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Shackleton: Historic Explorer and Modern-Day Hero
Karen Gruber, July 1999
Antarctica Sir Ernest Shackleton
Anyone who has traveled to Antarctica will immediately know the significance of that name. Shackleton was one of the greatest Antarctic explorers of our time; the story of his fateful voyage on the Endurance and how he and his crew of 27 survived nearly two years on the Antarctic ice is an inspiration to any visitor to this isolated region. Why 77 years after Shackleton's death is he now getting the attention of so many people? Timing perhaps. The Endurance ordeal coincided with World War I and the impact of Shackleton's story was secondary in comparison to the drama on the battlefields. All that has changed. The Antarctica Ernest Shackleton story has recently gained a large audience due to a snowball effect of media exposure; one of the most perseverant leaders in expedition history is again making headlines.
The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
Over the last few months there has been a literal explosion of interest in Antarctica and Ernest Shackleton, sparked by the release of Caroline Alexander's book, The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition, which includes some never-before published photos by expedition photographer, Frank Hurley. The American Museum of Natural History assisted in the production of the book, and in turn has opened an exhibit honoring Shackleton, curated by Alexander. An IMAX film and NOVA documentary, both based on Alexander's book, are currently being produced and directed by acclaimed director, George Butler.
South Georgia Island & The Weddell Sea
Ernest Shackleton's epic tale of survival and courage began with dreams of being the first expedition to cross the Antarctic continent. En route, the Endurance became beset in the ice deep within the Weddell Sea and drifted with the pack for ten months before finally being crushed and sunk in November 1915. Shackleton's party sledged lifeboats over the ice toward Paulet Island, eventually taking to the sea, and landing on Elephant Island. After setting up a small camp at nearby Cape Wild, Shackleton and five other men first braved the freezing, stormy ocean in their 22-foot lifeboat, the James Caird, on an 800-mile journey to South Georgia Island. Then, he and two of the men traversed the 6,000-foot mountain range to reach help at Stromness, a whaling station on the opposite side of the island. Once back in South America, the Chilean government gave Shackleton use of a small steel-built steamer, the Yelcho. One hundred and thirty-six days after he left the main group of his party on Elephant Island, Shackleton returned to rescue his men. Not one man perished.
Ernest Shackleton's Leadership
One of the most captivating aspects of the Endurance's story is Shackleton's leadership. He never allowed his crew to become discouraged, even when their ultimate survival seemed next to impossible. Although some argue that the Endurance expedition was a complete failure, the prevailing thought is that it exemplifies one of the greatest triumphs of human will over the awesome force of nature. And at the heart of that triumph is Sir Ernest Shackleton. Perhaps this quote from Sir Raymond Priestley, a member of Shackleton's earlier expedition on the Nimrod, puts it best: "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."