The Endurance Trapped
Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition
On the 5th of December 1914 the Endurance slipped from the rugged shores of South Georgia. Its destination was Antarctica, and the goal was a trans-continental march, via the South Pole, from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea. With the south pole conquered by both Amundsen and Scott, the last great objective was to traverse the entire continent.
Before departure from South Georgia, Shackleton had been warned by the Norwegians that manned the whaling stations on the island, that the ice in the Weddell Sea was more abundant, and further north than they had ever before seen.
Despite the advice, Shackleton, albeit concerned, decided to proceed. After only two days sailing the Endurance first encountered pack ice, and the battle had begun. The ship manoeuvred and battered a course through the ice for weeks, and progress was slow, save for occasional breaks in the dense pack ice, which speeded progress. One such lead that opened up, saw the Endurance make good headway between the 7th and 10th of January 1915, and soon the ship was in the Antarctic region of Coats Land. On January 15th a potential landing spot was identified, but Shackleton deemed it too far north of the intended point at Vahsel Bay.
On January 17th land was sighted in the distance, but bad weather forced the ship to seek shelter, rather than proceed. The following day, January 18th at a latitude of 76°34’S, the Endurance was entirely surrounded, and held fast by the ice.
“The winds are comparatively light, and consequently new ice can form even in the summertime. The absence of strong winds has the additional effect of allowing the ice to accumulate in masses, undisturbed.” – Shackleton
Initially there was little cause for concern among the crew, the assumption being that the pack ice would break up and release the ship. Those who were veterans of earlier expeditions had had previous experiences of being aboard an ice bound ship, that had eventually been freed.
But this time the ice would not relinquish its captive vessel, which it slowly crushed, pulverised and eventually sank, in November of that year, putting in motion a story of survival and heroism that resonates to this day.
Map Of The Planned Expedition.
Map-plan of the expedition, published in March 1916; no news had been heard of the expedition since the end of 1914.
“The above is a map-plan of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which, under Sir Ernest Shackleton’s leadership, started from England for the South Polar Continent in August 1914, and of which news is expected any moment.”
Quoted from the Daily Telegraph, March 1916.
“Tom Crean’s role in the escape from the ice, is unique in that he was the only member of the Endurance Expedition to take part in every aspect of it.” The term ‘challenge’ is without doubt a gross understatement, if used in the context of the unbelievable survival story, that was the Endurance Expedition.