The first thing you might wonder: why the name, Elephant Island? I thought it was because they had so many elephant seals. Many elephant seals live on the island, so maybe I’m right. But if you look at the island on a map, you’ll notice its shape resembles the head of an elephant. I also heard a story that Sir Ernest Shackleton called it a “hell of an island,” when he approached it.
Madeline and I are fascinated with Shackleton’s disastrous Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. We wanted to visit Elephant Island because of its history with the voyage. After ice in the Weddell Sea trapped and eventually crushed his ship, Endurance, Shackleton got his entire crew away. His crew put supplies in three lifeboats and dragged them across the ice until they got to water in which they could sail the boats. Shackleton wanted to go to Deception Island. It could have provided a calm harbor, and they knew whalers would be there.
But Deception Island was too far away; Elephant Island was the nearest land. It still took five days to finally sight the coasts of Clarence and Elephant Islands. After 497 days at sea (and ice), the crew of Endurance finally made it back to land on Elephant Island. Exhausted they soon realized they were too exposed to the weather. A group set off and found a better protected spot. They called it Point Wild after their crew member Frank Wild, Shackleton’s right-hand man.
Shackleton knew his crew had no hope of rescue on the uninhabited Elephant Island. He and five men sailed a lifeboat more than 800 miles to reach South Georgia Island. But they landed on the uninhabited side! Shackleton and his two strongest men hiked over the island’s mountains searching for a whaling station. They found it, and then went back to rescue the three crew members they left behind on the other side of the island. Three months later, Shackleton, onboard Yelcho commanded by Luis Pardo, arrived at Elephant Island to rescue the rest of his crew on Elephant Island. Shackleton’s crew survived the two-year ordeal without losing a man.
Nobody lives on Elephant Island. Two historical sites pay homage to the expedition. The Endurance Memorial Site displays a bust of Captain Luis Pardo, who together with Shackleton saved the men who remained on Elephant Island. The other site is the wreckage of a large wooden boat in Hampson Cove, which is possibly the SS Hampson. Because of this wreck, the site was designated a historical monument and is now a feature of the island.
Our first glimpse of Elephant Island from the Silver Cloud included snow-capped mountains hiding among clouds.
We wondered if we were going to be able to take a Zodiac to the island, since I could see eight-foot waves on the sea. Soon, the expedition leader told us it was far too dangerous to attempt a Zodiac landing. So disappointing! And we paid extra to stop at Elephant Island since it’s so remote. But we rely the Silver Cloud’s crew to keep us safe. And it was not safe to try to land on Elephant Island.
We turned our attention to other things, which is easy in Antarctica. From the Silver Cloud, we spied a small glacier tumbling down a mountain like a waterfall.
Then, we saw a huge iceberg. It was as if a sculptor begged us to admire the beauty around Elephant Island since we could not step foot on it. And our captain showed us around Elephant Island as best he could; the waves still rolled pretty strong.
We also spotted a pod of whales. A whale blowhole blew about every 10 seconds. The captain didn’t want to get too close to the feeding area of the pod of whales. But we saw an occasional fin and blowhole from a half mile or more away.
The captain steered us toward a massive table iceberg. Several types classify icebergs; tabular, dome-shaped, pinnacled, drydock, glacier, weathered, tilted or blocky. We’ve seen many icebergs, and I’m not always sure of the classification. But this big boy was definitely tabular.
One of Elephant’s Island’s most famous glaciers is named after Shackleton’s ship, Endurance. The glacier sits north of Mount Elder. It’s beautiful, even from a distance.
After our brief tour around Elephant Island, the Silver Cloud headed toward the Falkland Islands. Tomorrow is a day at sea; there won’t be much to look at. Still, I’ll give you an interesting topic for tomorrow’s post.
That's it for Day 11 of our trip to Antarctica. More tomorrow!
Tips: You can learn how we planned our trip by reading Planning Our Antarctica Trip. Learn what we read to prepare at Reading Antarctica. And you can find out what we packed at Packing for Cruising Antarctica on Silversea.