|The Third Man|
|Theories|| · Psychic abilities|
· Paranormal entities
· Extraterrestrial activity
· Magnetic fields, low oxygen, altitude or other natural effects
The Third Man or Third Man Factor is the name given to an unseen presence reported mainly by mountain climbers and hikers throughout history. The "witnesses" all find themselves behaving as if an extra person were present who is not really there and is not actually seen directly. Often this sense of presence is so strong among all that they find themselves preparing food and bedding for the third man.
Despite the name this phenomena occurs in parties of all numbers, including lone climber, polar explorers and shipwreck survivors. Also, while often asserted to be a universally helpful phenomena by some authors, there are plenty of accounts of neutral or outright malevolent "third men" presences, such as The Grey Man of Ben MacDhui and the Panic in the Woods.
There are several explanations as to what the phenomenon could be. Theories include:
- Psychic phenomena
- Paranormal entities
- Magnetic fields, low oxygen, altitude sickness or other natural effects causing disorientation and hallucinations
- A manifestation of the unconscious.
- On 20 May 1916, Ernest Shackleton, Frank Worsley, and Tom Crean reached Stromness, a whaling station on the north coast of South Georgia. They had been walking for 36 hours, in life-threatening conditions, in an attempt to reach help for the rest of their party: three of their crew were stuck on the south side of the island, with the remainder stranded on Elephant Island. To reach the whaling station, the three men had to cross the island’s mountainous interior with just a rope and an axe, in a journey that few had attempted before or since. By reaching Stromness they managed to save all the men left from the ill-fated Imperial Transantarctic Expedition.
They did not talk about it at the time, but weeks later all three men reported an uncanny experience during their trek: a feeling that “often there were four, not three” men on their journey. The “fourth” that accompanied them had the silent presence of a real person, someone walking with them by their side, as far as the whaling station but no further. Shackleton was apparently deeply affected by the experience, but would say little about it in subsequent years, considering it something “which can never be spoken of”.
Shackletons account left an impression on the modernist poet T.S. Eliot, and he wrote a piece on the phenomena from which it gets it name:
'Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
— But who is that on the other side of you?'
- Charles Lindbergh's wrote of on-board "phantoms" during his 1927 attempt to make the first solo non-stop trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Paris. As the pilot struggled to stay awake during the 33-hour flight, he felt that his companions were friendly and helpful. "(They were) conversing and advising on my flight, reassuring me," he wrote about them later.
- In 1933, British explorer Frank Smyth almost became the first person to reach the summit of Mount Everest. The journey to the top of the mountain was arduous and nearly disastrous; his entire hiking party had fallen back, unable to make it through the sweeping wind, snow, ice and low oxygen. Smyth continued, but never made it to the top — he missed it by 1,000 feet.
Later, writing in his diary, Smyth described something that scientists commonly refer to as the "Third Man Factor." He recounted how at one point on the ascent, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a slab of Kendal mint cake, broke it in half and turned around to give the other half to a companion. But there was no one there: "All the time that I was climbing alone, I had a strong feeling that I was accompanied by a second person. The feeling was so strong that it completely eliminated all loneliness I might otherwise have felt."
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