Cheesemans' Ecology Safari leads an expedition to ruggedly beautiful South Georgia Island and the final leg of Sir Ernest Shackleton's dramatic 1916 journey.
by Dan Linehan
May 27, 2015—A hundred years ago, Sir Ernest Shackleton made one of the most remarkable self-rescues in history. Saratoga-based Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris has outfitted an expedition allowing adventurers to retrace the footsteps from the last leg of Shackleton’s heroic feat and to explore the magical Subantarctic island of South Georgia.
After Shackleton’s ship was crushed by ice in Antarctica in 1915, he and crew spent five months scrambling over more than 400 miles of ice floes and icebergs. Shackleton and a small contingent then made a month-long crossing of more than 800 miles of the roughest water on the planet in a 20-foot lifeboat, arrived in South Georgia as a hurricane hit, faced a wave they first thought was a mountain in the distance, landed, and trekked over a mountain range believed to be impassable at the time.
The island proved a punishing final obstacle. Rising almost 10,000 feet from sea level and cloaked in glacial snow and ice, it compelled the men who crossed it to rope themselves together, fasten screws into their boots for traction and, at one point, realizing their progress down a precipitous slope was too slow and dangerous to continue with night falling, to simply slide down it and hope they would not fly off a cliff.
When Shackleton and the others stumbled into the whaling port of Stromness, South Georgia, 36 hours after setting out, no one believed the identity of the battered men at first. “Everyone thought they were lost,” says expedition leader Ted Cheeseman, who has made the rare trek once before.
By the way, “they were lost” translates to “the entire crew froze to death in Antarctica.”
Shackleton then returned to Antarctica as soon as possible to rescue the remaining crew.
Cheesemans’ in-depth expedition to the wondrous world where Shackleton found help departs Port Stanley, Falklands, on Oct. 31, 2015, and returns to port on Nov. 14, 2015.
The coast-to-coast trek following Shackleton’s route, which covers 25-30 miles, will be led by Tashi Tenzing. He is the grandson of Tenzing Norgay, who was first to scale Mt. Everest, more than 60 years ago, with Sir Edmund Hillary.
“It’s a two-day trek, with an overnight en route, going from King Haakon Bay up the mountains and over the Trident where Shackleton sledded down,” says Cheeseman. “Although we take a slightly different route here due to climate change. Where he sledded is now rock. Most of the glaciers have retreated, and there is no snow or ice there. Then we travel down to Fortuna Bay over to Stromness.”
But the trek, which is optional, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to South Georgia.
“We’ll be looking for the right weather window for the crossing but also landing at the most wildlife-rich and stunningly gorgeous landscapes in South Georgia.”
In addition to leading expeditions around the world for 30 years, the Cheesemans have 20 years of experience in Antarctica. More remote in ways than Antarctica, being so little known is far from the only allure of South Georgia.
“Some of the most beautiful lands on the planet, to me, are up on these glaciers that sweep down into the sea,” Cheeseman says about South Georgia, one of his favorite places in world.
Photos and video just don’t do justice. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. In 2007, I visited South Georgia with the Cheesemans, though the trek across the island wasn’t an option at the time.
“How do you capture a place where over this hill there is a colony of 150,000 pairs of king penguins?” asks Cheeseman. “And then down below that, across this stretch of beach, there are 6,000 of the world largest seals—elephant seals. Up in the cliffs are nesting light-mantled sooty albatrosses. All around are skuas and giant petrels and other species feeding. Stretching up behind are glaciers that are right there now but receding at one foot to one meter a day.”
Known for its unwavering commitment to the environment and wildlife, Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris leads challenging expeditions. With elite guides and one of the best guide-to-client ratios in the industry, its expeditions rely on maximum time ashore and have the ability to make the most of unpredictable weather.
“If you really want to have the experience in depth and in richness, that’s what we love and cater to,” says Cheeseman.
Adventures and new worlds await.
Learn more about author Dan Linehan at www.dslinehan.com.
For more info on the following excursions with Cheesemans’ Ecology Safaris, see the links below.
Shackleton trek (an optional part of the South Georgia expedition)