True North Blog

The Shackleton Survival Voyage Retraced

Today, an expedition composed of six Brits and Australians, led by Tim Jarvis and Barry Grey, completed a re-enactment of one of the greatest survival adventures of all time.

The team followed the path of Ernest Shackleton, the acclaimed polar explorer, who in 1914 set out to sea from Great Britain on the Endurance with a crew of 56 men, just as hostilities broke out with Germany, to be the first to cross the Antarctic continent from sea to sea via the South Pole.  However, soon after leaving port, the expedition faced one difficulty after another.  Ultimately, though, even after overcoming all of those obstacles, the Endurance became hopelessly trapped in sea ice.  Knowing that their only chance for survival lay in their own hands, Shackleton led his men over high walls of pack ice, hidden crevasses, raging seas, blinding blizzards, even a mountain, to a remote whaling station on South Georgia island.

Most amazingly, Shackleton saved all of his men.

Let’s, though, put Shackleton’s feat into perspective.  Yes, the modern Jarvis-Grey expedition set out using only period clothes, tools, and equipment as they followed Shackleton’s path.  However, they still had modern telecommunications as a safety-net.  Which is good, because several members of the team had to periodically abandon the expedition due to injuries and maladies, like frostbite and trench foot … The same ailments from which the men of the Endurance suffered the entire time, without respite.  Further, the Jarvis-Grey team even resorted to modern tents and clothing when a blizzard hit.  Shackleton and his men faced far worse, with far less, for far longer.

At least the crew of the Jarvis-Grey expedition bowed and tipped their hats to Shackleton and his men by acknowledging that their modern efforts were only able to “emulated some” of what the Endurance crew accomplished.  As Jarvis told a journalist, “These early explorers were iron men in wooden boats.”  Indeed.

In truth, then, the Shackleton expedition may never be replicated.

Endurance BookDo you want to learn more about Ernest Shackleton and the amazing men of his expedition?  Then I encourage you to read, The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander.  Not only is her story a wonderful account of what transpired, but it is also filled with the actual photographs taken by expedition photographer Frank Hurley … Who, even as the Endurance was sinking into the pack ice, actually undressed himself in the snow, then dove into the icy waters to squeeze through a small opening in the hull to rescue his negative plates!  Amazing.


Erik Kulick leaning aginst wall with True North badge on blue shirt

About the Author

Erik is the founder of True North Wilderness Survival School. He is a police officer, EMS provider, a Wilderness EMT, and a Fellow of the Academy of Wilderness Medicine. He has been featured in national and international media, including CNN, the Associated Press, and Backpacker. To learn more about Erik, visit him on LinkedIn and be sure to follow him on Facebook and YouTube.

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