Descendants of Shackleton's team go as far as explorer... and then on to South Pole

A coincidence of genes led to an epic and often gruelling voyage, writes Luke Blackall

In an era where most of the world is explored and adventurous journeys have become more commonplace, it still takes a certain type of person to walk the 900 miles over 66 days, in Antarctic weather conditions, to fulfil a genetic ambition.

Lt Col. Henry Worsley's unaided trip to the South Pole came from a life-time interest in the British explorer Ernest Shackleton and his, ultimately unsuccessful, attempt in 1909 to reach the same point.

The army officer's fascination with the explorer comes, in part, from the fact that he is a descendant of Shackleton's skipper, Frank Worsley.

"I've always been obsessed with Shackleton, he is a sort of role model," says Worsley. "The image was there for me when I was younger. I collect a lot of his memorabilia."

In 1909, Shackleton and his team set a record in reaching the furthest point south ever reached with their Nimrod expedition. But before they could get to the pole, nature and circumstances got the better of them and after a gruelling journey they were forced to turn back.

The achievement of the Matrix Shackleton Centenary Expedition, led by Worsley, was even more remarkable, given the fact that his fellow team members were also descendants of Shackleton's polar team. Will Gow, a city worker, is a great nephew of Shackleton; while Henry Adams, a shipping lawyer, is a great-grandson of Jameson Boyd Adams, the number two on Shackleton's expedition.

The team was put together by what Worsley described as "gene pool selection" – every team member was determined to reach their predecessor's achievements and then surpass them. "It was a very unusual way of putting the team together," Worsley concedes. "None of us knew each other before we started planning."

They took five years to plan, raise funds and get fit both physically and mentally for the journey. "The mental aspect of getting your head around a 900-mile journey, and living under canvas for two months, was in some ways more important than going to the gym," says Worsley.

Being the eldest of the group, at 48, and with an army background, it was decided that Worsley would be the leader. The group celebrated Christmas with their families in October, and in late 2008, set off, 100 years after Shackleton. Throughout the journey, Worsley kept his hero's compass in his pocket.

He describes the journey at temperatures as low as -52C in his new book, In Shackleton's Footsteps. It simultaneously recounts the hardship and ultimate failure of the Nimrod exhibition.

It took the modern-day group a couple of days to get to their first destination, Chile, while it took Shackleton three months by sea. The 1908 expedition entertained themselves with books, the modern-day team with iPods. And unlike Shackleton, Worsley's team took no ponies with them on their journey.

While enjoying more modern technology and comforts than the original expedition, the modern-day group still had to drag their sledges behind them. Walking for 10 hours a day, on their best day they travelled 17 miles. But on their slowest day, navigating the Beardmore Glacier, they managed little more than a mile.

They were also threatened by illness, rows and were at the mercy of nature. "We had three days stuck in a tent. You get frustrated, you sleep or play cards, and try not to eat too much as it's rationed," says Worsley. Fifty-nine days after they left, on 9 January 2009, the group reached the point that Shackleton had got to, 97 miles from the pole.

"We hit the bullseye," says Worsley. "That date was very significant, the 100th anniversary. We almost killed ourselves to get there. We couldn't have done more. To arrive a day before or a day later would have been a failure."

When Shackleton got there, he planted a flag in the ground and claimed the plateau for Edward VII. With his team becoming increasingly weak, he was forced to turn back, later saying it was "better to be a living donkey than a dead lion". The modern-day team carried on, achieving a leonine status of their own when they reached the South Pole a week later, Shackleton's compass firmly in Worsley's hand.



In Shackleton's Footsteps: A Return to the Heart of the Antarctic by Henry Worsley (Virgin, £18.99).

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Voices
Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
election 2015Armando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
News
i100
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Leeds This i...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Bristol

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power