Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition Timeline
When Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition left South Georgia Island on 5 December 1914 to assist his bid to be the first to cross the Antarctic continent, he had no idea that a year and a half later he would end up on a rescue mission trekking across the very same subantarctic island where he started. Having not so much as set foot on the Antarctic continent, the expedition’s story, outlined below, remains one of the most remarkable polar survival sagas of all time.
5 December 1914
The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition departs Grytviken whaling station, aboard the Endurance, in a bid to cross Antarctica from the Weddell Sea coast to the Ross Sea coast. This is the last time crew would touch land for 497 days.
30 December 1914
The Endurance crosses the Antarctic Circle, 66 33 degrees south.
10 January 1915
First sighting of the Antarctic continent (Coats Land).
18 January 1915
The Endurance becomes beset in pack ice in the Weddell Sea.
22 June 1915
Crew celebrates Midwinter's Day with a feast on the Endurance.
2 September 1915
Pressure ice makes the Endurance, according to Perce Blackborow, "literally [jump] into the air and [settle] on its beam."
27 October 1915
Shackleton gives order to abandon the Endurance.
1 November 1915
Shackleton and his crew set up camp on the pack ice, drifting north for another five months from November 1915 to April 1916 until the melting ice finally released them into the Southern Ocean.
21 November 1915
With a single cry of "She's going, boys!" Shackleton and his crew watch Endurance sink.
23 December 1915
The crew begin to haul the three lifeboats (James Caird, Dudley Docker, and Stancomb Wills) westward over the ice, but the men are able to go only a short distance.
29 December 1915
Shackleton abandoned the march and set up ‘Patience Camp’ on the ice.
21 January 1916
A blizzard blows the floating camp north across the Antarctic Circle.
29 February 1916
In honour of Leap Year Day, the crew enjoys three full meals.
31 March 1916
The ice floe the crew are camped on splits in two, separating them from the three lifeboats, which they eventually get back.
7 April 1916
Elephant Island, a bleak and remote island home only to colonies of Elephant seals and penguins, appears on the horizon.
9 April 1916
The crew launches the three lifeboats into the Southern Ocean bound for Elephant Island.
16 April 1916
After several harrowing days at sea, the 28 men and three lifeboats land safely on Elephant Island.
17 April 1916
Shackleton moves camp seven miles to the west, to a spot that comes to be known as ‘Cape Wild’—after Frank Wild, the crew member who discovered it.
20 April 1916
With the long dark winter looming, and his men half-starved and desperate, Shackleton realised he would have to go for help or all would die. Shackleton announces that he will attempt to sail the 22-and-a-half-foot James Caird 800 miles to South Georgia.
24 April 1916
Shackleton and five of his men - Worsley, Crean, McNish, McCarthy, and Vincent - depart for South Georgia in James Caird.
10 May 1916
After 17 days and 800 miles in stormy seas, and with superior navigation by Frank Worsley, the James Caird miraculously arrives on the west coast of South Georgia.
19 May 1916
After a week of planning and recuperating, Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean set off to climb over the precipitous, heavily glaciated mountains of South Georgia to reach the refuge of the whaling station at Stromness on the other side of the island.
20 May 1916
Having trekked without a break for 36 hours over glacier-clad mountains thousands of feet high, Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean arrive at Stromness whaling station.
23 May 1916
Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean depart on the English-owned Southern Sky to rescue the remaining crew on Elephant Island, but are stopped by ice 100 miles short of the island.
10 June 1916
Uruguayan government loans the survey ship Instituto de Pesca No 1, which comes within sight of Elephant Island before pack ice turns it back.
12 July 1916
Chartered by the British Association, the schooner Emma sets out from Punta Arenas, but gets to within 100 miles of Elephant Island before storms and ice force it to return.
25 August 1916
Chilean authorities loan the Yelcho, a small steamer, which sets sail with Shackleton, Worsley, and Crean for Elephant Island.
30 August 1916
"I felt jolly near blubbing for a bit and could not speak for several minutes," Wild wrote about seeing Shackleton arrive with the Yelcho, which rescued the party on this day, 22 months after they had initially set out from South Georgia.
3 September 1916
Shackleton and crew arrive at Punta Arenas, Chile. All 28 men survived.
Shackleton’s Way, Margot Morrell & Stephanie Capparell, 2003