Wednesday, January 8, 2014

True Endurance -- Shackleton's Artic Adventure

The advertisement for "men wanted for hazardous journey... return doubtful" may or may not have been published, it very much characterizes the nature of the men that engaged in what is today considered the greatest story of persistence and survival in the history of polar exploration.  The Shackleton exploration sailed on September 27, 1914.  As the ship sailed south, it encountered early sea ice.  And even though it was summer in the southern hemisphere, the Endurance was captured by ice in January 1915.  When Shackleton realized that they would not escape, he ordered his men to prepare for the long winter.

  Shackleton's men weathered the brutal winter in their ship, frozen in an ice floe.  The ice, and the ship drifted for 100's of miles.  As spring approached, the shifting ice continued to squeeze the ship.  In October of 1915, the ship was crushed, and the crew moved to the ice camp.  Their goal was to eventually sail to a nearby island where sometimes whalers visited.  During the long days of the Arctic summer, Shackleton enforced order and discipline.  Scientific data collection continued, as seen in the amazing photographs they took.  Food was carefully rationed, and even their 70 beloved dogs were eventually eaten.  But all the men had survived for the first year.  Eventually the ice broke up,  and in April, 1916 they completed a perilous several day journey through narrow channels in the crushing ice.  

Though their new camp was secure on land, Shackleton knew that they could not survive another winter.  Gathering 5 more men, Shackleton set sail on a daring journey in rough antarctic seas.  With only primitive instruments, they would sail 800 miles for South Georgia Island.  If they missed, they would certainly die.  They carried only one month's worth of food -- Shackleton said that if the journey lasted that long they would be dead.  50 mph winds, and massive waves battered the 22.5 foot boat as they set out on what would be considered the greatest feat of sailing in history.

The adventure was far from over.  After a few days rest, Shackleton took two other men and travelled for 2 days without sleep over un-mapped mountains and glaciers with only the most primitive tools.  But they arrived at the whaling station, and quickly rescued the remaining 3 men of his small band.

The rescue of the men trapped on elephant island would take longer.  As the British government was involved in the war, they were unwilling, or unable to help. After many false starts, he finally borrowed a boat from the Chilean Government.  Sailing in August, the heart of the Antarctic winter, a miraculous clearing of ice allowed Shackleton to finally save his men.  All of his men.

Unsurprisingly, Shackleton's men almost all enlisted to fight in WWI.  2 died in battle, 1 died of Typhus, and many were wounded in battle.  The courage and strength of these men is inspiring.

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