Shackleton began planning his next journey to Antarctica almost as soon as he returned from the Nimrod expedition of 1907-1909. He had only missed the pole by 100 miles and with Roald Amundsen having already 'conquered' the South Pole, Shackleton felt a burning desire for another equally ambitious feat.
This map shows the proposed route of Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. It would cross the Antarctic continent from west to east, beginning on the coast of the Weddell Sea and finishing on the coast of the Ross Sea.
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Shackleton and his men would have to cover 1,500 miles while carrying food for only 100 days which meant having to maintain an ambitious pace of 15 miles a day. No other British explorer had come close to achieving this in the Antarctic.
To add to the challenge, they had no idea where the Weddell Sea was or where the coastal fringe was for that matter. They also were unwaware that the first half of the route, from the Weddell Sea side, would take place over territory that was completely unknown beyond the fringe of the coastline. Any number of obstacles and physical barriers such as mountains or huge crevasses could be in their path.
The plan and the men
Shackleton's plan was for six men and 70 dogs to land at Vahsel Bay in the Weddell Sea and begin the trek across the Pole to the other side of the continent.
At the same time, a second, six-man party landed at McMurdo Sound in the Ross Sea would lay a series of supply depots for the transcontinental party.
To ensure this plan worked, Shackleton would need two ships, the Endurance and the Aurora. Over five thousand men (and remarkable for the time, three women) volunteered for the expedition. Twenty-seven of the 56 men were selected for Shackleton's own 'Endurance' party while the other 28 were assigned to the 'Aurora'.
By the summer of 1914 the expedition was ready to get under way and the 'Endurance' sailed from London's East India Dock on 1 August. That very day Germany declared war on France and so the start of the expedition coincided with the outbreak First World War.
This unlucky coincidence made Shackleton unsure of whether to go ahead with the expedition or not. After consulting with his men, he sent a telegram to the Admiralty (the authority responsible for the command of the Royal Navy in Great Britain under whose permission the expedition sailed) offering the services of the 'Endurance' and her crew to the war effort. In response, he received a single word 'Proceed'. The First Lord, Winston Churcill, later provided a longer explanation saying he thought it would be best if the expedition went ahead.