"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Antarctica Journals, Chapter Twenty-six, All the Comforts of Home

Frank Wild, left in charge of the 21 other men stranded on Elephant Island, knows full well that Ernest Shackleton’s daring attempt to reach South Georgia Island in the 22-and-a-half foot James Caird has little chance of success.  He also knows that he is responsible for the health and safety of his charges

A replica of the James Caird on display in the whaler's museum at Grytviken, South Georgia.
Shelter is a priority.  The weakened men struggle valiantly to overturn the remaining two life boats onto rock walls they built with great difficulty.  A rock that one healthy man could handle now takes three men.  Sails and ragged tents are stretched over the boats and snow packed against the short walls to block the wind.  Soon it becomes a fairly comfortable shelter.

He assigns daily tasks to keep the men involved their survival.  For the time being, they have enough penguins and seals nearby for meat, but the other stores are rapidly being consumed.

Waiting to be rescued on Elephant Island.

A system to signal a by-passing ship is established, with a can of kerosene left on the beach to allow for quickly dousing material for a smoke flare.

The hut on Elephant Island.

Wild and the men have no way of knowing that Shackleton and his crew of five did indeed reach South Georgia on May 10, but landed on the west side of the island, opposite the whaling stations on the east side where help could be obtained.  Shackleton allows a few days for recovery, though McNish and Vincent are in dire straits.   Shackleton figures the two would have died had they spent one more day on the wild ocean.

Now, on May 19, Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean set out at 2 a.m. under a full moon on another dangerous mission—to climb the towering mountains, cross the unknown interior, and reach the whaling stations on the opposite side of the island.  McCarthy stays to tend to McNish and Vincent.  They start out with a sledge fabricated by McNish, but snow conditions are so awful they soon abandon it.

Carrying their rations and some equipment, they climb to ridges thousands of feet high, only to see the way forward is impassable.   Again and again they climb, again and again they must descend.

The hot sun makes the mountain snow unstable and the threat of avalanches is great.  They struggle across snow fields, only to discover they are on a glacier and must seek firm ground, lest they fall into a crevasse.

With Frank Hurley and his camera back on Elephant Island, there are no photos of Shackleton crossing the mountains on South Georgia.  This book cover gives you an idea. (shackleton_south_georgia1.jpg. £5.75 incl p&p

The three persevere, stopping occasionally to eat, then pressing on.  Climbing, descending, finding their way.  Behind them, a fog is rolling in bringing with it the inability to find the right passage.

By 5 a.m. on Day Two, 27 hours after they started out, they are spent.  They stop for a rest, huddling together for warmth.  Shackleton stays awake but Cream and Worsley immediately fall asleep.   Shackleton wakes  them after five minutes, telling them they have slept for a half-hour.

Finally they discover a passage to sea level, into a bay they think is Stromness.  When they descend low enough, a glacier comes into view and Shackleton realizes this is  Fortuna Bay.  It is 6 a.m.  Shackleton climbs a ridge to explore while Crean and Worsley start the cooker for a meal.

The glacier at Fortuna Bay.  This told Shackleton they were in the wrong valley.

Shackleton hears a steam whistle.  He checks the time and sees it is 6:30 a.m.  The whistle is the wake-up call for the men at the whaling station in Stromness.   He descends to the others and tells them what he heard.  They listen carefully and at 7 a.m. the whistle summoning the men to work is heard across the mountain ridge.

They climb back up and see a steep slope they can descend.  Shackleton belays them with their only rope as the others descend.  It takes two hours to descend 500 feet.  They face one danger after another, including sliding down a slope where they cannot see what is below it, and finally reach a waterfall about 25 to 30 feet in length with impassable ice cliffs on either side.

They tie off the rope and descend into the water.  They have with them the adze used for cutting footholds in the steep ice and snow slopes, the cooker, and the logbook from the Endurance.  It is all they have brought out of Antarctica after a year and a half.

The mountains that ring Stromness.

Finally they stagger into the whaling station.  They are a "trio of scarecrows," as Worsley said, their clothing in rags, their faces blackened by long exposure to harsh elements, and covered with blubber soot.  Two young boys run from them.  

They come across a whaler, who leads them to the managers house but has them wait outside.  When he (Sorlie) comes to the door, Shacklton says, “Do you know me?”  He had been a guest of Sorlie's a year and a half prior.  Sorlie doesn't recognize Shackleton.

Shackleton identifies himself.   A man standing nearby turns away and cries.

This journey into the rugged mountains, never before penetrated by man, has taken 36 hours.

Peggoty Camp at left of red line is where Shackleton landed on South Georgia.  The line marks where Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean struggled across the island to seek help at Stromness.

Black and white photos by Frank Hurley courtesy of
South with Endurance: Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition 1914-1917
The Photographs of Frank Hurley
Book Creation Services, Ltd., London, 2001
ISBN 1-932302-04-2


We leave Port Lockroy in fog and a light snowfall and head farther southwest.  Before long, we enter the exquisite Lemaire Channel, a narrow pass between islands that is a much-desired destination of tourists.

Captain Hårvik slowly steers the Fram around icebergs and through the narrow waterway.  We are at the very beginning of the tour season, and soon we come to solid ice blocking the way.  The captain engages the thrusters and turns the ship around, then we head back northward as night falls.

