Ernest Shackleton dreamed of crossing Antarctica by dog sled, a 2,100-mile journey. When Shackleton placed an advertisement in a local newspaper, he didn't gloss the terms, but wrote "Men wanted! Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success. He received 5000 replies, yet just 27 were selected. Did any of these men realize that they'd be "forced to endure life in a frozen wasteland for nearly two years? Stranded in ice four feet thick, on top of water more than 8,000 feet deep, Ernest Shackleton and his crew survived the Antarctic for almost two years in mind-andbody-numbing conditions.
Sir Ernest Shackleton's voyage aboard his ship the Endurance, is an inspiring tale, the scene of which takes place during a time when there was but one continent yet unexplored."
The summer of 1900 was filled with uncertainty. Ernest Shackleton's brother, Frank, was commissioned in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, bound for South Africa to take part in the final days, so it seemed, of the war. But front-page news was Carsten Borchgrevink, recently returned from the Antarctic where he was the first man to winter on the Antarctic continent. Shackleton and his team left civilization in December 1914, setting sail with his 27-man crew aboard the Endurance in the hopes of being the first to cross the polar continent. According to a recent book, Shackleton's Way, by Margot Morrel and Stephanie Capparell:
"He has been called "The greatest leader that ever came on God's earth, bar none," yet he never led a group larger than 27, he failed to reach nearly every goal he ever set, and, until recently, he had been little remembered after his death. But once you learn the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his remarkable Antarctic expedition of 1914-1916 you'll come to agree with the effusive praise of those under his command. He is a model of great leadership and, in particular, a master of guidance in crisis."
Preparations were started in the middle of 1913 but no public announcement was made until January 13, 1914.
"MEN WANTED FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS, CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS."/blockquote>
Who would answer such an ad, which Shackleton placed in a London newspaper seeking recruits for his 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition? Following the announcement, Shackleton was flooded with applications from eager members of the community to join the adventure. Nearly 5,000 applications were received. 56 men were finally selected. Half of that number would actually trek across the continent, while the other half started from the opposite side and placed supply depots at strategic locations. These depots would store food, fuel, and other supplies that would sustain the trekkers as they crossed the continent; without them, the expedition would be doomed.
Shackleton's ship the Endurance rather rapidly found itself surrounded by thousands of deadly ice floes. The wooden ship, which Shackleton had renamed Endurance after his family motto, Fortitudine Vincimus—"by endurance we conquer," became trapped in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea. In a move that would ultimately prove disastrous, Shackleford on a fateful night, made the distrous decision to let his ship float along with the current. In the morning, the crew awoke to discover that their their ship was completely frozen in the ice. The Endurance was unable to move forward or in reverse. Shackleton and his crew realized that they were going to be stranded on the ice for an unspecified amount of time. But on Jan. 17, 1915, the Endurance became frozen on ice floes within sight of land. The ice that had shifted, caused the ship to literally and disastrously tear apart.
On 24 February, realising that she would be trapped until the following spring, Shackleton ordered the abandonment of ship's routine and her conversion to a winter station. When spring arrived in September the breaking of the ice and its later movements put extreme pressures on the ship's hull. After some 6 months of being surrounded by ice, the thawing and moving ice pack began to crush the Endurance.
On 24 October, however, water began pouring in. After a few days, with the position at 69°05'S, 51°30'W, Shackleton gave the order to abandon ship, saying, "She's going down!"
THE CREW SALVAGES SUPPLIES
On 21 November 1915, the wreck finally slipped beneath the surface.
For almost two months Shackleton and his party camped on a large, flat floe, hoping that it would drift towards Paulet Island, approximately 250 miles (402 km) away, where it was known that stores were cached. After failed attempts to march across the ice to this island, Shackleton decided to set up another more permanent camp (Patience Camp) on another floe, and trust to the drift of the ice to take them towards a safe landing. For the next 5 months, the crew of Endurance, who had managed to salvage almost everything from the ship, survived on the ice floes. Three lifeboats, camping-gear, dog sled teams and several months worth of food rations were all the supplies they were able to salvage from the Endurance. When the ice began to split, they boarded three lifeboats that they had retained and headed for nearby Elephant Island.
By 17 March their ice camp was within 60 miles (97 km) of Paulet Island but, separated by impassable ice, they were unable to reach it. On 9 April their ice floe broke into two, and Shackleton ordered the crew into the lifeboats, to head for the nearest land. After five harrowing days at sea the exhausted men landed their three lifeboats at Elephant Island. This was the first time they had stood on solid ground for 497 days. Shackleton's concern for his men was such that he gave his mittens to photographer Frank Hurley, who had lost his during the boat journey. Shackleton suffered frostbitten fingers as a result.
THE OPEN BOAT JOURNEY
Shackleton and his men set out in lifeboats after nearly a year and a half on the ice.Elephant Island was far removed from shipping routes, so awaiting rescue there was futile. The island was quite inhospitable with its terrain wholly barren, consisting of no more than bare rock, snow, and ice. Despite the relative abundance of seals and penguins on the shores of the island, it was hard for Shackleton's team to realistically predict how long their food supply would last.
