How To: Get Rescued from a Desert Island

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1 unstoppable will to live
An appreciation for tragic irony

If there's one thing you can say about most desert island strandings, it's that, at the very least, the weather is nice. There are certainly worse islands to be trapped on, thousands of miles from civilization, than a tropical paradise. Antarctica for instance. Sadly, that's just the place explorer Ernest Shackleton and his men found themselves marooned in the fall of 1915. They'd set out to be the first people to cross the Antarctic continent, but their boat ended up trapped and crushed by thick, moving ice.

In one of history's best-known survival stories, the 27 men first walked 250 miles across the ice to a small island, and then Shackleton and six other men sailed a small boat another 800 miles—through some of the world's most treacherous waters—to a whaling station at the tip of South America. Nobody died, and Shackleton was praised as a hero. Sadly, on the other side of Antarctica, the other half of Shackleton's expedition also ended up stranded, and didn't prove as lucky as their co-workers.

Initially planning to cross Antarctica from the South American side, Shackleton didn't want to lug all his supplies with him. So he simply arranged for a team to sail in from the New Zealand side and lay supply depots at set geographic coordinates. The PBS television show "NOVA" explained in 1999 how, accompanied by sled dogs, the seven men set out to lay 4,000 pounds worth of food and supplies at 60-mile intervals from the South Pole to the coast. The job turned out to be harder than they'd anticipated, however. The sleds quickly became too heavy for the dogs to pull through the soft snow and the men had to cut weight by taking out small loads, dropping some supplies, and bringing other supplies back to feed the guys who would take out the next set. Needles to say, this slowed things down a bit—in fact, one mile took four miles of travel to cross.

brrrr 2

Within a month, they were so low on food that they stopped feeding the sled dogs. In temperatures that dipped to "“92 degrees Fahrenheit all the men got severe frostbite. But the worst surprise was yet to come. Limping back into the main camp in June of 1915, six months after setting out, they discovered that their ship had been blown out to sea in a storm and was presumed sunk.

They were stranded without any supplies or food, but they still had a job to do. Believing that Shackleton's life depended on them laying the final supply depots, they cobbled together tents, sleeping bags, food, and stoves from refuse left by earlier expeditions. In late October, they set out to lay the makeshift supplies at the remaining depot points—not realizing that their leader wouldn't be crossing the Antarctic at all.

This final push was a disaster; one of the men died of scurvy, two others nearly kicked it, and everyone was sick. Even after the depots were laid, the six men were still stranded on the Antarctic coast, living off a diet of seal and"¦seal. Two men headed off to look for help and were never heard from again. It wasn't until two years after they'd first landed, on January 10, 1917, that Shackleton—only recently rescued himself—showed up to rescue them. As for the supply depots they'd risked their lives to lay; they're still out there, buried unused beneath countless feet of snow.

July 17, 2007 - 4:54am
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