Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage Summary

Alfred Lansing

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

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Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage Summary

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Endurance: Shackletons Incredible Voyage is a 1959 non-fiction book by American journalist and writer Alfred Lansing, chronicling the failure of Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 attempt to cross the Antarctic continent on what is now known as the Imperial Trans-Arctic Expedition. The title refers to the ship, the Endurance, which Shackleton and his crew used on their journeys. Highly detailed in its depiction of the voyage and the struggles of the crew, Endurance explores themes of man’s ability to endure great hardship, and explores the culture of the ship and the global politics at the time. Alfred Lansing had access to the majority of diaries kept during the expedition and held interviews with most of the surviving crew members at the time nearly half a century after the events of the book. The highly successful book is considered one of the best recollections of the early attempts to explore the South Pole.

Conceived by Ernest Shackleton in the aftermath of his successful Nimrod expedition seven years earlier, which brought Shackleton and his men closer to the South Pole than any team had ever reached, the Imperial Trans-Arctic Expedition set sail from the British islands of South Georgia in late 1914 and sighted Antarctic land five weeks later on January 19th 1915. Soon afterwards, they encountered their first sign of trouble when their ship was beset by pack ice in the Wendell Sea. The crew was composed of Shackleton and other men, including Second Officer Tom Crean, known by the men as “The Irish Giant”, Meteorologist Dr. Leonard Hussey, expedition photographer Frank Hurley who was known for going to any length to get a photograph, as well as the crew’s beloved sled dogs who were cared for by the crew. When the ship hit crisis in the Wendell Sea, Shackleton was forced to abandon his bold plan to cross the Antarctic continent from west to east and instead focus on getting his crew out alive.

The Endurance was stranded in the frozen pack ice for nine months, eventually being surrounded and crushed by an iceberg. The crew saved as many supplies as they could and were forced to make camp on the frozen Antarctic, building housing out of ice and surviving on what they salvaged. The crew even built “Dogloos” for their dogs, which made for some of the most iconic photos in Hurley’s collection. The crew moved around on the ice floes, first setting up what was known as Ocean Camp on solidly packed ice next to their trapped ship. Later, they were forced to move to the volatile ice floes of what was known as Patience Camp after the Endurance sank.

However, a greater danger was coming, and that was the ensuing melt of the polar ice. On the ninth of April, the growing thaw forced the crew to abandon all non-essential supplies and take to their three lifeboats. The boats were named the James Caird, the Dudley Docker, and the Stancomb Wills, after the sponsors of the expedition. At night, they would park the boats on ice floes and make fires out of whale blubber. After a perilous six-day expedition, they arrived on the desolate Elephant Island on April 15th. Although they were far from home, the solid ground under their feet was a massive relief that the men described as paradise. It was the first time they had been on dry land in over a year and a half. Shackleton decided the time was right to seek help, and he launched the James Caird, the sturdiest of the lifeboats, to seek civilization over eight hundred miles away. He and the men he took with him set off through the Drake passage only a day before the pack ice closed in again. Their goal was to return to South Georgia and seek help at the local whaling stations. However, the route there was through the world’s most perilous waters in the depths of Antarctic winter. They were frequently threatened with capsize, frostbite, and ice growth on the boat itself that threatened to sink them. After sixteen days at sea under harsh conditions, they sighted land on May 8th, 1916. South Georgia was beset by a hurricane at the time and it took another five days before they were able to reach land. They had successfully travelled over fifteen hundred miles in lifeboats by the end of their journey.

It was now only a twenty-mile journey to the whaling stations on the east side of the island, with mountainous terrain ahead that had never before been navigated. The previous expedition, by James Cook, had only mapped the coastline. The perilous and rocky climates threatened them, but Shackleton’s incredible luck held. They crossed the island in thirty-six hours and reached the whaling station of Stromness. Aboard the Steam Tug Yelcho, Shackleton returned to the Antarctic. After four months and four attempts, he was able to get through the pack ice and save his remaining twenty-two crew members from Elephant Island. The entire ordeal lasted twenty months. Ernest Shackleton is buried on South Georgia Island, where he died in 1922 from a heart attack on a later expedition. His legacy of exploring the globe and breaching new and inhospitable frontiers where humans had never been endures almost a hundred years since his death.

Alfred Lansing is best known for Endurance: Shackletons Incredible Voyage, his best-selling book and the winner of a place on the prestigious Listen List of the American Library Association. His other well-known work is the pioneering “Drugs” series, first published in Life Science Library and credited with increasing America’s knowledge of the subject. Although Lansing passed away in 1975, both his works are still well-regarded today.