Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Elephant Island 23/1/2011 - Morning Landing

Not quite the James Caird

The first thing we looked for this morning was Shackleton's landing spot, but with sheer rock faces,crumbling glaciers and little more than a scattering of pebbles at their base, just how did Shackleton's 28 men do it? We had to use our imagination here, as Matt - our Assistant Leader - explained that the island had altered somewhat in the past 100 years, and the exact spot where the crew of the Endurance made camp had since been submerged. Today's calm seas and bright sunshine also gave a poor reflection of the crashing waters and bitter winds that swept Shackleton's men here in 1916 yet, despite our more favourable conditions, the inhospitably of this desolate chunk of rock was striking.

Living with ice at Elephant Island

Elephant Island is, in fact, so inaccessible, that it's best explored via Zodiac cruise. Today, Point Wild - the four-months home of 21 of the Endurance's crew members - is marked by a memorial to Shackleton and his men, and fiercely guarded by an army of plucky chinstrap penguins. Rightfully named after Shackleton's right-hand man, Point Wild was under the command of Frank Wild; with Shackleton and 6 crew members en-route to find help in South Georgia, Frank Wild motivated and organised the remaining team to ensure that all men were sheltered and safeguarded from the Antarctic elements, that seal blubber was in supply for lighting the blubber lamps, fuelling the stoves and insulating their clothes. Realising how vital his role was in maintaining the morale that Shackleton so famously fostered in his men, Wild wrote in his memoir:

“We gave them three hearty cheers and watched the boat getting smaller and smaller in the distance. Then seeing some of the party in tears, I immediately set them all to work.”

Chinstraps at Elephant Island

Shackleton's memorial: Wild Point at Elephant Island
With Shackleton and his men in all our thoughts, we navigated around the island's rocky shoreline watching chinstrap and gentoo penguins hurl themselves into the water like handfuls of jelly-beans tossed out to sea, and then catapult themselves back out of the swell to land upright and feet-first on the grey-black rocks; we cruised out to a colony of chinstraps who were ambitiously occupying a sculpted iceberg, and watched as they tried to propel themselves onto the steep-sided sculpture, onto to slide back down and back into the icy sea; we gazed at the crumbling face of the Endurance Glacier, waiting for a chunk of mouthwash-blue ice to calve into the water, and listening as dismembered blocks resounded like gunfire and echoed through the bare rocks and gaping cavities of the ice, whilst all around us the sea was alive as the ice fizzed and crackled in the water, like popcorn. Escaping the acrid wafts of seal and penguin guano, we rode the mounting waves back to the M/S Expedition, leaving our thoughts of Shackleton's starving men on the barren rocks of Elephant Island, as we returned to our ship for a sauna and four-course lunch.

Sea caves at Elephant Island

Chinstrap penguins and fur seals guard Shackleton's memorial at Elephant Island

Chinstrap colony on ice at Elephant Island

The M/S Expedition and Zodiacs explore Elephant Island

This blog-post forms part of a series of adventures experienced on-board the M/S Expedition in January 2012, whilst on an Antarctic Cruise - The Spirit of Shackleton - courtesy of Gadventures

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