Posts Tagged ‘Antarctica Month’

Antarctica: the gift that keeps on giving

September 15, 2011

Back in February I did a month-long blog-a-thon about Antarctica. To my surprise, those posts have continued to pull in quite a few readers, even through the hot, hot summer months. Today, for instance, I notice that this blog’s ‘Top Posts Today’ ticker-tape, which tracks hits during the past 24 hours, is dominated by Antarctic themes:

That’s four of five about Antarctica. It gives me the chills.

Beautiful Antarctica

February 28, 2011

On this, the final day of “Antarctica Month”, I will get out of the way and let Antarctica speak for itself. Here are a selection of beautiful photographs. None of them were taken by me; click on the photos to be directed to the site of the (higher resolution) originals.

Farewell, Antarctica. It has been a good month.

(If some of the images don’t load, try re-freshing the page.)

Source: Genius Beauty

Source: Flickr (billadler)

Source: Flickr (State Library of New South Wales)

Source: Doug Thost

Source: Andy Townsend and Lyn Irvine

Source: Doug Thost

Source: Andy Townsend and Lyn Irvine

Source: Gentoo Multimedia

Source: PhotoBucket

Source: PhotoBucket

Source: ThundaFunda

Source: Doug Thost

Visiting Antarctica

February 27, 2011

As we near the end of “Antarctica Month”, I am sure I know the question that is foremost in many minds:

“How can I go to Antarctica?”

Certainly it is a question that I have been asking myself. I’ve done some digging, and it seems that there are three principal ways to get there.

Be adventurous

Some people find their own way to Antarctica. Earlier this month we had a comment from Frida Waara, who went to several Antarctic locations, including the South Pole, a few months ago as part of a film project. People continue to test their physical endurance against Antarctic conditions: here are some recent examples. Later this year, to mark the centenary of the first successful trek to the South Pole, two British men are planning to make the journey on foot, without machines or outside assistance. That is undoubtedly courageous, but no modern expedition will match the danger of those early treks made by Shackleton, Amundsen, and Scott. Even the most modestly equipped adventurers today will have radio contact, and probably GPS signals, and maybe even CNN on a smartphone. Still, Antarctica demands respect, and it is well to remember that its ferocity can undo even the best laid plans; just this week we hear the sad story of a Norwegian ship sunk along the Antarctic coast, her missing crew presumed dead.

If such adventures are beyond your capacity, you could instead…

Be scientific

Today there are, at any given time, several thousand people resident in Antarctica, most of them working at scientific research stations. Yesterday I wrote about one of the grandest experiments taking place in Antarctica, but there are many others as well. It seems to me that a terrific way to visit Antarctica would be to get involved with the scientific work taking place at these stations and hope for an Antarctic posting. The easiest way to do that is probably to become a graduate student for a professor who works on an Antarctic project — or, naturally, to become such a professor oneself.

This is probably not an option for most of us, however, whether because of aptitude or state of life. For most of us, the best course may well be to work really hard for a long time so that we can…

Be wealthy

I was surprised to learn that there is a bustling industry ferrying tourists down to Antarctica. For a few thousand dollars one can book passage on a cruise from South America that will glide along the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. In some cases, weather permitting, passengers can land on the Peninsula and even camp overnight. For a little more money one could include the Falkland Islands and South Georgia in the itinerary, which would permit a visit to the grave of Ernest Shackleton. For the serious Antarctic tourist — and, at a price of nearly $40 000, one would have to be a wealthy tourist too — one could visit the Antarctic mainland, either in the Ross Sea area, where Scott and Shackleton had their bases, or in the more remote eastern region, south of Australia. Look at it this way: it’s still less expensive than going to Everest.

I am of two minds about this whole matter: on the one hand, it is somewhat depressing that so many people now visit Antarctica; on the other hand, I would like to go myself.

Antarctic science: IceCube

February 26, 2011

When Antarctica was first explored it was quickly obvious that it did not have much potential for commercial or industrial activity. It was simply too remote, too barren, and too cold. Consequently most Antarctic activity has had a scientific focus; this was true of early expeditions like Scott’s, and it is certainly true today.

Today there are a handful of permanent Antarctic research stations, some located near the coast and others, such as the Amundsen-Scott Research Station, which is at the South Pole itself, well inland. Scientists are interested in the biology, geology, vulcanology, and meteorology of the place. Its pure ice cores provide a good way to study the history of earth’s climate. Its high altitude and clear atmosphere make it appealing for astronomical observation (as at the South Pole Telescope).

