Magazine article Geographical

Shackleton's Legacy

Magazine article Geographical

Shackleton's Legacy

Article excerpt

THE LEGEND OF SHACKLETON is based on the dramatic rescue, 100 years ago, of the imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition from the wreck of Endurance. I have been wondering what might have happened if Shackleton had managed to land and set out across Antarctica.

Unfortunately, there is no detailed prospectus to show how he would achieve it and I have had to rely largely on reconstructing his plans from information he fed to the press which was often conflicting and misleading.

Initially there was uncertainty about the route. the plan was to set off from Vahsel bay, at the head of the Weddell Sea, and head for the south pole. From there, three possible routes diverged. searching for mountains reported by Amundsen to the east of the pole was initially stated to be an important objective but another proposed route lay to the west of 'the great Victoria chain of mountains' and eventually the most certain route was selected: to follow in Shackleton's own footsteps from the nimrod expedition and descend the Beardmore glacier onto the Ross Iceshelf.

In the geographical journal for February 1914, Shackleton wrote 'I do not propose ... to go fully into the method of carrying out the expedition.' this was evasion on a grand scale, and denies precisely the details that would help answer the question.

Reading through the newspaper accounts is frustrating but it is possible pick out a rough consensus. 14 men and 120 dogs land in Vahsel bay. A train of motor sledges sets out depots of one ton each at 100,200,300, and 400 miles. The crossing party of six men and six dog teams then sets out for the Ross Sea, picking up the depots as they go. When they leave the last depot they will be carrying about three tons. At the foot of the Beardmore glacier, they pick up the first of another series of depots previously placed by the Ross Sea party over the last 300 miles across the Ross Iceshelf.

Three types of motor sledge were shipped on Endurance. None performed satisfactorily in trials and Shackleton had previously stated that he was not going to rely on them. In South, the account of the expedition, they are not even mentioned in the summary of his plans. Depot-laying was to be achieved by man-hauling the sledges.

Shackleton would rely on dogs for the crossing, having been impressed by Amundsen's dash to the pole. He was also planning to follow Amundsen's lead by killing dogs as they became surplus to requirements. The original plan called for 120 dogs to make the crossing but only 100 were purchased. Someone then realised that the Ross Sea Party would also need animals, so 30 were sent onward to New Zealand. …

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