Shackleton set out to cross the entire Antarctic on foot exactly a century ago, but the 1,800-mile trek has never been completed. Now a former Royal Marine commando from Aberdeen is leading a new attempt to conquer the challenge.
Veteran polar explorer Charlie Paton, 44, has taken part in several expeditions to the North Pole, Greenland and Antarctica, but he insists this latest mission isn’t just for experienced adventurers. In a move inspired by Shackleton’s team, Mr Paton has decided to invite applications from ordinary people.
Prospective candidates who believe they have what it takes to complete one of the world’s last great unconquered journeys will be considered on their character and whether they have a cool head under pressure, not just their experience of dealing with sub-zero conditions or their fitness.
In situations where maintaining harmony in the group is a matter of life or death, Mr Paton said the character of the final team member will be as important as their physical strength.
Although the expedition will take place during the Antarctic summer, when the sun never sets, the wind chill can cause temperatures to plunge as low as –60C. The new team member must be able to tow a sledge carrying 100kg of supplies for 11 or 12 hours a day for up to 100 days.
They will sleep in a tent and live on dried rations, melting ice for drinking water.
There will be constant threats from bad weather, deadly crevasses up to 2km deep and searing winds – not to mention frostbite, blisters and tent fires.
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“This journey is not going to be for the faint of heart,” Mr Paton said. “There is a reason it has never been achieved before – 100 days of freezing temperatures and gruelling physical and psychological hardship, with hidden 100m drops buried below the ice. The danger will be constant. It is more about mental toughness and the ability to endure the relentless trudge of polar travel every day.
“The final team member could be a man or a woman, but they will need to be enthusiastic, determined and a huge team player. Also important are self-discipline, compassion and a good sense of humour.
“A massive amount of patience is required too, because of things going wrong and hazards in the way all the time.”
Shackleton’s expedition is considered the last major expedition of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. Though it ended in failure, it is recognised as an epic feat of endurance.
Shackleton planned to sail to the Weddell Sea, land near Vahsel Bay and march through Antarctica – crossing the South Pole – to the Ross Sea. But his ship, Endurance, became stuck in the ice, then sank and stranded the 28-man team. Shackleton made an 800-mile trip in a small boat to get help.
“One hundred years on, I want to finally close a chapter and honour Shackleton and his remarkable men,” Mr Paton added.
“It will celebrate one of the most remarkable tales of endurance, survival and leadership in one of the most inhospitable places in the world.”