But there is one modern Antarctic experiment that surpasses all others in the vastness of its scale and the beauty of its conception, and it is that experiment that I would like to highlight today: IceCube, the South Pole Neutrino Detector.

Schematic of the IceCube 'apparatus'. The Eiffel Tower is shown to give an idea of scale. (Source: IceCube)

IceCube is a new project; its five-year construction period was completed only in December 2010. Its principal goal is to study ultra-high energy neutrinos originating from astrophysical sources. In that sense it can be thought of as a neutrino telescope. (A neutrino, if your physics is rusty, is a subatomic particle similar in some respects to an electron but without electric charge that interacts very weakly with other matter.) Neutrinos are produced in radioactive sources. The vast majority of the neutrinos around us — and there are billions of them passing through our bodies every second — come from the sun, but there are also some from other astrophysical objects. For some time now there has been a mystery about a class of neutrinos that have been measured to have very high energies, far higher than we would have thought likely, or even possible. Where do they come from? What kind of physical process produces them? IceCube is going to try to detect these high energy neutrinos and identify the direction from which they come. If they seem to be coming from a few specific points in the sky, we can then take a closer look at those points using more conventional telescopes.

Why build the detector at the South Pole? The reason is that the only way to detect a neutrino is to pile a whole lot of stuff in front of it and hope that the neutrino will hit the stuff. If it does (and if certain conditions are satisfied) a brief flash of light, called Cherenkov radiation, will be produced, and this light can be detected.

One way to make Cherenkov radiation from a neutrino. (Source: Carleton University)

The brilliant idea behind IceCube is to use Antarctica itself — and, more particularly, its immensely thick ice layer — as the stuff. Accordingly, scientists have drilled 2-1/2 km down into the ice and sunk strings of sensitive light detectors down the shafts. The detectors simply sit there, waiting, until a neutrino interacts with an atom somewhere in the ice, and then they measure the flash of light that is produced.

This sort of experimental design is not new; detectors such as Japan’s Super-Kamiokande and Canada’s Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) are built on the same principles. What is special about IceCube is its incredible scale: the ice shafts are distributed over an area of roughly one square kilometer, and the strings of detectors are roughly one kilometer long. In this way, the scientists have instrumented an ice volume of about one cubic kilometer. IceCube is about 20 000 times larger than Super-Kamiokande, and over a million times larger than SNO. Even with this massive volume, however, the detector is expected to detect only one neutrino every 20 minutes or so; all of the other gajillions of neutrinos passing through the ice every second simply coast on through without hitting anything. As I said, neutrinos interact very weakly with matter.

One of IceCube ice shafts, 2-1/2 km deep. (Source: IceCube)

There are not many scientific results from IceCube yet — the 400 papers already published are mostly, it appears, about its construction, testing, and potential — but it is definitely a project to watch. Wikipedia lists a number of its experimental objectives in plain language, and a more technical overview is available from the IceCube collaboration itself. For me the most amazing things about IceCube are the sheer audacity of the concept, and the fact that it has actually been built. It is all quite wonderful.

Lewis: Ice Bird

February 25, 2011

Ice Bird
David Lewis (Sheridan House, 2002)
223 p. [1975]

In 1972 David Lewis set out to sail, alone in a small, one-man yacht, to Antarctica and back again. Doing so involved sailing (twice) through the Antarctic circumpolar current at a band of latitude infamous for its fierce storms and massive waves. In those latitudes there is no land at any longitude, and wind and waves simply circle the globe without interruption, building in strength and size. It is a dangerous trip for any ship, much less a small boat.

He departed Sydney late in 1972. His little boat, a steel, 32-foot yacht called Ice Bird, was well-stocked with provisions, and equipped with a below-deck cabin where he could sleep and stay warm. Compared to Shackleton’s small-boat voyage in the James Caird, David Lewis was practically in the lap of luxury. He even had a fancy rigging that would automatically adjust the sails to steer the boat in a specified direction.

All of that changed after six weeks at sea when, in a huge storm, the Ice Bird was thrown belly-up by a massive wave, snapping the mast. Lewis rigged a temporary substitute but made slow progress, and two weeks later in a gale the Ice Bird again capsized. From that point on he faced almost hopeless odds, but David Lewis was a resourceful man, and he managed to build, using only what he had on board, a new, strong mast with a makeshift rigging, and it was enough to get him safely through, frostbitten and dehydrated, to Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula. The first half of his journey was complete. It had taken almost 15 weeks.

