Great-Grandson of Legendary Explorer Becomes First to Drive Across the Antarctic

The great grandson of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, Patrick Bergel, has made history by becoming the first to drive a passenger car across the Antarctic.

The 30-day route, driven in a Hyundai Santa Fe, traversed the continent from Union Glacier to the South Pole then followed the Leverett Glacier and the Trans-Antarctic Mountains, past the smoking Mount Erebus volcano, to the Ross Ice Shelf and McMurdo.

The expedition was inspired by Shackleton's Trans-Antarctic journey of 1914-17 when, having been beaten to the Pole by Roald Amundsen, he tried to become the first to cross the continent. His ship sank in pack ice, but he and five men sailed 800 miles over open, stormy sea to South Georgia, where a successful rescue could be launched.

It was this spirit of endurance shown by Shackleton that inspired Hyundai Motor to visit the Antarctic and enable a member of Shackleton's family to complete what had been started over 100 years ago, the company said.

Bergel and his small team took on almost 5,800 km of icy terrain in bitter conditions, according to Hyundai. They not only had to cover extreme distances at temperatures down to -28 degrees Celsius, but also had to plot new paths on floating ice caps that have never been travelled by a wheeled vehicle before.

Bergel, who normally works as a technology entrepreneur, said: "I'm not a polar explorer. I'm an indoor guy. So, it was a big cultural shift and it was quite something to have been the first to do this. Getting to the South Pole was a special moment. The fact that this was a place my great grandfather tried to get to more than once and I was there, it felt like a genuine connection.

"What we did though was one thousandth as hard as what they did…No comparison—modern appurtenances, comparative luxury. But it was an amazing journey and an amazing achievement."

The journey was carefully plotted on GPS and locations of potential danger areas were reviewed in detailed meetings with experts at Union Glacier before departure, but Hyundai said there were still plenty of pitfalls along the way.

"When you're driving through a total white-out you start hallucinating, seeing things that aren't there," said Bergel. "Our brains often confused us into believing we were going uphill rather than down. In one area, a giant crevasse field, we had to rope up the vehicles to make sure if one fell in it could be recovered by the others. We had one scary moment there, but we managed to get through OK."

One of Antarctica's most experienced driving experts, Gisli Jónsson, from Arctic Trucks was tasked with managing the vehicle's preparation before the event and then led the expedition out in the Antarctic. "People who have a lot of experience of Antarctica know what it does to machinery. Basically, anything and everything falls apart, even the big machines crack up and break apart,” Jónsson said. “This was the first time this full traverse has ever been attempted, let alone doing it there and back. A lot of people thought we would never ever make it and when we returned they couldn't believe we'd actually done it."

Got a news tip? Contact Anthony Bowe