Capt. Robert Bartlett was awakened by a sharp crack, like a gunshot. His ship was sinking.
"I heard a splitting, crashing sound," he later wrote. "The ship was trembling and quivering."
"We could hear water rushing into the hold, and by lantern light could see it pouring in at different places."
Bartlett's ship, the Karluk, had been frozen in the sea ice for five months, unable to budge -- until now.
His men spent an hour, in the dark, offloading their supplies onto the surface of the surrounding ice. "The air was filled with driving snow, flying before the wind at fully 40 miles an hour," he wrote. As soon as anything was placed on the ice, it was covered in white.
Then the ship disappeared into a hole so narrow that the ice snapped the yard arms from the masts on its way down.
The men were marooned.
Their plight: subzero temperatures, no shelter, endless winter darkness, shifting ice.
A hundred years ago Saturday, 31 people aboard the Karluk, including my grandfather, set out with lofty ambitions of exploration and discovery on one of the most ambitious Arctic expeditions in history.
But when massive pack ice crushed their ship, they found themselves in a desperate yearlong fight for their lives.
The crew's perilous struggle to make it out alive in the face of daunting odds and fearsome conditions is preserved in their journals and memoirs.
To read their story is to be reminded of an epoch when men risked their lives for the sake of discovering the unknown corners of the Earth. Despite having no modern survival gear, no GPS, no weather forecasts and no way to make calls to civilization, they were driven on by an urge to set foot where no man had.
Some of these explorers died in the ice and snow. Some were never seen again. And some -- despite facing death every day -- mustered up unimaginable endurance to survive. Their record is a chronicle of determination, luck and hard choices.
When they began their trip in June of 1913, with three ships and dozens of people, these explorers were embarking on an Arctic expedition more sweeping than any before it.
They set out from Esquimalt, near Vancouver, Canada, to circle over the top of Alaska. Sponsored by the Canadian government, their mission was to conquer the last unexplored part of the north: hoping to chart new islands, find a northwest shipping passage or even discover an unknown continent.
They were led by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, 33. He was ambitious, optimistic and quick to court fame. He had made a name for himself demonstrating that even in the most barren emptiness, a determined and resourceful explorer could live off the frozen land in what he called "the friendly Arctic."
Also among the explorers was my grandfather, Burt McConnell, enlisted as Stefansson's secretary. Husky and energetic and just 22 -- he looks dapper and nonchalant in a group photo taken shortly before their departure.
McConnell wrote to his sweetheart (who later became my grandmother) how thrilling it was to set out from Nome, Alaska, on July 13, 1913. In a yellowing letter that now sits in my father's study, he described weighing anchor after midnight. In the endless summer daylight, countless well-wishers gave the ship a memorable sendoff.
Growing up hearing the story of this expedition, I was fascinated by its details, from the fickle dangers of the ice to the clashing personalities of the men.
The version I first heard told Stefansson's side of the story -- that he didn't just abandon his men. But I later learned that other crewmen saw things differently.
The Karluk -- an old whaler and the expedition's 129-foot flagship -- had been secured for a good price but had little of the hull reinforcement needed for navigating through ice floes. Soon after leaving port in Alaska, the ship encountered the worst summer ice in memory.
"It was a magnificent sight," Bartlett later wrote, "the ice crushing and grinding and tearing asunder around us and rearing high on end." Bartlett was a well-built and experienced leader, a 36-year-old man of letters who a few years prior had successfully captained Admiral Robert Peary's ship in their historic expedition to the North Pole.
By the middle of August, the Karluk was caught in the ice, unable to turn back and unable to go forward.
The men were not far from land, but hundreds of miles from civilization.