One hundred years after Sir Ernest Shackleton famously turned around from his attempt on the South Pole, three descendants of his Nimrod Expedition are tracing his footsteps across Antarctica in a bid to finish what their ancestors started.
Henry Worsley, Will Gow and Henry Adams of the Matrix Shackleton Expedition started walking on Friday from Shackleton's hut at Cape Royds and will traverse 1400km on their way to the South Pole.
In 1908 the Nimrod team - Shackleton, Frank Wild, Jameson Boyd Adams and Eric Marshall - set off to become the first men to conquer the South Pole. Suffering in severe weather, temperatures of - 30C and running dangerously low on food, they turned around at latitude 88' 23"S, just 156km short of their target. Three years later, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen succeeded where Shackleton failed.
Sitting in front of Scott's Hut at Cape Evans in the searing Antarctic light on the first day of their journey, the team estimated it would take them approximately 70 days to reach their destination. "We're six hours in, so we're slowly chipping away at 850-odd miles [1370km]," said Worsley.
They are unsupported, which means they must haul all supplies on 136kg sledges for 10 hours a day, and cannot even accept an offer of a cup of tea from the conservation team working on preserving Scott's Hut.
Their expedition aims to raise money for the Shackleton Foundation, said Adams, a great-grandson of Jameson Adams. "We've set it up to give money to people who have projects that will benefit communities, and for people who show leadership in the Shackleton spirit."
Will Gow, great-nephew of Shackleton's wife, said the idea came to him as a way to celebrate 100 years of polar exploration.
"I've always wanted to come out into the Antarctic wilderness and it seemed a great opportunity to celebrate the centenary of one of the greatest polar expeditions of all time, Shackleton's Nimrod Expedition. It's been a project for five or six years now. I spoke to my cousin Alexandra Shackleton and I asked her to put me in touch with other descendants."
Gow met Lieutenant Colonel Henry Worsley, a descendant of Shackleton's skipper Frank Worsley. A second team including Shackleton's great-grandson, Patrick Bergel, David Cornell, another great-grandson of Jameson Boyd Adams, and Tim Fright, the great-great-nephew of Frank Wild, will join them to cover the last 156km. "The idea is to finish unfinished family business by making it that last 97 miles and leaving a legacy for the future with the creation of the Shackleton Foundation," said Gow.
Travelling with them on their trip is a treasured possession: Shackleton's compass, which guided him on the 1908 journey and still has the initials EHS clearly scratched on its inside lid.
Gow said Shackleton's granddaughter had given it to him in the hope it would finally make the Pole. "Very sadly this never reached the South Pole in its life. Shackleton would have guided himself less than a mile from where we're sitting now using this, to Hut Point, and it's still in full working order."
Solar panels strapped to their sledges will charge batteries and communications equipment. Most importantly, it charges their iPods, said Gow. "If I'm feeling I need some energy, I listen to some Led Zeppelin or something quite energetic. On a nice sunny day like this, a bit of reggae."
They will also be using the opportunity to do some scientific work, collecting blue ice from the Beardmore Glacier and taking moraine samples, which scientists at Hull University in Britain will analyse to study the speed of the glacier and the effects of global warming on the ice pack.
Adams said he expected the Beardmore Glacier to be some of the most challenging terrain they would encounter.
"It's the longest glacier on Earth and riddled with giant crevasses and avoiding those or dealing with falling into those is probably our most tangible problem. Other than that it's just duration, really. It's going to take roughly 70 days and it will take its toll, especially as we get on to the higher altitude plains and it gets colder - that will really start wearing into us."
The team has undertaken a significant amount of preparation over the past five years, training in glacier and crevasse travel in Baffin Island, Norway, Austria, Scotland, and a three-week dress rehearsal in Greenland. However, it's their first trip on the ice in the southern hemisphere, and Adams said Antarctica has been "pretty spectacular" so far.
"If it's like this every day it'll be amazing," said Worsley.
Stepping into Shackleton's hut for the first time was an emotional moment that left them feeling very privileged, said Adams.
"Seeing the hut was fantastic - awesome. To be there 100 years later and stepping into a place with such history is spellbinding, really. I think we're all in agreement that it seemed to be a most fantastic place to live and work; it was a very happy place. We're about to visit Scott's hut here which we understand doesn't have the same feeling - I mean, it's bathed in tragedy really, so perhaps that's not surprising. But Shackleton's hut had a lovely feel to it. Henry [Adams] saw his great-grandfather's belongings there as well so I think he was probably most touched by it."
Worsley said it had been amazing to be inside the hut and see how his great-uncle lived 100 years ago.
"I've always thought of the foot expedition getting to within 97 miles [156km] of the pole and that's always captured the imagination, but just for them to have got as far as the hut, and building it in such an inhospitable environment, is absolutely stunning. It must have been a wonderful source of refuge against the harsh environment here."