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Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton was an Anglo-Irish Royal Merchant Marine and Antarctic explorer, and lays claim to one of the most amazing, unbelievable survival stories ever recorded.

On August 9th, 1914, Commander Shackleton set out on an expedition to become the first person to ever cross the Antarctic continent by sea.  He was a veteran of antarctic exploration and a total badass, and since he had gotten totally gypped out of discovering the South Pole (he was about 100 miles away from it two years before Amundsen got there) he was determined to do something wildly fucking important and make his mark on the history of exploration.

Well, shit got fucked up pretty quickly.  On January 19th his ship, the HMS Endurance was permanently wedged between two huge-ass ice floes.  Shackleton and his crew of 28 tried to extricate the vessel by doing everything from hacking the ice with axes to gunning the engine like a pickup truck stuck in the mud, but nothing was successful.  When temperatures dropped to negative 10 degrees Fahrenheit on February 22nd, the crew of the Endurance realized that the Antarctic Summer was over and the hull of their ship was going to become their new winter quarters, so they might as well learn how to play ice hockey or at least get used to freezing their asses off.

The crew waited out the winter for months, braving freezing sub-zero temperatures, 70+ mile per hour winds and a stretch of seventy days where the sun didn't rise.  Unfortunately on October 27th of 1915, the hull integrity of the Endurance was finally compromised and the crew had to abandon ship as it was crushed by the ice and sank to the bottom of the sea. 

Over the 281 days they had been stuck in the ice, the ship had drifted a total of about 1200 miles.  The crew was stranded on an ice floe with only what they were able to salvage from their ship... food, stores, sledges and three smaller ships, which they hauled across the ice for four months on their trek across the Antarctic.  Their goal was to reach open water and sail to Paulet Island, which was 346 miles away from their location.  However, on April 9th, the ice floes they were traveling on cracked in half and they were forced into their boats to avoid death by drowning or getting eaten by Orcas.

The boats braved icebergs and landed on Elephant Island a few days later.  Shackleton left most of his crew there, and set out with a small party to travel to a waling station on South Georgia island.  He set off in a tiny 20-foot boat, braving storms, freezing temperatures, tidal waves and wind gales as he traversed 800 miles of open water in only 14 days in a not-quite-seaworthy vessel.  When he reached South Georgia island though, he still wasn't finished.  He had landed on the wrong side of the island from the station, so he embarked on an epic 36-hour trip where he became the first man to cross the 4500 foot tall snow-covered mountain range that bisected the island.  Finally, he reached the station and was able to charter a ship to go back to Elephant Island and save the rest of his men.

The remnants of Shackleton's crew were picked up on August 30, 1916.  They had gone through an incredible and arduous adventure, and remarkably all twenty-eight crew members survived the two-year expedition from hell.  For his unbelievable story, courage and ability, Sir Ernest Shackleton was instantly catapulted to hero status in Great Britain, and will forever be remembered as one of the bravest and most badass explorers in the history of the world.

You can read a more detailed account of his tale here.

The HMS Endurance caught in the ice.


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