It was in 1820 that Lt Edward Bransfield Royal Navy, made the first confirmed sighting of mainland Antarctica. That first sighting, 200 years ago, was the start of a period of intensive exploration of the Southern Ocean and Antarctica itself.
The late 1800’s and early 1900’s saw the ‘Heroic Age’ of Polar Exploration. Outstanding in their personal contributions to this period, were the British explorers Sir Ernest Shackleton and Sir Robert Falcon Scott. However, the Heroic age of Polar Exploration had other great contributors from across the globe. Figures such as Roald Amundsen and Douglas Mawson, were instrumental in unlocking the interior of the Antarctic Continent. Others, like Jean-Baptiste Charcot, who Scott liked, collaborated with and referred to as ‘The Gentleman of the Pole,’ explored the Coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Each, in their own way, undertook incredible challenges; seeking to forge into regions that had not been explored before. As well as their efforts to tread where no one else had stood before, they also contributed immensely to the global pool of scientific knowledge about the Antarctic. All these individuals displayed the most outstanding levels of resilience, leadership, commitment, endurance, and exceptional vision. It could be argued that the person who most epitomised these qualities, was Sir Ernest Shackleton or, as he was better known, ‘The Boss’.
The story of Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’ expedition is well known as a tale of the ability of Shackleton and his men to overcome all odds in a battle of heroic survival against the hostile Antarctic environment. When their ship was crushed by ice in the Weddell Sea in 1915, Shackleton and his men took to hauling their lifeboats across the sea ice in a desperate bid to reach safety. It is widely regarded that Shackleton’s legendary leadership, coupled with an unbelievable level of trust and commitment from his men, that enabled Shackleton to guide his team through some of the most extreme hardships imaginable and effect their safe rescue some nine gruelling months later.
Despite the tribulations he suffered, Shackleton returned to the Antarctica in 1921 to lead a further scientific expedition. Sadly though, Shackleton’s ‘Quest’ Expedition was never to begin in earnest, as he suffered a fatal heart attack on the morning of 5 January 1922. It was Shackleton's demise that has come to be regarded as the final chapter of the 'Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration'. It is Shackleton's example that now inspires;
"Expedition Antarctic Quest 21"
In keeping with the values of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration and Shackleton himself, Expedition Antarctic Quest 21, will travel into the untrodden regions of the Antarctic Peninsula in order to undertake essential science and exploration activities. The expedition team will also hold a commemoration Service on the ice on 5th January 2022, in recognition of Shackleton's heroic and historic achievements. Operating on the Peninsula is no easy task with considerable climatic and environmental challenge. The only mechanism of movement across the ice is by man-haul and this is very much in the spirit of, and invokes the memory of Shackleton and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.
In 2012, Paul Hart led a small team to cross the Antarctic Peninsula from West to East and back; undertaking scientific research to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Captain Scott reaching the South Pole. Man-hauling loads of more than 110kg, the team braved tremendous storms and the ever-present dangers of crevasse, and avalanche. Katabatic winds gusting more than 100mph threatened to destroy their tents and took temperatures as low as -55C. The team also had to deal with the mental impact of continuous falls into the crevasses. Despite this, for over two and half months they explored un-trodden areas of the Antarctic Peninsula and gained valuable data relating to climate change, geology and meteorology. Their work was hailed as an outstanding success by such venerable institutions as the British Antarctic Survey, the Scott Polar Research Institute and the National Environmental Research Council.