The Ice Bird was so badly damaged that Lewis was obliged to postpone the second half of his journey until the next year, after the boat could be repaired. He was temporarily beset by ice early in his voyage, but soon hit open water and made it safely to a small port in the South Orkney Islands. Once he had set out, he dodged massive glaciers, endured fierce storms, sailed through wet fog that coated his rigging and deck in ice, and generally had a bad time of things. At one point his self-steering system was destroyed, obliging him to spend 12 or 14 hours a day at the tiller, and to risk a dangerous drift when he slept. Six weeks out a hurricane hit and again flipped the boat over, again breaking the mast. He limped into Cape Town three weeks later with a makeshift rigging that drew plenty of curious looks, but that mattered little: he was alive.

What drives a man to attempt something as fraught with danger as this? In his journals Scott had rejoiced at the sight of the open sea, a respite from “this dreadfully civilized world”. Shackleton had said that the danger and the elemental realities he and his crew encountered had allowed them to “touch the naked soul of man”. Words like these bespeak a desire to get beneath the cushion of custom and comfort to something more basic, perhaps to face death and test one’s mettle, perhaps to feel the thrill of setting one’s foot down where no-one had set foot before. In my mind Antarctica sometimes serves as a geographical analogy of the metaphysical Absolute, and the southward journey as a pilgrimage toward the Inaccessible, a flight of the alone to the Alone.

For his part, Lewis professed a motive along these lines:

In confronting Antarctica alone, I should learn to know myself as I really was, for I would be deprived of all outside support; there would be nobody to lean upon. I would find out what manner of man remained after the familiar supports of society has been stripped away — would there be a worthwhile man there at all.

At the time he set sail he had two small children, and of course he risked his future with them when he risked his life at sea. Was it indulgent of him to “face himself” in such a radical and dangerous way under those circumstances? It seems so to me. In any case, he had trouble living up to his initial ambitions, for when the silence descended and the uninterrupted solitude became total so that the still, small voice could be heard, he seems to have faltered at the challenge it proposed:

Realizing that I was beginning to brood over-pessimistically — about the little girls, our lack of a permanent home and the mess I had made of life generally — I made a conscious effort to ban all disturbing thoughts. I kept my mind in blinkers, either ‘switched off’ in the world of light books, or concentrated on the technicalities of the job at hand.

It is not my wish to condemn; I think I understand both Lewis’ desire to test himself and his desire to escape the test. I raise the point here only because as good as this book is, and as much as I enjoyed it, my appreciation would have been even greater if the exterior odyssey had been the occasion for an interior one as well.

Ice Bird (the book) is well-written, though its tonal palette is a bit drab. There is a good deal of jargon throughout about sails, rigging, and boat parts that might be an occasional impediment to land-lubbers — as it was to me. On the positive side, the book contains a good number of spectacular color photographs taken during the journey; they are a delight to the eye and the imagination.

Weird Antarctica

February 25, 2011

If one thinks of snow, ice, mountains, penguins, and seals when one thinks of Antarctica, one has made an almost comprehensive inventory. But Antarctica is a big place, and here and there one finds things that are a little odd, a little strange, a little out of the ordinary.

Blood Falls

Blood Falls, located on the mainland not far from Ross Island, is a spot where a great river of fresh blood wells up from a deep wound in the heart of the earth and gushes forth to bathe the fresh snow. The blood, they say, bears a distinct resemblance to an iron oxide-tainted plume of saltwater, and that is evident upon visual inspection as well as from chemical analysis. It is truly one of the most unusual things to be found in Antarctica, or anywhere else. (My thanks to KathyB for bringing it to my attention.)

The Sea Pig

The Sea Pig is an example of a sea cucumber, which — much to my surprise, and perhaps also to yours — is an animal and no vegetable. This invertebrate scours the ocean floor impersonating a cow’s udder. The species pictured here was discovered in 2009 during a trawl of the Antarctic coast. Quite a few other strange and wonderful creatures were discovered during the same survey, and pictures of them can be seen here. It is safe to say that the Antarctic ocean harbours yet more weird surprises for us. (My thanks to my sister for bringing the sea pig to my attention.)

