South

Here’s a great ex­cerpt from the book I’m cur­rent­ly read­ing.

“This af­ter­noon Sallie’s three youngest pups, Sue’s Sirius, and Mrs. Chippy, the carpenter’s cat, have to be shot. We could not un­der­take the main­te­nance of weak­lings un­der the new con­di­tions. Macklin, Crean, and the car­pen­ter seemed to feel the loss of their friends rather bad­ly. We pro­pose mak­ing a short tri­al jour­ney to-mor­row, start­ing with two of the boats and the ten sledges. The num­ber of dog teams has been in­creased to sev­en, Greenstreet tak­ing charge of the new ad­di­tion­al team, con­sist­ing of Snapper and Sallie’s four old­est pups. We have ten work­ing sledges to re­lay with five teams. Wild’s and Hurley’s teams will haul the cut­ter with the as­sis­tance of four men. The whaler and the oth­er boats will fol­low, and the men who are haul­ing them will be able to help with progress, but each mile counts. Crean this af­ter­noon has a bad at­tack of snow-blind­ness.”

The weath­er on the morn­ing of October 30 was over­cast and misty, with oc­ca­sion­al falls of snow. A mod­er­ate north-east­er­ly breeze was blow­ing. We were still liv­ing on ex­tra food brought from the ship when we aban­doned her, and the sledg­ing and boat­ing ra­tions were in­tact. These ra­tions would pro­vide for twen­ty-eight men for fifty-six days on full ra­tions, but we could count on get­ting enough seal and pen­guin meat to at least dou­ble this time. We could even, if progress proved too dif­fi­cult and too in­ju­ri­ous to the boats, which we must guard as our ul­ti­mate means of sal­va­tion, camp on the near­est heavy flow, scour the neigh­bour­ing pack for pen­guins and seals, and await the out­ward drift of the pack to open and nav­i­ga­ble wa­ter.

“This plan would avoid the grave dan­gers we are now in­cur­ring of get­ting en­tan­gled in im­pass­able pres­sure-ridges and pos­si­bly ir­re­triev­ably dam­ag­ing the boats, which are bound to suf­fer in rough ice; it would al­so min­i­mize the per­il of the ice split­ting un­der us, as it did twice dur­ing the night at our first camp. Yet I feel sure that it is the right thing to at­tempt a march, since if we can make five or sev­en miles a day to the north-west our chance of reach­ing safe­ty in the months to come will be in­creased great­ly. There is a psy­cho­log­i­cal as­pect to the ques­tion al­so. It will be much bet­ter for the men in gen­er­al to feel that, even though progress is slow, they are on their way to land than it will be sim­ply to sit down and wait for the tardy north-west­er­ly drift to take us out of this cru­el waste of ice. We will make an at­tempt to move. The is­sue is be­yond my pow­er ei­ther to pre­dict or to con­trol.”

That af­ter­noon Wild and I went out in the mist and snow to find a road to the north-east. After many de­vi­ous turn­ings to avoid the heav­ier pres­sure ridges, we pi­o­neered a way for at least a mile and a half, and then re­turned by a rather bet­ter route to the camp. The pres­sure was now rapid in move­ment and our floe was suf­fer­ing from the shakes and the jerks of the ice. At 3 p.m., af­ter lunch, we got un­der way, leav­ing Dump Camp a mass of de­bris. The or­der was that per­son­al gear must not ex­ceed two pounds per man, and this meant that noth­ing but bare nec­es­saries was to be tak­en on the march. We could not af­ford to cum­ber our­selves with un­nec­es­sary weight. Holes had been dug in the snow for the re­cep­tion of pri­vate let­ters and lit­tle per­son­al tri­fles, the Lares and Penates of the mem­bers of the Expedition, and in­to the pri­va­cy of these white graves were con­signed much of sen­ti­men­tal val­ue and not a lit­tle of in­trin­sic worth. I rather grudged the two pounds of al­lowance per man, ow­ing to my keen anx­i­ety to keep weights at a min­i­mum, but some per­son­al be­long­ings could fair­ly be re­gard­ed as in­dis­pens­able. The jour­ney might be a long one, and there was a pos­si­bil­i­ty of a win­ter in im­pro­vised quar­ters on an in­hos­pitable coast at the oth­er end. A man un­der such con­di­tions needs some­thing to oc­cu­py his thoughts, some tan­gi­ble me­men­to of his home and peo­ple be­yond the seas. So sov­er­eigns were thrown away and pho­tographs were kept. I tore the fly-leaf out of the Bible that Queen Alexandra had giv­en to the ship, with her own writ­ing in it, and al­so the won­der­ful page of Job con­tain­ing the verse:

Out of whose womb came the ice?
And the hoary frost of Heaven, who hath en­gen­dered it?
The wa­ters are hid as with a stone,
And the face of the deep is frozen.

The oth­er Bible, which Queen Alexandra had giv­en for the use of the shore par­ty, was down be­low in the low­er hold in one of the cas­es when the ship re­ceived her death-blow. Suitcases were thrown away; these were re­trieved lat­er as ma­te­r­i­al for mak­ing boots, and some of them, marked “sol­id leather,” proved, to our dis­ap­point­ment, to con­tain a large per­cent­age of card­board. The man­u­fac­tur­er would have had dif­fi­cul­ty in con­vinc­ing us at the time that the de­cep­tion was any­thing short of crim­i­nal.

Sir Ernest Shackleton — South: The Last Antarctic Expedition of Shackleton and the Endurance

3 thoughts on “South

  1. yes! great book, prob­a­bly the best non-fic­tion i’ve ever read.

    the pho­tos from frank hur­ley are awe­some as well.

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