To this day, a small white box sits tucked away in the archives of a nondescript building in downtown Copenhagen stuffed next to other artifacts from a time when “frozen” meant death. The back of that seemingly insignificant box reads, “Grandfather’s beard, from the days of exile.”
Inside that box lies the bushy, reddish-orange beard of a man whose life seems more fitting for Norse mythology than Danish fairy tales.
In 1926, Peter Freuchen found himself weathering a -65°F blizzard imprisoned between a boulder and his dog sledge. It was a tomb of his own making–a space so small that his beard had frozen to the ice on his sledge.
He had nowhere to turn. Literally.
He couldn’t turn his head without ripping the beard from his exposed face. His 6’7” frame was stuffed into an area the size of a large suitcase.
If he was going to make it back alive, he had little time to do something about it.
Except he didn’t have a way out. He was trapped. Destined to die in the Arctic he fell in love with as a boy. He furiously tried to scratch, claw, and punch his way out, throwing the force of his 6’7” bulky frame behind every punch.
But it wasn’t working. He was still trapped.
His frantic breath added a layer of ice to his frantic struggle.
And when it seemed like he was going to die there, buried alive in the vast, unforgiving expanse of the Arctic, that’s when he had an idea.
A bearskin in his sledge had frozen solid while he was busy trying to punch his way out. Using the bearskin as padding against his hands, he punched and pulled and pushed against the sledge.
Punch. Push. Pull. Push. Punch. Pull. Minute after minute after minute.
It took him 30 hours to escape.
But then he faced a new challenge. There was no one close. No one to rescue him. He would have to walk for hours to get back to safety.
Except he couldn’t walk. His left foot was dead. Wouldn’t work. Damaged by the extreme cold.
And at -35°F, his core body temperature would drop by 1° every half hour. This was almost twice as cold.
Undeterred, he began to crawl.
Three hours later he made his way back to base. Limping. Crawling. Dragging himself.
By that time, gangrene had set into his seriously damaged foot.
It would kill him if he could stop it soon enough.
The moment called for extreme action.
Slaughtering an arctic rat and mixing it with some other herbal wildlife to make a traditional Inuit medicine, he spread the gross, smelly ointment on his frozen toes and foot. Which worked.
The ointment pulled the flesh and muscle from his toes, leaving behind only the bones — which could easily become reinfected and end up killing him later.
He took a pair of pincers and a hammer and broke them off. One. By one. By one. Without anesthesia.
That would be the last expedition Freuchen would ever take.
It was not a decision he took lightly.
He had spent his entire life in this frozen landscape.
At 24, he had established the northernmost trading outpost in Greenland at the time. He named it “Thule” from the medieval term “ultima thule”–the land beyond the known boundary. The average daily temperature was -12°F.
Two years later he trekked 1,000 miles further into the Arctic circle — driven by a bet with a friend.
He was a tough guy in an even tougher place.
The stories told about Peter were legendary. He killed an arctic wolf with his bare hands. Stuck in a blizzard, he made a knife out of his frozen feces to dig himself out. When his dogs were too tired to pull the sledge, he made a sail out of polar bear skins to harness the wind and help them do the work.
He was unstoppable in every way.
Now, many years later, he was forced to hang up the hiking boots and return to Denmark. But he wasn’t done living an adventurous life.
When he hung up his boots, he picked up his pen to relive and share his adventures on the tundra. He wrote one book. And it was a best seller. So he wrote another. And then another one.
Thirty novels later, he decided to turn his stories into a movie. Which he ended up starring in — and winning an Academy Award.
When the Germans invaded Denmark during World War II, Freuchen risked his own life to hide refugees and foil Nazi plans with the Danish Resistance.
He annoyed the Germans so much that Hitler ordered him killed.
And eventually, he was captured by the Nazis – and sentenced to immediate death by firing squad. Little did the Third Reich know who they were messing with.
If extreme hypothermia, polar bears, and disease couldn’t kill him, he wasn’t about to let the Nazis take that honor.
The night before his execution, Freuchen scaled the prison fence – with one good foot and a peg leg – and fled to Sweden, escaping death once more.
Lorenc Peter Elfred Freuchen would spend all 71 of his years living life to the fullest.
No apologies. No excuses. No special circumstances. Nothing handed to him.
He just made it work. No fancy dream journal. No guru mindsets or self-help seminars.
Just ambition, creativity, and a burning desire to achieve something awesome.
It was primal and personal. And that made him powerful.
There’s something to be said for the simplicity of achievement.
Success isn’t complicated. If you want something bad enough, you have to put in the work to achieve it. It’s that simple.
You’re going to have setbacks along the way.
You’re going to experience extreme hardship at times.
Anything is possible if you’re willing to do whatever it takes.
It doesn’t matter that no one else has done it before. It doesn’t matter that you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere with no help and fewer resources than you need.
It doesn’t matter that you’re tired and sore and beaten down by all that you’ve been through.
It’s time to make success primal again. No more excuses. No more distractions.
Just raw, honest ambition–your willingness to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes you to get to where you want to be.