Point Wild, Elephant Island

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.img_1845

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 dsc07359Endurance 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.img_1735

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.







Where in the world are you going?

My friends often ask me this question and it makes me chuckle. It means that I’m not the  usual type of traveler. I like living outside of the pack.

Twenty years ago, I read the “Endurance” and vowed that I’d experience wild, untamed Antarctica and follow in Shackleton’s  heroic footsteps. It took two decades, but my number one bucket list trip never diminished in my mind.

My planning included picking a ship that would let me follow Shackleton’s late 1914-1915 expedition . I wanted to experience his last miles traversing South Georgia, seeking rescue at the Stromness whaling station. I picked a journey with a historian onboard ( the outstanding David “Woody” Wood) with hopes of landing at Elephant island, even though I’d been warned that only one ship out of nine would ever be able to navigate the rough water there.

I’m searching for answers about the psychological components that doomed Scott but saved Shackleton.Consider that Shackleton failed at most everything in his lifetime, but when his men were in jeopardy, he refused to let them die. He surmounted unbelievable hardships where he should have perished many times over. But he didn’t. He brought all of the men safely home to their wives and mothers. He had a backbone of metal.

Always in love with the ice, he died of a heart attack on his last expedition in 1922 at the Grytviken whaling station on South Georgia. I felt honored, standing by his graveside to toast his life with a wee dram of scotch. I poured some onto his grave, sharing with the “boss”. I think he would have liked that.IMG_0938.JPG


Shackleton isn’t the only reason Antarctica is so hot on my mind. As a kid, I never missed reading National Geographic and still continue to love the magazine that takes me on spectacular journeys from my couch.

I wanted to walk where few have gone– into the Antarctic wilderness– and walk amongst penguins, seals, and nesting albatross. I dreamed of soaring icebergs rimmed in glowing blue and so many glaciers that many are not named. In my mind, I imagined jumbled packs of sea ice forming endless geometric patterns with the rising or setting sun as a backdrop.

Follow along with me, because Quark and the expedition team led by Shane Evey gave me all of those visions and so many more.