Shackleton: Historic Explorer and Modern-Day Hero

July 20, 1999

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."

Unlocking the Secrets of the Kurils

July 20, 1999

Stretching for some 750 miles from Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, to the toe of Russia's Kamchatka peninsula, the Kuril Islands were until 1990, closed to the outside world. Often shrouded in fog and relentlessly marauded by the forces of wind and sea, these dramatically beautiful islands are mysterious and fascinating.

The first morning out from Kushiro, Japan on our expeditionary voyage we realized that we were in a strange and magical corner of the Pacific Ocean, an area rarely explored. As we steamed along the east side of the Kurils, hundreds of seabirds followed along wheeling and banking just above the water's surface. Countless northern fulmars, Laysan albatrosses and tufted puffins welcomed us to their world. Several pods of orcas were spotted from the ship's deck. Sea lions and sea otters peered at us with great fascination as we sailed. We spotted massive sperm whales as they lolled on the surface. Our numerous Zodiac landings on islands uninhabited by humans for centuries revealed an array of fascinating sights from the remains of aboriginal Ainu villages to glimpses of brown bear and red fox.

Our naturalists pointed out wildflowers with such wonderful names as chocolate lily and alpine azalea. Many opted to hike inland across the tundra amongst the dwarf willows and stone pines while others chose to search for beach treasures such as the Japanese glass balls that had washed ashore. On land, it soon became clear that this was a bird watcher's paradise. Yellow wagtails and long-toed stints flew about the beaches and creek mouths. Siberian rubythroats seemed to sing from every bush, their neon red throats gleaming against the backdrop of snow-covered volcanoes.

These are indeed islands born of fire with steaming sulfur vents, remnants of black lava flows and volcanic peaks rising sharply from the ocean floor. Our shipboard geologists explained the powerful forces at work in the Kurils that continue to shape these ever-changing islands. We were able to see this first-hand as we sailed into a caldera on Shimushir Island's north side formed after the violent eruption of an ancient volcano. The ocean had subsequently worn down the rock walls of the crater and seawater rushed in to form a lake. But this was not any caldera: this was the site of a top-secret Russian submarine base into which no ship flying a foreign flag had ever ventured.

As the morning fog lifted to expose the entrance to this hidden harbor and our Captain deftly guided our expedition vessel, we were awestruck by the fact that we were indeed the first foreigners to venture into this secret spot. We explored the ramshackle buildings at the base that had been abandoned hurriedly after the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. Books and other items were strewn about the buildings as if the residents had only just left. There were identification charts of U.S. warplanes and other remnants of the Cold War. For everyone onboard, it was truly an incredible day on a voyage that we will all never forget.

The Shackleton Expedition

July 20, 1999

Sir Ernest Shackleton was one of the greatest Antarctic explorers of our time and 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.

On the following pages, naturalist and lecturer Carmen Field shares with us the fascinating history of the expedition and offers historical insights on Shackleton points of interest you can visit on our upcoming voyage to South Georgia Island. Her husband, artist and naturalist Conrad Field, provides an artistic perspective, complemented by stunning South Georgia photography by Peter Harrison and Shirley Metz.

A Talk with Dr. Paul Ehrlich

July 20, 1999

Kathy Ricketts Reitinger, July 1999

In 1965, as a young biologist at Stanford University, Dr. Paul Ehrlich traveled around the world on a sabbatical research trip to study the taxonomy, evolution and ecology of butterflies -- the focus of his scientific career. Ironically, he found that the native flora and fauna on even the most remote tropical islands had been damaged or destroyed by humans to make way for agriculture and housing. In addition, the cities of Third World countries he visited were alarmingly overcrowded and impoverished. Three years later, he published The Population Bomb, a revolutionary book which predicted worldwide famine and widespread disaster if the current rates of population growth were not slowed. Thirty years later, the global population growth has slowed and it seems possible that we will be able to eventually control and stabilize population.

Zegrahm News recently traveled to Stanford University to discuss with Dr. Ehrlich his current feelings about the world's population and his predictions about our future on the planet.

You introduced the equation, I=PAT, which illustrates the impact of any human group upon the environment: Impact = Population x Affluence (consumption) x Technology. When you first proposed this equation, you felt that "P" was the most critical in controlling and reducing human impact on the Earth. Do you still think that population growth is the most critical problem facing us today?

