Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’ Expedition, April 11, 1916: “. . . we gazed spellbound on a terrifying spectacle.. . . .”

–from Frank Hurley’s account published as “Shackleton’s Argonauts”—

“The dawn broke, foggy, cheerless, and sinister. A piercing wind was blowing from the north-west, bringing sleet which froze in a glassy veneer. While we were making ready to get under way, fields of pack came rapidly driving down from the north. There was no choice. Our floe appeared capable of withstanding a buffeting, and Sir Ernest decided to remain and await events.

“Driven on by the swift tides and heavy swell, the ice swirled around our floe, bearing it along, rolling and rocking alarmingly. In less than an hour the bosom of the sea was obscured by a seething expanse of crushing pack-ice. Climbing to the top of a reeling knoll, we gazed spellbound on a terrifying spectacle. Furious warfare was raging on one of Nature’s age-old battle-fields. We had reached the northern limit of the ice-pack, where the endless streams of ice cast adrift from the polar continent were being lashed back remorselessly by temperate seas. Here the conclusion of a cycle in Nature’s equilibrium was taking place. The ice-packs, pounded and eroded by the action of the waves, were returning to their primal element. . . .

“We stood by the boats, ready should our frail raft shatter. . . . When the floe rolled favorably, the order was given, ‘Launch boats’. . . . As night drew on, we ranged up alongside a floe that promised shelter, and made fast. The cook was put ashore just long enough to prepare some hoosh. . . . It was a stern night—snow and sleet fell; killer-whales skirmished round, and we dreaded that they might rise to ‘blow’ beneath the boats, or capsize them with their massive dorsal fins.”

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