most dramatic story in the annals of Antarctic exploration began as
World War I broke out in Europe. In 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton set out
on an expedition to cross the Antarctic continent on foot. His ship, the
Endurance is surely the most aptly-named vessel in history.
After setting sail from South Georgia in December 1914, Shackleton and his crew headed for the Weddell Sea. By mid-January, the ship was frozen in the pack ice. It drifted for nine months before the spring melt began to cause pressure ridges that eventually crushed the Endurance. Salvaging sledges and the live boats, the men struggled for survival on the pack ice for six months as it drifted north toward Paulet Island. In April 1916, ice conditions forced them to put to sea in the life boats.
The three boats reached a tiny landfall on Elephant Island. Shackleton, realizing that no one would search for them there, selected a small crew to sail for South Georgia in search of help. The men set forth in the James Caird, a 22-foot boat, on an 800-mile journey across open ocean. It was an unbelievably miserable trip, and after 16 days they reached their destination, only to realize that they had landed on the wrong side of the island. Help lay miles away, across a treacherous landscape of of glaciers and crevasses no one had ever crossed before.
After 36 harrowing hours, the men reached the Stromness whaling station, shocking the personnel who had long assumed them dead. Shackleton immediately began to work on a rescue plan for the men left behind. It took four attempts, but in August 1916, Shackleton was able to rescue the 22 men on Elephant Island. Not a single man died in the nearly two-year ordeal -- a tribute to Shackleton's extraordinary leadership abilities.