Not anymore. Although the world is still vastly overpopulated, the past 30 years have shown that population can be controlled. People can be convinced that it may be in their best interest to produce smaller families. However, no one has any idea of how to convince humanity that it is in their best interest to consume less, instead of more. Even if 'P' is reduced, the steady rise of 'A' in the Impact Equation means that our crushing impact on the Earth will continue to increase."

In your work, you manage to string enough statistics and stories together to form a horrifying picture: humankind rapidly creating our own demise in the assumption that our Earth and its resources will provide an unlimited supply of space and sustenance. You manage very successfully to "shake people awake" to what is happening throughout the world. What can be done to stop this demise?

Don't have families with more than one or two children. Encourage religious institutions to support birth control and family planning; encourage politicians to support the same. Reduce consumption.

People may not be as interested in driving their big, fuel-guzzling cars if it costs them $5+ per gallon at the gas station. They might think twice before filling their huge bathtubs or watering their lawns daily if the costs of water and natural gas triple. They may not insist upon meat every day if the prices reflect the true cost in terms of the Earth's resources.

In a nutshell, do as much as you can, in whatever arena you can.

The Shackleton Expedition: History of the Shackleton Expedition, 1914 - 1916

July 19, 1999 | Tags: Americas, Arctic

Carmen Field, July 1999

"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success. Ernest Shackleton"

Who would have thought a newspaper advertisement such as this would attract nearly 5,000 applicants in 1914? However, the man who placed it was the renowned explorer Ernest Shackleton, who now had his sights set on leading a British expedition across the tremendous span of the Antarctic continent. Adventurous men (and a few women) from around the globe applied to join this venture into the Great White South. Fifty-six men were finally chosen to join one of two parties. The first would sail from Hobart, Australia, on the Aurora to establish a base on Ross Island and lay supply depots for the team of men crossing overland from the Weddell Sea. The second, led by Shackleton, would sail south to the Weddell Sea onboard the Endurance, a 300-ton barquentine of wood and sail formerly known as the Polaris. The ship had been rechristened Endurance after the Shackleton family motto - By Endurance We Conquer. It was a fitting emblem for the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914.

As England readied itself for war, the Endurance sailed from Plymouth to Buenos Aires and on October 26,1914 departed South America for South Georgia Island. The ship was skippered by Captain Frank Worsley, with Frank Wild as First Mate and Thomas Crean as Second Mate. Once at South Georgia, expedition members learned firsthand from whalers the conditions they would be facing further south.

On December 5, after a month's preparation, the Endurance sailed from Grytviken whaling station for the Weddell Sea. Onboard were 28 men, 69 dogs, and one cat, known as Mrs. Chippy. Less than a week into the journey, the ship encountered pack ice and the expedition's progress was slowed as the Endurance dodged and skirted ice floes and bergs. By the first of the new year, they had crossed the Antarctic Circle, still beset by ice. On January 10, the men had their first glimpse of the Antarctic continent, the ice-rimmed coast of Coats Land. Shackleton planned for his sledging party to access the continent at Vahsel Bay, which was approximately a week's journey further south. But on the evening of January 18, one day's sail from Vahsel Bay, the Endurance became entrenched in the pack ice. From that day on, the ship drifted at the mercy of the Weddell Sea's tides and currents, following a clockwise path along the east side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Exercising the dogs kept the men's minds off of their frustrating predicament, and games of hockey and football helped to keep them in shape. Hunting seals provided exercise and fresh meat for both the dogs and men. As the ship drifted first south, reaching its furthest latitude of 77oS, and then began to head north, Shackleton suspended the ship's routine and took careful inventory of supplies and food. A series of cubicles were built in the storage area between decks, creating new quarters dubbed "the Ritz." In these confines, the men read poetry, discussed world politics and participated in group games and contests. Together, they endured the onset of winter with its fierce storms and sub-zero temperatures.

But as the sun appeared less and less, the hardships became greater. Disease racked the dogs, giant icebergs charged towards the trapped ship, and mounting ice pressure continually threatened the Endurance and her crew. In April, the Endurance first began to shudder with the pressure. Yet, the men's spirit endured. They hunted emperor penguins and seals, conducted dog races and derbies and celebrated holidays as best they could.

