Books: Chasing Shackleton

(Image copyright William Morrow)

Along with millions present and past, I’ve long admired Ernest Shackleton, his leadership, and his crew’s mettle in returning safely from an attempt to traverse Antarctica a century ago (1914-1916). Most are familiar with the story of survival of his expedition after its ship Endurance was crushed in the pack ice surrounding the continent before they ever made land.

In April 1916, Sir Ernest and a handpicked selection of five from his crew of 27 men set out on an eight-hundred-mile journey in a 22.5-foot wooden lifeboat, the James Caird, in the harrowing seas of the Southern Ocean seeking a whaling station on South Georgia Island, and rescue. The remaining 22 remained stranded on the desolate and remote Elephant Island, with their only hope for survival resting on their own perseverance and the success of Shackleton’s efforts.

Incredibly, Shackleton and his smaller crew succeeded in the crossing and arrived at their destination of South Georgia. There they were faced with another harrowing journey over its unnavigated mountains to the whaling station at Stromness on the far side. The second leg of the miraculous “double” was also successful and Shackleton later returned to rescue the remaining men from Elephant Island in August 1916.

In January 2013, modern explorer and adventurer Tim Jarvis undertook an effort to repeat the double, an especially dangerous portion of Shackleton’s perilous journey. Jarvis and his modern five-man crew attempted both the ocean navigation and the South Georgia expedition outfitted in the same gear as Shackleton a century before.

So as not to spoil the outcome of the excellent Chasing Shackleton that he penned about the expedition, I won’t detail their own efforts, which were filmed by the Discovery Channel and PBS. Although the DVDs that resulted are outstanding, they don’t include the depth of information available in the book. The measure of effort to which the modern day crew went in authentically recreating the double is in and of itself worthy of reading and is well-threaded throughout the book. Chasing Shackleton also includes many photographs both current and past that capture the enormity of the challenges that both the Shackleton and Jarvis parties faced.

Clearly Jarvis, as with Shackleton, returned to tell the tale. Beyond that, you’ll need to read their story, and I’m certain you’ll be thankful you did.  – TF

Note: Previously in Boxer Journal I was fortunate enough to interview Kelly Tyler-Lewis, the author of The Lost Men, the largely forgotten story of the Ross Sea Party that was supporting Shackleton from the far side of Antartica.