Dave asked:

Is it more then just we climbed the mountain because it was there? What is the challenge for us mortals in the 21st century?

Lo The famous Mallory quote you're referencing was a joke. The real reasons for people doing the unfathomable are almost always impossible to explain in a trite interview format, to a person who inherently doesn't get that drive because they don't possess it themselves.

His actual reason for his completely irrational attempts at Everest is perhaps better revealed by another quote of his, "Have we vanquished an enemy? None but ourselves."

Self-mastery and discipline are lofty goals, but indeed are primarily the concern of those so fortunate and privileged as to worry about them, as opposed to those who struggle for survival without needing to pursue new challenges. It's totally fair to not want to partake of that kind of story, but it's not accurate to presume that anyone just climbs a huge mountain or journeys to a hostile, frozen wasteland because they have nothing to do.

As for what challenges are available to us in the modern age, I'd hazard that there are more than there used to be. It's true that there aren't the same large physical frontiers, and it's increasingly hard to do something that hasn't been done before, or be the most superlative at anything in a world with billions of humans. But the increased complexity of our society affords nearly infinite possibilities to those who want to be bold, to live authentically, to pursue new horizons, etc.

Whether there's any point to all that is as dubious as it's ever been, but the history of humanity's progress has never made much room for asking "why?"
Cath Scott Kelly is reading this on the ISS! As he did last time he was there! That alone has peaked my interest!
Sarah Smithers This book surprised me so much more than being just a "climb it because it was there" . His original idea was to walk across antartica, which I frankly find pretty stupid.

But when stuff hit the fan, they rolled with the punches and slogged on.

They survived 18 months in Antartica. That in itself is stupifying, I thought for sure a couple months would be a death sentence.

But the matter of fact way that the journey is described, without the whole "I Am A Conquering Hero!" mentality is just extraordinary. I did find myself rooting for him, when generally I think that death defying feats deserve death.
Cheryl struggles to catch up The challenge is for us to be able to see ourselves as capable of the resourcefulness, the teamwork, the courage, as these men proved to be. They weren't god-like immortals. And we're all capable of a lot more than we imagine ourselves to be. The human race is strong, not just too clever for its own good.

(Mind you, I had the same reluctance to read of the exploits of explorers that your question implies that you do. I generally prefer the courage that rescues children from Hitler's Germany or serves the dying in a hospice. But this is a good book. Get an edition with the full complement of photos.)
Steve Yes - this adventure was the result of a mishap , ship getting frozen and ultimately crushed by ice. It is then about how they survived in Antarctica to be rescued. There is nothing about it that man would attempt to do today. It is a book about the triumph of the human spirit and determination in the face of overwhelming odds. If you enjoy that kind of book - you will love it.
JayD That may have been Shackleton's goal--although he was in love with sailing and the Antarctic and needed income to support a family--but I had a different reason for reading the book.

In these days of whiny, narcissistic bleating about our feelings and insecurities I have been deliberately looking for books on great, heroic and intrepid individuals who had a larger vision in order to give them to the family's school-age children. Ernest Shackleton not only was a man of wider horizons, he was also a brilliant leader of men who got all 28 members of the expedition home safe and (mostly) sound.

The closest we might get to an Antarctic expedition these days might be a voyage in one of Elon Musk's spaceships, perhaps eventually to Mars. Think of the Apollo 13 team: there are (some) clear parallels with Shackleton's experience. The other unexplored frontier is the deep sea. Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a 1927 short sci-fi version of this in his 'The Maracot Deep. We're coming up for a century since that grand vision. Time to try again?
Dubi Challenge #1 that is suggested by Endurance -- consider that now, just 100 years later, people routinely go to the places Shackleton and his men endured, without ever having to deal with that kind of life-threatening scenario. That's how far we've come so quickly, and the challenge is to continue to apply the conquering mentality to progress, to make the world that much better.

Challenge #2 is to specifically apply that drive we have as a species to meet challenges to protecting places like Antarctica from our own intervention. The continent that once threatened the lives of Shackleton and his crew is now threatened by us, and we have to find a way to make sure it survives, because we cannot survive without it.
Milo Lamar I encountered a story about human archetypes that is timeless. There is a group of people in the same struggle so it's a lot more than just finding oneself, self-discipline, or anything to do with self. It's a story of team work and human perseverance in some of the most desperate conditions. So it very much applies to people today especially if they want to reinforce the idea that people really do care about each other at the deepest level - even if they're conscious that it's largely because their own survival depends on it.
Nihilistic Librarian probably making sure the Arctic and Antarctic are still around.
Judith Kerr Why would anyone want to do this???Crazy!
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