Who doesn’t love Ernest Shackleton? Adventurer, explorer, commander, womanizer.
Forget that last part.
Ernest Shackleton had an appetite for discovery, for fame and for hard liquor.
Skip that last bit.
Let’s concentrate on the fact that this was a daringly brave man with an optimistic sense of determination and a dicey cocaine habit.
I’m really trying to write an interesting mini biography here while attempting to capture the magnitude of the man.
Except what if that which made him great also pulled him down? Or might it be the debate of the chicken and the egg? Perhaps his foibles propelled him to bold, portentous escapades.
Whatever the timeline of vice and virtue, making history was Shackleton’s goal, breeding fame and fortune if possible. He wanted to taste life while standing at the edge of it.
Shackleton attempted to reach the South Pole twice with no success.
The first undertaking brought him a fractured friendship and the unjust, heavy blame of defeat to shoulder. His second venture illuminated what did and did not work—like replacing food with ‘Forced March’ cocaine tablets. It nevertheless got him closer to the goal—just 97 miles from the Pole before making the painful decision to live another day and try again tomorrow.
It must have sliced him to the core to hear of Roald Amundsen’s victory and the planting of a Norwegian flag, but Shackleton never gave up. His spirit was strong and his determination unbeatable. He planned one more Antarctic expedition to beat all others, wishing to triumphantly cross the entire continent from one coast to the other. That would show the rest of the guys what it took to do the whole job and not simply half of it, right?
More admirable was his management of men. Bad luck and the continued unfavorable conditions of Mother Nature dashed the hopes of those attempting the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Even while watching the ice of the Weddell Sea crush and swallow his ship, Endurance, pulling it beneath the frigid, inky water, Shackleton’s new goal was the survival of his crew and keeping the men calm and focused.
Personally, I’m uncertain as to whether I’d want to remain focused in the face of death by ice. The fuzziness of hard liquor might have helped with the whole ‘keep calm and carry on’ bit.
With myriad days of either pulling their heavy lifeboats across the ice by hand or dodging the jagged slabs of ice that threatened to skewer them as they rowed around floes with inches to spare, the men continued to trudge toward hopeful rescue.
Making the onerous decision to leave most of his men behind, Shackleton and five others sailed on toward South Georgia Island and its whaling stations, fully determined to find a ship that would return to rescue the remaining crew stranded on Elephant Island.
After reaching South Georgia, Shackleton again halved his ailing company and left to cross the 22 miles of mountains, ice and snow to eventually reach the opposite side where the whaling stations stood.
After gathering help and collecting the three men on the far side of the island, Shackleton and the station manager sat down to begin planning the next rescue mission. From May 23rd through August 30th 1916, sailing attempts with four separate ships and the help of several South American countries finally brought Shackleton back to Elephant Island, where the remainder of his 22 stranded men still lived and now breathed a sigh of relief.
Sir Ernest Shackleton’s last voyage not only brought him back to his favorite destination but also to his final one. After suffering and succumbing to a heart attack on South Georgia Island, he was buried there, close to the frozen continent that had claimed his heart from the beginning.
What does this have to do with whisky? I’ll explain it all next week, so you’ll have to come back. Surely you want to know why one of the world’s leading master blenders found himself handcuffed to an ice chest?
Yep. Me too.
So until then …