The Map of the Shackleton Crossing

Map of Start and Finish points for Shackleton's crossingThis map was inspired by the heroic crossing of South Georgia by Sir Ernest Shackleton to rescue his fellow explorers.

South Georgia, with the South Sandwich Islands, is a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic Ocean. It lies 800 miles southeast of the Falkland Islands, a ruggedly beautiful landscape permanently covered with ice over more than half of its extent.

The only residents of the island are two British Government Officers and the British Antarctic Survey staff who man two research stations.

Captain James Cook made the first landing on South Georgia in 1775, and claimed the territory for King George III. Seal hunting for furs began soon afterwards, followed by whaling activities until the mid-twentieth century.

Due to rapidly changing environmental conditions mapping is vital for the island, and assists in assessing glacier change. Dennis Maps printed the latest map, which was published by British Antarctic Survey for the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

The Shackleton Crossing

This map shows both the island, and on the reverse, the famous Shackleton Crossing of 1916. Sir Ernest Shackleton had taken part in Captain Scott’s South Pole expeditions, and was now attempting to cross Antarctica from sea to sea via the Pole.

Disaster strikes

His ship Endurance was trapped by pack ice and crushed in the Weddell Sea. Taking to the lifeboats the crew were stranded on Elephant Island, 800 miles southwest of South Georgia. With five companions, Shackleton set off to find help, and landed at King Haakon Bay on South Georgia’s south coast.

Three men waited there while Shackleton and two others set off across the unknown interior to get help at the whaling stations at Stromness Bay on the other side of the island.They had enough provisions for three days, a length of rope, rudimentary equipment, and a sketch map.

A treacherous journey

Mountains South Georgia - Sir Ernest ShackletonThe map suggested they had only 17 miles to cover, but in their way were snowfields, glaciers, precipices and gullies. It was slow going through the knee-deep soft snow, and then they were faced with crossing the peaks of The Razorback. After several attempts they finally slid down using the coiled rope as a sledge.

Disoriented, they headed off in the wrong direction but realising their mistake changed course, and heard the steam whistle of one of the whaling stations calling men to work. But although they now had a clear destination there were still dangerous obstacles to overcome, including a lake in which one man sank to his waist.

Against all odds and despite several setbacks, they managed to reach Stromness, ‘a terrible trio of scarecrows’, eleven days after setting out.

The rescue

A boat was immediately sent to pick up their fellow crew members in King Haakon Bay, but it took more than three months to evacuate the men stranded on Elephant Island, due to the sea ice blocking the approaches to the island.

Sir Ernest Shackleton died of a heart attack in 1922 during a later expedition, while his ship was moored in South Georgia. At his wife’s request he was buried on the island.

Sir Ernest Shackleton – an inspiring leader

Map showing Start and Finish Points for Sir Ernest Shackleton's crossing of South GeorgiaUnlike Scott, who had gained a heroic reputation, he sank into obscurity until later in the century, when his role in leading a team in gruelling circumstances was recognised. ‘Scott for scientific method, Amundsen for speed and efficiency but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton’, said one of his contemporaries.

Looking at the map of the Shackleton Crossing provides a small insight into the extraordinary achievement of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his companions. Even today, with sophisticated maps drawn with the help of satellite images, technical clothing and specialist equipment, the journey is an obviously formidable and dangerous one.

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If you’re interested in environmental issues of the world take a look at our other post about Greenland and the European Arctic map and climate change.

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