Saturday, January 16, 2016

Elephant Island and the Ghost of Sir Ernest Shackleton

As we made our way toward South Georgia Island, we stopped for a Zodiac cruise at well-known Elephant Island, made famous by Sir Ernest Shackleton, who was able to land 28 men after a harrowing winter on an ice floe (where his ship the Endurance was crushed by winter sea ice), and a dangerous crossing of broken floes and open water the following summer. I have been coming here for years and never tire of his story or the island.

Elephant Island is really isolated. It is considered part of the South Shetland Islands farther south but is a place so far off traveled routes that few people ever see it. It is located on the way to South Georgia Island so most Antarctic tourists, who also call at South Georgia, will attempt to stop here. But the weather is notoriously bad here and many trips are blown out.

That would not be our fate on this day - it was brilliant sunshine without a cloud in the sky.

This is Clarence Island to the east of Elephant Island. I know of no parties that have ever stopped here.

Ridge of snow and ice hundreds of feet thick on top of the western side of Clarence Island. Perpetual snow and ice in a far-away land.

The eastern end of Elephant Island. Originally called Elephant Seal Island, the name has become shortened over time.

Looking back toward the western end of the island. Rarely is this area so free of clouds - our luck continued.

This is approaching Cape Valentine on the eastern snout of the island. We sailed between Clarence and Elephant islands.

Finally - Cape Valentine. Shackleton first landed here but realized that the howling winds that whip this end of the island were no place to set up shelter for his men. They relocated after a short stay here.

About as close as we could get to Cape Valentine on this voyage.

Cape Valentine closer in. I have been here maybe eight times and the next three photos were taken during trips in the 1990's. We were on ships with a smaller draft and could get closer to the island.

North side of the island in the 1990's.

And again.

Finally, we arrive Pt. Wild - the place where Shackleton and his men decided to set up a base for a rescue operation. It was here that 22 of the men turned two of their safety boats over for shelter, while "The Boss" and five others sailed the James Caird (the largest of the three rescue boats) for 17 days through hurricane force winds to South Georgia. The remaining 22 men camped at this remote spot for 137 days without knowing whether Shackleton actually made the crossing safely. Only after those four and half months were they finally rescued, when Shackleton hiked for 36 hours from the South side of South Georgia to a whaling station on the north. He then went to Chile to arrange for a ship to pick up his men. It is truly one of the most amazing stories of exploration ever accomplished.

The glacier at Pt. Wild. This place is normally fogged in.

Close-up toward the camp location of the 22 men. Note the penguins on the land where the men camped.

The clouds begin to creep in - sunshine is never long lasting here in the heart of the Southern Ocean.

Readying the Zodiacs. Each of the drivers made three trips of an hour each. It was amazing to tool-around in such treacherous waters, but in the safety of a Zodiac.

The highlight was seeing this unusual iceberg floating in one of the sheltered harbors nearby. No color filters or Photoshop used here.

An awesome site. Now, onto South Georgia.

1 comment:

Dr. Jack Share said...

Fabulous in every way! Thanks, Wayne.