Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Shackleton's Voyage Recreated in 21st Century

I forgot to mention this in class today... Tim Jarvis!




A better late than never post about the fact that Lansing has goals too

As we discussed in class, goals are important driving forces in all the texts we've read. Goals change and people must adjust. These goals do not come out of nowhere, rather someone enforces them. Shackleton lays out goals for the crew and adapts goals that he relays to the team, but this is a constructive text. Shackleton may appear to be a driving force, and we may think we are getting an honest depiction of the story because quotes are inserted to acknowledge our presence as readers. But this is all part of Lansing's strategy, which is a great one in my opinion and can be best describes by Kurt Vonnegut, when he said, "I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center." It's like standing on the edge of a bridge, 700 feet above a river, looking down. You don't want to go over because you are reflective of your current state and can see your fear in front of you. Lansing tries to bring us to the edge of the expedition, so we can reflect on the expedition and see what might not have existed in the expedition itself. Maybe it wasn't Shackleton enforcing goals for the crew, but the setting of the arctic. The ebb and flow of the crew's goals could be a result of the simple movement of the ice.

Monday, April 21, 2014


The account of Endurance that we have read seems to contain a theme of understated and unspoken altruism contrasted with instances of individuals resigning to abounding, seemingly insurmountable obstacles. An example of each would be the men rowing for hours on end and developing grotesque injuries from their toils while Orde-Lees selfishly refused to contribute. The contribution of each individual to the survival of the group is pivotal. These men have a strong, unspoken commitment to altruism that reflects the nature of life on ships. My captain on SEA Semester referred often to the fundamental concept of sailing philosophy, "ship, shipmate, self." It took my quite a while to objectively wrap my head around this paradigm and even longer to respect or accept it. These men have existed in an alternate world of the high seas, which is a very rigidly structured and carefully crafted society without room for individual desires, fears or opinions. After five weeks at sea I can't pretend to understand the entirety of the seafaring world's ideology, but I would assert that altruism sits among its highest values. Perhaps it has to do with the tortuous watch schedule and often brutal physical conditions of the high seas necessitating a steadfast bode of confidence in your shipmate's mutual willingness to endlessly endure.

Back To Everest (Sadly)

I want to bring our attention to the avalanche that just happened on Everest last week where 13 sherpas were killed. It set the record for the largest single-day death toll on Everest and the sherpas are now deciding whether they will go on strike or continue climbing this season. One of the sherpa teams that was killed was the team that was assisting the Discovery Channel for the wingsuit jump, and they have since cancelled the event. This comes on the heels of the Nepalese government's announcement that they were lowering the fee to climb the mountain. This year there are a record 334 approved climbers and they are all currently at risk of having their expeditions cancelled by a sherpa strike. There are many differing opinions on the matter and, not surprisingly, the owners of the western outfits are urging the sherpas not to strike. The unabashed greed here is pretty astounding and it re-raises (but doesn't answer) many of the things we talked about with Into Thin Air.

Here is the New York Times article about it, definitely worth the read.


This is another article detailing some of the history between western climbers and sherpas and it raises some interesting questions about how the changes that we all feel are necessary should begin.


I am going to write another post about Endurance, but I want to finish Caroline Alexander's version and compare the two books. She focuses much more on character development than Lansing does and it gives the book a pretty different feel. Also, the pictures are pretty freakin' sweet. Not quite finished with it yet.

Optimism & Endurance

When reading Endurance by Alfred Lansing, I thought about a post Agathe made a few weeks ago about hope and how mental strength was critical for survival in the Artic. After the Caird left the crewmembers on Elephant Island, I was impressed with their optimism: “On this score, their general feeling, at least outwardly, was confident. But how else might they have felt? Any other attitude would have been the equivalent of admitting that they were doomed. No matter what the odds, a man does not pin his last hope for survival on something and then expect that it will fail.” In Endurance, although optimism didn’t guarantee the crew survival, without it, failure was inevitable. For me, Shackleton’s ability to recognize this early demonstrated his leadership skill. He immediately recognizes Hurley’s disgruntlement and yearning for influence on the expedition, and chooses to include him in meetings to prevent him from spreading discontent to the rest of the crew. In order to preserve team morale, Shackleton assigns tents and carefully picks the crew to travel to South Georgia Island, all while considering each individual’s attitude and their influence on the group’s mindset. In their dismal situation, the crew’s optimism, resiliency, and even jubilant attitude helped to ensure their survival and persevere: “So there was always that niggling little ray of hope which kept them climbing the lookout bluff religiously each day. But it also served to slow the passage of time.”

The Ocean as an active antagonist

Alfred Lansing’s description of Shackleton’s unease going into the sea voyage that marked part VI of Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage simultaneously presented a major difference between mountaineering and maritime adventure narratives in general.
            “Unlike the land, where courage and the simple will to endure can often see a man through, the struggle against the sea is an act of physical combat, and there is no escape. It is a battle against a tireless enemy in which man never actually wins; the most that he can hope for is not to be defeated.” 221

                  Based on the mountaineering literature that we have read thus far, I do not believe that the struggle against land can’t be an act of physical combat, but otherwise I agree with Lansing’s statement. The Ocean, frequently personified into having moods and temperaments, is a more active antagonist for me than Mountains can be. Significantly, there is no fast escape. There is no “void” for the adventurer to fall into, which leads to a closer relationship forming between man and element. The sailor’s curse is closer to purgatory, and lends to a very different style of narration. The seafaring section of this story struck me as much more intimately involved in the threats against sanity than preceding sections.