"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."
In 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton was looking for crew for his upcoming Trans-Antarctica Expedition. His intention was to cross the Antarctic continent from one coast to the other via the South Pole, a journey of 1,500 miles in an estimated 100 days. Shackleton received over 5,000 responses to the above advertisement (which nicely confirms my theory that most men are crazy!).
They never set foot on Antarctica, the expedition was in fact a complete failure, but it produced one of the most incredible adventure stories in the history of polar expedition, which goes something like this ...
On 08 Aug 1914, Shackleton's ship "Endurance" sailed for Antarctica via Buenos Aires and South Georgia. In South Georgia they learned from the whaling captains that it was the worst year they'd ever seen for ice. Still determined to go on, they left South Georgia on 05 Dec 1914. Endurance battled through 1000 miles of pack ice for 6 weeks and was 100 miles from her destination when ice completely closed in around her. She was slowly crushed by the ice and eventually sank on 21 Nov 1915. Shackleton and his 26 men were now isolated and drifting on pack ice with no ship, no means of communication, and very limited supplies. They pulled 3 laden lifeboats across ice floes for 5 cold winter months. When the ice finally broke up enough to get the lifeboats in the water, they made it to Elephant Island in the South Shetlands. They arrived on 15 April 1916; this was the first time they had set foot on land since 05 Dec 1914. Knowing there was no hope of rescue on Elephant Island, Shackleton and 5 men set off to South Georgia in one of the lifeboats, crossing 800 miles of the stormiest waters in the world. 17 days later, worn out, soaked, hungry, thirsty, and after battling a hurricane off the coast, they arrived on South Georgia, only to discover that the whaling stations they sought were on the opposite side of the island. Shackleton and 2 men set off again, this time on foot across mostly unsurveyed land, and after 36 hours of grueling effort and many dispiriting detours, they arrived at the Stromness whaling station on 20 May 1916. The 3 men left behind on the other side of South Georgia were immediately picked up, and finally, 4 failed attempts and 126 days later, Shackleton returned to Elephant Island and his remaining marooned men were rescued. Against incredible odds, every man on the expedition survived.
That, in a nutshell, is the story of Shackleton's 1914 Antarctica expedition. Wondering why you need to know this? Well, firstly, because it's an amazing true story of outstanding courage and leadership. Secondly, though, and more importantly (this is after all my website and it's all about "me"!), because I was about to walk in the footprints of the late great Shackleton on an expedition to the Antarctic Continent via the Falklands and South Georgia Island.
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09 Dec 2005
San Pedro de Atacama, Northern Chile
I'm not much of a cold weather person, so have really been enjoying the hot temps and sunshine in San Pedro de Atacama after the cold Andean plains in Bolivia. Have been trying to decide where to go for the holiday season. The idea of heading to Ushuaia, southernmost city in the world, has come to mind. Might even try to get on a ship to Antarctica again, something I tried last time I was in Ushuaia but failed to accomplish. Must send an email to a travel agent in Ushuaia about the possibility, maybe for early January.
12 Dec 2005
Vicuña, Northern Chile
Am now in Vicuña, a cute little place in the beautiful Elqui Valley. Plan to do some stargazing tonight. Received an email from my travel agent in Ushuaia. Nothing available in January, but there's a last-minute spot on an 18-day "Spirit of Shackleton" tour of the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica over Christmas and New Year. Don't know who this Shackleton dude is, but the trip sounds interesting. Price is outrageously expensive, even with the last minute discount, but I figure what the heck you only live once, so I booked it. I now have very few days to cover very many miles. Ship leaves from Ushuaia, with or without me, on 16 Dec.
14 Dec 2005
Punta Arenas, Southern Chile
Flew from Santiago to Punta Arenas today. Plane touched down twice along the way. With accumulated delays in both places, I missed my connection flight to Ushuaia. Next flight to Ushuaia leaves in 3 days. My ship leaves Ushuaia in 2 days. Hmmm, I feel a headache coming on. Tried to buy a bus ticket to Ushuaia, but it's the height of summer tourist season in Patagonia and there are too many tourists trying to squeeze onto too few buses. Only 2 buses leaving tomorrow and one of them's full. My headache has advanced into a migraine. Pleading and begging finally produced a ticket for the other bus.
15 Dec 2005
Ushuaia, Southern Argentina
Traveled 12 long hours on the bus through barren, boring, windblown sheep country. That, my friends, is why I had wanted to fly! Finally arrived in Ushuaia at 8pm. Now all I need is my ship embarkation information, which is supposed to be waiting for me at my hostel ... but which is nowhere to be found, and without which I don't even know the name of the ship let alone what time it's leaving port tomorrow. I think I'm developing an ulcer. Whew, the travel agent finally arrived at the hostel bearing embarkation details, so now I'm ready to go.
16 Dec 2005
No, I'm not ready to go. Realized that nothing in my backpack is adequate for good old Antarctic weather. Was able to rent a pair of rubber boots and water/windproof jacket and trousers, and bought a pair of waterproof gloves and thick alpaca wool socks. There, NOW I'm ready to go. Boarded the "M/S Explorer" mid-afternoon. Met key members of the Expedition Team, an impressive group including a marine biologist, ornithologist (bird geek), polar historian, geologist, naturalist, and zodiac specialist, mostly Canucks and Kiwis. Had time to mix and mingle after compulsory safety instructions and brief trip overview. Total of 98 passengers; real range from young to old, a large group of lively Canadian university students, and even some other backpackers. Some of the old retired Brits and Americans seem a little unhappy to be sharing their dream trip, which they probably saved a lifetime to afford, with the likes of us poor backpackers and students. My roommate is a fellow backpacker from the UK, and other girls I've instantly clicked with are travelers from South Africa and Croatia. Pulled out of Ushuaia harbour over dinner and cruised through the Beagle Channel heading for open water and the Falklands. I still can't believe I'm on my way to Antarctica ... 4 days ago I was in the scorching heat of the northern Chile desert!
17 Dec 2005
South Atlantic Ocean
Picked up quite a bit of motion last night when we entered open water. We're a small ship and don't have motion stabilizers like the large cruise ships, so lots of passengers looking a little green today. Most have sought the comforts of their cabin and seasick medication. Those not affected by the motion, and a few stubborn fools who should've stayed in bed, attended numerous lectures given by our esteemed expedition team. Topics ranged from the birds, landscape and history of Antarctica, to zodiac protocol (the sole means of transporting people from ship to shore) and expected code of conduct while interacting with the nature and lands of the Antarctica region. Some lectures were interesting, others not. An afternoon chore for all was scrubbing and disinfecting whatever boots we'll be wearing while on shore excursions as we're trying not to introduce any foreign microorganisms to the places we'll be visiting. The ship has been followed all day by a beautiful array of seabirds. They seem hopeful that the propellers will churn a few fish up to the surface for them.