Herefordshire People: In the footsteps of Ernest Shackleton
PUBLISHED: 17:04 09 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:02 20 February 2013
One hundred years after Ernest Shackleton's aborted Nimrod Expedition three modern day adventurers recreated the epic South Pole trek - and this time made it to the end. Now the intrepid trio has set up a foundation to encourage others to reach th...
One hundred years after Ernest Shackleton's aborted Nimrod Expedition three modern day adventurers recreated the epic South Pole trek - and this time made it to the end. Now the intrepid trio has set up a foundation to encourage others to reach their personal summit. Tessa Jenkins spoke to Lieutenant Colonel Henry Worsley who made the journey in honour of his heroic great-uncle Frank Worsley, skipper of Shackleton's Endurance.
Every child has a hero, and for Henry Worsley, now a 46-year-old army officer from Dilwyn nearHereford, no-one could compare with Ernest Shackleton the Antarctic Explorer. Captivated, as a schoolboy, by the tales of sinking ships and derring-do associated with the Endurance
expedition, over time his interest evolved into a fascination with Shackleton's leadership style. Unsurprisingly then, the offer of joining an expedition that would recreate Shackleton's Nimrod expedition of 1908-1909 was impossible to refuse.
Less well known than Shackleton's later adventures, the Nimrod expedition team came within 100 miles of entering the history books as the first men to reach the South Pole.
Journeying through some of the earth's most challenging terrain, Shackleton, Henry Adams, Frank Wild and Eric Marshall shrugged off adversity in single-minded pursuit of
Having lost the last of their ponies, they jettisoned supplies and, surviving on drastically reduced rations of just 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day, hauled their sleds by hand. After days of incredible hardship, they reached what has become known as the 97 Mile Point, it was here, recognising that to continue would almost certainly cost the lives of his men, that Shackleton abandoned his
ambition and turned for home.
Nearly a century later Will Gow, Henry Worsley and Henry Adams began to formulate a modern day adventure that would "complete family business". All three men are descendants of Shackleton and his expedition team: Will
is Shackleton's great-nephew, Henry Adams the great great-grandson of Shackleton's second in command Jameson Boyd Adams, and Henry Worsley the great-nephew of Frank
Worsley, skipper of the Endurance. Their goal was to follow Shackleton's route and reach the 97 Mile Point on January 9th 2009, 100 years to the day after Shackleton's arrival there, before completing the final leg of the journey to the South Pole.
Lacking any experience of Antarctic exploration, but determined to replicate Shackleton's experience as closely as possible by travelling unsupported without a guide or mechanised transport, the trio spent five years preparing for the trip. Beginning on Baffin Island in Canada where legendary explorer Matty McNair began their introduction to the Polar Way, they later trained in Norway, Greenland and Chamonix.
And so it was that in October 2008 three modern day adventurers found themselves weather bound for two weeks
in Chile awaiting a flight to the Antarctic. "We'd intended to start out on the 29th October, the same date as the original expedition, and were pretty despondent about the delay. I had done quite a lot of work on how many miles per day we would have to do to get to the 97 mile Point on the centenary date, and because of our delay in Chile we were already way behind schedule which was very disappointing," remembers Henry.
Time was of the essence for other reasons too, the journey could only be completed in the 75 day window of Antarctic Summer which falls between the start of November and the end of January. "If you don't complete by then they come and get you out, which is the most expensive taxi ride ever," he laughs. Their eventual arrival at Shackleton's Hut, Cape Royds on the 13th of November was an inspiring
moment.Preserved and maintained by the Antarctic Heritage Trust it's filled with clothes, provisions and equipment left behind by Shackleton and his men. Just 24 hours later the challenge began in earnest.
With each man pulling a sled laden with food and equipment totalling 140kg , they set off across the sea-level Ross Ice Shelf, helped by favourable weather conditions they averaged nearly 15 miles a day, significantly greater than the 10 miles they had anticipated, and onceagain the target date began to appear
achievable. "We were beginning to chip into the distance, and, as we sat in our tent every night working out how many miles we had to do, it slowly became just possible,
though we had to keep up that rate without any delays," remembers Henry.
