The Lost Men: The Harrowing Saga of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party

Shackleton mania continues—this time from the opposite side of Antarctica.

Everyone who loves a good adventure yarn is familiar with Sir Ernest Shackleton and his epic 1914–16 expedition and self-rescue after his ship, the Endurance, became ice-locked in the Weddell Sea. Led by Caroline Alexander's best seller, there have been books, films, Nova episodes, you name it. And for good reason: It's one of the greatest survival tales of all time. As a result of all this Shackleton mania, another amazing tale, that of his support crew on the other side of Antarctica, the Ross Sea party, hasn't received its due—until now. With her exhaustively researched and vividly written first book, English historian Kelly Tyler-Lewis has righted the record and told a story that, in its own way, is just as astonishing as Shackleton's. Shackleton's subsequently aborted goal was to make the first transcontinental crossing of Antarctica. To do so, he needed to cache the second half of his route with provisions. He purchased an old whaler, the Aurora, and hired Scotsman Aeneas Mackintosh to sail it from the Australian side of the continent (opposite his approach from the South American side), then place supplies for them along a 360-mile route across a forbidding ice shelf leading to the South Pole. Almost nothing went right. The Aurora needed a last-minute refitting, causing it to arrive too late in the season at the Ross Sea; the provisioning was inadequate; most of the sled dogs quickly died; and the mercurial Mackintosh lacked experience on the ice. A clash between him and Ernest Joyce, an experienced polar seaman, divided the crew's loyalties. Then, worst of all, the Aurora became caught in the ice pack and drifted out to sea, stranding Mackintosh and nine men on the shore. They could have holed up and waited for help to come, but they were determined to deposit the caches, believing the Shackleton party was depending on them. So they sledged 1,700 miles of hunger, frostbite, snow blindness, raging blizzards, and debilitating scurvy. They spent two years on the ice before being rescued, and three of them died, while Shackleton, under similar circumstances, didn't lose a man. Unlike Shackleton, however, they were successful in their mission. The irony, of course, was that their success was for naught.

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