Shackleton: Death or Glory – explorer Tim Jarvis talks adventure, and having to eat one of his crew…

Discovery Channel’s new show sees six men venture across the ferocious Antarctic seas in a little wooden boat, dressed in clothes from 100 years ago

“We were retracing Ernest Shackleton’s great survival journey that he took 100 years ago,” says explorer Tim Jarvis, who stars in Discovery Channel’s new survival programme Shackleton: Death or Glory (9pm, Thursday on Discovery Channel). “It’s the greatest survival journey of all time,” exclaims Jarvis. 


This month on screen, from the comfort of our sofas, we can watch Jarvis’ mind-bogglingly ferocious 1,500km journey through the roughest ocean on earth, in which six men encounter whales in the wilds of Antarctica, battle through bitterly cold seas, across deep canyons and actually make it out four years later. 

After losing his ship Endurance, in 1916, Shackleton was stranded on a drifting pack of ice for six months with his crew. Back then he took five of his toughest men on the gruelling trip to get help. “We have retraced that journey as he did it,” says Jarvis, who not only did the route but attempted it using all the same equipment and supplies from the early 1900s – the same little wooden boat, the same measly rations of food, the same traditional navigation, clothes from the olden days and no communication equipment. Unsurprisingly, they nearly died. A few times.

The route was “very dangerous,” Jarvis reiterates, and due to climate change it’s “far more treacherous” than Shackleton’s original journey. “There’s less snow covering the crevasses, so the chances of falling in are much greater today than they were for him,” Jarvis says.

“If you spend a lot of time in the Polar Regions, it’s very very clear what’s going on and we need decisive action to do something about it.” He has a stab at the current leaders of the world; “we seem a little bit lacking in decent leadership,” and explains that good leadership on missions such as this can make the difference between success and failure. We throw one of the most difficult survival decisions at him: “Would you ever eat one of your teammates if it ever came down to it?” we ask. “They don’t wash frequently enough for my liking,” he jokes. “But if it came to it, I probably would,” says Jarvis decisively, “And you would too, wouldn’t you?”

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Although Jarvis attempted this feat marvelously underequipped, he undertook the challenge up with a team of the best explorers in the world, including the head of outdoor survival for the Royal Marines and Paul Larsen, who holds the record for being the fastest across the Atlantic. Meanwhile, Jarvis himself holds the joint record for the fastest unsupported travel to the South Pole.

All the crew share a common outlook on life, which is why they consistently put themselves in such vulnerable positions. “You to have to go out there and experience it for yourself and find out one or two things first hand,” explains Jarvis, “that’s one of the reasons I do it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s artistic creativity or medical research, whatever the field is you chose to extend yourself in, I think it’s the natural human condition to want to find out a bit more about yourself in this place that we live in and give a bit more meaning to it.”

When he wasn’t worrying about tipping over, freezing or plummeting to his death, there were moments of pure beauty; “when you have a chance to stand back and appreciate it and not be worried about surviving – is quite something,” he says. “I was on the deck and whales would quite often just surface right next to me. All of a sudden I’d see an eye – an eye would appear and have a look at you and then off they’d go… you’re not going to find that discovery surfing the net.”

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Watch Shackleton: Death or Glory at 9pm on 24th October, on the Discovery Channel