Sir Ernest Shackleton

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How far would you go to explore the unknown?

Ernest Shackleton sailed to the ends of the Earth and gave us one of the greatest survival stories ever told.

Though born in County Kildare, Ireland, in 1874, Ernest Shackleton grew up, along with his nine siblings, in London. His father thought he'd make a great doctor and urged the boy to go to medical school. But Ernest had his eye set on the horizon. 

He joined the merchant navy when he was just 16 and excelled at sea. In 1901, he sailed with British explorer and naval officer, Robert Falcon, to the South Pole. They got closer to the southernmost point of the Earth than anyone before them, marching to latitude 82°S. But before they could reach their goal, Shackleton suffered heart and lung problems and had to be sent back home.

This was the dawn of the age of Antarctic Exploration and the voyage ignited in Shackleton a lust for discovery. In 1907, he made a second attempt at being the first man to set foot on the South Pole. But brutal weather conditions just 97 miles from his target thwarted his dream once more. 

Four years later, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen beat Shackleton to the punch. 

So, Shackleton set himself a new goal: to cross the Antarctic, from sea to sea, via the pole. And on this day, August 8, in 1914, Shackleton and an expeditionary crew of 28 sailed on a ship called Endurance. It would turn out to be quite aptly named for the men would spend a shocking 497 days at sea in the harshest of conditions.

The expedition started well. The team stopped to rest and stock up on provisions at several points along their southerly Atlantic voyage. Then, on December 5, they left the remote and inhospitable South Georgia Island en route to their true destination. 

But in January of 1915, disaster struck. The Endurance became entrapped in ice. For over a year, Shackleton and his 28 men were forced to camp on the floes. Astonishingly, they survived the brutal elements as they watched the Endurance get slowly crushed to splinters by the ice.

In April of 1916, they could take it no more. All 29 men packed into three small lifeboats and paddled the 720 nautical miles to Elephant Island, located in treacherous territory off the southern tip of Cape Horn.

After their seven-day stormy open ocean voyage in frigid waters, the men finally reached the island only to find it uninhabited and far from any major shipping routes. The chances of survival remained bleak. So Shackleton took to the seas again, this time with a team of five men. They crossed another 800 or so miles in open waters back to the mountainous terrain of South Georgia. It took them sixteen days. But once there, Shackleton easily rallied the help of local whalers to rescue his men. 


On August 25, 1916, all 23 of the remaining men were saved. Not a single soul of the floundered expedition aboard the Endurance had been lost despite extreme odds.

In 1921, Shackleton tried to reach the pole again. He died of heart failure before making it to Antarctica. His body is buried in South Georgia.

Though he never achieved his dream, Shackleton is remembered as one of the most inspirational leaders of the 20th Century. He kept his team together and alive in one of history's most heroic survival stories. For this reason, he is a role model for successful leadership.

In addition to leaving behind a legacy of bravery, resourcefulness, and determination, Shackleton also contributed heavily to the disciplines of navigation and discovery. He paved the way for the explorers that followed in his courageous wake.

Ernest Shackleton tirelessly pursued his dreams and took great care of his team all along the way. That's why he's a Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero. Many thanks to Bo Zaunders and Suzie Wilde for introducing us to this most amazing man...and story.