The passage is to the left of the two mountains on the right.
The ice that blocked our way.

I wake in the morning and feel something strange.  There is no movement of the ship.  Looking out the window, I see fog and snow and perfectly calm water.  We are anchored in Paradise Bay where we will make our third and final landing in Antarctica.

This is the landing I have looked forward to the most because it will be on the mainland of the continent.  The other two landings were on islands.

Once again the Orange Men shovel steps into the high snowbanks and string ropes with knots tied for handholds.

The Argentine research station called Base Brown.

The Orange Men digging a path through deep snow and stringing ropes for handholds.

Soon the Cirkle boats are buzzing to and fro.  The Orange Men go first, as usual.   This is Base Brown, an unmanned Argentine research station.  Unmanned, but not un-penguined.  

This site, like many others, was chosen because there was no penguin colony there and the scientists would not be interfering with the birds.

Then the penguins moved in.

Landing on the Antarctic Continent.

Lots of assistance.

It is difficult to compare all the landing and list their pros and cons.   They are all different and offer varied things.  

This one, though, becomes my favorite for a number of reasons.   One is that is on the continent itself.   Second is that the fog and snow contribute the perfect ambiance.  This is Antarctica, everything I hoped for, everything I wanted to see.

The photos tell it better.

A number of passengers head for the top of a hill. They slide down on the long tail of the blue parkas given to us by Hurtigruten, the operator of the Fram.

On the sheer far side of it is a colony of blue-eyed shags (cormorants).


The hill climb above Base Brown.

Kathy above Base Brown.

Kathy with Base Brown below.

On the way up.

The blue-backs on the left are sliding down, reminiscent of Shackleton and his men sliding down steep snow slopes while crossing South Georgia, though they didn't have waterproof pants and nice blue jackets.

There's that photo-bombing blue-backed tourist again.

Unloading at Base Brown
Gentoo penguins watching the Fram (or not).  They don't seem to care.
This is the back side of the hill.  There are blue-eyed shags nesting on the cliff face.
A Cirkle boat with a load of passengers.
Quite often we saw one penguin chasing another, and they can move fast!  I doubt we could outrun them, especially in the snow.    They can move just as fast lying down and pedaling as they can standing up.  The penguin in front finally went to join another group of penguins.
Touring the ice field before returning to the Fram.
This beautiful cove was revealed with the fog moved out.
The only word I can think of when I look at this photo is "chaos."

The brilliant blue of densely-packed snow and ice, more visible on cloudy days.

The fog moves in, obscuring the surroundings.  The world diminishes to a snowy hill, some orange buildings, and Gentoo penguins.

Then, the fog moves out, opening up the view of the near bay where icebergs, blue in color because of the density of the ice, float in flat seas.

Another of my most favorite photos.

When it’s time for me to return to the ship, there seems to be a delay loading passengers down below the high snowbanks.  I walk forward and look.

A number of Orange Men are assisting with the unloading of a single passenger.  He lifts his head and smiles.  It is a passenger we know only as “The Judge.”  He must use a walker to walk.  He says without it, he cannot stand, but would fall.

Now, here he is, standing (with assistance) on the continent of Antarctica.  I pass the word to everyone in line, and when The Judge is firmly on the tiny gravel shore, we all cheer him.

And photographic evidence that The Judge set foot on the continent of Antarctica.  The large fellow at right is The Judge's friend, who assisted The Judge on this trip.

Blue-backs at the top (almost) of the hill, and the sheer face in front.

Blue-eyed shags (cormorants) on the face of the cliff.

Motoring through an ice field.

Base Brown.

The snowman has undergone another metamorphosis.

That photo-bombing tourist, sleeveless, on board the Fram with the hill and cliff face at Base Brown in the background.

Back aboard the Fram, I think about the arduous trek across South Georgia that Shackleton and two others made to reach help at Stromness.  They were cold, wet, half-starved, and unused to walking after their year and a half tribulation.

Yet in 36 hours, with no map, no climbing equipment, no crampons, and no showshoes, they accomplished an unthinkable climb and descent.

During the 1989 Falklands War, some British troops stationed on South Georgia traced Shackleton’s route over the mountains.  They were young, healthy, experienced, and well-equipped.  They finished the trek in 32 hours, with a map and mountaineering gear, only four hours ahead of Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean.

Today, walking the last part of Shackleton’s route, from Fortuna Bay over a ridge to Stromness, is one of the highlights of a trip  to South Georgia.  Had I known in advance that it was offered on our tour, I would have signed up.  The plan was for the hikers to start in Fortuna Bay and get picked up in Stromness.

All for naught, though, as the hike was cancelled because of new snow.


Our location.


  1. I am absolutely thrilled that you were able to fulfill this dream of yours and absolutely thrilled that I could experience it thru your words and your photos, but I have to tell you, you're one gutsy broad who I love dearly as a friend but don't ever ask me to be your traveling companion unless it's short, flat, has wheels and is warm. Love`n hugs.

  2. Stunning .. absolutely and positively stunning .. no other word comes to mind .. STUNNING !

  3. Fantabulous Jeanne. can't wait to see all of this together. Wonderful photos, captions, and history. Irene

  4. Reading about Shackleton and his men, and then your expedition makes me proud to me a human being. The photos are really something. I can't get over that blue ice.