September 28, 2023

In the Land of White Death, by Valerian Albanov, English translation published in 2000 by Random House, 205 pages.  Originally published in Russian in 1917.

In the Land of White Death, by Valerian Albanov

In April 1914, navigator Albanov led a group of fourteen men, embarking on a perilous journey from their stranded ship, the Santa Clara. Using makeshift sleds and kayaks constructed from ship supplies, the team faced an initial setback as four members opted to return to the ship, leaving a group of eleven to soldier on.

As April concluded, they managed to procure several seals in open waters, vital for sustenance. Tragically, a member disappeared on May 4th. By May 25th, they killed a polar bear, consuming its liver, only to fall ill, possibly from the bear’s liver high in vitamin A or from trichinosis, a condition seals typically don’t transmit.

The hide of this bear, once valued at roughly $100 (the Russian Ruble was worth .5145 dollars in 1914, so 200 Rubles would be about $100 or about five ounces of gold.), was later burned for fuel. On May 31st, they shot another bear that nearly eluded them. Around June 4th, they had yet another chance for food, but the bear managed to escape their pursuit.

Relying heavily on hunting for sustenance, the group’s spirits lifted when they sighted land on June 9th. Their exact location, long uncertain, was discerned through extraordinary celestial navigation and a copied explorer’s map. As they journeyed, their instruments fell apart due to the challenging conditions.

Armed with guns and ammunition, their most prized possessions, two members made a surprising decision to desert the group on June 17th, taking weapons and supplies. By June 25th, the remaining eight members reached land, and by June 28th, they crossed paths with the deserters, who had a recent kill: a polar bear. Despite his initial rage, Albanov forgave the deserters, realizing that of the original eleven, ten had made it to land.

They encountered a wealth of food on this newfound land, primarily geese and their eggs. However, illness plagued them, eventually claiming a life and leaving only nine. With diminishing supplies, they split into two groups: one overland and one by kayaks. Their plan to reunite failed. By July 8th, the kayak team, aiming for a decade-old supply camp, faced a treacherous storm. Only two out of the original Santa Clara crew survived.

These resilient survivors successfully crossed to Cape Flora, finding a camp stocked with tinned supplies. As they recuperated, they sighted another ship, the Saint Foka, on July 20th. Although the Saint Foka had its challenges, it was their ticket home. They eventually reached the Russian village of Rynda on August 10, 1914, only to discover that Russia had entered the First World War.

In the end, only two men, Valerian Albanov and Alexander Konrad, survived the ordeal and were rescued by the Saint Foka.

This book chronicles a tale filled with more adventures and tribulations, an epic testament to human spirit and resilience.

About Dean Weingarten:

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, and military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has meteorology and mining engineering degrees, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30-year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

Dean Weingarten

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