Why risk your own life and limbs when you can revel in just how badly it can go wrong for others? We asked a panel of explorers and adventurers to nominate their favourite tales of suffering and survivalMore
Nominated by To The End Of The Earth author Tom Avery.
In 1947, to "prove" that the Pacific was settled from the West (they couldn't), Norwegian Heyerdahl and his companions sailed 4,300 miles from Peru towards Polynesia in – or, rather, on – the kind of primitive sea-craft the aboriginal settlers would have used. "I read it as a boy, and recently re-read it," says Avery. "Six men crossing the Earth's largest ocean on a balsa raft? Surely the most inspiring adventure story ever told."
Nominated by British explorer and Into The Abyss author Benedict Allen.
"The narrator escapes from a gulag in 1941, near the Arctic Circle," says Allen. "He walks for a year through blizzards and deserts before crossing the Himalayas to reach safety in Calcutta." Rawicz probably based his account on the escapades of another Polish gulag survivor, but Allen remains awestruck. "Even though it seemed wildly implausible, I found his stirring tale of endurance wonderfully inspiring as a child." We agree. This escape yarn makes Papillon look like Porridge.
Nominated by Polar explorer Ben Saunders.
Ditch any suspicion of titular hyperbole: this story, told by a young member of Captain Scott's expedition team, sees three men haul 300 kilos through a dark Polar wilderness in -70ºC. Yet the narrator – British upper lip, stiffened by cold – shows stoic wit throughout. "It's an epic tale of suffering and derring-do," says Saunders. "The New York Review Of Books said it was, 'To travel, what War And Peace is to the novel – a masterpiece.' I'd go along with that!"