An epic Antarctic love affair
It’s hard to imagine a more adventurous, determined and passionate group of men than those who have just successfully completed the Shackleton Epic expedition. Not only did they risk their own lives to re-enact one of the greatest survival stories of all time, but they used traditional gear, endured comparable challenging conditions as Shackleton and his men, and did it with great spirit and fervour.
After a harrowing 3-day climb across South Georgia’s mountainous interior, expedition leader Tim Jarvis and mountaineer, Royal Marine Barry Gray were exhausted, severely weather beaten but elated to reach the old whaling station at Stromness, at 2245GMT, 10 February (0945 AEDT 11 February), the same location where Shackleton and his men raised the alarm that the crew of the Endurance needed rescue, almost 100 years ago. They were accompanied by fellow crew member, Paul Larsen, navigator aboard the Alexandra Shackleton replica boat, who provided support for the mountain crossing in contemporary gear.
Their arrival marks the achievement of “the double” for the intrepid crew of Shackleton Epic – the ocean crossing 800 nautical miles from Elephant Island to South Georgia and the mountain climb across South Georgia which Shackleton completed in 1916. Tim, Baz and Paul, along with Seb Coulthard, Nick Bubb and Ed Wardle, completed the Southern Ocean Crossing in just 12 days, 2 days faster than Shackleton and his men. But after delays due to storms at South Georgia and up to 85 knot winds on the plateau – their land journey was slower – leaving the overall expedition timing to be very similar to the original Shackleton expedition.
Intrepid’s Jane Crouch was in Antarctica on the support vessel, Australis, in the days leading up to the expedition commencing. She writes…
“My heartfelt congratulations to Tim, Baz, Paul, Seb, Nick and Ed for this incredible achievement! I feel incredibly honoured to have had the time with this amazing group of committed expeditioners during their final preparations for their extraordinary adventure, and I’m absolutely thrilled they have achieved what they set out to do. Despite having so much on their minds, they shared with us (the group of sponsor representatives) much about their preparations, what they needed to do in readying the Alexandra Shackleton boat for the journey, and about their planned strategies for facing the many challenges the journey was likely to throw at them.
Here’s a little about one of the crew – more on another member is shared in the second part of this story. Baz’s (Barry Grey) great admiration for Shackleton and his story went back to 1999, when he was given Shackleton as someone to research and present on to the Marines. As a Royal Marines (UK) mountain leader chief instructor, Baz had come to Antarctica on the HMS Endurance and had extensive mountaineering experience in the region. His training had him well prepared to expect the unexpected: a simple slip, a collision with a whale or an ice-berg, or a massive collapse of snow and ice on the glaciers of South Georgia. What he was dreading most was if they had prolonged bad conditions. I loved his special diversion of preparing stories of ‘Peaky the Penguin’s’ adventures in Antarctica and sending these back to his young daughter at home in the UK.
The Alexandra Shackleton is a beautiful little 6.9m boat, but I can hardly call her comfortable when it comes to cramming in under deck. I spent 20 minutes tucked into the position in her bow, where boson Seb Coulthard was to attempt to live and sleep when not up on deck, and it was very hard to imagine how you could do anything much in that tight spot beyond just survive for up to two weeks! Crawling over team mates to get up on deck, preparing food and eating, making any rearrangements to the equipment or ballast, and doing any of this with the boat being hammered by the Southern Ocean while being damp, cold and nauseous… nothing short of amazing!
Throughout the Epic, former Intrepid staffer and journalist Jo Stewart has done a brilliant job with her very vivid updates and photos and her reflections on the parallels between the original voyage of Shackleton and the Endurance crew, and the current expedition. These are all logged at the Shackleton Epic site.
And then there is the behind-the-scenes support of the Australis crew: Ben, Skye, Magnus; Dr Alex, the RAW TV film crew – plus literally hundreds of others who’ve made the expedition possible. It’s such a phenomenal centennial tribute to Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men – when you bring fine leadership, determination, commitment, patience, passion and a lot of love together in an extraordinarily beautiful precious location – so much is possible!
One last and very important ‘actor’ in this amazing tale… Antarctica herself! This incredible continent has to be seen and experienced first hand to really come to grips with its enormity and extraordinariness. From where we were it was more than 3000km to the South Pole and over 5500 to the Australian Casey base over the ‘other side’. No wonder that if Antarctica’s two massive ice sheets (which average 2km thick) were to melt, they’d raise the world’s sea levels by 7 – 70 metres*! And then there’s the wildlife. Being surrounded by whales – minke, humpback and orcas, having a curious leopard seal ‘play’ around the boat responding to our waves… I look forward to sharing more of these tales next week.
I’m elated to know the boys have done it! The parallels between the original journey and the current Shackleton Epic journey are many. Some by planning and others simply by the nature of the roughest ocean in the world and the unpredictability of the weather. ‘The Boss’s’ legacy has truly been honoured… and the tales to come of their adventures will inspire. Do check the site now for latest updates, and together we can look forward to the book and the documentary to come!”
* The statements referring to science are anecdotal. Antarctica ice shelf thickness and therefore by how much they would raise sea levels should they melt, is an area of uncertainty. More information can be found here.
Jane’s tales from Antarctica continue on our blog. To support Jane’s efforts to raise funds for the linked cause, Fauna & Flora International and their biodiversity and habitat protection work, justgiving.com/JaneCrouch.
Photo: Jo Stewart © Shackleton Epic