An Irish army officer is one of just three people selected to recreate the epic expedition undertaken by Irish adventurers Ernest Shackleton and Tom Crean on the centenary of their 1915 “Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.”
Dublin-born Lieutenant Sinéad Hunt was selected by Antarctic Heritage Trust, an organization that works to promote the legacy of Antarctic explorers, to take part in the Inspiring Explorers Expedition 2015 along with two New Zealand adventurers.
The three explorers will embark on a two-week trans-Antarctic trek in one week's time to retrace the trip taken by Shackleton and his crew 100 years ago. Tom MacTavish and James Blake from New Zealand will join Hunt, who will flie to Port Stanley in the Falklands and then travel aboard the Vavilov expedition ship to King Haakon Bay, South Georgia, a remote collection of islands in the Southern Atlantic Ocean.
The three-man crew will then trek across South Georgia to Stromness, on skis for the most part, before sailing to Ushuaia, Argentina.
The 2015 crew will hopefully have more luck along the way than their 1915 counterparts. In 1914, the Irish explorers Sir Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean and Tom McCarthy left Ireland aboard the “Endurance” to journey to the South Pole in a 1914-1916 Antarctic expedition.
Five months into the expedition, Shackleton’s crew were forced to abandon their sinking ship after running into ice in the Weddell Sea. The 28-man crew lived for months on the floating ice, eating seals and penguins.
From here the crew made their way to to the sub-Antarctic Elephant Island, and Shackleton, Tom Crean and four others traveled in an open-top lifeboat across the open seas to South Georgia to find help to rescue the crew.
They found assistance at a whaling station in what is known as one of the greatest maritime rescues of all time. After over a year stranded on the ice, all members of the crews were brought home safe and sound.
The 2015 crew are currently training in New Zealand in preparation for their start date of October 17.
Lieutenant Hunt, an army lieutenant since 2011, completed her final military duty in September before jetting off to New Zealand, stopping off in Tom Crean’s hometown of Annascaul in Co. Kerry before her own adventure began.
“My final military duty this September was in conducting a qualification shoot for Mowag Armoured Reconnaissance Vehicles in the Glen of Imaal Range, Co. Wicklow,” she wrote.
“With this behind me I traveled to Tom Crean’s home town of Annascaul in Co. Kerry. Here I enjoyed a visit to the South Pole Inn, I met with members of the Annascaul hillwalking club to share information about the upcoming expedition and I really look forward to spending more time with them on my return and exchanging more stories about Tom Crean and South Georgia.”
Hunt is no stranger to the adventurous lifestyle climbing all over Ireland. She was an active member of the University College Dublin mountaineering club while she was studying Mechanical Engineering at the college, and partakes in annual ski-trips. Nothing, however, has yet been on a par with a trans-Antarctic trip.
“I’ve always been especially interested in what [Tom] Crean has done, because of my own interest in travel and mountaineering,” she told TheJournal.ie.
“That was partly why I was chosen [to do the trip], because of that Irish connection.”
Prior to her departure, Hunt began her training by traveling through the Wicklow mountains as much as three times a week and rock climbing as much as possible. The training in New Zealand will mainly focus on developing their skiing skills before the trek begins.
“We’re hoping to do the crossing [of South Georgia] on skis, but the weather can be unpredictable in the south of the island,” Hunt said.
“We’ve been told to expect storms and blizzards.”
The trio will be required to travel across glaciated country over the course of a few days, completely self-sufficient for this time. The crossing has a success rate of just 60% even a hundred years on from Shackleton's accomplishment. If successful, the crew will finish the journey on October 31.
The three explorers were chosen via an open call for participants from the Antarctic Heritage Trust, who were looking for adventurers to undertake the exploration that had some connection or similarity with the original crew.
“The three people we have chosen identify with one or more of Britain, New Zealand or Ireland and each in their own way are connected to the story, identities or nationalities of Sir Ernest Shackleton, Frank Worsley or Tom Crean who undertook the original crossing nearly a century ago,” the Trust said.
“There are some striking similarities between the two teams’ backgrounds. Tom, like Frank Worsley, is from a small, country fishing village in the South Island of New Zealand and has an affinity for the ocean.
“James is an accomplished adventurer and explorer already – as Shackleton was when he set out on the Endurance expedition – and is Anglo/ Kiwi (Shackleton was Anglo/Irish), and Sinéad, like Tom Crean before her, is proudly Irish and serves in the military.”
The Antarctic Heritage Trust New Zealand Inspiring Explorers Expedition 2015 provides an opportunity of a life-time in October 2015 for three young people aged in their 20's to participate in a fully sponsored ski-touring trip, attempting to repeat Shackleton’s crossing of the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia from King Haakon Bay to Stromness to mark the centenary of the original crossing.