On Oct. 27th, 1915. Sir Ernest Shackleton
gave the order to abandon ship, moving the crew and supplies off of the ice bound Endurance
. The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition would never achieve it's goal of crossing the continent, instead Shackleton would become famous for somethings far greater: his masterful and amazing ability at leadership and survival for himself and his crew of 27 men under the harshest conditions imaginable.
After setting up camp
on the ice floe, they would drift until April 9th, 1916, when they decided to launch their three lifeboats in an attempt to reach Elephant Island
. 7 days of rowing and sailing later, all ships arrived safely. It was the first time in 497 days they had set foot on land.
Eight days later, Shackleton, Captain Frank Worsley
, Tom Crean
, Ship's Carpenter Harry "Chippy" McNish
, Timothy McCarthy
and John Vincent
would set sail in the 23 foot James Caird
, having been retrofitted for the 800 mile voyage
over the open ocean to South Georgia, the closest active port and best chance of rescue. The ship survived the 16 days on the open ocean, and delivered all six men to the South Georgia coast.
However, it was the wrong end of the island. The Caird, having suffered damage while landing, was unfit for an attempt to travel around to the whaling station at Fortuna Bay. Instead, Shackleton, Worseley and Crean, decided to cross the uncharted glacial mountain range that separated them from the Stromness whaling station
. Using a carpenters adz, screws from the Caird fastened through their boots, and a length of rope, they managed to cross the 22 miles in 36 hours
. For reference, modern climbers can do the trip in three days, using maps and the latest in climbing gear (here is a clip of one such trip
Arriving at Stromness on May 20th, it was not until August 30, after two previously failed rescue attempts
, was Shackleton able to rescue the rest of his crew 24 months and 22 days after leaving South Georgia on the start of the expedition. Not a single member of his crew of 27 men were lost, and only one crew member lost a foot to frostbite (which was amputated at the Elephant Island camp while they waited for rescue).
This quote, by Sir Raymond Priestley, a member of Shackleton's earlier 1907-09 Nimrod Expedition
, captures the abilities of the man:
"For scientific leadership, give me Scott, for swift and efficient travel give me Amundsen. But when you are in a hopeless situation, when you are seeing no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton. Incomparable in adversity, he was the miracle worker who would save your life against all the odds and long after your number was up. The greatest leader that ever came on God's earth, bar none."
If you would you like to know more:
Previous, tangentially related mefi post
The supposed ad for crew
PBS's timeline of events
The James Caird Society
Images from the Shackleton Expedition [previously]
Kodak's Shackleton Collection
Shackleton's Antartic Adventure (see in imax if you have a chance) (dvd)
Shackleton, TV movie staring Kenneth Branagh (dvd)
The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
, Earnest Shackleton (book preview at google)
Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
, Alfred Lansing
The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
, Caroline Alexander