There are many people with high aspirations and bad luck or leadership skills for us to read about and sympathize with. One note-worthy exclusion from this list is Ernest Shackleton and his failed venture to travel across Alaska. This is partly due to the fact that what the man did accomplish, his tale of survival, is just so darn impressive. Anyway, here are ten of the most brave groups of souls that just didn’t quite get it right.
10. Burke and Wills
Robert O’Hara Burke and William John Wills are to Australians what Lewis and Clark are to Americans. They were explorers of the frontier, people who traveled beyond the limits of colonization in search of faster ways to get around. Like Lewis and Clark, they also failed at what they sought to do (Lewis and Clark were looking for a Northwest Passage that didn’t exist—what they found was a huge ocean). Well, the word fail is a little harsh for these guys. They did succeed at being the first Europeans to travel from the South of Australia all the way to the Northern shores. However, they failed to return alive. During the return trip, they found a base camp that was supposed to be manned, well, deserted. Burke and Wills traveled with John King who bore witness to both of their deaths and became the only man to successfully complete the journey there and back again. Overall, eight of the nineteen men enlisted on this expedition fell victim to the Australian bush.
9. Christopher Columbus and His Quest for India.
Has there ever been a more over-rated chump than the “discoverer” of the Americas? Granted, he did figure out (or at least accepted) the whole “world wasn’t flat” thing. Good for him. However, “Indians” aside, there were other humans that had supposedly set foot upon the continent’s soil long before Columbus did, such as the Viking Leif Erikson (these guys just loved to sail west, have you seen the new show on the History channel?). He might have sported giant meatballs to sail out into the big blue in search of an alternate route to India, but this Italian explorer was just one of many brave souls. He never quite figured out that the natives, the indios, were not really from India. Regardless, he endeavored to bathe the natives with the righteous light of Christianity through slavery and oppression. Perhaps he was a trendsetter in a way, but probably not for the best.
8. Chris McCandless Goes Into the Wild
Many people disagree on whether Chris McCandless was a transcendental guru or a rich, spoiled, selfish brat who hurt his family beyond measure. Whatever he was, he wasn’t a practical person. After his college graduation, Chris shed his privileged shackles and became Alexander Supertramp—an unkempt, hitchhiking adventure seeker. For a while, he lived an interesting life traveling between transient camps and working odd jobs. He embarked on a series of mini adventures, the largest being a row down the Colorado River all the way into Mexico. He soon fashioned himself as an expert survivalist who needed minimal equipment in order to endure harsh conditions. Alaska had something to say about this. One hundred and twelve days after McCandless entered the Alaskan wilderness under-geared with a lack of proper clothes, a .22 caliber rifle and a paperback guide to berries (among other things), he succumbed to starvation at the age of 24.
7. Amelia Earheart and Her Trans-World Journey
So apparently the search for this chick may have come to an end. For decades scholars have debated the fate of this beloved American idol. Amelia soared into record books as a premiere female pilot, including setting transcontinental speed marks. In 1937, she set out in a highly broadcast attempt to circumnavigate the globe via the Equatorial line. She failed by way of a disappearing act. Her plane went down somewhere over the Pacific and she was never heard from again. It is recently believed that her crash landing took place near an uninhabited island in the region of Kiribati. It seems that she lived out her days as a castaway long before Gilligan, Tom Hanks or the cast from LOST made it a popular thing to do.
6. Donner Party
There was a lot of meat but this ain’t no barbeque. Instead, these westward American pioneers ended up snacking on each other’s flesh, or so the story goes. Eighty-seven adventure seekers formed a wagon train heading from Missouri to California. They took an ill-advised route and ended up snowed in with nowhere to go. By the time help reached them, only 48 of the party members remained. They had long ago run out of food rations and had resorted to munching on their fallen comrades, families and friends. Recent speculation amid an excavation of the area sheds doubt on the extent of the reported cannibalism. It has always been apparent that the people didn’t simply chow down on each other—they took every angle they could to avoid this action (including chewing on their pet dogs). It does remain likely, however (and makes a much better story) that cannibalism had taken place here at a reasonable scale.