“It’s All Downhill From Here”.
Many people think that Shackleton was English, but in fact he was Irish, born in Kilkea in Co. Kildare, 55 miles away from my home town of Bray in Co. Wicklow.
Shackleton’s mother Henrietta’s family hailed from the same city as my own mother, Cork. His father Henry’s family was English, and at the age of 10, Henry Shackleton moved the family from Ireland to Sydenham in the suburbs of London partly because of his unease of their Anglo-Irish ancestry following the assassination on May 6th, 1882 by Irish nationalists of Lord Frederick Cavendish, the newly appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, in an event known famously as The Phoenix Park Murders.
Ironically, it wasn’t Lord Cavendish that The Irish National Invincibles were after that afternoon, Cavendish just happened to be in the company of the man that they WERE after, Thomas Henry Burke, the Permanent Under Secretary.
See?. My mother always told me it’s all about the company that you keep.
Ireland has had more than a few intrepid explorers in her day, the great Tom Crean was another, and, like Shackleton, an Antarctic explorer also hailing from Co. Kerry. Nicknamed “The Irish Giant” Crean was a member of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s 1911-1913 Terra Nova Expedition. After Terra Nova he joined Shackleton on his failed attempt to cross the Antarctic and was a central figure in the rescue of the Endurance’s crew after the ship became lodged and destroyed in the polar ice in 1915. After Endurance sank, Crean was a participent in a dramatic series of events including months spent drifting on ice, an open boat journey of 800 nautical miles (1500 km) from South Georgia to Elephant Island in Antarctica. This solidified his reputation as a tough and dependable polar traveler and earned him a total of three Polar medals.
A remarkable achievement in the days when men were men and life was tough.
After arriving at the gate and the last 9 km of road that leads up to the Nordkapp Visitor Center, I felt a huge wave of emotion come over me.
I started to reflect on all the events that led me up here to begin with and all of the people I met along the way that had, in their own way, contributed to me finally being able to reach what I once considered a fantasy or in my case, the folly of the solo Adventure bike rider. I took it all in, the vast emptiness, the silence, the remoteness of being up there all alone, and for a while wished I had gone up there the night before and camped out at Nordkapp. It would have been a challenge as the weather gets very inhospitable up there. A challenge for sure, but not impossible. Nothing that Tom Crean hadn’t done before in the early 1900’s when they didn’t have GPS, proper maps, or tents made of high tech lightweight materials and MSR compact camping stoves. If I thought it would have been challenging now, I can just imagine what those guys went through in discovering the Antarctic and the Poles with none of the comforts and high tech gear that are available to us and todays travelers and adventurers.