Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you.
—T. S. Eliot, "The Wasteland"
It was a wide, rocky strand, populated by a raucous colony of elephant seals.
High above the sound on both sides were blue crystalline glaciers, like some
mighty river rapids frozen as they flowed through the black mountains of South
Georgia. Sounds like thunder and shotgun cracks resounded uneasily, then a serac
collapsed and tumbled down the glacier face.
The Shuleykin anchored in King Haakon Bay for filming.
Tracing the end of King Haakon Bay in a zodiac, Tim Carr and director
recognized Peggotty Bluff and the beach below from Shackleton's
description. (See QTVR of Peggotty Camp.) This is the place he left his three ailing men,
Tim McCarthy, and
to recover while he, Frank Worsley,
and Tom Crean set out to trek
across the seemingly impenetrable mountains and glaciers of the island's
interior to reach help. It was the only choice he could imagine. "Over on
Elephant Island, 22 men were waiting for the relief that we alone could
secure for them," he wrote. "Their plight was worse than ours. We must
push on somehow." Their incredible boat journey had landed them, against
all odds, on South Georgia. But it was the uninhabited south side, where
no one would ever find them. The few inhabitants lived on the north side,
in a handful of whaling stations. The men were too spent to sail north again.
It seems improbable that Worsley, having just completed perhaps the most
daunting open-boat journey of all time across 800 miles of the storm-tossed
Drake Passage, could be intimidated by anything. But the mountains and
glaciers ahead were foreboding to this man of the sea, who later wrote
in his book Shackleton's Boat Journey:
The hell that reigns up there in heavy storms,
the glee of the west gale fiends, the thunderous hate of the grim nor'wester,
the pitiless evil snarl of the easterly gales, and the shrieks and howls of
the southerly blizzards with ever oncoming battalions of quick-firing hail
squalls, followed by snow squalls, blind a man or take away his senses.
The wind fiends, thrown hissing, snarling, reverberating from crag to crag,
from peak to precipice, hurtle revengefully on to the ice sheets, and clawing,
biting, gouging, tear out great chunks and lumps of ice to hurl them volcanically
aloft in cloud dust of ice and snow.
Current residents of Peggotty Camp include gentoo penguins, which Shackleton's men depended upon for sustenance.
Just days ago, our film crew ventured east from Peggotty Bluff, following in the footsteps of Shackleton, who ascended a great glacier at the termination of the sound with his companions. Shackleton's men travelled as lightly as possible, risking all to travel more quickly: three days' food, no sleeping bags, a Primus stove, rope, and an adze to chop ice. Our crew landed survival gear to camp for several days, in case the forbidding weather trapped them on land. This time there would be no shelter, as there was at Stromness (see Kingdom of Blizzards).
Mountain guides Simon Abrahams
and Nick Lewis, both
longtime mountaineers, led the way, reading the glacier to identify the safest area
for filming. "A glacier is like a flowing river, and stresses develop where it's
squeezed around obstacles," says Abrahams, a climber for 16 years. "Crevasses
tend to occur around these stress areas and get concealed by snow bridges."
For filming, they chose a location close to the windward edge of the glacier
that would consist of compacted snow, and they looked for the tell-tale
discoloration and shallow dipping of snow covering crevasses. The film crew—cinematographer Reed Smoot,
and Tim Lovasen—climbed steps cut with an ax up to a chiseled filming platform, where they
were clipped to ice screws for safety.
The large-format film crew shoots on a glacier bordering King Haakon Bay (left to right, Dominic Cunningham-Reid, Tim Lovasen, Scott Hoffman, Simon Abrahams, Reed Smoot, and George Butler).
The three climbers, dressed in period costume, roped themselves together tautly
to minimize falls. Lewis led the way, breaking the snow surface ahead with a
walking stick to feel for depth. Suddenly, the stick broke through, and Lewis
called a halt to filming while he explored the surrounding area. It was a crevasse;
he edged off and steered them in another direction. Filming continued safely, and
King Haakon's changeable weather lulled enough to allow the crew to get back to
the Shuleykin for the night.
Our brief foray was but the beginning of Shackleton's long journey. With their
minimal equipment, including screws that McNeish drove into the soles of their
shoes, Shackleton and his two companions labored exhausted almost 30 miles over
unthinkably difficult terrain. "By our standards, they weren't very well equipped
or trained, but they did pretty
well," says Abrahams. "They had good judgment and incredible luck."
Shackleton, for his part, attributed their astonishing success to something
else: "I know that during that long and racking march of 36 hours over the
unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia, it seemed to me often that
we were four, not three." Worsley and Crean, uncannily, felt the same.
When T. S. Eliot read Shackleton's account, he was inspired to write the
passage at the head of this dispatch.
Nick Lewis leads Chad Burtt and Bob Wallace up the glacier to recreate Shackleton's climb for the large-format film.
We are now at sea again, sailing southwest into the heart of the Drake
Passage. The sun sets well after 10 p.m., with a lingering band of
coral haze limning the wide sea. The presence of South Georgia's only
permanent residents, Tim and Pauline Carr, warmed and animated the
island. There will be no human company where we are going.
Answer to November 8 Question of the Day:
Your ship is sinking. The commander of the expedition allows each crewmember to take two pounds of personal items each, in addition to essential clothing. What do you take with you?
Knowing how difficult it would be for his men to discard precious possessions, Shackleton set
an example at the outset. With his men assembled around him, he threw his gold watch and several
gold coins onto the ice, along with his silver brushes and dressing cases. He even discarded
the ship's Bible, having torn out the Twenty-third Psalm and the following verses from Job:
Out of whose womb came the ice?
And the hoary frost of Heaven, who hath gendered it?
The waters are hid as with a stone
And the face of the deep is frozen.