Why Did The Kerryman Go To Antarctica?

Leaving Annascaul – The Tom Crean Generation.

How a young Annascaul man, became an Antarctic explorer.

A young Tom Crean, from his days aboard HMS Ringarooma.

A young Tom Crean, from his days aboard HMS Ringarooma.

On January 4th 1912, Tom Crean and Captain Robert Falcon Scott, shook hands, embraced and parted company for the very last time. They were situated 150 miles from the South Pole, on Antarctica’s unforgiving polar plateau. Crean would return to base as part of the last support party, with Edward Evans and Bill Lashly, whilst Scott would make a final push for the pole, taking with him Oates, Wilson, Bowers and Edgar Evans.
That he had not made the final cut for the Pole Party, was no refection of Scott’s opinion of Crean, in terms of his ability for the task. Quite the opposite in fact.
After taking three 4-man sledging teams up the Beardmore Glacier, Scott’s original intention, was for two of them to return to base, during the journey, whilst he would proceed as part of the last four man unit.
The First Supporting Party which consisted of Atkinson, Cherry-Garrard, Wright, and Keohane, turned back as planned, in latitude 85º 15′ on December 22, 1911. But on January 3rd, Scott informed the seven remaining men of a significant permutation to the original plan. He had decided to bring four men southwards with him, and send the last support party home, as a three man team.
Scott had not decided upon, or assigned any definitive role, regarding sledging teams before departure. This astute move allowed him to monitor the men, over the course of the gruelling journey, and make his ongoing selections, based on these observations of performance and health.
Crean’s potential place on the team was always likely to have been a choice between himself and Edgar Evans. That Scott chose Evans and opted to send Crean back, says more about his opinion of the Irishman, than one may imagine. It is often argued that Tom Crean was the fittest and most capable of the men that stood with Scott on the plateau that day, and should therefor have been selected for the Pole Party; whereas in actual fact, Crean was most likely sent back with a team that was a man short, because of that very fact.
A cruel twist of Fate? Most definitely not! One of the most quoted sentiments about Tom Crean, is that if Scott had included him in the Pole Party, they would all have survived. This of course we will never know for certain, and opinions are no doubt clouded by Crean’s heroics as part of the Last Support Team. What we can say for certain is that Lt. Edward Evans would have certainly died but for Crean’s inclusion in that team. His epic solo march, at the end of a gruelling 1,500 mile journey is the stuff of legend.

Man Hauling - Terra Nova Expedition

Man Hauling up the Beardmore Glacier – On Scott’s Southern Journey

But could he have saved Scott and the Polar Party? Most probably not. Considering every aspect of their return, including surface conditions, the evaporation of cached fuel, severely low temperatures, and the subsequent results of frostbite, fatigue and diminishing daily distances; it is safer to suggest that no-one could have saved the doomed men, the last of whom (Scott, Wilson and Bowers) died 11 miles short of One Ton Depot.
Crean’s input may certainly have seen them reach the depot, but that, and subsequent possibilities thereafter, can only be consigned to the realms of conjecture. It is more realistic to say that Scott, by way of not selecting him, actually saved Tom Crean’s life. That twist of fate, saw Crean heroically save Edward Evans, and later play an integral role in the epic survival story that was the Endurance Expedition.

From Annascaul to Antarctica.

So how did Tom Crean – the son of a poor farmer from Co. Kerry – find himself, on the polar plateau, not just shoulder to shoulder with Captain Scott, but as one of his most trusted and admired team members? Both men had come from such diverse backgrounds.  Continue Reading →

Shackleton, Crean and Worsley Return To Elephant Island

Shackleton, Crean and Worsley Complete The Rescue.

22 Men Plucked From Elephant Island On August 30th 1916.

On August 30th 1916, the impossible happened! Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean and Frank Worsley returned to the desolate outcrop that is Elephant Island, aboard a ship named Yelcho.

As the 22 stranded men had watched the James Caird lifeboat disappear over the horizon into the monstrous Weddell Sea, on April 24th 1916, Frank Wild optimistically opined that they would all be saved within four or five weeks.
In reality the chances that the six men – Shackleton, Crean, Worsley, McCarthy, Vincent and McNish – could survive an 800 mile crossing of the most desolate stretch of ocean on the planet were virtually nil.

