the unknown.
With rival warships and explorers from England and France days behind, the 27-member U.S. Darién Exploring Expedition attempted to be the first to traverse the 40-mile isthmus, the narrowest spot between the Atlantic and Pacific in all the Americas. This account of their 97-day ordeal of starvation, exhaustion, and madness—a tragedy turned “triumph of the soul” due to the courage and self-sacrifice of their leader and the seamen who devotedly followed him— is based on the vividly detailed log entries of Strain and his junior officers, other period sources, and author Balf’s own treks in the Darién Gap. Also available as an audiobook on Libby / OverDrive.
In 1880, the French government ordered a surveying expedition for a railway that would bring the wealth of Timbuktu in French Sudan to Paris. Under-armed in hostile territory, and employing the enemy as guides, the one hundred men of the expedition were ambushed and stranded without camels or supplies in the deserts of southern Algeria. Many were killed outright, and for four months the survivors were menaced, robbed, starved, and tricked into eating poisoned fruit. To escape, the men hid in the wastelands of the Sahara with little hope of finding food or water.
In 1967, twelve young men attempted to climb Alaska’s Mount McKinley – known to locals as Denali – one of the most popular and deadly mountaineering destinations in the world. Only five survived. At an elevation of nearly 20,000 feet, these young men endured an “arctic super blizzard,” with howling winds of up to 300 miles an hour and wind chill that freezes flesh solid in minutes without the high-tech gear and equipment climbers use today. Was enough done to rescue the climbers, or were their fates sealed when they ascended into the path of this unprecedented storm? Also available as an audiobook on hoopladigital.
In the late nineteenth century, people were obsessed by one of the last unmapped areas of the globe: the North Pole. No one knew what existed beyond the fortress of ice rimming the northern oceans, although theories abounded. On July 8, 1879, the USS Jeannette set sail from San Francisco to cheering crowds in the grip of “Arctic Fever.” The ship sailed into uncharted seas, but soon was trapped in pack ice. Two years into the harrowing voyage, the hull was breached and the men found themselves marooned a thousand miles north of Siberia with only the barest supplies. Also available as an ebook on Libby / OverDrive.
The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride / Daniel James Brown
In April of 1846, twenty-one-year-old Sarah Graves, set out from Illinois with her new husband, her parents, and eight siblings. Seven months later, after joining a party of pioneers led by George Donner, they reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains as the first heavy snows of the season closed the pass ahead of them. In early December, starving and desperate, Sarah and fourteen others set out for California on snowshoes, and over the next thirty-two days endured almost unfathomable hardships and horrors. Also available as an audiobook on hoopladigital.
AUDIOBOOK/CD 796.522 DAV
On June 6, 1924, two men set out from a camp perched at 23,000 feet on an ice ledge just below the lip of Everest’s North Col. George Mallory, thirty-seven, was Britain’s finest climber. Sandy Irvine was a twenty-two-year-old Oxford scholar with little previous mountaineering experience. Neither of them returned. Author and explorer Wade Davis sets the climber’s achievements in historical context: from Britain’s nineteenth-century imperial ambitions to England’s post-World War I redemption efforts. Also available as an audiobook on CD.
AUDIOBOOK/CD 910.9163 LEV
In July 1881, Lt. A.W. Greely and his crew of 24 scientists and explorers were bound for the last region unmarked on global maps. Their goal: Farthest North, where they confronted every possible challenge—vicious wolves, sub-zero temperatures, and months of total darkness—as they set about exploring one of the most remote, unrelenting environments on the planet. In May 1882, they returned to camp to eagerly await the resupply ship scheduled to return at the end of the year. Only nothing came. Months passed, and Greely made a drastic choice: he and his men loaded the remaining provisions and tools onto their five small boats and pushed off into the treacherous waters. Also available as an audiobook on CD.
For centuries, Europeans believed the Amazon, the world’s largest rain forest, concealed the glittering kingdom of El Dorado. In 1925, British explorer Percy Fawcett ventured into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization, hoping to make one of the most important discoveries in history. Then, he vanished. Over the years, many perished trying to find evidence of his party and the place he called “The Lost City of Z”. After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, writer David Grann set out to uncover the mysteries surrounding Fawcett’s final journey and the secrets of what lies deep in the Amazon jungle. Also available as an ebook and audiobook on Libby / OverDrive.
Madhouse at the End of the Earth: The Belgica’s Journey into the Dark Antarctic Night / Julian Sancton In August 1897, young Belgian commandant Adrien de Gerlache set sail for a three-year expedition with dreams of glory. His destination was the uncharted end of the earth: the icy continent of Antarctica. Drawing on the diaries and journals of the crew and with exclusive access to the ship’s logbook, Sancton unfolds the story of the Belgica, its captain and two of its crew members: the expedition’s lone American, Dr. Frederick Cook—half genius, half con man—whose later infamy would overshadow his brilliance on the Belgica; and the ship’s first mate, soon-to-be legendary Roald Amundsen, even in his youth the storybook picture of a sailor who would plan a last-ditch, nearly certain-to-fail escape from the ice.
AUDIOBOOK/CD 918.113 MIL
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey / Candice Millard
After his election defeat in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt set his sights on the most punishing physical challenge he could find, the first descent of an unmapped, rapids-choked tributary of the Amazon. Together with his son Kermit and Brazil’s most famous explorer, Cândido Mariano da Silva Rondon, he faced an unbelievable series of hardships, losing their canoes and supplies to punishing whitewater rapids, and enduring starvation, Indian attack, disease, drowning, and a murder within their own ranks. Also available as an ebook and audiobook on Libby / OverDrive.
A Voyage for Madmen / Peter Nichols
In 1968, nine sailors set off on the most daring race ever held and never before completed: to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe nonstop. Ten months later, only one of the nine men would cross the finish line and earn fame, wealth, and glory. For the others, the reward was madness, failure, and death. This tale of sailors chronicles the contest of the individual against the sea, waged at a time before cell phones, satellite dishes, and electronic positioning systems.
As tension steadily rose between European powers in the 1930s, teams of mountaineers from Great Britain, Nazi Germany, and the United States were all competing to be the first to climb the world’s highest peaks, including Mount Everest and K2. Unlike climbers today, they had few photographs or maps, no properly working oxygen systems, and they wore leather boots and cotton parkas. This real-life adventure story moves from the streets of Manhattan to the footlights of the West End, from deadly avalanches on Nanga Parbat to rioting in the Kashmir, and finally to the wild mountain dreams of a New Zealand beekeeper named Edmund Hillary and a young Sherpa runaway called Tenzing Norgay.