Blog 4: Adventure sports in Antarctica
On the 100th anniversary of Shackleton's famous Endurance expedition, British writer Jonathan Thompson and photographer Mark Chilvers head down to Antarctica to discover the Great White Continent for themselves
Antarctica is the coldest, harshest, most remote continent on the planet. And that makes it perfect for a number of extreme and adventure sports.
On our Quark Expeditions trip to the White Continent, there are plenty of adrenaline hits on offer, from mountaineering and skiing to canoeing and Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP).
Canoeing through the ice while sharing the water with playful Minke whales. Photo by Mark Chilvers
The proper precautions need to be taken of course - after all this is the place where the coldest ever temperature on Earth was recorded (-89C at a Russian Base in 1983). So for our first excursion, We layer up in parkas, thermals and fleece-lined mid-layers before pulling on crampons and grabbing ice axes. Today, in the spirit of Shackleton, we're going climbing on the Seventh Continent - and our guide is experienced British mountaineering instructor Jean Cane.
Our team gather on the rocks after being dropped off by Zodiac boats at the start of our climb. Photo by Mark Chilvers
Fittingly, our location is the spectacular Wilhelmina Bay - the place Shackleton initially planned to strike out for in 1915 after his expedition ship, The Endurance, was ripped apart by murderous sea ice.
Jean shows us how to rope ourselves together and swing an ice axe like a professional, before we set off under ominously inky Antarctic skies.
Jean Cane our climbing guide and instructor. Photo by Mark Chilvers
The entire morning is an experience that catapaults our already healthy respect for Shackleton and his team into the stratosphere. The clouds open, the winds howl, icy bullets fire relentlessly at our heads - and we manage to ascend just 200 metres in two hours.
Jonathan Thompson leads the group on a climb. Photo by Mark Chilvers
We achieve the little peak we're aiming for, but our efforts are a pittance compared to those of Shackleton and his men. To put it into context, we're wearing all of the latest 21st Century kit - from our goggles, gloves and helmets to our thermals, fleeces and parkas. Shackleton's team had the best kit available to them at the time - heavy woolen jumpers and basic waterproofs - but technical fabrics have advanced almost unrecognisably in the last century. And still our efforts were pitiful next to theirs.
Despite the appalling conditions out on the ice during that famous expedition a century ago, the men of the Endurance still found time for sport themselves. Racing the dog teams across the ice was a popular pastime, while a football match was even organised - the first ever played on Antarctica - in a bid to raise morale in the early days before the ship was lost for good.
Ernest Shackleton's men managed a game of football after their ship the Endurance became trapped in the ice. Photo by Frank Hurley/Royal Geographical Society
During our 11-day visit to the Seventh Continent, we try our hands at all of the sports on offer: kayaking with humpback whales, cross country skiing across raw, sprawling snowscapes, even joining the first ever Stand Up Paddleboarding lesson in Antarctica as penguins shoot through the water around us is a mesmerising experience.
The first ever Stand Up Paddleboarding lesson drifts off toward the horizon. Photo by Mark Chilvers
A century after Shackleton's famous battle for survival, Antarctica remains the coldest, most extreme and unforgiving continent on the planet. But that's what makes it the most exhilarating too.