Day 21

Daily Distance:
Total Distance:
81° 01' / 167° 39'

Read the Journal Entry for Day 21

Shackleton Centenary Expedition

Latest Expedition Update:

Day 26, 09 December Distance travelled: 304.5 nmi Temperature: -10 °C Conditions: Bathed in sunshine this evening Read Journal Entry
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Day 21 December 4, 2008

15.2 nm covered today - the team are starting to really up their daily average. Listen to Henry Worsley's report today describing the favourable conditions on the ice ensuring that they are really putting some miles behind them at the moment. Henry goes on to describe the death of the Nimrod Expedition's first pony - Chinaman, which ocurred 100 years ago today.


1. Sitrep No 21 as at 0927 hrs GMT 04 Dec 08
2. Distance Covered Today : 15.2 nm
3. Total Distance Covered : 227.7 nm
4. Daily Average to Date: 10.90 nm
5. Hours travelled: 7
6. Days to RV on Jan 9 at 97 Mile Point: 37
7. Distance to RV: 464.99 nm
8. Distance to Pole: 561.99 nm
9. Required Daily Average to achieve RV: 12.57 nm

December 4th, 1908

Unable to write yesterday owing to bad attack of snow blindness, and not much better tonight, but I must record the events of the two most remarkable days that we have experienced since leaving the winter quarters. After breakfast at 5:30 A.M. yesterday, we started off from camp, leaving all camp gear standing and a good feed by Socks to last him the whole day. We got under way at 9 A.M., taking four biscuits, four lumps of sugar, and two ounces of chocolate each for lunch. We hoped to get water at the first of the rocks when we landed. Hardly had we gone one hundred yards when we came to a crevasse, which we did not see very distinctly, for the light was bad, and the sun obscured by clouds. We roped up and went on in single file, each with his ice-pick handy. I found it very difficult to see clearly with my goggles, and so took them off, and the present attack of snow blindness is the result, for the sun came out gloriously later on.

We crossed several crevasses filled with snow except at the sides, the gaps being about 2 ft. wide, and the whole crevasses from 10 to 20 ft. across. Then we were brought up all standing by an enormous chasm of about 80 ft. wide and 300 ft. deep which lay right across our route. This chasm was similar to, only larger than, the one we encountered in latitude 80° 30' South when on the southern journey with Captain Scott during the Discovery expedition. By making a detour to the right we found that it gradually pinched out and became filled with snow, and so we were able to cross and resume our line to the land, which very deceptively appeared quite close but was really some miles away.

Crossing several ridges of ice pressure and many more crevasses, we eventually at 12:30 P.M. reached an area of smooth blue ice in which were embedded several granite boulders, and here we obtained a drink of delicious water formed by the sun playing on the rock face and heating the ice at the base.

After traveling for half a mile, we reached the base of the mountain which we hoped to climb in order to gain a view of the surrounding country. This hill is composed of granite, the red appearance being no doubt due to iron. At 1 P.M. we had a couple of biscuits and some water, and then started to make our way up the precipitous rock face. This was the most difficult part of the whole climb, for the granite was weathered and split in every direction, and some of the larger pieces seemed to be just nicely balanced on smaller pieces, so that one could almost push them over by a touch. With great difficulty we clambered up this rock face, and then ascended a gentle snow slope to another rocky bit, but not so difficult to climb.

From the top of this ridge there burst upon our view an open road to the south, for there stretched before us a great glacier running almost south and north between two huge mountain ranges. As far as we could see, except toward the mouth, the glacier appeared to be smooth, yet this was not a certainty, for the distance was so great. Eagerly we' clambered up the remaining ridges and over a snow slope, and found ourselves at the top of the mountain, the height being 3350 ft. according to aneroid and hypsometer. From the summit we could see the glacier stretching away south inland till at last it seemed to merge in high inland ice. Where the glacier fell into the Barrier about northeast bearing, the pressure waves were enormous, and for miles the surface of the Barrier was broken up. This was what we had seen ahead of us the last few days, and we now understood the reason of the commotion on the Barrier surface.

