Explorer’s scion achieves his great-grandfather’s dream

Patrick Bergel, great-grandson of famous Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, crossed Antarctica in a team of Hyundai SUVs. He completed a journey his great-grandfather had failed to finish 100 years earlier.

Sir Ernest Shackleton tried twice, unsuccessfully, to reach the South Pole. When another explorer got there first, Shackleton decided to cross the frozen continent from end to end, in what he called the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

The expedition was a disaster. His ship got trapped in ice and was crushed. Shackleton and his crew had to cross the ice on foot, eventually reaching the sea. A small group, including Shackleton, the set out on an 800-mile sea journey in a small boat to reach a whaling camp to summon a rescue ship.

Patrick Bergel’s journey, while amazing, was considerably less risky and more comfortable. Bergel and his team drove modern SUVs with heaters, GPS, and satellite uplinks.

While his great-grandfather’s best pace was 7 miles a day, Bergel managed to average 17 miles per hour.

The journey was not without risks.

“There were a number of slightly hairy moments I guess on the trip, one of which was when we were crossing a heavily crevassed area on the way down to McMurdo Sound in the south,” Bergel related. “We had to rope together the vehicles as one would rope together skiers in case if one of the vehicles fell into a crevasse it would be able to be dragged out by another.”

Bergel said his two peak moments were reaching the South Pole, something his great-grandfather had never managed to do, and also when he completed the journey.

“At the end of the trip when we’d been down to the Ross Sea and back again, it really came home to me what we’d achieved, but the fact that what we’d done was maybe a thousandth as hard as it had been back in 1916-17,” he said.

Bergel said he thought the technology of today would have fascinated his famous forebear, as would the speed they were able to achieve.

“I think, or I like to think, he’d be proud and pleased that a member of his family had finally pulled off something that he’d tried to do,” he said.

He didn’t make the journey for himself.

“I’m not a polar explorer by trade, it’s not my day job by any means, so this was something quite new for me,” Bergel explained.

“The vehicle itself you can see is engraved with the names of original crew members, and family and friends have written notes of encouragement. So this is very much about bringing together whole generations of people to celebrate Shackleton,” he said.

 
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