Monthly Archives: June 2005

Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

I just finished reading one of the best books I have read in awhile, ENDURANCE: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. The book was written in 1959, and documents a trip taken by polar explorer Ernest Shackleton in August, 1914. Together with a team of 27 men, Shackleton set sail for Antarctica with the goal of being the first to cross the forbidding continent on foot.

That goal quickly dissipated as Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, became marooned in ice just short of its destination. For the ship and her crew, what followed was a living nightmare, with challenge upon challenge hoisted upon the men. It became clear that the ship would have to stay lodged in ice through an antarctic winter, where it stays dark 24 hours a day and temperatures rarely climb above 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Plenty of provisions and the protection of the ship made this seem like an unpleasant but necessary ordeal; Shackleton would try to continue his voyage once summer returned and the ice pack began to break up. But before that happened, shifting plates of ice crushed the Endurance, and the crew had to abandon ship — spending months on floating parcels of ice, hundreds of miles from the nearest glimpse of humanity or civilization.

But that was just the beginning of what was to follow. I won’t ruin the rest — you really should read this book — but the ending of this ill-fated adventure is well known. Shackleton and his entire crew survived the incident against all odds.

Lansing does an exceptional job documenting the ordeal, after receiving access to notes and diaries from expedition members, as well as personal discussions with survivors and families. The book is captivating, and very hard to put down. It captures every detail and challenge, vividly portraying a world where there is nothing but ice and cold and hunger. Although photography was relatively new in the early 1900’s, there are numerous photos of the Endurance taken by the expedition’s photographer; the cover of the book includes a haunting photo of the Endurance, beached on mounds of ice, (literally) in the middle of nowhere, as if it had been dropped onto ice fields from outer space.