There’s one significant difference between Ernest Shackleton’s legendary 1914–1916 Antarctic survival mission and the re-creation led by renowned adventurer Tim Jarvis in early 2013: The modern voyagers added 600 pounds of camera batteries to the 23-foot lifeboat’s ballast. Otherwise, the 800-mile journey across the treacherous Southern Ocean was exactly the same: The crew wore sea-soaked leather boots and cotton gear and ate the greasy concentrate known as pemmican.
Jarvis, whose harrowing expedition is chronicled in “Chasing Shackleton,” a new, three-part documentary series that premiered January 8 on PBS, explained to ‘Men’s Journal’ that his increased ballast made little difference at sea: “It feels the same if the boat tips and it drops on your head.”
The Australian environmental scientist, who previously re-created Douglas Mawson’s 500-kilometer march across the Antarctic tundra, says following Shackleton provided him with an opportunity to “enjoy the more resourceful version” of himself. Jarvis intended the adventure to further the conversation about climate change, which is increasingly affecting polar regions.
Shackleton’s story of survival began when the expedition ship Endurance was crushed by pack ice as the British explorer and his crew of 27 made their way to the frozen continent, which they intended to cross on foot. Stuck on the ice, the crew rowed to remote Elephant Island, where Shackleton made the historic decision to take six men onward to South Georgia in a desperate final bid for life, a struggle Sir Edmund Hillary later described as the greatest survival story ever told.
“Shackleton’s odds of survival were even less than with Mawson,” says Jarvis. “The number of men he had to try to keep motivated against insurmountable odds, the ocean and mountains to cope with – it was the next order of magnitude, I’ll say, having done both. There were 12 people there because of me, all top performers in their particular field. I was worried, because of course something could happen to any one of them. It was a serious responsibility.”
A father of two, Jarvis paused to consider how he reconciles his adventures with his responsibility to his family. “I could dodge the question and say that I agreed to do this before they came along,” he says of his sons. He’s less evasive when it comes to his wife, who he says “knew to an extent what she was buying into in the first place.”
“She did make me take out some pretty comprehensive life insurance,” he adds. “Fair enough.”
More information: “Chasing Shackleton” premiered on January 8 at 10 pm EST; it continues on the following two Wednesdays.