Five Irish explorers went on the adventure of a lifetime and retraced the steps of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition across the Antarctic.
Kerry man Mike O’Shea was the leader of the group known as The Ice Project. It included Seanie Murphy and Aidan Forde, also from Kerry, Cork woman Clare O’Leary, Meath man Keith McDonnell and American Tom Ruane.
The group set off in the middle of November on what would be a 28 day challenge of icy conditions, hazardous terrain and exhausting schedules.
It was, however, also full of incredible landscapes, poignant moments and built bonds amongst the group that shall stand forever.
The trip was arranged to mark the centenary of Shackleton’s expedition. In one of the most famous journeys in history, Shackleton and his men travelled around the Antarctic before their boat was crushed by ice and they were forced to abandon their journey and set up camp.
The crew ended up on Elephant Island with little resources and no hope of rescue. Shackleton and a few men, including ‘Irish Giant’ Tom Crean, set off in tiny lifeboats to get help and eventually the crew were rescued.
O’Shea and his group planned to follow that route exactly to experience the incredible conditions endured by those men. However, due to the unusually ‘warm’ climate of 15°C, it was too dangerous to replicate the journey Shackleton and his men took to the Stromness Bay whaling station.
O’Shea explained: “It would usually be about -15°C.” O’Shea said.
“The warm weather meant there was snow avalanching all around us, so we changed course to Possession Bay, a crossing that’s only been done once before.”
The alternative route was certainly not easy as the group had to evade aggressive ankle biting seals which would literally chase them away.
O’Shea smiled: “It was breeding season at the time, so they were very territorial.”
After spending weeks being tossed around in their boat by the stormy weather, trekking against ferocious icy winds and running from rampant seals, the group experienced an incredible ending to their journey.
They were resting at the Gritvyken settlement in South Georgia, the site where Shackleton was buried after his death in 1922.
O’Shea revealed that without any introduction, Jonathan Shackleton, the great-nephew of Ernest came over and asked if he was Irish.
He said: “I had never met him before but we had spoken over phone and email for over 20 years.
“I couldn’t believe we were finally getting to meet in South Georgia of all places!”
The team returned shortly before Christmas and spent the holiday season recharging their batteries and reflecting on their achievements.
O’Shea is giving away a limited edition bottle of South Georgia whiskey in an online raffle to raise money for the ISPCC and Childline. If you would like to enter, or donate to these causes then please click here.