Sir Ernest Shackleton’s great-grandson has become the first person to drive across Antarctica, following a 30-day trek to finish the journey the legendary explorer started in 1914.
Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Arctic Expedition was cut short when his ship, Endurance, got stuck in pack ice, was crushed, and sunk.
While the Irish explorer and his team had planned to traverse Antarctica on foot, Patrick Bergel opted to stage his December 2016 attempt from behind the wheel of a Hyundai Santa Fe, powered by the 2.2-litre diesel engine available in European models and modified with enlarged fenders, and enlarged tires to fill them.
Those modifications were handled by Gisli Jonsson, an expert in Antarctic driving, who said the continent is not kind to vehicles.
“Even the big machines crack up and break apart,” said Jonsson. “This was the first time this full traverse has ever been attempted, let alone doing it there and back. A lot of people thought we would never ever make it and when we returned they couldn’t believe we’d actually done it!”
Armed with his great-grandfather’s diaries, Bergel faced the same kind of frigid temperatures Shackleton would have experienced, but navigational challenges involved plotting a route suitable for the Santa Fe.
That route began at the Union Glacier, went over the South Pole, and traced the Leverett Glacier and Trans-Antarctic Mountains, finally taking the trekkers past Mount Erebus volcano and to their destination, McMurdo, on the Ross Ice Shelf.
Hyundai says the journey was plotted on GPS, with potential danger areas flagged and discussed with local experts at Union Glacier before Bergel and his entourage departed.
That doesn’t mean the trip was without drama.
“When you’re driving through a total white-out, you start hallucinating, seeing things that aren’t there,” said Bergel. “Our brains often confused us into believing we were going uphill rather than down.”
“In one area, a giant crevasse field, we had to rope up the vehicles to make sure if one fell in it could be recovered by the others. We had one scary moment there—but we managed to get through okay.”
Bergel’s journey was captured in a short film, which you can watch below.