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I saw my first iceberg en route to South Georgia and despite always having been in awe of their sheer size and majesty captured on film or in pictures it is quite a different thing to witness something the size of St Paul's cathedral towering over the starboard side of a small ship of the Royal Navy.
Much more dangerous to shipping than the Titanicesque bergs are the much smaller chunks of ice bobbing in the water that could easily damage the outer skin of even the toughest vessel: especially difficult to see at night. Growlers and Bergy Bits are the menace in this category and I remember sailors mounting a 24 hour watch on the bow of the ship once we crossed the Antarctic Convergence Zone and entered the fog and flat, grey light of the colder Antarctic waters. Shown below is the recognised categorisation of icebergs.
Size Category Height Length
Growler Less than 1 meter (3 feet) Less than 5 meters (16 feet)
Bergy Bit 1-4 meters (3-13 feet) 5-14 meters (15-46 feet)
Small 5-15 meters (14-50 feet) 15-60 meters (47-200 feet)
Medium 16-45 meters (51-150 feet) 61-122 meters (201-400 feet)
Large 46-75 meters (151-240 feet) 123-213 meters (401-670 feet)
Very Large Over 75 meters (240 feet) Over 213 meters (670 feet)
This is the most intriguing and mysterious account related to icebergs that I have come across. It is taken from 'First Voyage', p132 - written by Frank Worsley in 1938.
"The famous Black Ball ship, Marco Polo, discovered one of the most extraordinary tragedies of the sea ever recorded. In March, 1861, on the passage from Australia to England, she collided with an iceberg west of Cape Horn. She sustained so much damage that she was afterwards forced to run to Valparaiso for repairs. On top of the berg she collided with was seen the body of a man lying down, with one arm folded under his head. He was clothed like a 'better-class seaman' with a rough blue pilot-cloth coat. He was hatless. Alongside of him was a boathook with a piece of red stuff fastened to it, showing that the poor fellow had tried, in vain, to signal some passing ship, before he lay down to die. The Marco Polo lay hove-to, but before she drifted away from the berg those on board could actually distinguish through the telescope the features of the man, and his iron-grey hair was seen to move with the wind. The bitter end of this tragic castaway does not bear dwelling on."
Having tapped all my friends and family for sponsorship for the MDS I realized if I was ever going to fulfill my dreams of a journey to Antarctica I would need to include the corporates. This was stepping the whole fundraising and adventuring upto the next level.
Slowly the idea of following in Shackleton's footsteps began to formulate - not many people know about the nimrod expedition and the timing was good - plenty of time to get the team together and to train.
My first step was to sign myself up for Paul Landry and Matty McNair polar training course in Baffin Island in March 2004. This was a great success and whet my appetite even more.
The next step was to look for the descendants of the original team to see whether they might be fit and interested in such a journey. As such I mentioned this idea to Alexandra Shackleton who immediately started introducing me to Patrick, Dave and Henry.
My next thoughts were to extend the training - to participate in an endurance race in the polar climes. To my delight Henry Worsley wanted to join me so we signed up to the famous Yukon Arctic Ultra which is a 320 mile self supported race with a cut off time of 8 days. My theory was that if we could cover this distance in 8 days we should be able to psychologically cope with the Antarctic.
The project began to develop and the idea of celebrating the centenary of the Nimrod; fulfilling the legacy by completing the last 97 and giving a lasting legacy for the future by setting up a foundation began to take shape.
I think you know the rest!
Commander Sir Jameson Boyd Adams KCVO CBE DSO
Extract is taken from an article written by A Diggins for "The Poacher", an annual companion to Lincolnshire life.
Jameson Boyd Adams like Sir John Franklin, was born in Lincolnshire and found fame exploring Polar regions. Franklin's aim was the Northwest Passage; Adams' was the South Pole. Even away from the Pole he was muted as an adept fund raiser, administrator and war hero.
Early years of discipline and hardship at sea moulded him into a colourful character. A hardened, frankly spoken sea dog, constantly cursing, tempered by his mischievous sense of humour. A life time of selfless devotion to his country and fellow men made him many friends. He always greeted them as "mate" and they in turn affectionately called him "The Mate."
He was born in 1880 at Down Hall on the outskirts of Rippingale. His father, the local Doctor, rented the house from Lord Ancaster for £65 8s a year.
