As the name suggests, Polar Explorers guides adventurers to the most remote Arctic and Antarctic regions. Keenly aware of the rich history of Polar exploration, the tour company guided a Centennial North Pole expedition in 2009 and a Centennial South Pole expedition in 2011.
In 2015, Polar Explorers traversed South Georgia Island to re-create what lead guide Annie Aggens calls, “One of the greatest adventure stories of all time.”
“Officially named the Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition and led by famed British adventurer Ernest Shackleton, their objective set out with a bold challenge; to traverse Antarctica,” Aggens says. “However their ship, the Endurance, got trapped in the pack ice before they ever set foot on Antarctica. After living a year on the sea ice in the icebound ship, the Endurance was finally crushed and sank. The 27 men under Shackleton’s leadership were stranded on the ice with no shelter, limited food and no way to request help or let anyone know they were in trouble.”
Thus started one of the greatest survival stories of all time. Shackleton’s men were able to salvage three life boats and after months of living on the ice in tents, floating with the whims of the current and wind, they took to the boats when the ice beneath them deteriorated. After several days of paddling with no fresh water, they landed on a small island off the Antarctica Peninsula that had never been visited by humans. If they stayed there they would all perish, so Shackleton and five others took the largest of the lifeboats and sailed over 800 miles across the most tumultuous sea on the planet to reach South Georgia Island where there was a small whaling outpost. This was a Hail Mary attempt at self-rescue, one that most people would never have considered. Amazingly, they reached the island just before their lifeboat fell apart but they landed on the wrong side of the island. Between them and the whaling station lay 25 miles of unmapped mountains that had never been traversed. Shackleton and two companions (Worsley and Crean) made this traverse in 36 hours and set into motion a rescue that eventually saved all the members of the expedition. The fact that everyone survived this remarkable and epic expedition is the ultimate testament to the power of hope, ingenuity, teamwork, optimism, good leadership and the human spirit.
For Polar Explorers’ historic re-creation of the traverse across South Georgia Island most of the clients had traveled with the company before, either to the North or South poles. Annie Aggens says, “Other people found out about us through word of mouth and they registered because they wanted to travel in Shackleton’s footsteps. As one of three guides, it was my first time doing the route. The other two guides had previously guided our 2012 expedition.”
Even in 2015, the challenges were extremely daunting. Aggens says, “Our biggest challenge was wind. We had gusts that at times surpassed 80 mph. It was enough to knock us off our feet and make every task a challenge. In between the gusts we would have periods of relative calm during which we could temporarily relax and admire the incredible scenery.”
Needless to say, having the proper clothing and gear was essential not just to a successful expedition, but also key to their very survival. Aggens notes that “Our guides are among the most comfortable guides in the polar regions, thanks to our relationship with STORMTECH. Over the years they have provided our guides and several of our teams with jackets and layers that take the edge off the extreme weather. For the South Georgia traverse, they supplied all of our team members with an insulated vest that was the perfect layer to wear during our breaks and our time at camp. The Tsunami Shell was also an essential item.”
Aggens adds: “All of our supplies were stored in large STORMTECH duffle bags which we pulled in our sleds. The Atlantis Waterproof Gear Bag was ideal because they came with shoulder straps that allowed us to wear the duffle like a backpack if necessary.”