It has long since been the aspiration of nations to compete
against each other for resources, territory, financial gain and the expanse of
scientific knowledge. With the turn of the 20th century came the age of arctic
exploration, as wealthy nations raced to claim their territory at the ends of
the earth. In response to any potential disputes about the arctic race,
Scientific American said “there were many reasons to be skittish of the
potential for conflict and colonialism, but little could be more noble than
knowledge” and noble it was. Often referred to as the Heroic age of
exploration, these treacherous excursions were often met with tragedy, but none
so heroically tragic as the failed expedition of Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton.
Antarctica is the southernmost of the 7 continents, and the only
continent with no permanent human inhabitants. Even now with the help of modern
technology life in Antarctica is difficult and only capable with the aid of
specially insulated buildings and gear. Those who stay on Antarctica consist of
seasonal scientists and tourists who on average stay only for a few weeks to 6
months. Some scientists can stay up to 2 years on research bases, but those
longer tours are rare. Located almost entirely in the Antarctic circle, the
southernmost of the 5 main lines of latitude, the frozen continent receives at
times months of complete darkness. During the winter months the harsh weather
makes most scientists retreat to their home countries and those who stay are
stuck until winters end.
Antarctica is the world’s largest desert. You wouldn’t think so
when considering that much of Antarctica is encased in a sheet of ice that in
some places measures 2 kilometers thick. However, despite the icy conditions,
the arctic receives less precipitation a year then the Sahara Desert. You’d
be wrong to think that the abundance of snow would make up for precipitation,
seeing as you could just eat the snow to prevent dehydration. The amount of
energy used to melt the snow is more than the water the snow will give, and if
it’s cold enough for snow it’s cold enough to cause hyperthermia. In a survival
situation you should never eat snow to hydrate, and in places like Antarctica
finding a heat source or building a fire to melt the ice would be nearly
impossible. Few plants can survive Antarctic weather, mainly algae’s. The
animals are almost as scarce, consisting of penguins, seals, seabirds and
Unlike the Sahara, the average temperatures on Antarctica range
from -10 degrees Celsius on the coast to below -60 degrees more inland. When
considering temperature, you’d be better off by the coast where the ocean
temperature helps warm the frigid air, however, the closer to the coast you are
the more likely to encounter wind speeds that have been recorded up to 199
miles per hour. Even with a lack of precipitations blizzards are common from
the high winds kicking up snow and producing large drifts. Antarctica is easily
the coldest, driest, and windiest continent on the planet, made more dangerous
by how quickly the weather seems to shift.
Ernest Shackleton may not be a household name, but he deserves his
spot in the history books; even now, over 100 years after his expedition he
continues to inspire men and women with his tale of leadership and survival in
what may be the harshest and most unforgiving place on the planet, the sheet
ice that surrounds Antarctica.
Ernest Henry Shackleton was born in Ireland on February 15, 1874.
When he was a young boy his family moved to London. He was the oldest son, and
second oldest of 10 Shackleton children. Ernest’s father urged him to follow in
his footsteps and attend medical school, but becoming a doctor wasn’t part of Ernest’s
plan. Instead, at just 16 years old Shackleton joined the merchant navy and
began traveling the world. Ernest was promoted to first mate by the time he
turned 18 and just 6 years later became a certified master mariner. In 1901
Shackleton joined the British naval officer and explorer Robert Falcon Scott on
an expedition to the south pole. It was devastating to Shackleton when on the
journey he became seriously ill and was sent home.
After the failed arctic excursion Shackleton became a journalist and
entrepreneur, but still wasn’t satisfied with life in England. He longed for a
legacy. In 1907 he Again tried to explore Antarctica, however, just 97 miles
from his goal of reaching the south pole brutal conditions forced him and his
team back. His team had come up short, but made it farther than any other
explorers to date and for this great accomplishment Ernest was knighted by king
Edward VII. After being knighted Shackleton experienced a brief moment of fame,
but he had not yet secured his legacy.
Instead of becoming content in his knighthood or discouraged from
falling short of their goals, this born explorer only seemed more determined
than ever. However, the race to the south pole ended in 1911 when the Norwegian
Roald Amundsen and his team became the first reach it. After this, driven by an
undying craving for greatness, Sir Ernest Shackleton set his sights on a new
and even more challenging goal- being the first to cross the frozen continent
on foot. And so started The Imperial Trans- Antarctic expedition.
The British Imperial
Trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914 ended with failure when Ernest’s ship, the Endurance,
became trapped by shifting pack ice, a result of an early and particularly hard
winter in the arctic. After succumbing to the crushing force of the ice the
Endurance sank, leaving the team of 28 stranded on the ice. According to
outside onlines article, South Georgia
Island: the last godforsaken place, “What happened next is adventure
legend”. After the sinking of the Endurance, appropriately named, the crew
spend the next year and a half trying to survive, isolated in the artic.
August 1, 1914, the same day Germany declared war on Russia, Shackleton
departed London on the ship Endurance
for his third trip to the south pole. By late fall the crew had reached South
Georgia, an island in the southern Atlantic. On December 5, the team departed
the island, the last time Shackleton and his men would touch land for an
astonishing 497 days.
