The time for hesitation was past, and Shackleton swung himself over the side. Working furiously, he began to cut steps in the face of the cliff, descending slowly, a foot at a time. A bitter chill had come into the air, and the sun was nearly down. Gradually they were getting lower, but it was maddeningly slow progress. After thirty minutes, the ice-hard surface of the snow grew softer, indicating that the grade was not quite so steep. Shackleton stopped short. He seemed to realize all at once the futility of what he was doing. At the rate they were going it would take hours to make the descent. Furthermore, it was probably too late to turn back. He hacked out a small platform with the adz, then called to the others to come down. There was no need to explain the situation. Speaking rapidly, Shackleton said simply that they faced a clear-cut choice: If they stayed where they were, they would freeze-in an hour, maybe two, maybe more. They had to get lower-and with all possible haste. So he suggested they slide. Worsley and Crean were stunned-especially for such an insane solution to be coming from Shackleton. But he wasn’t joking…he wasn’t even smiling. He meant it-and they knew it. But what if they hit a rock, Crean wanted to know. Could they stay where they were, Shackleton replied, his voice rising. The slope, Worsley argued. What if it didn’t level off? What if there were another precipice? Shackleton’s patience was going. Again he demanded-could they stay where they were? Obviously they could not, and Worsley and Crean reluctantly were forced to admit it. Nor was there really any other way of getting down. And so the decision was made. Shackleton said they would slide as a unit, holding onto one another. They quickly sat down and untied the rope which held them together. Each of them coiled up his share to form a mat. Worsley locked his legs around Shackleton’s waist and put his arms around Shackleton’s neck. Crean did the same with Worsley. They looked like three tobogganers without a toboggan. Altogether it took a little more than a minute, and Shackleton did not permit any time for reflection. When they were ready, he kicked off. In the next instant their hearts stopped beating. They seemed to hang poised for a split second, then suddenly the wind was shrieking in their ears, and a white blur of snow tore past. Down…down…they screamed – not in terror necessarily, but simply because they couldn’t help it. It was squeezed out of them by the rapidly mounting pressure in their ears and against their chests. Faster and faster – down … down …down! Then they shot forward onto the level, and their speed began to slacken. A moment later they came to an abrupt halt in a snowbank. The three men picked themselves up. They were breathless and their hearts were beating wildly. But they found themselves laughing uncontrollably. What had been a terrifying prospect possibly a hundred seconds before had turned into a breath-taking triumph.