Monday, March 11, 2019

Following the last trail of Ernest Shackleton

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.  ...or so the advertisement by Shackleton went,  who would place such an ad?

ERNEST SHACKLETON was without a doubt one of the craziest thrill seekers of his generation.  probably the last of his kind following in the footsteps of Scott and Amundson.  Involved with the early attempts to reach the south pole, he held for a time the distinction of being the the person to have stood the farthest south on Earth.  Roald Amundson broke that record in 1911, reaching the pole and from that point on, Shackleton concentrated on being the first person to cross Antarctica on foot.
He is most famous for his Endurance voyage of 1914-17, which ended when the ship got stuck in pack ice and was destroyed leaving the crew to encamp on the ice until it melted and then he with four people was forced to sail in a small boat 700 nautical miles to South Georgia island in a converted 20 foot life raft, and encountering a storm so fierce it sunk other larger ships in nearby waters, but this was his only plan to get help.  The final leg, was a tough 36 hour crossing of the island to a whaling station on the other side overland using only a 50 foot piece of rope.  It became the end of his most famous journey.  In fact, even the crossing of South Georgia was not undertaken again for 40 years when a more modern explorer did it.  “I do not know how they did it, except they had to.”  Was a quote from Duncan Carse, the only other man to have done what Shackleton did.  Shackleton then organized the rescue of everyone in his expedition
Shackleton was listless and unhappy away from his exploring and by 1921, after some work in the Russian Civil War, he was ready to head south again, for another attempt to cross Antarctica, but he never made it to the southernmost continent.  This time fate took him and he died of a heart attack in Grytviken Harbor in January 5, 1922.  He was five weeks short of his 48th birthday.
It was two months over 97 years later that I followed in his footsteps and on march 10, landed in Grytviken harbor.  The place was now as much of a historical preservation location as the whaling station had been closed 50 years previous.  The wholesale slaughter of blue whales thankfully ended.
Shackleton’s body made it’s way to Montevideo, Uruguay where we started our trip in the southern hemisphere before a message from his wife requesting that he be buried in South Georgia was received.  The body was brought back to the island aboard the steamer Woodville and buried on March 5th, 1922.  The Boss as he was known would only have been happy being buried at a place near where he finished one of his greatest exploits.  Unlike everyone else in the cemetery 
Yesterday, we toasted the great explorer, dumping a little Jameson Whiskey out for "The Boss"
Olaf and Captain Debien toasting Shackleton at a graveside ceremony, five days late of the 97th anniversary of his burial

The views of South Georgia when the sun is out (and that is about 20% of the time) is stunning.  The island has sheer snow capped mountain precipices, and fjords, and is surrounded by occasional iceberg.  We spent parts of three days exploring it, which unfortunately for me was somewhat limited as I had picked up a virus from some passenger and I was nursing a fever and bronchitis while we were there. 
It is true that I frequently say, the birding must go on, and it did, although at one stunning backdrop our trip to shore was without me, I stayed aboard ship, helped an elderly German man with his camera, and scoped snowy sheathbills from my balcony.  Hopefully not sharing my virus, but hard to tell.  But I got out and tallied all the birds I needed, finally helping my friends get them all too.  It was a potpourri of southern species

Antarctic terns

Napping Chinstrap penguin, Penguin #6 for trip

Snowy sheathbill, which are really odd birds, sort of related to sandpipers

I found this endemic South Georgia diving petrel when the crew was preparing the ship for incredible rough seas ahead.  We got him out before he would be crushed by huge swells breaking in the foredeck.  I did a good deed and also got a lifer bird.  I saw more later off the deck, but I almost got blown overboard

South Georgia pipit

South Georgia shag

Antarctic prion

Southern giant petrel, white phase

Black bellied storm petrel

Gray headed albatross

Gray petrel

light mantled albatross

Northern giant petrel

Sooty albatross

soft plumaged petrel

Except for not seeing a snow petrel off the huge iceberg, on our final pass out of South Georgian waters I got all the birds I needed to get here.  With that I still left something for next time.  Snow petrel will have to wait for another time

There were other sights to see around South Georgia Island
HMS Clyde at Grytviken

view of Grytviken

Leopard seal before he attacked a zodiac

Fur seal pup
Glacier at Larsen Bay

Yesterday was the best day all year in South Georgia, but alas, not today, today we are sailing into the unknown, through this fjord  and into 50 mph winds, the ship is listing due to the wind.  The captain secured everything, as 8 meter waves crash on the foredeck, as we head to Trisdan de Cuhna, I'm drinking and it isn't even noon yet.  I'm not drinking due to lifer bird although I got the diving petrel today, but because I'm a little scared, and even I put a patch on, the first time I have since my 2013 voyage to Attu.

Farthest point south in my life just at 55 degrees, which a few minutes later matched the wind speed

Waves are breaking on top of 6th deck, and so for now, I must sign off, 

Olaf from the South Atlantic


  1. Sounds like a fun place to be in the late 1700s in a wooden ship chasing whales...NOT!!!

  2. A wonderful adventure. Thanks for sharing Shackleton's exploits and grave with us. Hope the Dramamine helps. Keep your eyes on the horizon.


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