By July, the Endurance had covered almost 700 miles since first becoming trapped. Severe storms racked the ship, and on August 1, the Endurance was rammed by rafting ice and strong winds. Over and over she was lifted up onto immense blocks of ice, and the pressure badly damaged her rudder. Finally the storm abated, granting both men and ship a brief reprieve. On the evening of August 27, expedition photographer Frank Hurley captured the memorable and eerie image of a trapped Endurance in ice, highlighted by 20 photographic flashes. During the third week in October the Endurance was again assaulted by moving floes, causing her to list about 30 degrees to the port side. By the 24th, ice damage created leakage. Three days later, the pressure began to destroy her beyond repair. All hands were ordered onto the ice, and the expedition's hope of crossing the continent evaporated.

The men watched their ship and home being swallowed up by the Weddell Sea from a hastily-set camp, dubbed Ocean Camp. On November 21, the Endurance slipped beneath the ice forever. The party's fate now hinged on the drifting ice and the three lifeboats salvaged from the Endurance. Patience Camp was established, and from New Year's Day, 1916, until early April, they focused on securing food and preparing these boats for open water. With food becoming too precious to share, the party's dogs were shot. Raging storms forced long periods of inactivity and doubts assailed the men's thoughts. Summer faded into winter as Patience Camp drifted ever northward toward the edge of the pack ice.

Clarence and Elephant Islands came into view on April 7, 1916. The Endurance party was now about 500 miles south of Cape Horn and 60 miles from possible landfall at one of the islands in the distance. On April 9, after more than five months of living on a moving sea of ice, the men took to the three boats - christened the James Caird, the Dudley Docker, and the Stancomb Wills after the expedition's chief benefactors - at the disintegrating edge of the pack. For the next few days, they alternated between boat travel and floe camping, but finally, after a harrowing journey, landed at Cape Valentine on Elephant Island. Once ashore, it became clear that they had to find a more protected site. First Mate Frank Wild located a suitable spit seven miles away; Point Wild became their new home.

Shackleton knew that his party had virtually no chance of being rescued if they stayed at Elephant Island. They must reach South Georgia and its whaling stations for help. From the many volunteers who offered to join him on this 800-mile boat journey, Shackleton chose Worsley, McCarthy, McNeish, Vincent, and Crean. The James Caird was renovated for the upcoming open water voyage, and on April 24, the Boss and his five crew sailed east on what would become one of the most remarkable small boat journeys ever undertaken.

Over the next two weeks, the six men faced enormous challenges: blizzards, giant waves, deep troughs, uncomfortable sleeping and sitting quarters, a lack of sufficient fresh water, and the never-ending chore of chipping ice off the boat or bailing water out of it. Worsley's incredible skill as a navigator brought the James Caird "spot-on" to the northwest coast of South Georgia Island. Land was spotted on May 8, yet they first had to wait out a hurricane before sailing into King Haakon Bay on May 10 and finally making landfall at Cape Rosa. Here, they found fresh water, fresh meat, and a resting-place for their weary bodies. They stayed for four days before sailing further into King Haakon Bay to a pebble beach protected by a tussock-lined bluff. This site was dubbed Peggotty Camp, after a Charles Dickens character in David Copperfield who lived in a house constructed from a boat. From this camp, the men would try to reach the island's interior and eventually, a whaling station on the opposite coast.

At 3:00 a.m. on May 19, Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean headed up into the mountains under a full moon and clear skies. They brought with them food for three days packed in socks, a Primus stove with fuel for six hot meals, matches, a pot, two compasses, a pair of binoculars, a coil of rope, an adze, and a chronometer. By daybreak, the men were 3,000 feet above the beach. They climbed - and sometimes reclimbed - icy peaks and mountainsides, crossed glaciers, and survived a dangerous slide down a mountain and into a fog bank. Their bodies were nearly worn out after all they'd been through; only perseverance and thoughts of the men left behind carried them across the rugged terrain of South Georgia. The morning of their second day, as they approached Stromness Station, the sound of the whaling station's work whistle floated on the wind to the struggling hikers. They overcame one last obstacle, a steep waterfall bordered by ice, to at last arrive at civilization on May 20, 1916.

Shackleton's arrival at the station manager's office is legendary. A Norwegian who witnessed the Boss and his two comrades walking in, later recounted the moment: 'Everybody at Stromness knew Shackleton well, and we very sorry he is lost in ice with all hands. But we not know three terrible-looking bearded men who walk into the office off the mountainside that morning. Manager say: "Who the hell are you" and terrible bearded man in the centre of the three say very quietly: "My name is Shackleton." Me - I turn away and weep. I think manager weep, too.'