Camping stranded on Antarctic ice for 3 years?
28 participants of the ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by sir Ernest Shackleton had to rely on much more than luck if they wanted to survive in the barren wilderness, cut off from the world for several polar winters with nothing more than scarce provisions.
After their ship Endurance got stuck in the ice, the expedition was all but left for dead. Things went from bad to worse when the pressure of ice floes crushed the ship, forcing the explorers to abandon their already frugal shelter and camp on ice. In their tents on ice, they survived harrowing months of extreme cold and high winds, low on food and other supplies. They could only hope that the currents of the ocean would guide their ice floe to an area from which they could risk escaping in their three lifeboats.
The ice floe drifted northwards and started cracking under their tents. Before they could fall through the unstable ice during their sleep, they embarked on a daring escape across the extreme polar ocean in their lifeboats. They rowed for a week, soaked in icy water, paralyzed in -30° C temperatures, blistered from their efforts. After changing their destination several times, they managed to land on the shores of just barely more hospitable and equally uninhabited Elephant island, still far away from any possible help.
When it became clear that their daring escape from Antarctic ice was not enough to ensure their safety, Shackleton started planing an even more perilous journey across the polar oceans. With a party of 6 in a small lifeboat, they managed to navigate 1300 km of the polar ocean and by some miracle hit the shores of South Georgia island. Other 22 members of the expedition were left behind and instructed to wait for a rescue party, without a chance to even know if Shackleton would be able to get help.
South Georgia hosted a whaling outpost, which was of course located on the other side of the island. With their boat in shambles, Shackleton led a three men expedition across the island’s mountainous interior – after years of struggling on the Antarctic ice, malnourished and exhausted, beaten by their last boat journey, they climbed day and night through snow between the 2000 meters high mountains and eventually reached the whaling outpost.
All 28 members of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition survived!
What makes this story insane is not just the most extreme weather possible and the sheer duration of their agony. It’s all the other factors that weighed overwhelmingly against them.
- Staying sane after doing literally nothing for months in darkness, stuck in the same tent with same people.
- Caring for sled dogs, raising their puppies, then killing them one by one and eating them.
- Planning outlandish escape attempts, knowing the minuscule odds of success.
- Cutting their rations in half and then cutting them again even after severe starvation.
- Merely gathering enough will to live after months on ice with nothing but death in sight.
It is insane to think nobody got crazy and everybody survived!
There is a great account of the expedition:. Read it.
Author: , fancies himself as something of a philosopher.