“Men Wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success. Ernest Shackleton.” –Apocryphal announcement for the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. 
2014: The Midwest and Northeast hunker down for blizzard and blizzard-like conditions, followed by frigid cold. In Antarctica, 52 passengers are rescued from a Russian research vessel trapped in ice; less well reported: the 22-member crew stays with the ship. The purpose of their Antarctic voyage: to recreate Australian explorer Douglas Mawson’s 1911 to 1913 exploratory voyage.
Nearly one hundred years ago, Anglo-Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton watched his aptly-named Endurance become trapped in Antarctic pack ice for months before being crushed and swallowed by massive shifting ice floes. Shackleton had no helicopters to radio for rescue in 1915. His resultant sixteen-month odyssey entailed making camp on ice floes, dragging sledges and life boats across glaciers, cooking seal and penguin meat over a blubber-fueled camp stove, and splitting-up and taking a last-ditch rescue party on a sea journey in a lifeboat followed by a thirty-six hour do-or-die hike across unexplored interior South Georgia island to finally reach the safe harbor of the ‘civilization’ at a remote whaling station.
In their loneliest moments of isolation, during their near-delirious deprivations across the unnamed mountains, glaciers, and crevasses, Shackleton and his men never felt truly alone. Shackleton kept to himself his impression that their three-man rescue party was joined by a fourth. Captain Frank Worsley later admitted to the “curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.” T. S. Eliot would capture these sentiments in his epic poem The Waste Land:
“Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you. . .” (lines 360-363).
In his own mind, Shackleton explained it. “When I look back at those days I have no doubt that Providence guided us,” he wrote in South, his account of their odds-defying journey.
I believe Providence walks beside us—some might say within us—on our own sometimes-perilous life journeys. We do not have to be truly at the edge of the world and the literal end of our rope to be aware of God’s presence in our lives. (Human nature being what it is, our crises often seen to function in this fashion.)
I can starting with being thankful for a snow day off from work, and offer a prayer for the less fortunate, for the crew remaining on the contemporary Russian Antarctic vessel, for the essential employees plowing the roads, fighting fires in Minnesota temperatures so cold the water freezes immediately, and those working extra hospital shifts and fixing downed power lines. Right or wrong, I gave a subway token to a Septa station panhandler during yesterday’s evening commute: May everyone stay warm today.
Well-done tribute site by Nova.
Shackleton narrates the loss of a pony, via the Australian Screen archives.
Shackleton as expert witness on Titanic inquest.
Whisky recovered from Shackleton’s 1907-1909 voyage.
Heacox, Kim. Shackleton: The Antarctic Challenge. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society. 1999.
Hempleman-Adams, David, Sophie Gordon, Emma Stuart, and Alan Donnithorne. The Heart of the Great Unknown: Scott, Shackleton, and Antarctic Photography. NY: Bloomsbury, 2009.
Margot Morell and Stephanie Capparell. Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons From the Great Antarctic Explorer. N.Y.: Viking, 2001. Reviewed by the author of this blog at Library Worklife.
Worsley, F.A. Endurance: An Epic of Polar Adventure. NY: W. W. Norton & Co., 1931, 1999.