Anyone who ventures this way knows the story of Ernest Shackelton; if not in depth at least in murmurs. His Endurance Expedition has become infamous for its doom yet famous for its redemption. I won’t go into the gritty details as many others have written very worthwhile accounts, instead I’ll talk a little about the significance of the places we visited.
South Georgia is involved in two significant points in this story. Let's start with November 5, 1914: Grytviken, as the last stop before heading to the continent itself Shackleton arrives and is told by returning whalers that it was the worst year - as far as the extent of ice coverage is concerned - in living memory and that it would be better to wait for the following summer. He waited about a month and then set continued south anyways, however a month of sailing and familiarizing themselves with South Georgia and the surrounding islets will prove invaluable latter on.
It's impossible to imagine the hardships and desperation that plagued this trip. Even after visiting Antarctica it's quite unimaginable as the Antarctic Winter is a different beast altogether and would indeed be unrecognizable: Ice sheets that seem stable but slowly move with crushing force in the complete four month winter darkness, where all animals retreat and the landscape becomes a truly desolate place. Even in with the cold and the towering ice bergs and ever-present sea ice we saw don't attest, as we knew a warm meal, a safe bed and an eventual escape awaited us.
----- See More About The Ice -----
Point Wild on Elephant Island, April 17, 1916. After floating trapped in the ice of the Weddell Sea for eight months, trudging across the ice with three lifeboats and supplies, then sailing those life boats through icy waters the reach Elephant Island. It is this inhospitable landscape where Shakleton, Captain Frank Worsley, second officer Tom Crean, carpenter Chippy McNeish, and seamen Tim McCarthy and John Vincent leave the other 22 men to sail over the most treacherous passage in nothing more than a lifeboat. The remaining men will live here for four months, their camp was on the strip of land between the middle rock and the slope of the main island.
The whaling station at Stromness, May 20th, 1916, Shackleton, Worsley and Crean stumble up to the Whaling Station's Manager Quarters after trekking across the mountainous island. To them in this moment I can't even begin to fathom the feeling of redemption. The three others that made the sailing are retrieved from the other side of the island and a rescue party is organized, although prove futile. It will eventual take Shackleton four attempts to reach his men on Elephant Island, thwarted each time by sea pack ice. Finally on August 30th 1916, aboard the Yelcho, Shackleton rescues the remaining 22 men. It's been 24months and 22 days since they left England.
Check out the book Endurance by Alfred Lansing
And this timeline by the Royal Geographical Society