Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage (1959) by Alfred Lansing
In 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew of twenty-six men (plus one stowaway) set off with the objective of being the first to cross Antarctica by foot. But before they even arrived at their destination, the sea froze around them leaving their boat, ‘The Endurance’, stuck in a floating island of ice. They wintered on board hoping it would eventually melt and set them loose again, but alas, eventually the ice crushed and sank their ship leaving them to fend for themselves in some of the harshest conditions on the planet.
In the face of truly unimaginable odds, the crew of the Endurance do themselves ‘endure’. And not only that, they do it all in the most civilised way, with the only thing they really complained about, I was amused to note, was not the lack of food, dry clothes or even shelter - but when the tobacco ran out.
Now, my words simply won’t do justice to such an epic adventure. However, miraculously, every single member of the crew lived to tell the tale, and they went on to ‘tell this tale’ to Alfred Lansing - whose words certainly do. That's why I’m going to let him take it from here as I pick out my favourite ‘bits from his book’ that I hope will encourage you to pick up a copy and go on this awesome, awe-inspiring journey for yourself.
‘Who you gonna call?’
“For scientific leadership give me Scott; for swift and efficient travel, Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.”
“The whole undertaking was criticised in some circles as being too "audacious." And perhaps it was. But if it hadn't been audacious, it wouldn't have been to Shackleton's liking. He was, above all, an explorer in the classic mold—utterly self-reliant, romantic, and just a little swashbuckling.”
Up Shackletons Creek
“They were for all practical purposes alone in the frozen Antarctic seas. It had been very nearly a year since they had last been in contact with civilization. Nobody in the outside world knew they were in trouble, much less where they were. They had no radio transmitter with which to notify any would-be rescuers, and it is doubtful that any rescuers could have reached them even if they had been able to broadcast an SOS. It was 1915, and there were no helicopters, no Weasels, no Sno-Cats, no suitable planes.
Thus their plight was naked and terrifying in its simplicity. If they were to get out—they had to get themselves out.”
Sea leopard? Run!
“Returning from a hunting trip, Orde-Lees, traveling on skis across the rotting surface of the ice, had just about reached camp when an evil, knoblike head burst out of the water just in front of him. He turned and fled, pushing as hard as he could with his ski poles and shouting for Wild to bring his rifle. The animal—a sea leopard—sprang out of the water and came after him, bounding across the ice with the peculiar rocking-horse gait of a seal on land. The beast looked like a small dinosaur, with a long, serpentine neck. After a half-dozen leaps, the sea leopard had almost caught up with Orde-Lees when it unaccountably wheeled and plunged again into the water. By then, Orde-Lees had nearly reached the opposite side of the floe; he was about to cross to safe ice when the sea leopard’s head exploded out of the water directly ahead of him. The animal had tracked his shadow across the ice. It made a savage lunge for Orde-Lees with its mouth open, revealing an enormous array of sawlike teeth. Orde-Lees’ shouts for help rose to screams and he turned and raced away from his attacker. The animal leaped out of the water again in pursuit just as Wild arrived with his rifle. The sea leopard spotted Wild, and turned to attack him. Wild dropped to one knee and fired again and again at the onrushing beast. It was less than 30 feet away when it finally dropped. Two dog teams were required to bring the carcass into camp. It measured 12 feet long, and they estimated its weight at about 1,100 pounds. It was a predatory species of seal, and resembled a leopard only in its spotted coat—and its disposition. When it was butchered, balls of hair 2 and 3 inches in diameter were found in its stomach—the remains of crabeater seals it had eaten. The sea leopard’s jawbone, which measured nearly 9 inches across, was given to Orde-Lees as a souvenir of his encounter. In his diary that night, Worsley observed: “A man on foot in soft, deep snow and unarmed would not have a chance against such an animal as they almost bound along with a rearing, undulating motion at least five miles an hour. They attack without provocation, looking on man as a penguin or seal.”