The Endurance expedition in 2004/2005 was organized by the association “Montagnes du Silence” with Tara as a base camp. This expedition included deaf and hard-of-hearing people who followed in the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton in South Georgia.
The Mountains of Silence team had made careful preparations for 2 years. The 6 people who came aboard were not top athletes, but were chosen for their personal qualities and for being representative of the deaf community: a tile layer, teacher, actor, laboratory technician, etc. The selection was made during mountaineering and sailing courses taught by highly competent professionals: Paul Pellecuer and John Paul Peeters — mountain guides, and Catherine Chabaud — well-known navigator. Two professional interpreters of sign language were also recruited, as well as a physician for emergency mountain rescue. “This adventure does not begin the day you get on the plane. It begins right away, during the first course,” declared Catherine Chabaud.
These preparations also enriched the development of sign language. As can be imagined, words like “port”, “halyard”, “spi”, “carabiner”, “axe” and “crevice” are not part of everyday vocabulary, but as it turns out, sign language is particularly suited for communication in the mountains and at sea. The expedition was covered by cameraman/director Luc Marescot, and soundman Olivier Gil for Thalassa, the popular TV program about the sea.
Why South Georgia?
The Mountains of Silence team followed in the footsteps of Ernest Shackleton across South Georgia. In October 1915, the ship Endurance was crushed by ice in Antarctica. The expedition leader Ernest Shackleton managed with great tenacity to save the entire crew by sailing a small boat to the South Georgia coast in May 1916, then traversing high mountains to get help from whaling stations. As for the Mountains of Silence expedition, it was not intended to be a record-breaking achievement. Rather, it was an impressive lesson in courage for a community that is all too often mistakenly considered as “handicapped.” (The deaf have always struggled against prejudice and misunderstanding: sign language was banned in 1880 throughout Europe – a ban that lasted for nearly a century!)
The whole team that embarked in the Falkland Islands was impressed by the metal “whale” — a unique sailboat with unusual dimensions and a very spacious, luminous dining area. The expedition started with a superb 1,600 mile passage through the “Furious Fifties” to reach the legendary mountains. This was a sign language training period to help in emergency situations where communication is vital. The deaf were able to “talk” without shouting on Tara’s deck from stern to aft and through the dining area windows. Tara’s sailors were amazed !
Two events marked the crossing. The first: meeting those 6 islands in the Scotia Sea called Shag Rocks. Then, an iceberg drifting from Antarctica and spotted by radar at 3:00 am. “We were all on deck, enveloped in a thick fog, and suddenly this huge white ghost appeared a few meters away! Tara quickly changed course to avoid it. We were all there in a row, looking up at the top, dumbfounded!” The next day, we woke with the mountains of South Georgia in sight. “I never saw such colors in the mountains!” signed Françoise, the expert mountaineer. Emotions are strong because it is the culmination of two years of work and preparation.
After mooring at Grytviken and other places on the eastern seaboard somewhat protected from the Cape Horn winds, the Mountains of Silence team trained for 20 days, exploring mountains, glaciers, and of course the coasts inhabited by a rich fauna. For each trek in the mountains, a sailor was invited along.
A nice break in the weather. It was time to take on Shackleton’s famous voyage. Tara headed towards King Haakon’s Bay, on the dangerous west coast. Beautiful sailing over the extreme north of the island, just before Bird Island.
We took off on skis, feeling strong emotions as we saw Tara in the distance, sailing out from the bay where Shackleton had anchored his boat almost 90 years ago,” said Daniel. Shackleton and his 2 companions took 36 hours to cross the island. The Mountains of Silence team took 4 days. But this was about realizing a great human adventure, and showing that deaf and hearing people can live together.
Pascal Tournaire, photographer and mountaineer, was amazed: “The deaf people became so accustomed to putting up with the difficulties of everyday life, that we couldn’t even think of complaining.
At the end of the 4 days, the team found itself on a magnificent unnamed summit, 800 meters above sea level, overlooking the Drygalski Fjord with glaciers flowing into the sea. A heartfelt moment where we all hugged each other because we knew the trip was ending. We decided to name this place “Mountains of Silence Peak.”
The only real storm happened during our return in January, 2005. “If we were on a normal boat, it would have been very scary. But on Tara, we were safe!” Catherine Chabaud told Daniel.
Sailors and mountaineers, the deaf and the hearing, joined forces to go to the world’s end, because deaf people — who have a language, a culture, and a specific identity — deserve to be heard more. Thank you, Tara !
Since this wonderful expedition, the association “Mountains of Silence” has continued its mission for deaf people. In the spring of 2010, an expedition to the Arctic Svalbard archipelago took place, with an educational program focussed on deaf children. Every year we organize courses to explore the mountains for deaf and hearing people, in partnership with the Vanoise National Park.
Daniel Buffard-Moret, mountaineer and president of “Montagnes du Silence”