Yet they did! Then, leaving the shattered John Vincent and Harry McNish in the care of Timothy McCarthy, the three men made the first ever crossing of the alpine interior of South Georgia. They reached the whaling station at Stromness on May 20th, and the seeds of what would prove to be a protracted rescue were sown.

On the fourth attempt the sea ice that had thwarted their three previous voyages, finally afforded the men the long sought passage to their stranded comrades on Elephant Island. Within an hour of location, all 22 men had been ferried aboard the Yelcho, and they set sail for Punta Arenas, Chile.

“As I manoeuvred the Yelcho between stranded bergs and hidden reefs, Shackleton peered through his binoculars with painful anxiety. I heard his strained tones as he counted the figures that were crawling out from under the upturned boat. ‘Two – five – seven -‘ and then an exultant shout. ‘They’re all there, Skipper. They are all safe! His face lit up and years seemed to fall off his age. We three* solemnly shook hands as if we were taking part in some ritual.”
Quoted from – F.A. Worsley, Shackleton’s Boat Journey.
*Shackleton, Worsley and Crean, shook hands – a quite modest acknowledgement of the successful conclusion of their heroic endeavours.

The Day The Impossible Happened – Rescue From Elephant Island, August 30th 1916.

“The Voyage of the James Caird, which was set in motion on April 24th 1916, when the tiny lifeboat was dragged from the relative safety of the grim desolate beach on Elephant Island, and cast into the most tumultuous and tortuous body of water on the planet, had finally reached conclusion. Six brave souls had climbed aboard and pitched themselves against almost certain oblivion, to somehow conspire to not just survive, but to endure, overcome, return, and pluck their comrades from the jaws of death, and from the final unbelievable chapter of the epic tale of The Endurance Expedition.”

Read the full account of the rescue here!


The Tom Crean 312 Cycle – From Naas to Annascaul

The Tom Crean 312 Cycle.

312 KM From Naas to Annascaul.

“Next Saturday 24th June, a group of eight of us from Naas Cycling Club are undertaking an epic one day cycle in honour of Tom Crean. We leave Naas at 5 a.m. and cycle to Athy to visit Shackleton’s Statue and then head for Annascaul, via Limerick to hopefully arrive at Tom’s statue at 7pm. We will then retire to the South Pole Inn for recovery. The total distance is 312km or about 12 hours cycling time.”
Peter Grady
For the second year running,  eight members of Naas Cycling Club, will cycle an epic distance of 312 kilometres, in honour of Tom Crean. This year they have decided to use their endeavours as a means to raise funds for the Friends of Naas Hospital.
Leaving Naas, Co. Kildare, at 5 am, on Saturday the 24th June, the route will see the brave group firstly arrive in Athy, for a quick stop at the Shackleton Statue, outside the Heritage Centre & Museum. From here they continue onwards through Stradbally, Portlaoise, Roscrea, Nenagh, Limerick, Adare, Newcastle West, Abbeyfeale, Castleisland, Farranfore, Castlemaine and finally Annascaul, in beautiful Co. Kerry. The journey will end upon arrival at the statue of Tom Crean, that stands in the village.

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An Irishman’s fight for survival on North America’s highest peak – Denali.

Disaster On Denali.

An Irishman’s fight for survival on North America’s highest peak – Denali.

It is almost two years since I was first in contact with Jerry O’Sullivan, from Ballinhassig, in Co. Cork. At the time Jerry had left a comment on a post I had written about Tom Crean’s epic solo march, in February 1912. It referred to Crean’s rationing of the few pieces of chocolate he had carried, on that trek, and how it had inspired Jerry in 2011, as he lay alone on top of Alaska’s Mount Denali, with a broken leg.

Naturally I was eager to learn more from that intriguing snippet of information, so I contacted Jerry and asked if he would be interested in sharing his story, and he kindly agreed. This is his story.


Disaster on Denali

by Jerry O’Sullivan

In April 2011 my friend Tony and I landed in Anchorage, Alaska for an early season climb of Denali (at the time officially called Mt. McKinley). Standing at 20,320ft Denali is North Americas highest mountain.
We joined the rest of the group which consisted of five Americans, three of whom were guides, and one Swiss climber. We packed up food for a three week trip and following a gear check we drove a few hours to the small town of Talkeetna, which is the last stop for those heading to Denali.

