Challenge: Non-Fiction Five #4
This sometimes dry and weirdly detailed account of a failed expedition to Antarctica in 1914 would be completely unbelievable if submitted as a movie script, but it’s true.
In 1914 Sir Ernest Shackleton and a crew of 27 sailed the Endurance to the Weddell Sea – an ice filled sea off of Antarctica. Their goal was to make their way through the ice and be the first to cross Antarctica overland. They never made it, but their story is a truly amazing one when you step back to remember that first of all it’s real, and secondly that this was in 1914.
I say the account is weirdly detailed because Lansing used logs and crewmembers diaries as the basis of his account, so there are many instances of ‘they left at 3:10 pm’ and other excess minute details that seem odd in the big picture of this story. Nevertheless, the story is an amazing one that I’d never heard of before.
I first heard about this book from an online message board for runners (My Husband is a member). Periodically they’ll post a thread about what they’re reading or recommending and I’ve found several good book recommendations from this group. I’d put this one on my TBR list a while ago, and Joy’s Non Fiction Five Challenge was the motivation to finally read it.
When the ship and it’s crew sailed into the moving and drifting icepack of the Weddell Sea, they expected to make their way to land and then cross overland with their sledges and dogs to the Ross Sea. In January of 1915, the ship became trapped in the ice pack. For 10 months the ship and crew were passengers in the drift of the ice pack. In October of that year, they were forced to abandon the ship when the moving ice began to crush it. They then spent many more months camped out on the ice floes as they moved around the sea, and finally were forced into their 3 lifeboats that they’d managed to salvage before the Endurance sank.
For seventeen months these 28 men survived and in unthinkable conditions and life threatening danger. They eventually made their way to a small island, but it still took an 850 mile long voyage in a 22 ft. open lifeboat to reach an inhabited island and eventual rescue for the entire party in August of 1916 .
. . . and I though camping in Oregon was bad.
The book drags a bit in the first half when they’re stuck on the ice-bound ship. There’s only so much you can say about the ship is still blocked in the icepack and drifting, but when they are forced off the ship onto unsheltered ice floes, the sense of impending doom for the crew doesn’t let up. The story is a fascinating one, and I simply cannot imagine how these men managed to survive. The leadership of Shackleton and his team of officers combined with the amazing men who rarely seemed to lose hope is what allowed them all to survive.
The expedition photographer, Frank Hurley managed to document the journey and save his negatives, resulting in some amazing photographs.
Here are a couple of websites with more information about this expedition and more photographs and maps than were in the book:
(this one has some great information and photos by expedition photographer James Hurley)