Lake Ellsworth

Speaking of surprises in store, Lake Ellsworth may very well take the prize. Ellsworth is a large subglacial lake, buried under 3 km of ice, that has been sealed from the outside world for hundreds of thousands of years. Plans are afoot to drill down into the lake to discover whether and what life may be found there. Of course, we don’t know what will be found yet — the first samples will be collected late in 2012 — but there is at least the possibility that something weird will be discovered, and that, I think, is a comforting thought.

All about the South Pole and about

February 24, 2011

The South Pole
A Historical Reader
Anthony Brandt, Ed. (National Geographic, 2004)
477 p.

This volume gathers together judicious selections from classic accounts of Antarctic exploration and adventure, woven together with transitional commentary. It provides a fascinating overview of the unveiling of Antarctica, from the early seventeenth century to the middle of the twentieth. Much of what I know about the history of Antarctic exploration I learned from this book.

All of the major figures are represented, with generous excerpts from Scott’s The Voyage of the Discovery and journals, from Amundsen’s account of his successful South Pole journey, and from Shackleton’s South! There is a welcome passage from Douglas Mawson‘s The Home of the Blizzard describing his harrowing 100-mile journey, alone, in terrible conditions, which is one of the great Antarctic survival stories. We also hear directly from Captain Cook as he searched vainly for land in the southern seas and from James Clark Ross as he mapped the coastline. Events that post-dated the classic expeditions, such as the first flight across Antarctica (by Lincoln Ellsworth, in 1935) and the first overland (mechanized) crossing (by Vivian Fuchs and, of all people, Edmund Hillary, in 1957-8) are also included.

One gains a great deal by compressing so much history into so small a volume, but one loses something as well. In Scott’s journals, for instance, it is one thing to read his entries for those final weeks on their own, and another to read them after having followed him through the entire expedition; it is a little hard for me to judge, but I fear that the excerpts will simply not have the emotional impact on the reader as those same passage do when read in their full context.

I would also have appreciated more maps. The book contains just one map illustrating the routes of a half-dozen major expeditions, but that leaves much of the book’s contents un-illustrated, and that sometimes resulted in a good deal of geographical head scratching.

On balance, though, this book is a fine introduction to the subject. If Antarctic exploration fires your blood at all — and it ought to — and if, like me, you haven’t time enough to read all of the primary sources in all of their detail, then I think this book is almost indispensable. I am not aware of another like it.

Antarctic exploration on film

February 23, 2011

Alongside my occasional reading about Antarctic exploration, I have also seen a few films that have been made about the subject. Here is a brief summary of each, along with a star rating to serve as a crude guide for the discerning.

90° South (1933) [***]

This short film, lasting only a little over an hour, consists of original footage from Scott’s ill-fated 1910-13 Terra Nova expedition. The film’s director, Herbert Ponting, was one of the expedition’s members, and he filmed life in the camp, as well as preparations and practice for the South Pole trek. There is a good deal of footage of Antarctic wildlife, especially penguins, the sight of which would have been a novelty at the time. As indicated by the date above, the film was not issued until 20 years after the expedition finished, and the delay worked to its advantage, for it permitted the addition of voice-over narration (an element of high-tech “talkie” films). This is especially effective when the film relates the tragic end of Robert Falcon Scott and his companions.

South (1919) [**]

Another original, this film was taken during Shackleton’s Endurance expedition by the photographer, Frank Hurley. The film gives valuable background on the expedition, including Shackleton’s newspaper ad to solicit applicants (“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”). It is fascinating, too, to see the slow destruction of the expedition, including dramatic footage of the Endurance being crushed by ice. There is, however, quite a lot of screen time given to the dogs and to penguins, which I found a little tiresome. Also, it is a silent film with musical accompaniment, and I found that the music, in a piano score, became irritating after a while.

Scott of the Antarctic (1948) [**]

This film is a dramatization of the South Pole trek undertaken by Scott and his companions, with a famous film score by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It is a quite faithful adaptation, filmed mostly on location, and it appears to accurately show the equipment and methods used by the men. The cinematography is a little grainy, at least by today’s standards, and the drama a little staid, though the tragic ending comes through well, largely on the strength of voice-over quotations from Scott’s journals. Until a few days ago I had thought this the only film version of this story, but Janet, in a comment on an earlier post, pointed out that a BBC mini-series called The Last Place on Earth dramatized the stories of both Scott’s and Amundsen’s expeditions. I’d like to see that one.

