Ernest Shackleton returned to Britain from Captain Scott's Discovery Expedition of 1903 determined to mount his own assault on the unclaimed South Pole.
On 3rd August 1907 Shackleton set sail aboard the Nimrod, bound for Antarctica. According to his plan, after having endured the fiercest winter on Earth in huts built on Ross Island, on 29th October 1908 Shackleton, Frank Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Boyd Adams set off due south across the Ross Ice Shelf, with four Manchurian ponies pulling sledges.
By December 1908 the party had passed Scott's farthest point and were now pioneering new ground. Their route through the Transantarctic Mountains took them up the 140 mile long Beardmore Glacier, named by Shackleton after one of his most generous backers.
This was to be the most dangerous and risky part of the route. The smooth glacier surface concealed treacherous crevasses which claimed the life of their last pony and very nearly killed Frank Wild. The return journey to Ross Island was equally demanding. The same perils of crevasses, hunger, injuries and sickness took their toll, but the four men successfully reached the rest of their party on 4th March 1909.
On the 27th December 1908, the party reached the windswept polar plateau, some ten thousand feet higher than their start point. Exhausted, low on food and pulling the sledges themselves, they continued on through bitter winds towards their goal.
But on 9th January 1909, "The Boss" as his men called him, was to make one of the greatest and boldest decisions of his life.
Barely a hundred miles short of the Pole, he took the decision to turn back, after planting the Union Jack at 88° 23'. Had he been prepared to sacrifice the lives of his team, Shackleton would have claimed the Pole.
On his return to England Ernest Shackleton was greeted at the docks by crowds and subsequently knighted in recognition of what he had achieved: the furthest South.
But not yet the Pole...
The expedition's plan is to travel along the length of the Beardmore Glacier - one of the great glaciers of the world - and then across the upper reaches of its drainage basin en route to the South Pole.
This provides a rare opportunity to collect scientific information important for the study of the behaviour of this major glacier in relation to climate and to collect rock samples that may reveal details of the geology of land submerged beneath the interior ice.
This is the first of six articles by Professor Drewry. Click here for the next installment.
Following intensive ice training in Norway, Baffin Island, Greenland, Scotland and Austria, with fitness programme assistance from the OMI (Olympic Medical Institute, London) the team will follow the same route to the Pole as Shackleton's Nimrod Expedition of 1908-9.
We will fly in from Punto Arenas, Chile. Having refuelled at Patriot Hills base, we will be dropped on Ross Island, at the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. As befits a modern expedition, our trip will be entirely carbon-neutral, with all CO2 emissions offset.
The team will first climb Mount Erebus, the world's most southerly volcano. We then intend to depart from the Shackleton Hut at Cape Royds on October 29th 2008 at 10am, exactly a hundred years to the day since Shackleton and his men set out. Travelling unguided on skis, we will cross the Ross Ice Shelf, individually hauling our expedition supplies in sledges.We will then ascend the seldom-crossed Beardmore Glacier, en route collecting blue ice samples for scientific analysis back in the UK. Then it's on to the Polar plateau, 400 miles towards the Pole itself.
We will keep the outside world notified of our daily progress wherever we find ourselves, via video and journal entries posted online at shackletoncentenary.org
It will be a long, hard march from here to the 97-mile point, which we intend to reach exactly on the centenary of the original team's achievement.
Instead of turning back, as they were then forced to, we will reach the South Pole, and thereby complete unfinished business. The total distance we expect to cover is 900 miles, and journey time is around eighty days.
The Beardmore Glacier is one of the largest "outlet" glaciers of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet and cuts through the Transantarctic Mountains in a valley some 250km long and up to 40km wide.
Ice flows 500km from the inner reaches of the ice sheet, between the South Pole and Dome Argus, converging to pass through the narrow defile of the Beardmore. At this point the ice is moving at some 400m per year.
This ice flows out of the mouth of the Beardmore Glacier and into the Ross Sea where it merges with ice coming from other significant outlet glaciers to form a massive plate of floating, moving ice - the Ross Ice Shelf - the size of France (550 000km2).
This makes the Beardmore Glacier along with the other outlets the most dynamic part of the ice sheet system transporting ice from the interior of the Antarctic to the edge of the ice shelf where it is lost through the calving of massive icebergs - a total journey of some 2000km.
This is the second of six articles by Professor Drewry. Click here for the next installment.
We are delighted to anounce that HRH The Princess Royal, Princess Anne has agreed to become the Shackleton Centenary Expedition's patron, having recently been to Antarctica herself.
Furthermore, the renowned polar explorer Robert Swan OBE , is our fundraising patron. He is the only modern explorer to have followed in Shackleton's footsteps in Antarctica, and the first man to have conquered both North and South Poles on foot.
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