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The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition

The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition - Caroline Alexander The history of early Antarctic exploration is filled with tough-as-nails men, who braved the punishing elements and the desolate unknown. Any one of those explorers deserves recognition, but among them all, Ernest Shackleton stands out as an icon of daring, leadership and tenacity. Against all odds, he saved his crew from freezing and starvation, after their ship, The Endurance got trapped, and eventually crushed, in pack ice. Shackleton and his men spent the Antarctic winter on the ice, in makeshift shelters, living in temperatures down to -60F, with 1910 technology. It is astonishing the men didn't freeze to death. When their supplies dwindled, they were able to subsist by fishing and catching penguins... which were easy to catch, as the birds had never seen humans before, and did not particularly avoid capture. Fresh water was obtained by melting snow. The only precious resource limiting how long the men could make due without resupply was firewood. When the ship's spine was crushed by ice however, and it was clear the Endurance could was not salvagable as a means of transportation home, the ship became their source of firewood... for a while. Somehow, Shackleton kept the men occupied, and even cheerful through all of this, directing their (somewhat unrealistic) plans for a journey back to civilization. When the austral Springtime finally arrived, and the pack ice loosened, the party made the only play they could for survival: they struck out into the open ocean in lifeboats. These open-air dingheys exposed them to temperatures ranging from +20F down to -20F; as well as snow, wind and freezing rain. In an astounding combination of luck and navigation, the prevailing currents washed Shackleton and party up on uninhabited Elephant Island, where they once again subsided on penguins and fish. Although dry land afforded a bit more protection from the elements, the men needed to get back to civilization before scurvy, malnutrition, and exposure set in. Shackleton maintained the group's morale, and took a select party of his strongest rowers to strike out for the nearest known outpost of civilization: the Norwegian fishing village on King George's Island, 700 miles away. Astoundingly, his party made it, with no fatalities, but they arrived on the unsettled side of the island, and still needed to pass an uncharted mountain range on foot to get to the settlement. This they managed to do. Help was dispatched back to Elephant Island, where the survivors were eking out an existence, living in their overturned lifeboats for shelter. It is difficult to look at these events from the comfort of 2011, without wondering what on Earth motivated these men to volunteer for an expedition like this. This book suggests that part of it was the sense of wonder at the vast and unexplored natural wonder of polar regions. Part of it was a feeling that they were doing something important, which would be remembered. And some of the men simply admired Shackleton, and would literally travel to the ends of the Earth to be part of his team. Their trust in him, it seems, was well-founded.