Scraps of Books: Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Journey

Jake Cleaver takes another look at another old book worth checking out.

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Journey (1959) by Alfred Lansing

In 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew of twenty-six men (plus a stowaway) set off with the aim of being the first to cross Antarctica on foot. But before they even reached their destination, the sea froze around them, leaving their boat, “The Endurance”, stuck in a floating island of ice. They wintered on board hoping it would eventually melt and release them again, but alas, the ice eventually crushed and sank their ship, leaving them to fend for themselves in some of the harshest conditions on the planet.

Faced with truly unimaginable obstacles, the crew of the Endurance “endure” themselves. And not only that, they do everything in the most civilized way, with the only thing they really complained about, I was amused to note, it wasn’t the lack of food, dry clothes or even shelter – but when the tobacco has run out.

Now, my words just won’t do justice to such an epic adventure. However, miraculously every member of the crew survived to tell the tale, and they continued to “tell that story” to Alfred Lansing – whose words certainly do. That’s why I’m going to let him go from here as I select my “favorite bits from his book” which I hope will encourage you to pick up a copy and embark on this awe-inspiring and awe-inspiring journey for yourself. .

‘Who are you going to call?’

“For science leadership, give me Scott; for fast and efficient travel, Amundsen; but when you’re in dire straits, when there doesn’t seem to be a way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.


“The whole undertaking has been criticized in some quarters as being too ‘bold’. And maybe it was. But if he hadn’t been daring, he wouldn’t have been to Shackleton’s taste. He was first and foremost an explorer in the classic mold – totally self-contained, romantic and just a little swashbuckling.

Upstream of Shackletons Creek

“They were for all intents and purposes alone in the frozen seas of Antarctica. It had been almost a year since they had been in contact with civilization. No one in the outside world knew they were in trouble, let alone where they were. They had no radio transmitter to warn potential rescuers, and it is doubtful that rescuers could have reached them even if they could have broadcast an SOS. It was 1915, and there were no helicopters, no Weasels, no Sno-Cats, no adapted planes.

Thus, their fate was bare and terrifying in its simplicity. If they had to go out, they had to go out themselves.

Sea leopard? Course!

“Returning from a hunting trip, Orde-Lees, traveling on skis over the rotten surface of the ice, had just reached camp when an evil button-shaped head shot out of the water just in front of him. He turned and ran away, pushing as hard as he could with his ski poles and yelling at Wild to bring his gun. The animal – a leopard seal – leapt out of the water and came after him, leaping across the ice with the peculiar rocking-horse gait of a seal on land. The beast looked like a small dinosaur, with a long serpentine neck. After half a dozen jumps, the leopard seal had nearly caught up with Orde-Lees when he inexplicably spun around and plunged back into the water. By this time, Orde-Lees had almost reached the opposite side of the pack ice; he was about to cross to safe ice when the leopard seal’s head exploded out of the water right in front of him. The animal had followed its shadow on the ice. He made a wild lunge for Orde-Lees with his mouth open, revealing a huge array of saw-like teeth. Orde-Lees’ cries for help turned into screams and he turned and fled away from his attacker. The animal again jumped out of the water in pursuit as Wild came up with his gun. The leopard seal spotted Wild and turned to attack him. Wild dropped to one knee and fired again and again at the rushing beast. He was within 30 feet when he finally fell. Two teams of dogs were needed to bring the carcass to camp. It was 12 feet long and they estimated its weight at around 1,100 pounds. It was a predatory species of seal and only resembled a leopard in its spotted coat and disposition. When he was shot, hairballs 2 and 3 inches in diameter were found in his stomach – the remains of crabeater seals he had eaten. The leopard seal’s jawbone, which measured almost 9 inches in diameter, was given to Orde-Lees as a memento of his encounter. In his diary of that night, Worsley observed: “A man on foot in soft, deep snow and unarmed would stand no chance against such an animal for he nearly bounded with a rearing, undulating motion of at least five miles an hour. They attack without provocation, viewing man as a penguin or a seal.

Colin L. Johnson