Shackleton: Leader. Hero. Polar Explorer.

Some of our most popular polar cruise options include retracing the steps of the great polar explorer, Ernest Shackleton.  But who is Ernest Shackleton?  Polar Explorer? Leader? Hero?

If you are not a history buff, you may be wondering why the story of this man is important, but the travel and tribulations of Shackleton paved the way for polar explorers of the Antarctic during the period referred to as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

Shackleton's story begins after an unsuccessful trip to the Antarctic in 1901 - 1904, which he did not complete due to illness.  A couple years later, Shackleton headed back to Antarctica as leader of the Nimrod Expedition. In 1909, Shackleton established the record for venturing the farthest south of any explorer, only 180 km from the South Pole.

Though knighted by King Edward the VII for this accomplishment, Shackleton, an unsettled and restless individual, was not satisfied.  Though he was not the first to reach the South Pole, Shackleton set his sights on a new accomplishment, the "one remaining great object of Antarctic journeying": to cross the Antarctic continent from sea to sea, via the South Pole.

The Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition set sail for Antarctica aboard the Endurance on December 5, 1914.  Headed for Vahsel Bay, the ship encountered ice early on, slowing their progress, and on January 19, the Endurance became trapped in ice in the Weddell Sea.  By February, knowing that the ship would be trapped until the following spring, Shackleton ordered the crew to abandon the ship's original plan, and instead convert the ship to a winter station until the spring, when they would then head towards Vahsel Bay. 

The ship drifted north along with the ice floe in the months that followed, and in the spring (September), the Endurance finally broke free of the ice.  The harsh conditions and pressure from the ice, however, put extreme wear and tear on the ship, the ship began to take on massive amounts of water in October.  Shackleton ordered the crew, provisions and equipment in tow, to make camp along an ice floe, and on the 21st of November, 1915, the Endurance sank below the surface of the sea.

Shackleton and his crew camped on the large ice floe for the next couple months, hoping the flow would drive towards Paulet Island, 402 km from the location where the ship sank.  Several failed attempts to cross the island on foot led to the residence and permanent camp on another ice flow, called Patience Camp.

In March, the Patience Camp had successfully made its way on the ice flow only 97 km from Paulet Island, but impassable and un-trekable conditions made floating to the island an impossible goal.  On April 9, the ice floe where Patience Camp was located broke into two, and the crew was forced to get into lifeboats and head for land.

Five days at sea later, the crew reached Elephant Island--346 miles from where the Endurance sank! 

After nearly 500 days at sea, the entire crew made it safely to land without a single loss of life.  Shackleton has now been resurrected as the historical figurehead of leadership for his voyage.  Stories of Shackleton's team mentality and charisma during these extreme times of survival almost sound like folk lore.  For example, when Shackleton's photographer Frank Hurley lost his mittens during the boat journey, Shackleton gave Hurley his mittens, and suffered frostbitten fingers because of it.

The series of events that led Shackleton and his crew through the 495 day adventure Antarctic with no loss of life make Shackleton's name synonymous with leadership.  Despite tragedy and disaster, Shackleton gave his crew hope and motivation that helped them survive the epic trip. 

Shackleton returned to the Antarctic only one last time, on the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition of 1921. Shackleton was work on scientific and survey activities in the southern pole, but shortly after his departure, Shackleton died of a heart attack near South Georgia, where he was buried.

Polar Cruises has a variety of Antarctic cruise adventures that retrace Shackleton's epic attempt at the Imperial Trans-Antarctic journey, with stops in South Georgia, Elephant Island, the Falkand Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula. If you are interested in finding out more about joining one of these epic historical trips, call Polar Cruises today.   Find out more about the travel options we offer, and how you can start preparing for your Antarctic adventure: Toll Free at 888-484-2244 (US or Canada) or 541-330-2454 (Outside the US).