After 30 days, eight days faster than the original expedition, they reached Mount Hope, the area of higher ground from which Shackleton first saw the Beardmore Glacier, the gateway through the Transantarctic Mountains.
After the uplifting progress of the first month, traversing the glacier, a seemingly endless expanse of unyielding, ridged and cupped blue ice strewn with thousands of
hidden crevasses, was an immense physical challenge, and the most dangerous part of the trip. Skiing was impossible and their aluminium crampons, chosen for lightness, proved
inadequate for the task breaking within the first half hour.
"It was good for us though, we'd had a bit of a holiday on the ice shelf; this made us think a lot and problem solve,"
he says. Nights in the tent were spent refabricating the crampons and taking inspiration from Shackleton's writings
"What was so fabulous was reading his diary, which we'd take in turns to do every evening in the tent. We did it
not by date but by location, so we were reading it where he'd written it, and were seeing what he'd been describing after seeing it for the first time ever."
By Christmas Day, they had conquered the glacier and arrived at the Polar Plateau across which they would reach
the Pole which lies at around 10,000 feet. By this stage the hardships began to take their toll, and, despite a high fat diet of 6,000 calories a day, each man was physically depleted having lost around two stone in weight.
"The altitude was increasing, the air was getting much thinner, the wind was right in your face and killer-strong all the time, the temperature at its lowest dropped to minus 52 and averaged minus 40 quite easily, these were hard days," says Henry. "We were physically empty, but mentally strong; we knew we'd do it, but in order to hit the 9th January we were having to average 13.6 miles a day, if we did 13.5 it meant an extra bit the following day." In his pocket he carried Shackleton's own compass. "It was a very powerful talisman, it had done this journey, and I had to get it to the Pole which was somewhere it had never got to. We used to pass it round the tent in the evening to
get a little inspiration from it because by then we were really on our last legs."
At around 6pm on the 9th of January 2009 they reached their goal "It was an extraordinary feeling we'd worked so hard and we'd still had 13 miles to do on that last day. The GPS I was carrying counted us down rather like in a car 'you are arriving at your destination...'. It was so exciting, there
was nothing to see, it was just a blank piece of snow, but eventually it said: 'you have arrived'."
Along with the euphoria came reflection on the men who had stood there a century before "It was mind-boggling to think that after everything they'd been through at that point they were still only half way, because they had to go all the way back to their starting point again," says Henry,
whose own experience left him in no doubt that Shackleton's decision to turn his back on the Pole had been correct. "I always wondered what I would have felt standing at that point, and although we were nothing like as bad as they had been, we were pretty physically wrecked. Shackleton was right, I was in absolutely no doubt."
The final 97 miles to their ultimate destination were in many ways a rather sombre anti-climax. "It was actually
rather sad, because we weren't in his footsteps, we had no diary to refer to every night, and we were going somewhere they never reached in their lives. When we got to the Pole all I could think about was them heading back. Although we were finishing off family business it was sad."
Finally after 66 days and 920 miles, they had achieved one of the longest ever unsupported polar journeys and their
endeavours were complete. Whilst the adventure is over, its legacy is just beginning. From the start, as they sat around a table discussing their ideas, the team was determined that their efforts would create a lasting legacy and a charity, The Shackleton Foundation(www.shackletonfoundation.org) was formed.
With its message: "We all have our own Antarctic - what's yours?" the foundation is not about funding expeditions, instead it aims to provide a leg up to enable individuals who can demonstrate Shackleton's leadership qualities to translate a vision into reality. "We all have an empty space in our lives, our own Antarctic in a way, which you can either run away from or see as an opportunity and put something really good into it," explains Henry, adding that
the one proviso is that all projects supported must benefit the less advantaged.
The expedition has successfully cast the spotlight on the foundation, and energy is now being directed at maximising income for it. Talking to Henry, there's also a
powerful sense that his appetite for adventure is far from sated, so what does the future hold? "I would love to do something else," he admits, "and if we're going to capitalise on this centennial period - all the great polar expeditions really happened between 1902 and 1914 so we're right in the middle of it now - then we've got to
do something about the Endurance. If we're going to spotlight the charity again then we've got to do something like that."
For more information on the Shackleton Foundation go to www.shackletonfoundation.org