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Australian to Retrace Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic Journey

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Ernest Shackleton ought to have died on the Antarctic ice.  Instead, he is a hero, the leader who saved his men on one of the most horrific voyages of exploration of the 20th century.

In 1914, Shackleton set out from England to cross Antarctica on foot.  The Norwegian Roald Amundsen had already been first to the South Pole, so Shackleton and his crew of 27 men planned to outdo him.  But their ship, HMS Endurance, became trapped and was crushed in the polar ice.

After 10 months stranded in the cold, with supplies running low and no hope of rescue, Shackleton decided to row to the nearest inhabited island with five of his strongest men -- 800 miles across the Southern Ocean in an open lifeboat.  Somehow, they made it, and sent help for the others.  It took two years in all to get back home to England, but incredibly, nobody died.

Now, a century later, an Australian adventurer named Tim Jarvis is setting out to re-create Shackleton's struggle.  He and his team will skip the shipwreck part, and they won't leave anyone stranded off the Antarctic coast, but they will row from there to South Georgia Island, a windswept piece of land off the tip of South America.

"I'd be worried if I weren't scared," said Jarvis in an interview with ABC News.  

An environmental consultant when he's not off on an expedition, Jarvis has already made expeditions to both poles.  He and his comrades plan to trace Shackleton's voyage in a 22-foot wooden boat almost identical to the one the crew of the Endurance used.

Jarvis, 46, says they will wear the same seal skin parkas the British had back then, and live off the same diet of biscuits and pemmican (which was mostly made of lard).  A modern sailing ship, the Pelican, will be there if they need rescue, but mostly it will keep its distance.

"No one wants to do this any differently than Shackleton," said Jarvis.  "For people like me who do this sort of stuff, it's absolutely crucial to do it the way he did it.  Otherwise there's no point."

The reward?  Jarvis says there is not a lot of money to be made from putting yourself at risk near the bottom of the world.  They will shoot a documentary along the way and sell cabins on the Pelican, and Jarvis says he hopes the expedition will give him an opportunity to speak for action against climate change, which scientists say is mostly showing itself so far in the world's polar regions.  But mostly, if they succeed, Jarvis says they'll come away with the satisfaction of having lived intensely.

The plan is for Jarvis and his comrades to set out in the Pelican from Punta Arenas, Chile, at the southern tip of South America, in January -- early summer in the Southern Hemisphere.  They will sail to Elephant Island, the spit of land off the Antarctic coast where most of Shackleton's crew were stranded, and then launch their lifeboat.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio