Imagine an expedition to the Antarctic in 1914. There is no GPS, no world-reaching radio, and no satellite phone. Brutal conditions, rationed food, tight living quarters. Sounds pretty bleak. Now imagine that something goes horribly wrong. As days turn into weeks the rationed food is exhausted. As weeks turn into months hope is all that is left. When hope diminishes, all that is left is the will to live.
Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 voyage turned into a disaster just before he and his crew of twenty-eight could reach Antarctica. Their ship The Endurance was held up by ice for ten months and then crushed by it’s frozen, unforgiving force, and that is just the beginning of this two-years long journey. It is amazing what he and his crew endure over this time period just to survive.
This is an excerpt from a diary kept by crewman Thomas Orde-Lees that recounts a very cold and desperate time some six months after the men abandoned the crumpled, mangled wreckage of their ship on three lifeboats.
“As the water splashed into the boats it froze instantly forming thick incrustations of ice on the inside of the boat and over all the gear freezing up the sail as stiff as a piece of corrugated iron. Fortunately the water which ran into the bottom of the boat did not freeze at once so that by frequent bailing we were able to keep pace with it and prevent the accumulation of ice along the keels, where, had it once formed, it would have been next to impossible to eradicate it on account of the cargo.
Much sleet covered us, and what with this and the sea spray we were all more or less wet through and our outer clothing was frozen stiff. Our time was largely occupied in picking the ice off each other’s backs. It would be a lie to say that we were at all happy under these circumstances but now and again we made a feeble effort to assume a cheerful, hopeful air in spite of ourselves. We were being sorely tried, indeed, though.”