The Spirit of Mawson - Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013 - 2014

Australasian Antarctic Expedition

History of Antarctic Exploration in 30 Objects

This is one of two modern Antarctic sledges used by the British explorer Tim Jarvis and his fellow adventurer Australian Peter Treseder, on their bid to cross the Antarctic continent unsupported, in 1999.  This German-built sledge has a lightweight kevlar construction, specially designed to be able to cope with the Antarctic conditions.  Durable and able to withstand low temperatures, the sledge was tested to ensure that it would survive impacts especially against the heavily ridged ice on the Antarctic plateau.  Each man was attached by harness to one of the sledges, loaded with 225 kilogrammes of supplies, which they then hauled over 1580 kilometres without assistance.

Inspired by tales of the early Antarctic explorers and keen to set themselves an ambitious challenge, Jarvis and Treseder conceived of a plan to fulfil Ernest Shackleton’s dream of crossing Antarctica overland.  Determined to rely on their own resources, they planned to complete the trek without any assistance on the ice.  Unlike other expeditions that relied on motorised transport or air-dropped food caches along the route, the men were to man-haul all that they needed for the total distance. The pair decided to start their expedition on the edge of the permanent ice at Berkner Island on the Weddell Sea coast and planned to cross Antarctica, via the South Geographic Pole, to McMurdo Base on the Ross Sea, where they would meet their ship home.  Successfully securing funding from a number of private sponsors they made their preparations, learning all that they could about diet and survival in such an extreme environment whilst training for the physical ordeal ahead.

By October 1999 the two men were at the Patriot Hills in Western Antarctica, having flown south via Punta Arenas in Chile. Getting to their starting point on Berkner Island nearly 500 kilometres away proved to be a struggle against the elements with their departure delayed by fierce winds and poor visibility.   Eventually by late October their small small twin otter propeller plane managed to land at their starting point and the two men found themselves totally alone for the first time, with 2735 kilometres to walk.  Setting off, both men struggled with the weight of their sledges, packed with tents, medicines, food and fuel, the runners sticking in the dry freezing conditions.  Unused to the physical exertion, they struggled to cover twenty kilometres a day, walking for nine hours at a time.

After sixteen days the two men had trekked across Berkner Island and were on the Ronne Ice Shelf, having negotiated the heavily crevassed hinge zone (where the stable ice on the island meets the floating ice shelf).  At times, caught in storms, the pair set up camp, cooking inside and keeping the base unzipped so they could reach snow without having to go outside. The following month was a test of their endurance as they struggled against injury, frostbite and exhaustion.  Finally, after negotiating the sastrugi-strewn Antarctic Plateau, Jarvis and Treseder reached the Pole on 15 December 1999.  They had completed the first part of their journey in only 47 days, setting a world record for the fastest unsupported journey to the South Geographic Pole.  Pausing only briefly at the Amundsen-Scott base, the men pushed on.

Just 150 kilometres beyond the Pole, disaster struck.  Treseder discovered that a five-litre fuel container had been gashed during their journey and had leaked white spirit all over their food.  The men were left with only twenty-one days’ food with nearly 1,100 kilometres still to cover.  Deeply disappointed, they reluctantly turned back to the safety of the Amundsen-Scott base to wait to be airlifted out.  Although they had fallen short of achieving Shackleton’s dream of traversing the frozen continent, the two men had achieved an incredible feat of endurance, completing the longest unsupported Antarctica journey in history.

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Currently on display at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.