There we registered with the National Park Service, weighed our gear and waited for a weather window, which would allow us to fly into the mountains. A few hours later we and our gear, were loaded on two Beaver turbo-props and on our way over the vast wilderness that is Alaska. Not for the faint hearted. Our plane journey brought us very close to surrounding mountains and through “one shot pass” to our landing site on the soft snow at basecamp, on the Southeast fork of the Kahiltna Glacier. The planes were quickly unloaded and camp set up for the night.
We were at an elevation of 7,200ft and had 3 weeks to attempt the summit and get back to basecamp in time to catch our flight out of the mountains. We were ready.

Over the next two weeks we made our way up the mountain fully loaded with food, personal and group gear in our backpacks and sleds. The approach to dealing with the weight of our gear and the altitude was to “carry and cache” loads at higher elevations during the day and return to camp at lower elevations to sleep. The following day we would move to a higher camp before returning to recover the buried cache. This method along with rest days brought us up the mountain through camps at 7,800ft, 11,200ft, 14,200ft and finally high camp at 17,200ft. We climbed landmarks such as Motorcycle hill and Ski hill and rounded the famous Windy Corner. The scenery was wild, beautiful and pristine as we looked down on the endless surrounding peaks, the most prominent being Mt Hunter and Mt Foraker.

On 8th May after a long tough day we reached high camp. The weather forecast for the next two days was for a high winds but those winds never came. One of the American climbers had left our group to return to base camp a few days earlier. The long climb to high camp took its toll on another so we were left with four climbers and two guides hoping to make the top.

Camp, along the route to Denali.

Camp, along the route to Denali.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011 began like the previous two days, bright with little wind. It was decided to go for the summit. We left high camp at approximately 10:15 AM in two rope teams. The first section of the climb was over a route known as autobahn. This is a steep and dangerous section which requires climbers to clip in to pickets along the route to avoid falling. Due to this terrain we did not stop for a break until reaching the top of the autobahn at Denali pass some three hours later. Then disaster struck. Tonys hands felt cold on the way up and when he removed his gloves, his fingers were white. It was a frightening sight. Just three hours into summit day and Tony had suffered frostbite! The only option was for him to descend to camp with the second guide and seek medical help. I decided I would go back with Tony but the guide said there was no point in turning around at this stage. We carried on up the mountain though feeling great disappointment that Tony was being robbed of his chance to make the summit. We were now a team of four, three climbers and one guide roped together.   Continue Reading →

Beyond Endurance Expedition 2008 – The South Georgia Traverse

Beyond Endurance Expedition 2008.

The South Georgia Traverse.

It is almost two years since I was first in contact with Jerry O’Sullivan, from Ballinhassig, in Co. Cork. At the time Jerry had left a comment on a post I had written about Tom Crean’s epic solo march, in February 1912. It referred to Crean’s rationing of the few pieces of chocolate he had carried, on that trek, and how it had inspired Jerry in 2011, as he lay alone on top of Alaska’s Mount Denali, with a broken leg.

Naturally I was eager to learn more from that intriguing snippet of information, so I contacted Jerry and asked if he would be interested in sharing his story, and he kindly agreed. His interest in Tom Crean and Ernest Shackleton, was largely responsible for him becoming a member of the Beyond Endurance Expedition of 2008. And like minded friendships forged in South Georgia during that time, coupled with a keen sense of adventure, led to him taking up mountaineering. He started climbing in Ireland, before scaling peaks in Europe and South America, prior to tackling Denali. What transpired on North America’s highest peak, was the stuff of nightmares, for any mountaineer, and truly is a ‘must read’.

But for now, this is the prologue to that story, which will follow shortly.

My thanks to Jerry O’Sullivan.

The South Georgia Traverse.

An account by expedition member Jerry O’Sullivan.

When I was in school the only person I associated with the South Pole was Captain Robert Scott. I’d never heard of Roald Amundsen. I was certainly not aware of Ernest Shackleton or Tom Crean. Many years later, through an interest in photography, I purchased a book of Frank Hurleys photographic account of Shackleton’s ill-fated, Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. I was completely blown away by the epic story of the Endurance and her crew. In fact I was very surprised by the great Irish involvement with Shackleton, Crean and Keohane playing such important roles. Later Michael Smiths wonderful book Tom Crean Unsung Hero brought to life the full account of the Kerry man’s influence in this Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

I never thought it would be possible to go to the places visited by Crean & co, until the adventurer Pat Falvey, sought out ‘ordinary men and women for an extraordinary adventure’. So in 2008 I signed up for the Beyond Endurance Expedition, following in the footsteps of Crean and Shackleton across the island of South Georgia, in the South Atlantic.

