I’ve read right up to the final voyages of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, and finally set the book down. It’s hard to understand what those men went through, the amount of suffering they experienced and the reasons behind their voyaging into those hellish climes. Over and over again I read accounts of privation, grueling ordeals, pain and despair. Whether suffering under relentless months of hurricane strength blizzards, starvation, frost bite, the death of friends, falling into crevasses, extended winters without sunlight, endless amounts of frustration and the constant threat of death, those men persevered.
But what drew them to the Antarctic wilds, what haunted these men so that often, upon returning home after terrifying trials that lasted for years, they hungered immediately to return? What was it about the bleak beauty of the Antarctic, the bonds forged with their fellows under indescribable pressure, and the magnificence of exploring new lands that drove them back, again and again until they died?
Wild, second command to Shackleton in his last and fatal voyage, revealed his philosophy amid the endless ice expanse before him:
Much of our finest is surpassed by Nature… Once wedded to Nature there is no divorce–separate from her you may and hide yourself amongst the flesh-pots of London, but the wild will keep calling and calling for ever in your ears. You cannot escape the ‘little voices’.