Triumphant Shackleton Epic expedition arrives at Stromness

After a harrowing three 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 today, 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.

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.

Still wearing the traditional gear they’ve been sporting since the expedition started 19 days ago on 23 January on Elephant Island, the heavily bearded duo have braved blizzard-like conditions during the crossing – perhaps a fitting end to the recreation of one of the greatest survival journeys in history. They were accompanied by fellow crew member, navigator aboard the Alexandra Shackleton replica boat, Paul Larsen, who provided support for the mountain crossing.

“It was epic, really epic, and we’ve arrived here against the odds,” said the veteran polar adventurer Jarvis. “The ice climb at the Tridents is a serious thing and Shackleton didn’t exaggerate – with ice at 50degrees, with one wrong foot, we could have careened down a crevasse. It was the same for the Crean and Fortuna glaciers. We had more than 20 crevasse falls up to our knees and Baz fell into a crevasse up to his armpits, Paul and I had to haul him out,” a breathless Jarvis said.

“I want to pay tribute to the outstanding team of courageous men who did this journey with me – Barry Gray, Paul Larsen, Nick Bubb, Seb Coulthard and Ed Wardle. I could not have selected a finer or more capable team of people who pulled together under extreme conditions to help us achieve our goal. They are all first-rate individuals and adventurers but together we became a tight-knit group who braved the odds, and achieved what at times felt like the impossible,” Jarvis said.

“These early explorers were iron men in wooden boats and while modern man mostly travels around in iron vessels, I hope we’ve been able to emulate some of what they achieved. There’s no doubt in my mind that everyone has a Shackleton “double journey” in them at some level, and I hope we’ve inspired a few people to find theirs,” he said.

While the duo had to resort to using a tent and sleeping bags to survive the blizzard that engulfed them on the first night of the crossing atop Shackleton’s Gap, they have endeavoured to re-create the expedition as authentically as possible throughout the arduous journey.

“We’ve had to adapt just as Shackleton and his men did and we had to survive … the point of Shackleton’s journey was to raise the alarm at the Whaling Station at Stromness, and we’ve arrived despite at times during the past few days contemplating that we might not make it due to the extreme weather conditions and afflictions some of the crew suffered during the ocean crossing.

During the expedition, the team have braved Southern Ocean swells in excess of eight metres, gales packing 50 knot winds, sleep deprivation, seasickness, dehydration and hunger, being constantly wet and cold in the Antarctic’s freezing temperatures and having no room to move or stretch out while cramped aboard their 22.5’ lifeboat, Alexandra Shackleton.  On arrival at South Georgia, three of the crew were diagnosed with varying degrees of ‘trench foot’, while others camped for five days in a cave waiting for a break in the weather to commence the climb.

Last Friday, that break came, but was short-lived. Jarvis and Gray were pinned down for 24 hours atop the plateau at Shackleton’s Gap on the first part of the climb by a ferocious blizzard which knocked members of the support crew and film crew off their feet in 80knot gusts. Both the support team of Larsen and Coulthard along with the film crew evacuated themselves off the mountain to the support vessel, Australis moored in a nearby bay. Later, when the blizzard passed, Larsen rejoined Jarvis and Gray to provide support during the 72 hour climb across South Georgia’s crevassed and mountainous interior – a trek which saw them fall into crevasses over 20 times.

“It might have taken us double the time it took Shackleton to cross the mountains due to the extreme weather we encountered but we were able to complete the sea journey in a faster time by some five days. Mother Nature rules out here and you just have to go with what she dishes up and make the best of it,” Jarvis said.

Jarvis also paid tribute to the legion of sponsors, supporters, friends and family who have provided both moral and financial support for the expedition.

The crew will now rest aboard the Australis before trekking around to Grytviken tomorrow, the site of Shackleton’s grave to raise a glass of Mackinlay’s to “the Boss”.

– by Kim McKay

Fauna & Flora International is the official Conservation Partner of the Shackleton Epic

This article originally appeared on the Shackleton Epic website – with thanks for allowing us to repost this piece.