In the early morning of 14th of November 2008 our ship pulled into King Haakon bay South Georgia. The day before had been stormy, and the remains of that weather front abated just long enough to allow us to land the RIBs on the shore at Peggotty Bluff. This is the same location from where Shackleton, Crean and Worsley began their traverse of the island on 19th of May, 1916.

Jerry O’Sullivan, during the traverse of South Georgia, on the Beyond Endurance Expedition.

With enough food and gear for five days we struck off past the on-looking Fur seals. After about two hours over rough ground we reached the snow line which made pulling the sleds much easier. However the weather had worsened. The strong winds created near blizzard conditions. As we made our way over the Murray snowfield it was difficult at times to tell where the ground ended and the sky began. After about 8 hours we stopped to camp for the night below the Trident towers, which would be the highest point on our journey. We had much work to do before settling down for the night. Pitching the tents in the windy conditions was no easy task but we had prepared well and soon they were set up, snow holes were dug out and snow was melting for much needed hot food and drinks.   Continue Reading →

Preparing for the Voyage of the James Caird – The Endurance Expedition

The Voyage to South Georgia.

Endurance Expedition (1914 – 1917).

They had waited months for the drifting ice floes, they were stranded on to finally break up, and afford them passage through the Weddell Sea. It had then taken them seven wretched days, voyaging in the ship’s three lifeboats to reach Elephant Island. They slept that night, where they had landed, at Providence Beach. They named it so, as they were quite entitled to, being the first humans to ever set foot on the island. The following morning they had to set sail again, to find a safer place to establish their camp. Westwards along the perilously rocky fringes they travelled, and landed on a thin sandy spit. This place, they named Cape Wild, after Frank Wild, who had earlier that day discovered the place with Crean, Marston, Vincent and McCarthy, in the Stancomb Wills. Finally, after spending 497 days drifting on ice, the 28 men could at last entrench their living quarters on land. And then? Then they had to get of that godforsaken rock, as quickly as possible!

Though they had some garrison from the harsh environment, they had no hope of being rescued, from Elephant Island. The isolated outcrop was nowhere near any shipping lanes, and no-one knew they were there. They would have to save themselves. Shackleton deliberated with Wild and Worsley, and it was decided that another boat journey was their only option. South Georgia, which lay 800 miles away, was the chosen destination, as the voyagers could harness the persistent north westerly winds. Though the Falkland Islands lay 300 miles closer to them, they would have had to sail directly into those winds, which effectively ruled it out as a feasible option.

This was not a journey that could be undertaken by all 28 men, when everything was considered. Firstly, all of the boats were simply not up to such a journey, through one of the most turbulent expanses of ocean on the planet. Secondly, they did not possess enough food to sustain such a number, over such a distance. Thirdly and most crucially, many of the men were undisputedly unfit for the task ahead. It was settled upon that six men would sail, whilst 22 remained behind, to survive on rations, and hopefully supplement their diets, with a few fresh kills of seal. The largest of the boats, the James Caird, was the obvious choice of vessel.

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Anchor From The Aurora – The Ross Sea Party

Anchor From The Aurora.

Picture Of The Day.

The Ross Sea Party had been tasked with laying the supply depots, that Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic team would avail of, having come through the Pole from the Weddell Sea. Of course this would never happen as the Endurance was held fast in the ice of the Weddell, and never even made landfall on Antarctica.
As the expeditions second ship, the Aurora sailed to the other side of the continent, through the Ross Sea, and made landfall at McMurdo Sound. They followed in the footsteps of Scott, and laid supply depots across the Ross Ice Shelf all the way to the foot of the Beardmore Glacier.

Anchor from the Aurora (Shackleton's Ross Sea Party) and Erebus Robert Falcon Scott's Terra Nova Hut, Cape Evans Antarctica, September 2013

Anchor from the Aurora (Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party) and Erebus
Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova Hut, Cape Evans Antarctica, September 2013


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Ponies And Dogs Of The Southern Sky.

Scott’s Ponies and Amundsen’s Dogs Immortalized.

Southern Aeronautical Waypoints named in their honour.