His brother Arnold and sister Marjorie were born in the following years, before the family finally left the county in 1886. From the age of thirteen, having run away to sea, he served in the Merchant Service before joining the Royal Naval Reserves. Reaching the rank of Lieutenant, he was one of the last to gain a Master Mariner's Certificate "under sail". In 1906 he and his fellow officers attended a party given by Ernest Shackleton. The invitation, sent by semaphore, had been received on HMS Berwick as she sailed up the Firth of Forth close to Shackleton's home.
During the party their host enthused about his intended expedition to the Antarctic. Adams was enthralled and asked to be included. A year passed and a permanent commission was offered by the Royal Navy, guaranteeing financial security. On the same day Shackleton's telegram arrived; he chose to go with him. If the Pole could be claimed for England, he wanted to be there.
Work began immediately, gathering stores, and assisting in the vetting of prospective members of the expedition. As he was to take meteorological readings he took a short intensive course on the subject. In 1908 Shackleton, Wild, Marshall and Adams as second-in-command began their walk South.
They encountered gales, blizzards, and temperatures well below freezing. At various stages they suffered from snow blindness, dysentery, frost bite and in the latter stages altitude sickness and scurvy. It was a gruelling task. Not for them the comparative flatness of the Arctic; their route inclined from sea level up to 12,000 feet onto the highest plateau in the world.
Seventy days out they stood less than 100 miles from their goal. Although physically and mentally drained they could have gone on. Prudently with food stores dangerously low, they retraced their steps.
As it was their return became a race for life, from one food depot to the next. Miraculously they all retuned safely but 126 days and 1600 miles had taken its toll. Adams had lost 3 stones in weight on the journey. Thin and gaunt he was hardly recognisable to the support party. For his endeavour he had an Antarctic mountain range named in his honour and was awarded two Polar medals. The medals are displayed at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge.
They returned to England as national heroes. Shackleton wanted "The Mate" to accompany on the lecture tours. He declined, as always unassuming; he preferred the quite life.
No doubt you will have mulled at length over what ten things are indispensable for an expedition to the South Pole. If for any reason you haven't, here are our suggestions.
1. RBH Designs insulated socks and mitts
We will encounter three main dangers on the expedition: hypothermia, crevasses and frostbite. Anything that lessens these dangers is a godsend.
RBH Designs is a small, family-run business in Connecticut which designs some amazing cold weather gear. The key to their designs is the use of their patented 'vaprthrm' technology. This is essentially a stretchy vapour barrier liner which is lined with a comfortable, wicking lining. It serves two functions. It minimises evaporative heat loss (i.e. heat loss caused by cooling when we sweat) and it stops the layers of insulation outside the vapour barrier being degraded by sweat.
In my experience RBH's gear is made to a very high standard, is comfortable and very, very warm. Sure, the insulated socks might look a bit odd and yes, it's very hard to use your hands for anything beyond gripping ski poles when wearing the mitts, but they offer greater protection against frostbite than just about any other products available. Gold dust.
2. MSR XGK EX stove
If our stoves fail, we can't melt snow, which means we have no water to drink. Nor can we warm the inside of the tent, boil our food or dry our clothes. So if our stoves are unreliable, we're in big trouble.
MSR's XGK stoves are difficult to light (they tend to give off a massive, tent-devouring flame if done wrong), very loud (think mini afterburners on full chat), have very little flame control (they're basically on or off) and are not the lightest. But they are very probably the most robust, reliable expedition stoves ever made. That means everything to us.
3. Xmarx pulks
We will be pulling around double our bodyweight in supplies behind us in pulks designed by the Dutch adventurer and polar explorer, Marc Cornelissen.
Marc's pulks have quickly earned a strong reputation amongst polar explorers for their robust, efficient and stable design. We were treated to a service beyond first class when we picked up our pulks from Marc's warehouse in The Netherlands, en route from England to Norway for some training. Marc drove an hour to meet us at 5am in the morning to hand the pulks over to us - with a cigar each!
Once in Norway we soon started stress-testing the pulks. Henry fell 10 vertical feet with his fully-loaded pulk down a ravine in a snowstorm. Miraculously, neither he nor the pulk (which narrowly missed his head) came to any harm. We were all amazed.
