Loss of the Endurance: October 30-31, 1915

We will make an attempt to move. The issue is beyond my power either to predict or to control,” said Shackleton.
Ernest Shackleton and his crew had spent 3 nights on the Weddell Sea ice after they had to abandon their ship, the Endurance.

The weather on the morning of October 30 was overcast and misty, with occasional falls of snow. A moderate north-easterly breeze was blowing,” wrote Shackleton in his book, South! “We were still living on extra food, brought from the ship when we abandoned her, and the sledging and boating rations were intact. These rations would provide for twenty-eight men for fifty-six days on full rations, but we could count on getting enough seal and penguin meat to at least double this time. We could even, if progress proved too difficult and too injurious to the boats, which we must guard as our ultimate means of salvation, camp on the nearest heavy floe, scour the neighbouring pack for penguins and seals, and await the outward rift of the pack, to open and navigable water.”

“This plan would avoid the grave dangers we are now incurring of getting entangled in impassable pressure-ridges and possibly irretrievably damaging the boats, which are bound to suffer in rough ice; it would also minimize the peril of the ice splitting under us, as it did twice during the night at our first camp.”

Yet he felt sure that it is the right thing to attempt a march for the following reasons:

1) since if they could make five or seven miles a day to the north-west their chance of reaching safety in the months to come would be increased greatly,

2) There was a psychological aspect to the question also, it would be much better for the men in general to feel that, even though progress is slow, they are on their way to land than it will be simply to sit down and wait for the tardy north-westerly drift to take them out of the “cruel waste of ice”,

3) “We will make an attempt to move. The issue is beyond my power either to predict or to control,” said Shackleton.

Hundred years later, record South Pole skier, Hannah Mckeand advised her client, Doug Tumminello, “move slowly but steadily and constantly,” he told Pythom in an interview this week.

The afternoon of October 30th, Shackleton and Wild and I went out in the mist and snow to find a road to the north-east. They pioneered a mile and a half. “The pressure now was rapid in movement and our floe was suffering from the shakes and jerks of the ice. At 3 p.m., after lunch, we got under way, leaving Dump Camp a mass of debris. The order was that personal gear must not exceed two pounds per man, and this meant that nothing but bare necessaries was to be taken on the march.” Photographs were kept. “A man under such conditions needs something to occupy his thoughts, some tangible memento of his home and people beyond the seas.”

Shackleton tore the fly-leaf out of the Bible that Queen Alexandra had given to the ship, with her own writing in it, and also the wonderful page of Job containing the verse:

Out of whose womb came the ice?

And the hoary frost of Heaven, who hath gendered it?

The waters are hid as with a stone,

And the face of the deep is frozen. [Job 38:29–30]

Suitcases were used as material for making boots, and some of them, marked “solid leather,” proved, to their disappointment, to contain a large percentage of cardboard. “The manufacturer would have had difficulty in convincing us at the time that the deception was anything short of criminal.”

“The pioneer sledge party, consisting of Wordie, Hussey, Hudson, and myself, carrying picks and shovels, started to break a road through the pressure-ridges for the sledges carrying the boats. The boats, with their gear and the sledges beneath them, weighed each more than a ton. The cutter was smaller than the whaler, but weighed more and was a much more strongly built boat. The whaler was mounted on the sledge part of the Girling tractor forward and two sledges amidships and aft. These sledges were strengthened with cross-timbers and shortened oars fore and aft. The cutter was mounted on the aero-sledge. The sledges were the point of weakness. It appeared almost hopeless to prevent them smashing under their heavy loads when travelling over rough pressure-ice which stretched ahead of us for probably 300 miles.”

“After the pioneer sledge had started the seven dog teams got off. They took their sledges forward for half a mile, then went back for the other sledges. Worsley took charge of the two boats, with fifteen men hauling, and these also had to be relayed. It was heavy work for dogs and men, but there were intervals of comparative rest on the backward journey, after the first portion of the load had been taken forward. We passed over two opening cracks, through which killers were pushing their ugly snouts, and by 5 p.m. had covered a mile in a north-north-westerly direction. The condition of the ice ahead was chaotic, for since the morning increased pressure had developed and the pack was moving and crushing in all directions.” Shackleton gave the order to pitch camp for the night on flat ice, which, unfortunately, proved to be young and salty. “They covered one mile in a straight line, but more with deviations and relays counted. He set the watch from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m., one hour for each man in each tent in rotation.

During the night snow fell heavily, and in the morning visibility was poor. Shackleton decided not to strike camp. “A path over the shattered floes would be hard to find, and to get the boats into a position of peril might be disastrous.” Some men went back to Dump Camp to get some wood, blubber and dog-pemican. Worsley and Shackleton scouted a route to the west. After lunch the weather cleared and they struck camp and started moving. “The ice was moving beneath and around us as we worked towards the big floe, and where this floe met the smaller ones there was a mass of pressed-up ice, still in motion, with water between the ridges. But it is wonderful what a dozen men can do with picks and shovels. We could cut a road through a pressure-ridge about 14 ft. high in ten minutes and leave a smooth, or comparatively smooth, path for the sledges and teams.”

“In spite of the wet, deep snow and the halts occasioned by thus having to cut our road through the pressure-ridges, we managed to march the best part of a mile towards our goal, though the relays and the deviations again made the actual distance travelled nearer six miles. As I could see that the men were all exhausted I gave the order to pitch the tents under the lee of the two boats, which afforded some slight protection from the wet snow now threatening to cover everything. While so engaged one of the sailors discovered a small pool of water, caused by the snow having thawed on a sail which was lying in one of the boats. There was not much—just a sip each; but, as one man wrote in his diary, “One has seen and tasted cleaner, but seldom more opportunely found water.””

Previous episode: October 29, 1915…

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