January 1915, the endurance became trapped in ice, ultimately forcing Shackleton
and his men to vacate the ship and set up camp on the floating ice. After the
ship sank later that year Shackleton embarked on an escape in April 1916, in
which he and his men crowded into three small boats and made their way to
elephant island, off the southern tip of cape horn.
hard days on the water culminated in the team reaching their destination, but
there was still little hope in getting rescued on the uninhabited island,
which, because of its location, sat far outside normal shipping lanes.
that his men were on the precipice of disaster, Shackleton led a team of five
others out of the water again. They boarded a 22-foot lifeboat and navigated
their way toward South Georgia. Sixteen days after setting out, the crew
reached the island, where Shackleton trekked to a whaling station to organize
August 25, 1916, Shackleton returned to elephant island to rescue the remaining
crew members. Astonishingly, not a single member of his 28- men team died
during the nearly two years they were stranded.
1919 Shackleton published south, his
detailed account of the journey and its miraculous ending. Shackleton, however,
was not through with expeditions. In late 1921 he set off on a fourth mission
to the south pole. His goal was to circumnavigate the Antarctic. But on January
5, 1922, Shackleton suffered a heart attack on his ship and died. He was buried
in South Georgia” (Biography.com 9).
December 24th, 2011 Nancy F. Koehn released an article title Leadership lessons from the Shackleton
expedition. This article explained how in the most literal sense, Ernest’s
expedition was a complete failure. His ship sunk, none of his crew even set
foot on Antarctica and the trip sent him into financial ruin. The astonishing fact
he saved his crew from any fatalities while on the ice was even overlooked as World
War 1 raged on. However, what has breathed life into his legacy in recent
decades isn’t his failure, but the leadership it took to save his men.
stranger to the frustration of disappointment or the fiery tempers of men
isolated at sea, Shackleton strictly enforced that his men kept up their duties
on the ship after it became trapped in the ice. Some men were tasked with
swabbing the deck, scientists continued their research and others hunted for
seals and penguins on the ice. The fear Shackleton had of the ice and snow that
trapped them was dwarfed by his fear of idol hands that have been known to do
the devils work.
October, several months after being stranded, the endurance had been overcome
by the ice and sank. Ernest and his men were left on the ice with only 3
lifeboats and minimal supplies, so Ernest set a new goal for his team- finding
their way home. Determined to keep the morale of his crew and hopes high Ernest
took it upon himself to display only the upmost optimism and strength on their
paroles journey to South Georgia. He knew the impact his mentality toward the
task would have on his crew and did everything in his power to ensure that
whenever his confidence ran low his crew would be the last to know,
compensating with unwavering optimism.
the journey when several of his teammates began to doubt his plan he acted
quickly to vanquish their pessimism. He assigned the weary followers to his own
tent and kept them close, so their worries didn’t become the concerns of the
crew, but only isolated insecurities that his confident actions helped to
relieve. Instead of dwelling on past objectives he set new goal after new goal,
fluently adapting to the changing tasks before them. Ernest had one objective,
and that was to see his crews safe return home. After reaching South Georgia,
Ernest and 5 others set sail again, traveling hundreds of miles in a 22-foot
life boat to organize a rescue party. Ernest was able to save every member of
his team after almost 2 years on the ice.
Every leader, be it a teacher, CEO, government
official or parent is bound to be confronted by unseen challenges. Those in the
positions of power will in time become well acquainted with the unpredictable
and how even the most thought threw contingency plans can fall apart. Ernest
Shackleton is a prime example of how leadership can lead men back from the
breaking point, push them to the limits of human endurance and that finding
creative and effective ways to flexibly handle everchanging situations is an
essential part of meeting goals, even if those goals changes.
the 100th Anniversary of Shackleton’s famous expedition a spark of
admiration was lit by the heroic tales of the long dead and almost forgotten
adventurer. Now however, it is not uncommon for the name Ernest Henry
Shackleton to be mentioned in leadership meetings, or for new waves of articles
to pop up about his failure’s and successes every few years. A writer named
Kate Sibber even decided to retrace Shackleton’s journey by traveling to South
Georgia to write about the unpredictable weather that even keeps modern ships
at bay. One of the biscuits that his crew ate during the journey even sold for
wasn’t the only one to write a book about his ordeals. Since his excursion and
in recent years several books have been written about Shackleton’s artic
experience including: Endurance, Shackleton, and Endurance: Shackleton’s incredible voyage. A DVD titled Chasing Shackleton is even available, among
several others. With Shackleton considered one of the true heroes from the age of
artic exploration, its not hard to imagine him getting more attention from film
in the future.
Shackleton’s heroic leadership and perseverance, he has been immortalized in countless
articles, films, books and some even dare to follow in his footsteps and
retrace his journey. With the 100th anniversary come and gone it
brought with it a new wave of remembrance and fame that Ernest wasn’t lucky
enough to experience during his lifetime. At the end of his life, Ernest was
left with a Legacy of failed expeditions and for many years after a forgotten
part of history. In recent decades his heroism and leadership has been
revisited with new enthusiasm and thou he wasn’t alive to see it, he has
finally made the impact he so desperately longed for. In a world starved of true
heroes and great men, the name Ernest Henry Shackleton is one worth remembering.