The swiftly approaching Antarctic winter was another cause for concern and during the first few days that they were on the island, the weather of the Drake Passage seemed to live up to its terrible reputation. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the island was remote from anywhere that the expedition had planned to go, and was nowhere near any common shipping routes; so the likelihood of seeing a ship, rescue or otherwise, seemed terribly small. Consequently, Shackleton felt that it was essential that he set out for help immediately upon arrival, and to him, it was obvious that he must head to a remote whaling station on the island of South Georgia, even if it meant traversing over 800 miles (1500 km) of the Southern Ocean in little more than the lifeboat in which he arrived. The resulting boat journey is one of the most remarkable maritime crossings ever undertaken. The waters that Shackleton was to sail in the 23-foot (7-meter) James Caird are well reputed to be among the most treacherous seas in the world. Sailors have often described larger waves occurring in these waters, and some sources report that 60-foot (20-meter) waves are not uncommon.
On April 24, Shackleton the others manned a lifeboat and set sail for South Georgia Island.
Launching the James Caird from the shore of Elephant Island, 24 April 1916, Elephant Island was an inhospitable place, far from any shipping routes. Consequently, Shackleton decided to risk an open-boat journey to the distant South Georgia whaling stations, where he knew help was available. The strongest of the lifeboats, christened James Caird after the expedition's chief sponsor, was chosen for the trip. The James Caird is a 23-foot (7 m) whaleboat in which Sir Ernest Shackleton, Captain Frank Worsley and four companions made the epic open-boat voyage of 800 miles (1,480 km) from Elephant Island, 500 miles (800 km) south of Cape Horn, to South Georgia during the Antarctic winter of 1916.
Ship's carpenter Harry McNish made various improvements, including raising the sides, strengthening the keel, building a makeshift deck of wood and canvas, and sealing the work with oil paint and seal blood. Shackleton chose five companions for the journey: Frank Worsley, Endurance's captain, who would be responsible for navigation; Tom Crean, who had "begged to go"; two strong sailors in John Vincent and Timothy McCarthy, and finally the carpenter McNish. Shackleton had clashed with McNish during the time when the party was stranded on the ice but, while he would not forgive the carpenter's earlier insubordination, Shackleton recognised his value for this particular job.
Shackleton refused to pack supplies for more than four weeks, knowing that if they did not reach South Georgia within that time, the boat and its crew would be lost. The James Caird was launched on 24 April 1916; during the next fifteen days it sailed through the waters of the southern ocean, at the mercy of the stormy seas, in constant peril of capsizing. On 8 May, due to Worsley's navigational skills, the cliffs of South Georgia came into sight, but hurricane-force winds prevented the possibility of landing. The party were forced to ride out the storm offshore, in constant danger of being dashed against the rocks. They would later learn that the same hurricane had sunk a 500-ton steamer bound for South Georgia from Buenos Aires.
On the following day they were able, finally, to land on the unoccupied southern shore. After a period of rest and recuperation, rather than risk putting to sea again to reach the whaling stations on the northern coast, Shackleton decided to attempt a land crossing of the island. Although it is likely that Norwegian whalers had previously crossed at other points on ski, no one had attempted this particular route before. Leaving McNish, Vincent and McCarthy at the landing point on South Georgia, Shackleton travelled with Worsley and Crean over mountainous terrain for 36 hours to reach the whaling station at Stromness.
The next successful crossing of South Georgia was in October 1955, by the British explorer Duncan Carse, who travelled much of the same route as Shackleton's party. In tribute to their achievement he wrote: "I do not know how they did it, except that they had to—three men of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration with 50 feet of rope between them—and a carpenter's adze".
Shackleton immediately sent a boat to pick up the three men from the other side of South Georgia while he set to work to organise the rescue of the Elephant Island men. His first three attempts were foiled by sea ice, which blocked the approaches to the island. He appealed to the Chilean government, which offered the use of Yelcho, a small seagoing tug from its navy. Yelcho reached Elephant Island on 30 August, and Shackleton quickly evacuated all 22 men.
Ernest Shackleton's greatest failure was his 1914-1916 Endurance expedition. He lost his ship before even touching Antarctica. But he reached a new pinnacle in leadership when he successfully led all 27 members of his crew to safety after a harrowing two-year fight for their lives.
There remained the men of the Ross Sea Party, who were stranded at Cape Evans in McMurdo Sound, after Aurora had been blown from its anchorage and driven out to sea, unable to return. The ship, after a drift of many months, had returned to New Zealand. Shackleton travelled there to join Aurora, and sailed with her to the rescue of the Ross Sea party. This group, despite many hardships, had carried out its depot-laying mission to the full, but three lives had been lost, including that of its commander, Aeneas Mackintosh.
The survival of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew has been called one of the greatest feats of human endurance.
The grave of famous explorer Ernest Shackleford is the pre-eminent landmark in the unique village of Grytviken, South Georgia Island. A Bristish overseas territory in the extreme south Atlantic Ocean, the veritable ghost town is difficult to access but well worth the effort. Cruise ships bound for Antarctica often use South Georgia as a port of call.
"Suddenly the floe on the port side cracked and huge pieces of ice shot up from under the port bilge. Within a few seconds the ship keeled over until she had a list of thirty degrees to port."
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