Antarctic Adventure: Tracing Ernest Shackleton's 'Endurance'

PHOTO: HMS Endurance, led by Ernest Shackleton, drifted for 10 months before being crushed in the pack ice off the Caird Coast in Antartica, 1916.
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Ernest Shackleton ought to have died on the Antarctic ice. Instead, he is a hero, the leader who saved his men on one of the most horrific voyages of exploration of the 20th century.

In 1914, Shackleton set out from England to cross Antarctica on foot. The Norwegian Roald Amundsen had already been first to the South Pole, so Shackleton and his crew of 27 men planned to outdo him. Instead, their ship, HMS Endurance, became trapped and was crushed in the polar ice.

After 10 months stranded in the cold, with supplies running low and no hope of rescue, Shackleton decided to row to the nearest inhabited island with five of his strongest men -- 800 miles across the Southern Ocean in an open lifeboat. Somehow, they made it, and sent help for the others. It took two years in all to get back home to England, but incredibly, nobody died.

Click for Video: Antarctic Adventure: Following the Endurance

Now, a century later, an Australian adventurer named Tim Jarvis is setting out to re-create Shackleton's struggle. He and his team will skip the shipwreck part, and they won't leave anyone stranded off the Antarctic coast, but they will row from there to South Georgia Island, a windswept piece of land off the tip of South America.

"I'd be worried if I weren't scared," said Jarvis in an interview with ABC News. An environmental consultant when he's not off on an expedition, he has already made expeditions to both poles. He and his comrades plan to trace Shackleton's voyage in a 22-foot wooden boat almost identical to the one the crew of the Endurance used.

Jarvis, 46, says they will wear the same seal skin parkas the British had back then, and live off the same diet of biscuits and pemmican (which was mostly made of lard). A modern sailing ship, the Pelican, will be there if they need rescue, but mostly it will keep its distance.

"No one wants to do this any differently than Shackleton," said Jarvis. "For people like me who do this sort of stuff, it's absolutely crucial to do it the way he did it. Otherwise there's no point."

The reward? Jarvis says there is not a lot of money to be made from putting yourself at risk near the bottom of the world. They will shoot a documentary along the way and sell cabins on the Pelican, and Jarvis says he hopes the expedition will give him an opportunity to speak for action against climate change, which scientists say is mostly showing itself so far in the world's polar regions. But mostly, if they succeed, Jarvis says they'll come away with the satisfaction of having lived intensely.

The plan is for Jarvis and his comrades to set out in the Pelican from Punta Arenas, Chile, at the southern tip of South America, in January -- early summer in the Southern Hemisphere. They will sail to Elephant Island, the spit of land off the Antarctic coast where most of Shackleton's crew were stranded, and then launch their lifeboat. The Southern Ocean they will cross is famously treacherous, beset by storms and often crowded with icebergs.

Even today, the Shackleton story makes one shudder. He had come within 100 miles of the South Pole in 1909, but was forced to turn back in the cold. In 1912 his fellow explorer, Robert Falcon Scott, reached the pole, only to find that Amundsen had beaten him by a month. Scott and his four comrades died as they tried to trudge back to safety.

Still, Shackleton laid plans. "Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all," he once said.

It took Shackleton and his crewmates 17 days to row the stormy sea. They then had to climb across glaciers and crevasses to reach the one whaling station on the far side of South Georgia Island. Scholars of polar exploration give most of the credit for the team's survival to Shackleton's leadership. They say he asked a lot of his men -- but nothing he was unwilling to do himself. Today he is studied as much at business schools as he is by historians.

"Shackleton really was a phenomenal guy. He was a hundred years ahead of his time in terms of management style," said Jarvis. "And he managed to get this very, very disparate group of guys, and he got them to put aside their differences, pull together and achieve this goal against almost impossible odds."

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