For my money, the greatest story of survival in history is that of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the members of his crew on the Endurance expedition. In a nutshell, Shackleton and his men sailed for Antarctica where they hoped to make a traverse of the continent. Upon their arrival, their ship, the Endurance, became trapped in the pack-ice and the crew became stranded, before losing the vessel eight months later. Abandoning their ship, the men then set up camp on a floating iceberg, where the mostly stayed for another five and a half months before loading up life rafts and setting out for the nearest land. That happened to be Elephant Island, which took them five days to reach by sea.
Elephant Island was the firs solid ground they stood on for more than 497 days but it was hardly a hospitable place. Shackleton knew that they couldn’t stay there for long and that he needed to go for help, so after two weeks on the island he and some of his crew, set off for South Georgia – 800 nautical miles away – in one of the lifeboats. Two weeks later they reached the remote island where they knew the could find help, but first they would have to traverse a mountainous region that had never been crossed before. Shackleton and two of his men hiked 32 miles in 36 hours to get help and eventually they were able to save the men left behind. Most amazing of all in this tale is that not a single member of the crew lost their life during this ordeal that lasted more than 18 months.
I’m not the only one who finds this story fascinating and at the moment there is a team of adventurous souls who are preparing to reenact a portion of the harrowing tale. The crew of the Shackleton Epic expedition has spent the past few weeks preparing to take on the challenges of the Southern Ocean as they follow in the British explorer’s footsteps, sailing in a small boat from Elephant Island to South Georgia and then traversing the island just as Shackleton and his men did.
The crew of six will depart for Elephant Island on Friday where they hope to become the first crew to fully complete the same journey as Shackleton, using vintage gear from the ear no less. They’ll not only attempt the 800-nautical mile crossing of open ocean, but upon arrival at South Georgie, they’ll also trek the same route through the mountainous interior that Shackleton faced upon arriving as well.
You can follow their progress and read updates from the field on the Shackleton Epic blog. So far, in addition to to sailing across the Southern Ocean in a support vessel, the team has busied itself with sea trials of the small boat they’ll use in the crossing. That boat is named the Alexandra Shackleton, in honor of the explorer’s granddaughter who came up with the idea of this expedition.
Once underway in a few days time, the real challenges will begin. They’ll face ice cold water, freezing winds and miles of open ocean on their way to South Georgia. After that, they’ll have to cover rugged, mountainous terrain to reach their endpoint – the location of an old whaling station that was fully operational when Shackleton made the same journey nearly a century ago.
This should definitely be a fun adventure to follow. Good luck to the entire team.
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