Escape from the Antarctic by Ernest Shackleton


I read part of South by Ernest Shackleton. Initially, I was reluctant to read anything from someone had the entirely futile idea of launching an expedition to carry the British flag across the Antarctic. I can’t think of a more banal way of spending such an amount of money, time and energy with no gain in knowledge or return to mankind in 1914.

Having read it in January, the story makes you feel lucky to get away with a winter of only sporadic days of frost and some rain in London. The story is, I have to admit, gripping and written with an energetic style.

I started reading at the chapter X in Elephant Island. The perilous boat trip from the Western end of the Weddell sea to South Georgia island reminded me of my earlier post about the winds in the South hemisphere. The West to East winds in the region made the trip possible.

Launching the James Caird

I couldn’t help but admiring those brave men struggling against the South sea, the glaciers of an uncharted island and the weaknesses of their human natures. Their drive to survive is understable, but not why they put themselves in that situation in the first place. Scientific and social challenges were phenomenal in the early twentieth century and Europe was in the brink of its worst war ever. Previous expeditions had achieved hictorical trascendence.

Why risk your life in an enterprise without any other gain that crossing the frozen Antarctic, just for the sake of it? The only affected paragraph of the book isn’t more revealing about the reason for so much struggle: We had pierced the veneer of outside things. We had “suffered, starved and triumphed, grovelled down yet grasped at glory, grown bigger in the bigness of the whole.” We had seen God in His splendours, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.

Anyway, Google Earth is, yet again a great toy to read stories about travels. This is a screenshot of the section of South Georgia that Ernest Sheackleton and his two brave colleagues crossed before reaching civilization again:

Fortuna Glacier Google Earth

The relief is much more steeper than what panning and zooming Google Earth can reveal but zooming in to the crevices of the glacier gets awesome detail of the type of terrain that Shackleton had to walk through:

crevices fortuna glacier

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