When I started my 30 day life experiment of reading and reviewing one short story per day, many friends and family suggested reading “To Build a Fire”. It turned out to be a fantastic story of survival (or rather not survival, sorry to blow the ending). I read it in a book called, “The Greatest Survival Stories Ever Told” with stories from Krakauer, Shackelton, Kipling, and others. It looks pretty epic so I put it on my reading list for when I’m in the mood for grueling stories of human survival.
The story reminded me how little mistakes in the back country like getting your feet wet can be deadly. A lot of times I find myself out hiking in poor weather and think about how “doable” the hike is despite poor or deteriorating conditions. I don’t often think about, “What would happen if something went wrong? Would I be able to get out on my own? Would I be able to survive for several days if I had to?” Something as minor as a twisted ankle or broken bone can be devastating if you’re a dozen miles from civilization. Granted, I never hike or climb alone like the main character in this story does.
The main character set off in -50F weather in Alaska to hike 20 miles to his friends camp. He went alone despite repeated advice from elders to never travel alone in -50F weather. The trek was surely “doable” and he had done it before in sub zero weather but -50F is certainly very different than -5F. If the littlest thing goes wrong, you could be totally screwed. A little thing did end up going wrong and it ended up costing him his life. He stepped through a snow-bridge, got his feet wet, tried to build a fire, failed, went through the various stages of hypothermia, fell asleep, and died only a few miles from his friends.
It reminds me a lot of a near death experience a classmate of mine had in College. Relatively inexperienced in the winter, he went out on a “doable” winter hike with his brother, ended up getting his feet wet, getting hypothermia, getting lost, sleepy, etc. They managed to get off the trail and to a hospital but not after starting a full blown search and rescue effort. There were many things he did wrong but suffice it to say, he easily could have died that day simply because his feet got wet. Check out this article on CollegeOutside.com for a more detailed recap of the experience:
About the Author Jack London:
Jack London was an American author, journalist, and social activist. He was a pioneer in the then-burgeoning world of commercial magazine fiction and was one of the first fiction writers to obtain worldwide celebrity and a large fortune from his fiction alone. He is best remembered as the author of Call of the Wild and White Fang, both set in the Klondike Gold Rush, as well as the short stories “To Build a Fire”, “An Odyssey of the North”, and “Love of Life”. He also wrote of the South Pacific in such stories as “The Pearls of Parlay” and “The Heathen”, and of the San Francisco Bay area in The Sea Wolf. London was a passionate advocate of unionization, socialism, and the rights of workers. (Courtesy of Amazon.com)
To see more of the books I’ve read and reviewed, check out my virtual bookshelf from Shelfari.com:
- Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield