In 1914, Ernest Shackleton embarked on his third expedition to Antarctica onboard the Endurance. His plan was to cross the continent from the Weddell Sea on the Atlantic side to the Ross Sea on the Pacific. This would be a journey of some 2,000 miles in the incredibly harsh conditions of the polar region. The amount of supplies needed for such an adventure was immense. It would not be possible for Shackleton’s Endurance crew to carry everything needed for the long journey; he needed a second crew to sail to the Ross Sea and lay depots of supplies for the second half of the expedition. This task was left to the crew of the Aurora. The Lost Men is the story of the Ross Sea Party, the crew of the Aurora.
The first part of The Lost Men relates the preparation for the journey, and we learn that the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, the official name of Shackleton’s adventure, was nearly a disaster from the start. In his rush to leave for Antarctica, he cut corners in preparation and recruitment for the two parties. Sled dogs, purchased sight unseen, arrived with numerous diseases and in poor health. Outfitting of the ships, particularly the Aurora, was done on a budget too small for purchasing necessities and with no provision for obtaining more funds. Crew members were chosen without regard to polar experience and too few were hired. It was simply a poor start for such a dangerous expedition. Tyler-Lewis does an excellent job of discussing the difficulties the Ross Sea Party faced merely in getting into position to perform their job.
She also takes this opportunity to introduce the reader to the crew of the Aurora with a short biography provided for each. The brevity with which these are addressed is welcome in that this sort of detail can become tedious; however, it also makes it difficult to recall later how their backgrounds provide a basis for the reactions each individual has upon facing the difficulties of living in Antarctica.
Preparation for and travel to the Ross Sea presents only the beginning of the problems the party faced in laying supply depots. A skeleton crew was left on board the Aurora while the main body of the crew disembarked upon the frozen continent. Here the author once again does a wonderful job of describing the torturous conditions the crew faced. Trekking through several feet of snow in sub-zero temperatures with hundreds of pounds of supplies, inadequate insulation and insufficient rations was made even more difficult when the sled dogs were unable to pull the sledges. This required the men to harness up alongside the dogs to lend their strength. All of this creates a picture of nearly unbearable suffering, one that might cause the reader to wonder why anyone would submit to this for the sake of adventure.
There is much more than suffering to be found in The Lost Men. It is also a tale of heroism, hope and strength. Tyler-Lewis uses the diaries of the men to fully recreate the expedition. Admirably, she is able to do it all in a concise manner, which allows the book to be digested with a minimum of monotony. Traveling with the Trans-Antarctic Expedition couldn’t be made more comfortable. Recommended to those who prefer to find their adventures in the pages of a book!