The Endurance (2000) [***]

Co-written by Caroline Alexander, this documentary film closely follows the structure and content of her book, The Endurance. It makes good use of Frank Hurley’s original footage from the expedition itself. With the advantages of additional modern footage, interviews with experts, diary excerpts, and an explanatory voice-over, it is a better overview of the expedition than Hurley’s original film, South. Being a documentary, though, it lacks the dramatic punch of a full-scale dramatization like Shackleton (below). Considered as a substitute for Caroline Alexander’s book, it is actually quite serviceable — though it would be a pity to miss out on the book’s photographs. (My thanks to Maclin Horton for bringing this documentary to my attention.)

Shackleton (2002) [****]

In my opinion, this dramatization of Shackleton’s Endurance voyage is the cream of the Antarctic film crop. Not actually a film in the strict sense, it is a two-part television mini-series that runs about 3-1/2 hours from start to finish. The lead role is played, rather surprisingly, by Kenneth Branagh; I would have thought him too effeminate to play a man’s man like Shackleton, but, despite a few missteps, he does it remarkably well. The story spends a little too much time in London during the planning of the expedition — for budgetary reasons, perhaps? — but it works as a means to introduce the crew and establish character before the ship sets sail. Once embarked, the film portrays the actual events of the expedition quite faithfully, making only a few dramatically justifiable changes. I particularly liked how the director and cinematographer reproduced in several scenes famous photographs from the expedition. Shackleton is dramatically effective, and the beautiful scenery (filmed, alas, in Iceland and Greenland) is terrific.

Are there any other Antarctic exploration films that I should see?

The Endurance

February 22, 2011

Source: Shackleton's Expedition Endurance Photography

Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage to the Antarctic
Alfred Lansing (Carroll & Graf, 1999)
278 p. [1959]

The Endurance
Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition
Caroline Alexander (Knopf, 1999)
213 p.

“For scientific discovery, give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel, give me Amundsen; but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.”

— Apsley Cherry-Gerrard

Shackleton’s famous expedition, which lasted from 1914-16, is considered by many to be the crowning glory of the ‘heroic age’ of Antarctic exploration, notwithstanding the fact that the expedition never set foot in Antarctica.

Before reading these books I knew little of the expedition — only that it had not turned out as planned and had involved a daring boat journey. It was fascinating, therefore, for me to follow the story through its classic arc: promise, then disaster, then triumph. I had been enthralled when reading about Scott’s final expedition, which essentially consisted of one monumental effort to achieve the near-impossible, and on its own terms it is a wonderful story. Set next to Shackleton, though, it begins to look a little tame. Shackleton and his crew conquered one impossible obstacle only to be confronted by another, and then another, and another. That they made it out alive — all of them — is a testament to the leadership, courage, and determination of Shackleton himself.

The original objective of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition had been to cross, on foot, the entire Antarctic continent beginning from the Weddell sea and finishing at Ross Island, from which Scott had started his polar trek. A day or two from the Antarctic shore their ship, the Endurance, was captured by the sea ice and held, as it turned out, for nine months, until it was finally crushed to pieces and sank. The crew found themselves alone, without a ship (apart from the Endurance‘s three small lifeboats), hundreds of miles from shore, and with no hope of rescue. It was a hopeless situation.

Their path to safety involved, in stages: a harrowing sleepless week in lifeboats on stormy seas, jostled the while by ice floes, to a landing at Elephant Island; an epic 800-mile journey, undertaken by Shackleton and a small crew aboard a single lifeboat, the James Caird, through one of the ocean’s most inhospitable latitudes, in gale conditions, to reach South Georgia; and a punishing thirty-six hour trek, without tents or sleeping bags, through the uncharted interior of that mountainous, glacier-covered isle to reach a whaling station. Along the way they endured frostbite, starvation, dehydration, sleeplessness, and terrible dangers at every turn. When Shackleton, with two companions, finally did reach safety, they returned with a ship to rescue those who had been left behind. All told, the ordeal, from the time the Endurance was beset by ice to the rescue of the crew at Elephant Island, lasted 18 months.

Elephant Island (Source: Flickr - 'Chris&Steve')

Launching the James Caird from Elephant Island. (Frank Hurley)

Panorama of South Georgia. (Frank Hurley)

Lansing’s is the classic account, and with reason. He gets the reader right down on the ice, thinking through their plight along with the crew. The dramatic structure he gives to his story is excellent: when Shackleton and his small crew set out on their improbable attempt to reach South Georgia, Lansing remains behind on Elephant Island, for four long months, with those who were left not knowing if anyone would ever come looking for them. To a reader like myself, who didn’t know what was happening to Shackleton, this was an effective strategy.

