South – Ernest Shackleton

June 25, 2015 at 03:50 | Posted in books | 1 Comment
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I downloaded this to my Kindle ages ago., when it was on some sort of special offer. It then kind of sat there for months (or even years), but finally I was idly browsing my e-library, and remembered it. And read it, of course.

It is the account of Shackleton’s extraordinary Antarctic expedition in 1914. His plan was to traverse Antarctica, with one team setting stores on the Australia side of the continent and then retreating, and Shackleton then traversing from the other side with dogs and sleds, picking up the stores left by the other team as they crossed.

Things went rather awry right at the start when his ship got unexpectedly trapped in ice in the Weddell Sea. After several months in trapped in the floes, the ship was eventually crushed, and Shackleton and his team started a very slow and painstaking crossing of the frozen sea on foot, and then in small boats they had hitherto been dragging along with them. This took more months, all the time living in tents on the ice. They finally landed on the remote, frozen Elephant Island, and set up camp there. More months passed, and eventually Shackleton and some of his men set out to cross the wild Southern Atlantic Ocean in their tiny boat, taking many weeks to successfully reach South Georgia, where there were whaling stations. They landed on the other side of South Georgia, however, so Shackleton and his men had to then trek across the un-mapped, mountainous island to get to the whalers.

Shackleton then chartered ships and managed to effect daring rescues of the men left behind on Elephant Island, as well as the team on the other side of the continent.

The whole thing is quite extraordinary. Rather dry to be sure – there’s  a lot of longitude, latitude and weather reports. However, the extraordinary hardships they went through, living in flimsy tents in the bitterest conditions, climbing each night into sleeping bags frozen solid with ice, extraordinary thirst and hunger, navigating across some of the wildest oceans in the world in a boat not much bigger than a tinnie – absolutely extraordinary, and quite riveting. If you’ve ever thought you were cold, or hungry, or faced a difficult challenge, you will change your mind after you read this book. It’s pretty inspiring.

These men were cut off from civilization for three years, with no contact with the outside world – no radio, no messages, no possibility to call for help. And in that three years, World War 1 was raging, breaking out in the same week the expedition set out. When the men finally returned, they then threw themselves into that conflict with barely any time to rest.


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