shackleton's expedition to the antarctic sir ernest-shackleton to the rescue

A Shared Expedition: The Greatest Journey Ever Made

By Noel Thomason
SBS Head of School

In my early twenties, I embarked on a voyage aboard a medium-sized Army landing craft, used primarily for conducting Army dive operations. To occupy my time on board, I immersed myself in the captivating tales of historic sailing expeditions. These chronicles often culminated in shipwrecks and harrowing tales of survival, with only a fortunate few living to recount their experiences. Among these, one account has perpetually remained a favorite of mine, igniting a lifelong passion for studying leadership.

This particular expedition aimed to journey from Norway to the farthest reaches of the Antarctic, with the ambitious goal of becoming the first to traverse the continent via the South Pole. This endeavor promised to set a record for southern exploration. The leader of this remarkable expedition was Ernest Shackleton, and the vessel, aptly named the Endurance, was to carry them on their daring expedition. 

Shackletons expedition to the Antarctic Endurance after ice pressure was released. LCCN2013646126
Shackleton’s expedition to the Antarctic. The Endurance after ice pressure was released. Library of Congress.

Despite thorough preparation, six weeks after the Endurance departed for the South Pole, on December 5, 1914, the temperature fell dramatically, locking the vessel in the icy grip of the Weddell Sea. The crew endured on board, drifting along as the ship was ensnared in the ice. Ultimately, the pressure of the ice crushed the ship’s hull “like a walnut in a vise,” requiring the crew to abandon ship. Here, the crew of 26 men, one stowaway, and 70 dogs (brought to pull the sleds across the continent) would embark on one of the greatest survival stories ever recorded in history.

Living to Tell the Story

The Endurance, once a beacon of hope for these stranded men, would ultimately succumb to the icy depths of the sea, extinguishing any prospect of aiding their return home. After enduring merciless weather for many months, with morale waning, supplies depleted, and the faintest glimmer of rescue extinguished, Shackleton resolved to embark on a perilous voyage. He commanded his men to set sail in three fragile lifeboats, venturing into the frigid open sea, toward Elephant Island, 346 miles away. 

After beating the odds and landing on an uninhabited Island, Shackleton took one of the lifeboats and a crew of five and set sail for a small whaling outpost 800 nautical miles away. After enduring hurricane-force winds and towering seas, the boat reached South Georgia, home to a small whaling outpost. Even still, a rescue was only possible after three of the men “traversed the island’s mountainous interior on foot,” reaching the whaling outpost on 20 May 1916. 

From this point, Shackleton managed to secure provisions and orchestrate the rescue of his remaining crew. The unwavering resilience and indomitable spirit of Shackleton’s men ensured that the entire expeditionary team was ultimately saved. 

“The most remarkable thing about the Endurance saga is that they all lived to tell the story.” Earnest Shackelton’s name will ever live in infamy as one of the greatest leaders that has ever walked the earth. He experienced what many would consider the greatest journey ever recorded.

shackletons expedition to the antarctic lost party on elephant island saved 1
Shackleton’s lost party on Elephant Island saved. Library of Congress.

Unearthing a Shackleton’s ‘Failure’ 

Fast forward to 2022, when the world was emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. An expedition set sail toward the icy wilderness of Antarctica. Their mission was not to traverse the desolate continent but to uncover a relic that had inspired generations to strive for the seemingly unattainable: the ship Endurance. Leading this expedition was Capt. Mensun Bound, who meticulously documented the discovery and recovery of the Endurance in his book, The Ship Beneath The Ice.

He writes, “Will we find the Endurance? I don’t know, but in a few hours, we will be on our way, and then a story will unfold, which I know in my bones is as wide and deep and mysterious as the Weddell Sea itself. This is the kind of place where anything can happen, and you know it will.” 

After two attempts, the team was successful in locating the ship. Their journey earned them a front-row seat to what Shackleton called “the worst portion of the worst sea on earth.” After finding the prize, Bound writes of the experience, “the feeling is one of bemusement, but this time it is all good. We have been lucky. The ice is kind, our technology worked and, in the end, we touched the grail. It was an incredible team effort and everyone played a critical role.”

Upon learning about the discovery of Endurance, I was excited to read about the details. The account of that expedition, filled with peril and adversity, gripped my attention. A question persistently surfaced: What drives men to brave such treacherous conditions to retrieve a vessel that, in my eyes, symbolized Shackleton’s failures? Yet, paradoxically, I found myself captivated by the notion of embarking on that very expedition.

A Life-Changing Expedition

In a similar vein, I am reminded of the profound journey undertaken by Christ towards the cross. For Christians, this stands as the ultimate expedition, transforming the cross into a symbol of unparalleled significance. This journey, marked by sacrifice and redemption, has inspired us to live in admiration of Christ’s legacy with reverence. This cherished journey to the cross inspired the hymn writer to pen these words:

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suff’ring and shame;
And I love that old cross where the Dearest and Best
For a world of lost sinners was slain…

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown. 

It is noteworthy that it is not Shackleton’s failure that defines his legacy but rather his sacrificial care for his men. In a similar vein, when we join Christ in His sacrificial love of others, our legacy will mirror His. This endeavor demands that we delve into the icy depths of our sinful hearts, the parts that cry out for self-priority, and embark on a journey to the cross where Christ Himself suffered for our failures and leads us to redemption, thus rescuing us and leading us home. 

It is through this encounter, often a re-encounter, with the cross that the dark night of the soul is lifted from its shadowy depths, dispelled by the dawning light of Jesus’ love and grace. We need to “cling to the old rugged cross,” for it is this journey that changes our lives forever.

Paul says it this way: 

“Therefore since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person, someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since his blood has now justified us, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him? For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” ~Romans 5:1-11)

Sharing the Stories

To reach their ultimate destination, the students of StoneBridge must embark on a shared expedition to the cross. This journey is not taken alone, it is not a solitary endeavor; it is a collective journey, one where there are no passengers—only crew. Each of us, the entire StoneBridge community must bring with us our shared experience, contributing with the joy that springs from being forgiven and loved by the one who has gone before us, preparing the path.

To inspire the next generation to undertake this sacred journey, we must share our stories of survival and faith. At the heart of these stories stands our leader, Jesus. Without Him, we have no hope of survival.