Caroline Alexander’s version of the story has its strong points as well. She sets up the expedition’s background better than Lansing does, and, at the end, she spends quite a lot of time reporting what became of the expedition’s members in later years. I appreciated that. Generally speaking, however, her account of the expedition itself lacked the detail that Lansing provides, and I found it less involving. She does have access to some sources, such as the candid diary of crew member Thomas Orde-Lees, which Lansing seems not to have used.

A principal attraction of Alexander’s version is that it includes a generous number of the justly famous pictures taken by Frank Hurley, the expedition’s photographer. That these photographs survived is, in itself, something of a miracle. They bring the expedition to life in a wonderful way. Many editions of Lansing’s book do not include them, and it would be a shame to be without them.


Here is an informative, interactive site devoted to the Endurance Expedition, including quite a number of Hurley’s photographs.

Ernest Shackleton

February 21, 2011

Ernest Shackleton is another of the great names associated with Antarctic exploration. Like Scott before him, he was a Navy man for whom Antarctica proved irresistible. Between the ages of 25 and 47 he was a part of four Antarctic expeditions, three of which he led himself.

His first taste of Antarctica came as a member of the Discovery Expedition, under the leadership of Robert Falcon Scott. Shackleton held a fairly minor post in the expedition’s roster — third lieutenant — but he was one of three chosen to make an attempt on the South Pole during the Antarctic summer of 1902-3. The trip was not a success, making it barely half the distance to the Pole before turning around, but it did establish a new “furthest south” record, reaching latitude 82°17′. Shackleton was in ill health in the latter part of the trek, suffering from scurvy, and upon arriving back in camp he was shipped home to convalesce.

He was shipped home, which might have seemed an inglorious outcome, but, being the first expedition member to arrive back in England, there was a great deal of interest in him, and he achieved a certain degree of celebrity. Turning the situation to his advantage, he began to make plans for another Antarctic expedition, this time with himself as leader.

By 1907 plans were in place, and the Nimrod Expedition set sail. Early in 1908 they established a base at Cape Royds, on Ross Island, and settled in for the winter. As the Antarctic spring came, they prepared for the expedition’s main event: a trek to the South Pole. The trekking party consisted of Shackleton, Frank Wild, Eric Marshall, and Jameson Adams.

The Beardmore Glacier

They walked south across the Ross Ice Shelf and climbed to the Antarctic Plateau by way of the 160 km (100 mile) long Beardmore Glacier. (That same route would be taken by Scott’s Polar party a few years later.) They then set out across the vast Plateau. After over 2-1/2 months of trekking they had reached a point — latitude 88°23′ — about 160 km (100 mile) from the Pole when Shackleton made the difficult decision to turn back. They were dangerously low on food, and would not have survived the return journey. As it was, they had to make some of their return distance on half-rations. Shackleton later summarized the reasons for his decision in this way: “A live donkey is better than a dead lion”.

Nimrod's South Pole trekkers. L to R: Wild, Shackleton, Marshall, Adams.

Just two years after Shackleton’s near miss, both Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott successfully reached the South Pole. Shackleton, however, had not had his fill, and began casting about for another Antarctic feat to perform. He settled on a trans-Antarctic trek: he would march from one side of Antarctica to the Pole, and then continue to the other coast. The expedition’s formal title was the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, but it is popularly known, after the name of its famous ship, as the Endurance Expedition.

I’ll have more to say about the Endurance Expedition in the coming week; it turned into one of the most beloved adventure stories in recent history. For now, I will just note that Shackleton never took a single step of the trans-Antarctic journey. When he returned to England in 1917, he seems to have still had Antarctica in his heart.

And so it was that in 1921 he set sail yet again, at the helm of the Quest, for an expedition with rather unclear objectives. Many of Shackleton’s men from the Endurance signed on again, and the whole enterprise had an air of nostalgia about it, as though it were an attempt to recapture the camaraderie and adventure of glory days. Once again, as with the Endurance, they docked in South Georgia before proceeding to Antarctica, but this time Shackleton went no further: in the early hours of 5 January 1922 he suffered a heart attack and died. He was 47 years old.

At the request of his wife Shackleton was buried on South Georgia, a fitting resting place for a man who had loved Antarctica, who in life had been restless and adventurous, courageous and resolute, and a well-beloved leader of men.

Shackleton's grave in South Georgia.