In Shackleton's honour: Descendants' 900-mile trek

A century after explorer's failed South Pole expedition, family members are to try again. By Paul Bignell

Exactly 100 years since the British polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton travelled further south than any human being, his and his team's descendants are to follow in his footsteps and undertake the gruelling 900-mile trek to the South Pole – on foot.

On 29 October 1908, Shackleton set out to become the first man to reach the South Pole. Two months later, after travelling south in severe weather conditions with temperatures dropping below -30C, the group, running perilously low on food, decided it would be too dangerous to continue and turned back. They were 97 miles short of their target. Three years later, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen succeeded where Shackleton's Nimrod expedition failed.

On his return to Britain, Shackleton was hailed a hero and awarded a knighthood for his achievements.

Now, relatives of that expedition will attempt to follow the same route, setting off exactly 100 years to the day since that great trek, and attempt to finish a journey their ancestors first took. It will be led by Lt-Col Henry Worsley, a descendent of Frank Worsley, who was Shackleton's skipper. Accompanying him will be Henry Adams, a great-grandson of Jameson Boyd Adams, and Will Gow who, inspired by a desire to unite Shackleton's descendents at the pole, came up with the idea of recreating the voyage. Mr Gow is related to Shackleton by marriage.

They will be joined by three further team members in January 2009 for the final 97-mile trek to the point that cruelly evaded Shackleton and his men. This team will include 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.

In preparation, the team has spent months training in Greenland, Scotland and Norway. Henry Adams, a shipping lawyer, said: "I didn't know what to expect when I began. It takes so long just to get from A to B. A lot of the places we've trained in so far have such massive panoramic scenes in front of you, you feel like you're not really moving. You get lost in [taking] one step after another. Training has taken over most of our lives outside work. Every holiday for the last two years has been an expedition holiday; there has been no time with my wife and 18-month-old baby."

Unlike the original team who travelled with eight ponies – all of which died during the expedition – the 2008 team will be pulling 300lb sledges for 10 hours a day. As well as endless amounts of porridge, one small but important token from the original trip will be going to the Antarctic: "We want to take Shackleton's compass – the original compass – to the South Pole," said Mr Adams.

In 1914, on his return to the South Pole, Shackleton would become celebrated for his part in one of the most heroic rescue missions ever undertaken. His expedition became stranded in ice which broke up their ship, Endurance. They took refuge on Elephant Island where the men lived in upturned life boats while Shackleton and five others sailed 800 miles across the world's roughest, coldest seas in an open boat to the remote island of South Georgia. They crossed the icy mountain terrain on foot to reach a whaling station and find rescue for his men – who, by the time the rescuers arrived, had been stranded for almost two years.