Patience Camp

archive photo of men dragging a lifeboat across an icey landscape

Hauling the James Caird © Royal Geographical Society

Camping on the ice

"It is beyond conception, even to us, that we are dwelling on a colossal ice raft, with but five feet of water separating us from 2,000 fathoms of ocean, & drifting along under the caprices of wind & tides, to heaven knows where."
Frank Hurley, diary

The men resigned themselves to camping on the ice for an indefinite time. A galley and storehouse built from the Endurance's broken timbers stood in the centre of the five tents, while the dogs were pegged nearby in teams. Along with the three life boats, three tons of food supplies were salvaged from the half sunk ship, and when these ran out the men existed on penguins and seals. At the end of March, the last of their beloved dogs were shot, and eaten.

The temperature ranged from highs in the 30s to a low of minus 21 degrees Farenheit; the mean temperature in March was 1 degree. The men's sleeping bags were alternately sodden from melted snow and frozen as stiff as sheet metal. Day by day, the dwindling floe of ice on which they were camped drifted north toward open sea.

On the march

At first, Shackleton hoped to march to land some 300 miles to the northwest, hauling the lifeboats and sledging rations that had been evacuated from the Endurance. Knowing they would have to travel light, Shackleton announced that only bare necessities could be taken; dramatically he deposited his own gold watch and the ship's Bible on the ice by way of example. Puppies born on board the ship and Mrs Chippy, the cat, were shot, much to the regret of all.

Shackleton eventually made two attempts to march to land, both futile. The dogs successfully hauled the sledges loaded with supplies, but it was left to the men to pull the lifeboats. Loaded, the boats weighed at least as a ton each, and it proved impossible to haul them over the colossal upheavals of ice. Nor could the boats be left behind, as beneath the unreliable ice was the ocean, countless fathoms deep. Helplessly the men watched to see if the drift of the pack would carry them to land. If it did not they would have to take to the boats when the ice allowed. Meanwhile they could only wait. The men named their second encampment 'Patience Camp'.