Leaving the Sub-Antarctic Island of South Georgia, we arrive at 61 degrees latitude and Elephant Island. Not the main continent yet, but oh-so close.
Shackleton took this route in reverse in a rowboat, very desperate to save his men left behind at Point Wild. It took him sixteen days and a hurricane to sail 800 miles. The five men with him thought they would die– many times over.
It took us two days in spectacular comfort and a New Year’s celebration “The Boss” wouldn’t have believed. We are following Shackleton’s 1916 footsteps without a lick of discomfort.
After the Endurance sank, it took Shackleton’s crew 480 days (1 year and 4 months!) to pull rowboats filled with supplies across contorted ice to reach the nearest land — Elephant Island.
We sailed past the first landing site at Cape Valentine, and immediately understood Shackleton’s anxiety for a more secure place. There isn’t a barrier for monstrous waves barreling across the Southern Ocean or protection from rock slides behind. They sailed westward, landing at Point Wild. This place is named for Shackleton’s second in command, Frank Wild, the officer who stayed behind to keep the men alive for 4 1/2 months. Frank died in 1939 with WWII raging. His wish to be buried next to Shackleton in the Grytviken cemetery didn’t occur until 2011 when his ashes were discovered by an author writing a book about him.
After I read the book Endurance, I imagined a wide glacial valley with room to roam. In reality, it’s a shocking, tiny spit of rock hemmed in by an immense 4 mile wide glacier. Mady–the Endurance Glacier (named after the rescue) is a piedmont glacier. Do you know what that means? Did you know there are so many glaciers in Antarctica that many have never been named? Maybe your class can petition to name one. See the blue ice? This means it’s old and compressed.
Winds often reach 100 mph. Being a Shackleton fan, it was important for me to see this island. The agent told me, “Only one in nine ships get to offload zodiacs, because the water is too rough.” But we were blessed with a rare day, calm enough to be the first group in Shane’s 15 years of expeditions to allow guests to kayak.
The statue at the point is dedicated to Luis Pardo Villalon, the Chilean captain who rescued the 22 men (on Shackleton’s 4th attempt) with his ship, the Yelcho.
The rowboats left behind were either washed out to sea or broken to pieces over the last 100 years. Chinstrap penguins and a lonely Weddell Seal were vacationing here this day.
I’m so happy to have been so close to where such a miraculous and inspiring historical event occurred. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how they all made it home.