6. The Overland Relief Expedition
In the winter of 1897, a fleet of eight whaling vessels, along with 265 crew members, was trapped by ice in the Arctic Ocean. Because of the thick ice, it would be six months before rescue vessels could reach the trapped ships, and the crews stood no chance of survival without food and supplies. The dangers of the Arctic were well-known, and the situation seemed dire. Just two decades earlier, 13 vessels had been lost in the same area.
Sensing the urgency of the situation, President McKinley ordered the US Coast Guard cutter Bear, under the command of Captain Francis Tuttle, to deliver supplies to the trapped whalers. The Bear sailed as far north as the ice would allow and landed three crew members on the coast of Alaska. Using dogsleds, the three traveled over 2,400 kilometers (1,500 mi) across the frozen tundra, where the temperature sometimes dropped to –51 degrees Celsius (–60 °F). The entire journey took three months. When they finally reached the ships, they were able to deliver critical supplies to the whalers, many of whom were suffering from scurvy.
The Bear itself was not able to reach the area until July, when the ice had broken up enough to allow passage. Until they did, Captain Tuttle had no idea if the overland journey had been successful. It had, and the Bear was able to bring the whalers back home, the majority of them having survived.
5. The Darien Exploring Expedition
The Darien Exploring Expedition in 1854 was a US venture to explore the area that would later become the Panama Canal. A party of 27 men under the command of Lieutenant Isaac Strain, traveled deep into the Panamanian jungle, seeking a water route from Caledonia Bay on the Atlantic Ocean to Darien Harbor on the Pacific. However, for some reason, they only brought enough provisions for 10 days, and they soon became lost and separated.
At one point, the party met a group of friendly natives, who they hoped would lead them back to a river that led to Darien Harbor. Instead, they were led in the wrong direction and became even more lost. Still, the party voted to continue on rather than return to their ship.
This proved to be a costly mistake, as they were farther off course than they thought and their maps of the area were incomplete. Trudging through the jungle, they encountered dense brush and relentless mosquitoes. They ran out of food, and their feet became swollen from walking. Strain, an experienced adventurer, declared that it was the most difficult jungle that he had ever traversed. At one point, they built a raft, only to be forced to abandon it soon after. With no choice but to continue on foot until they reached the Pacific, men began to drop dead of disease and malnutrition.
Eventually Strain managed to reach the Pacific coast, where he acquired canoes and supplies to take back to his men, who could no longer travel. He returned to find some of them dead and many others starving, filthy, and sick. Nine of the expedition’s men died.