If you have no idea who Earnest Shackleton is, you’re going to be happy we are sharing this jaw dropping true story with you. We at VB absolutely LOVE this compelling adventure story of a fearless man, leading his 27 men, as if they were his own blood, for over two years while they were stranded in the freezing seas of the South Pole, constantly encouraging them when times were dark and hopeless and everyone wanted to give up. A man who put others before himself – a true super hero of the 20th century. This week, we’re kicking off a 3 part series on the journey of Shackleton.
You’re on a ship with a bunch of other guys in August. Sounds fun, right? Ok…
Here’s the catch…
You’re sailing 1,800 to Antarctica, through pack ice (that’s a sea of solid ice), meaning it’s going to be FREEZING at all times, with the intention of crossing the continent, coast to coast…Oh, and no one has ever reached it successfully. Did I mention there is no internet, no smart phone or electric heating blanket? Yeah…and also, you’re not sure when and if you’ll be making it back…
Chances are, you’d probably decide not to go, but in 1914, Earnest Shackleton, a polar explorer in the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, and his crew of 27 men took a ship, suiteably called The Endurance, on such a quest. Shackleton had already set the two world records for Farthest South latitude ever explored with comrades Scott and Wilson. He wanted to push the envelope and cross Antarctica sea to sea via the South Pole.
Paul Ward, the modern day polar explorer and owner of Cool Antarctica, shares the story, in detail, best. The following is directly from his site. So grab your warm coffee (you’ll get cold reading this story), kick-up your feet (they’ll be back on the floor soon and you’ll be on the edge of your seat), and delve into the first part of the adventure with us:
“Shackleton [picture 1] began planning his next journey to Antarctica almost as soon as he returned from the Nimrod expedition of 1907 – 1909. He felt certain that others would soon succeed in reaching the South Pole where he had failed having come so close, and so looked to the next goal. This he took as being the crossing of the Antarctic continent from coast to coast via the South Pole, a distance of about 1800 miles, a long way certainly, but not so much further than a “there and back” journey to the pole.
He planned to set out from the Weddell sea region (to the south of South America) across a completely unexplored region of Antarctica, to the pole, and then to the Ross sea / McMurdo sound area (to the south of New Zealand). Typically for such trips, the attention grabbing exploratory part of the expedition was but a small part of a whole. Other scientific and exploratory sledging trips were planned for parties setting out from the main base as well as another party who were to remain at the base and carry out a variety of scientific work. Another group of men would be required to set out from the Ross sea region and lay depots for the trans-Antarctic party to use on their journey to the coast from the pole, they would be on a second ship.
The ship used for the journey to the Weddell sea [picture 2] was newly constructed in a Norwegian shipyard, and had been intended for tourist cruises in the Arctic. She was the Endurance. The ship to take the Ross Sea party was the Aurora purchased from Douglas Mawson and used by his 1911 – 1914 Antarctic expedition. The expedition was inundated with applications from volunteers to join, despite (or maybe because of) the tragic end of Robert Scott and his team after reaching the South Pole only two years beforehand. There is a much publicized, but almost certainly apocryphal newspaper advertisement [picture 3] supposedly placed by Shackleton (no trace of a copy has ever been found in any archive).
Funding became a problem and so Shackleton found himself recruiting and preparing for the departure of the Endurance while also desperately struggling for funds that if not forthcoming might result in the expedition not taking place at all. Eventually however, funding was obtained and towards the end of July 1914 preparations were almost complete.
The dark clouds of World War 1 were beginning to gather however. The Endurance was anchored off Southend on August 4th 1914 when Shackleton read in a daily newspaper the order for general mobilization of troops and supplies along with calls for volunteer soldiers. He immediately returned to the ship, gathered all hands, and told them that he would send a to telegram the Admiralty offering the ships, stores and services to the country in the event of war breaking out. Within an hour after sending the telegram, Shackleton received a reply from the Admiralty with the single word ‘Proceed’. Within two hours, another arrived from Winston Churchill in which he thanked them for their offer but desired that the expedition go on. That night, at midnight, war broke out.
On August 8th the Endurance sailed for the Antarctic via Buenos Aires and the sub Antarctic island of South Georgia where there was a Norwegian whaling station. It was thought that the war would be over within six months so when it came time to leave for the south, they left with no regrets.
On November 5th 1914 they arrived at South Georgia. Shackleton learnt much from the whaling captains about the conditions between there and the Weddell Sea which indicated that this was a particularly heavy ice year. The plan had been to spend only a few days collecting stores, but instead the Endurance remained at South Georgia for a month to allow the ice further south to disperse. This month was one where bonds of friendship and mutual respect were formed between the Endurance crew and the Norwegian whalers. Bonds that were to prove unexpectedly useful some time later to Shackleton and his men.
The Weddell Sea was known to be particularly ice bound at the best of times and the Endurance left with a deck-load of coal in addition to normal stores to help with the extra load on the engines when it came to pushing through pack ice in the Weddell Sea to the Antarctic continent beyond. Extra clothing and stores were taken from South Georgia in the event that the Endurance may have to winter in the ice if caught in the Weddell Sea as it froze, unable to reach the continent first. They left South Georgia on the 5th of December 1914.” – Paul Ward of Cool Antarctica.
That’s where we’ll leave off this week on Paul’s story of Shackleton. Wise and honorable, Shackleton will continue to lead his men through many life-threatening obstacles as the ice tries to control their destiny…
[picture 4] Lupoid, one of Shackleton’s sledge dogs, named for his resemblance to a wolf.
[picture 5] Frank Worsley, Captain of the Endurance and navigator on the James Caird. Seen here on board the Endurance)