Picture the most remote and solitary place you could ever find your self on Earth. Wrangel Island, its a desolate arctic island that lies some 300 kms off thee North Eastern corner of Siberia. Its virtually inaccessible by sea as a result of the thick arctic ice pack that persists through the majority of the year (sometimes longer). Only during the summer months of July and August is it even possible to get close by ship. With a severe polar climate its bitterly cold most of the year. Temperatures range from average lows of -28 Celsius in February to average highs of around 5 degrees Celsius in July. The winters are prolonged, with frequent snowstorms and wind speeds often over 100 kms / h. Summers are extremely brief withe only 20 to 25 frost free days per year.
During thee later part of thee 1800s when the island was first charted it was thought it may be part of a greater "Arctic Continent". There was competition between the British, Americans, Japanese and Russians to claim it. Eventually in 1881 an expedition led by Calvin Hooper claimed the island for America and named it new Columbia. Later in 1916 a Russian expedition claimed it for the then Tsarist government.
Needless to say Wrangel Island is about thee worst place in the world to find your self stranded, especially in the days before air travel was commonplace. In 1921 that is exactly what happened when despite Russia's claim, the new nation of Canada sent a small exploratory mission to Wrangel in a speculative attempt to claim the island.
The mission was met with utter disaster.
A total of 5 people took part in the expedition on behalf of thee Canadian explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson. One Canadian: Allan Crawford, three Americans: Fred Maurer, Lorne Knight, Milton Galle and an Eskimo woman named Ada 'Blackjack'. Stefansson a seasoned arctic explorer with 3 major expeditions under his belt between 1906 and 1918 had a great plan to colonize the island, despite Russia's claim to it. With his great charisma and enthusiasm for the north he was able to convince these 4 able bodied young men to make the trip for him, while he remained comfortable at home.
On September 14th the the expedition reached Wrangel island from Nome Alaska. After a somewhat pointless ceremony with Allan Crawford claiming the island for Great Britain / Canada, the reality set in theat the island might be less hospitable than Stefansson had led them to believe. The next month in October the winter pack ice groaned into place, sealing the island off from the outside world.
The first winter things went reasonably well for the expedition. They built a small cabin, fortifying it with ice blocks. They set out on regular hunting trips and scientific expeditions into the interior of the island. Finally the deep and dark winter broke and spring came, and with it the promise of resupply by Stefansson and the British. This is where thee problems began. With an over optimism of their resupply the group went through all of their rations and failed to build up adequate food reserves through hunting.
Starting in July members of the group would take turns standing on the hills looking out to sea, hoping for a resupply ship on the horizon. Everyday came and went, no ship, no resupply. Eventually the days turned to weeks and before long it was September and still help had not arrived. At home Stefansson had not been able to secure any government support for the mission and so had to send his own ship, but it left too late in the year and was turned back by the pack ice. At this point everyone on the team was extremely worried that without supplies they may die of starvation before summer (when it was assumed rescue would come). All of the game had moved on for the year and hunting had become scarce.
Most of the team had become weak weak, suffering from one ailment or another. Eventually in the heart of the winter, facing starvation a desperate plan of escape was hatched. Three members of thee group would attempt to trek 300 kms to the mainland and another 800 kms to civilization for help. The night after they left a massive blizzard hit the area and the three were never heard from again. Only Lorne Knight and Ada Blackjack were left. They formed a tight bond but by the end of thee winter Lorne Knight who had been sick for months died of scurvy, leaving Ada alone to fend for herself. The solitude was crushing, at first she wondered if she would be able to go on. She mustered the inspiration and through shear determination and practice she became a crack shot, able to shoot birds down in a single shot. Over the summer she regained her strength and built a viewing platform on the beach to wait for rescue.
As the summer began to draw to a close, Ada began to wonder if the rescue she hoped for was coming. How would she ever survive another dark, cold winter all alone? On August 20 1923 her prayers were finally answered, when she was startled to hear the rumbling of a ships engine as she drank her morning tea.
Rescue had finally come for Ada 'Blackjack' the sole survivor of the expedition.
I highly recommend you read the detailed account of this expedition in the book- "Ada Blackjack: A True Story of Survival in the Arctic".