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Months after leaving their stricken ship, Shackleton's men finally made it off the ice and onto terra firma: a godforsaken, wind-whipped, deserted island. But their ordeal was far from over. One hundred years later, the Jaeger team finds a similarly desolate place...

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Some 140 days after the sinking of the Endurance and more than 16 months since they'd set foot on dry land, Shackleton and his men finally reached open water. From the edge of the pack ice they launched their three tiny lifeboats, which Shackleton had named the James Caird, the Dudley Docker and the Stancomb Wills, after the expedition's principal sponsors. Their objective was distant Elephant Island to the north: a godforsaken rock hammered by storm and sea at the mouth of the fearsome Drake Passage. But it was land: solid ground that would not crack and cave underneath them as they lay in their Jaeger sleeping bags. As safe a haven as they would find for hundreds of miles.

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The three boats were pitifully small for a voyage across such notoriously rough seas - and overmanned. But Shackleton knew they had no other option if they wanted to survive. Today we too set sail north from the Antarctic Peninsula. Our destination: Deception Island, thus named for the hidden bay in its horseshoe-like heart. Although it sounds like the title of an Enid Blyton children's book, Deception Island has played a prominent role in Antarctic history. The scene of the first powered flight to the continent, it was home to a small whaling station for many years - and later a secret British Base. It was also singled out by Shackleton's second-in-command Frank Wild, as a possible escape route 100 years ago. The "island" is actually a sunken volcano, and visitors landing on its black sand beaches are treated to geothermic

waters and frequent belches of sulphuric smoke from its innards. As penguins plop one by one into the water, taking off like tuxedoed torpedoes, we spend 45 minutes climbing up to Neptune's Window - a break in the caldera wall from which early explorers are believed to have first sighted continental Antarctica, way back in 1820. Many of the men were in a seriously bad way: most had frostbite - two of them severely - while others were fighting salt-water boils and scurvy, as well as being undernourished, dehydrated and exhausted.

Today, the island is classified as "a restless caldera with a significant volcanic risk." Frequently visited by expedition ships it is, quite literally, a hotspot for modern Antarctic tourism. But 100 years ago, as the men of the Endurance pushed off from the ice, sightseeing was the last thing on their minds. Shackleton led the way at the helm of the James Caird, the most sickly of his men wrapped in woollen Jaeger blankets to protect from the biting winds.

The seas were rough, the icebergs were unpredictable and at one stage they thought they'd lost the Dudley Docker altogether. But finally, finally - after seven terrifying days at sea - all three little boats made it to within sight of Elephant Island. To Shackleton's knowledge, nobody had landed there before, so he promised that honour to teenage stowaway Perce Blackborow, the youngest of the group. But by then, the frostbite in Blackborow's feet was so advanced that he couldn't even step out of the boat. Instead, he had to be picked up by the Boss and gently placed on the small beach. They'd made it.

The weather was appalling and the terrain unforgiving. Plus, more importantly, there was no help here, and little food. But for now, the men were happy enough just to feel rock beneath their boots, to dry out their sodden Jaeger clothes and sleep soundly. It was the first solid ground they'd experienced in 497 days.

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