To the southeast we could see the lofty range of mountains we had been following still stretching away in the same direction, and we can safely say that the Barrier is bounded by a chain of mountains extending in a southeasterly direction as far as the 86th parallel South. The mountains to the west appear to be more heavily glaciated than the ones to the eastward. There are some huge granite faces on the southern sides of the mountains, and these faces are joined up by cliffs of a very dark hue. To the south southeast, toward what is apparently the head of the glacier, there are several sharp cones of very black rock, eight or nine in all. Beyond these are red granite faces, with sharp, needlelike spurs, similar in appearance to the "cathedral" rocks described by Armi-tage in connection with the Discovery expedition to the western mountains. Further on to the south the mountains have a bluff appearance, with long lines of stratification running almost horizontally. This bluff mountain range seems to break about sixty miles away, and beyond can be seen dimly other mountains. Turning to the west, the mountains on that side appeared to be rounded and covered with huge masses of ice, and glaciers showing the lines of crevasses. In the far distance there is what looked like an active volcano. There is a big mountain with a cloud on the top, bearing all the appearance of steam from an active cone. It would be very interesting to find an active volcano so far south.

After taking bearings of the trend of the mountains, Barrier and glacier, we ate our frugal lunch and wished for more, and then descended. Adams had boiled the hypsometer and taken the temperature on the top, whilst Marshall, who had carried the camera on his back all the way up, took a couple of photographs. How we wished we had more plates to spare to get a record of the wonderful country we were passing through. At 4 P.M. we began to descend, and at 5 P.M. we were on the Barrier again. We were rather tired and very hungry when, at 7 P.M., we reached our camp. After a good dinner, and a cupful of Maujee ration in the hoosh as an extra, we turned in.

Today, December 4, we got under way at 8 A.M. and steered into the land, for we could see that there was no question as to the way we should go now. Though on the glacier, we might encounter crevasses and difficulties not to be met with on the Barrier, yet on the latter we could get no further than 86° South, and then would have to turn in toward the land and get over the mountains to reach the Pole. We felt that our main difficulty on the glacier route would be with the pony Socks, and we could not expect to drag the full load ourselves as yet without relay work. Adams, Marshall, and I pulled one sledge with 680 lb. weight, and Wild followed with Socks directly in our wake, so that if we came to a crevasse he would have warning. Everything went on well except that when we were close in to land, Marshall went through the snow covering of a crevasse. He managed to hold himself up by his arms. We could see no bottom to this crevasse.

At 1 P.M. we were close to the snow slope up which we hoped to reach the interior of the land and thence get on to the glacier. We had lunch and then proceeded, finding, instead of a steep, short slope, a long, fairly steep gradient. All the afternoon we toiled at the sledge, Socks pulling his load easily enough, and eventually, at 5 P.M., reached the head of the pass, 2000 ft. above sea level. From that point there was a gentle descent toward the glacier, and at 6 P.M. we camped close to some blue ice with granite boulders embedded in it, around which were pools of water. This water saves a certain amount of our oil, for we have not to melt snow or ice. We turned in at 8 P.M., well satisfied with the day's work.

The weather now is wonderfully fine, with not a breath of wind, and a warm sun beating down on us. The temperature was up to plus 22°F at noon, and is now plus 18CF. The pass through which we have come is flanked by great granite pillars at least 2000 ft. in height and making a magnificent entrance to the "Highway to the South." It is all so interesting and everything is on such a vast scale that one cannot describe it well. We four are seeing these great designs and the play of nature in her grandest moods for the first time, and possibly they may never be seen by man again. Poor Marshall had another four miles' walk this evening, for he found that he had lost his Jaeger jacket off the sledge. He had therefore to tramp back uphill for it, and found it two miles away on the trail. Socks is not feeding well. He seems lonely without his companions. We gave him a drink of thaw water this evening, but he did not seem to appreciate it, preferring the snow at his feet.

Day 21 Report

  1. Day 21 Report
  2. Day 21 Sitrep

Day 21: Overview

Distance covered:
15.2 nm
5 mph
clear skies for most of the day, outstanding visibility

The Heart of the Antarctic

This is the story of the “Farthest South” expedition, told by its leader. After enduring biting winds, short rations and crevasse-ridden glaciers for over a year, Shackleton’s party faced a desperate forced march to return to their ship, The Nimrod, or face being marooned on the ice.

Taken from Sir Ernest Shackleton’s own compelling chronicle of his first Antarctic expedition, written on his return in 1909.

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