The names of the many great Antarctic explorers of the Heroic Age, are well known, widely documented and duly remembered. The feats of Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton, Worsley, Crean and Wild, to mention but a few, still evoke passion, admiration, pride and indeed much discussion and debate.
The map of Antarctica is very much comprised of landmarks and features named by, or in honour of these great pioneers. As was the wont of the great explorers who first tread unseen lands, they named every natural anomaly they discovered, as they so wished. The names chosen tended to stem from the royalty of the day, expedition sponsors, previous expeditions, explorers and crew, and of course those near and dear to them.
But nowhere, or no place on the vast white continent was named after the animals that played such a crucial role in each and every southern expedition.
Nowhere that is, until one man decided to address the issue, and have the contributions of the canine and equine contingents remembered. Because international rules prohibits the naming of Antarctic landmarks after animals, Col. Ronnie Smith of the US Air Force, turned to an area of Antarctica that he was very familiar with – the skies above.


Ronnie J. Smith was born of U.S. Air Force parents in Udine, Italy, and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. He attended Loyola College (B.A.) and the University of Maryland. Ron entered the U.S. Air Force in 1983 to fly C-130 aircraft and has traveled the world as a professional aviator. After many years flying in the polar regions, he was selected to be the in-theater commander of Operation DEEP FREEZE, the DoD logistics support to the U.S. Antarctic Program from 2005-2008.

“I can tell you that these men were quite an inspiration to me and many others who lived and worked in both north and south polar climes. We walk on their shoulders.” That was Ronnie’s thought on the men of the heroic age, in a correspondence, earlier this year. Of the animals that toiled alongside these men, Ronnie said in an article for Equus Magazine, “The animals never got their due credit. There’s a statue around here and there. And as a poet, I saw this as not just a heroic/romantic period of history, but one of neglect for the animals who made it possible for the success of the brave men. They literally could not have done it without the animals. They did not have the technology.”   Continue Reading →

The Motor Party departs for the South Pole & the Southern Journey Begins.

On This Day – October 24th 1911.

The Terra Nova Expedition.

William Lashly standing by a Wolseley motor sleigh during the British Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1913, November 1911

William Lashly standing by a Wolseley motor sleigh during the British Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1913, November 1911.

Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s assault on the South Pole was finally set in motion on October 24th 1911, when the “Motor Party’ rolled out of Cape Evans with two motorised sledges, which carried vast quantities of supplies, including fuel, food and vital equipment.
Scott’s order, issued to Lt. Edward Evans was that the motors should proceed to Corner Camp, then onward beyond One Ton Depot, hauling the cargo to latitude 80° 30′ S, where they would wait for the rest of the party to catch up with them at that point.
The entire Southern Party consisted of a total of 16 men. Lieutenant Evans, William (Bill) Lashly, Bernard Day and F.J. Hooper comprised the Motor Party, which took the first tentative trundles towards the South Pole, on that October 24th.

Scott and nine of the other men selected, followed in the wake of the motor tracks on November 1st 1911, with each man tasked with navigating a pony and sledge through the icy, inhospitable landscape. The complement of 16 would be completed by Meares and Demetri, who would follow them, with 23 dogs pulling two sledge loads of supplies.
For a brief while the Southern Party gained a 17th member, when Demetri took the expedition’s photographer Herbert Ponting, to the Barrier’s edge, to enable him to capture cinematograph film of the group as they ventured south with the ponies.
Unbeknownst to Scott, Roald Amundsen’s team had been to, and passed their own supply cache at 81º S on the very same day, having begun their outward quest on October 19th. Amundsen had every confidence in his planning, his dog teams and his ability to beat Scott to the accolade of being first to stand at the South Pole. He was perplexed by Scott’s insistence on using ponies to haul supplies, instead of more efficient dog teams. Amundsen had set off with over 50 dogs, the weakest of which would be fed to the other beasts, to sustain them along the route.  Continue Reading →

The Iconic Tom Crean

The Iconic Tom Crean Portrait

The Endurance Expedition 1914 – 1917

It is just over 100 years , since Frank Hurley took his iconic photograph of Tom Crean, on the Endurance Expedition. It is, above all other photographs of Crean, the one image that has become synonymous with his immense strength, courage and character.
Frank Hurley, the expeditions photographer, captured hundreds of images that would provide the world with a visual account, of the remarkable ordeal that unfolded when the Endurance became trapped, and eventually crushed, by the ice of the Weddell Sea.
The photo of Tom Crean was taken in the early stages of the Edurance entrapment, on February 7th 1915, and unbeknown to the men at this time, they faced more than two years of extreme survival, on ice, sea and land, and Crean would play a central role in the safe rescue of all the crew.

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