4. Merino wool baselayer
The idea of wearing woollen underwear for 80 days whilst walking 900 miles, conjures up images of hairshirted pilgrims. Fortunately, merino wool is a luxury, not a penance. It's very fine and soft next to the skin, especially compared to some of the more plasticky synthetic base layers.
A base layer's main aim in life is to wick sweat away from the skin. There are a number of synthetic base layers that do this very well. However, they tend to smell like Bigfoot's nappy if worn for any length of time, which can have a noticeable effect on morale over 80 days in a tent.
This is where merino wool reveals its magic. However long you wear it, merino wool never seems to smell bad, due to its natural odour-eating properties. It is also exothermic, which means it generates heat when wet (I have no idea how, but I love it). Finally, it's a natural product unlike the synthetic alternatives, which are made from petrochemicals. Sheep wouldn't be seen dead in anything else.
As for the makes, we'd recommend Icebreaker (above) or smartwool. For those seeking even more warmth, try Brynje's arctic extreme double layer thermal underwear. I've never worn it myself, but the Norwegians swear by it. It's basically a layer of merino wool with meraklon net underwear beneath it. The net underwear traps air for insulation and allows moisture to pass through to the merino wool outer, where it can evaporate.
5. Mountain Equipment Co-Op Booties
This is not the most technical bit of kit we're taking. Nor the most indispensable, strictly speaking. But if you asked me which bit of kit I most looked forward to using each day and therefore grew to love most, it's these simple tent boots. After 10 hours trudging around in cross-country ski boots hauling your worldly goods behind you, there is something extremely rewarding and comforting about putting on these big insulated slippers.
MEC's boots are great because they're cheap, robust (they have a synthetic filling which stands up well to getting wet), seriously warm and have a good sole which allows you to use them outside when nature calls. My new best friend.
6. Thermarest Trekker Chair
We're each allowed one item of luxury. It must weight under 1lb (400g). My luxury is a tent seat, courtesy of Thermarest. Basically, it's a piece if cunningly shaped and buckled material into which you shove your inflatable mattress, creating a chair which stays upright as long as you sit in it.
Not being that flexible, I really dislike kneeling and I canât think of anything I'd rather bring with me than a seat. And it only weighs 300g. Let me know if you have any bright ideas for my remaining 100g.
7. Ipaq Expedition PDA with Contact Software
One of the factors which makes Antarctic expeditions so difficult is the sheer cost of getting there and back, due to the continent's extreme remoteness. This means expedition members have to battle hard to raise the funds to get there and back.
A good website, with live updates reporting on the expedition's progress, is a vital tool for fundraising. Humanedgetech supply expedition-tested communications packages which will allow us to post daily reports with photos on our website, updating our families, sponsors and the world at large on how we're getting on.
Typing may be the last thing we want to do after an exhausting day's hauling, but it gives us a vital means of communication from an uninhabited world. We'll make sure our daily reports are as informative as possible â there's no excuse not to with such amazing technology at our fingertips.
8. Hilleberg Keron GT tent
Our tent will be our home and refuge for 80 days. Hilleberg is well known for making very robust, stable and easy to operate tents. We'll be taking their Keron GT, which is their flagship expedition design. It'll take 3 men with ease, is simple to erect and is very tough. It's also great at withstanding a battering from the wind.
We've modified our tent in a few ways. We've added flaps on which to shovel snow to keep the tent in place. We've removed the mosquito nets and put up a clothes line along the centre, for drying kit. We've also added a foam floor for insulation. Home from home indeed.
9. Swix Mountain Poles
For practically all our kit, we're after the lightest and toughest products available. However, one of these criteria is by definition usually at the expense of the other.
The Swix Mountain Poles have a simple brief. They don't need to be adjustable or gimmicky in any way. They just need to be really strong and light, which they are in abundance. What's more, they look wonderfully retro with their leather handle and basket, reminiscent of the poles our forebears would have used on the original Nimrod Expedition.
10. Toilet paper
Indispensable. No further explanation offered.
I've just found out that a polar bear has a top ground speed of at least 25 miles per hour or around 40 kilometres per hour, either way that's fast.
Given that there aren't very many trees at the South Pole for heroic explorers to climb very quickly I am now starting to have second doubts.... answers on a postcard entitled 'how to look suitably heroic on occasions of imminent danger' will be gratefully accepted by at least one member of the team.
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