Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere are reaching the end of their 105-day, 1800-mile solo (nearly) unsupported journey to the South Pole and back again. Towing sledges across unchanging icy terrain for 100 days doesn’t exactly make for compelling reading, but it’s been a highlight of each morning during the past three months to read what the boys have been up to. I hope offering my congratulations on a job well done isn’t premature.
70 days ago, Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere set out from the edge of Antarctica, bound south. Their goal was to ski, alone and unsupported, to the South Pole and back along the route Captain Robert Falcon Scott travelled in 1912. I’ve been following their blog every day since then, and they were making the whole thing — skiing 19 miles/day in -30° white-outs hauling 300 lbs. and blogging about it the whole way — seem easy somehow. They reached the Pole the day after Christmas were hauling ass (and sled) back toward the coast.
But their seemingly steady progress hid a potentially life-threatening truth: they needed to be skiing more miles a day in order to travel quickly enough to not exhaust their food supply. They’d been missing their mileage goals and in an attempt to catch up, weren’t sleeping and eating as much as they should have been. Things could have gone very wrong at this point, but luckily Ben and Tarka came out ok.
Our depot was still 74km away and we had barely more than half a day’s food to reach it; eight energy bars each, half a breakfast and half an evening meal. 16km into the following day Tarka started to slow again as he led, before stopping entirely and waving me forward to talk. “I feel really weak in the legs again”, he said. “OK. What do you want to do?” I answered snappily, before realising this was on me. I came here to be challenged and tested, to give my all to the hardest task I have ever set myself and to the biggest dream I have ever had. And here was the crux. This was the moment that mattered, not standing by the Pole having my photograph taken, but standing next to my friend, in a howling gale, miles away from anyone or anything. “Let’s put the tent up”, I said, “I’ve got an idea”.
Adventure is never about battling the environment or elements or whatever. It’s always a struggle with the self. And as this battle reached a fevered pitch, Ben and Tarka were not found wanting. Calling for resupply, and thereby giving up on one of the major goals of this expedition 10 years in the making, was probably the hardest thing Ben has ever had to do in his entire life. But he did it, for his family, his loved ones, and his teammate. Ben, Tarka, I’m proud of you. Thank you for letting us follow along on your journey, for showing us what is humanly possible, and for the reminder that pushing the boundaries is never about how far you can tow a sled but about what you do when confronted with the no-win scenario: beating yourself.
Right now, two men on skis pulling 440 lb sleds are inching their way across the Antartic continent, bound for the South Pole and then back again. Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere are attempting to complete, solo and unsupported, the same journey that claimed the lives of Robert Falcon Scott and his party in 1912. They’re calling it The Scott Expedition.
Saunders has been working towards this goal for more than 10 years with many false starts. His former partner in exploration, Tony Haile, explains the journey before the journey:
In short, a South Pole expedition is pretty much the worst way to spend four months you could possibly imagine, but if you were to ask Ben I don’t think he would say that’s the tough part. The tough part is getting to the start line in the first place. Antarctica is far away from everywhere and doing anything in Antarctica is ridiculously expensive. Imagine if you kept a car in New York but the only way to fuel that car was to charter a private jet and fly fuel in from England. That’s the logistics of an Antarctic expedition and between us we had no cash and no clue how to get any.
We didn’t go to the South Pole in 2003. Or 2004. Or 2005. Living month to month on whatever I could scrounge together, putting together small expeditions or managing other people’s just so I wouldn’t lose my connection to the cold places, I grew to fear and then hate my parent’s yearly Christmas letter to their friends which would explain ‘Anthony has decided to postpone his South Pole expedition for another year to raise more funds’. For Ben and I, we had proclaimed a grand goal. We had told people year after year this was the year we were finally going to go south. And every year we had to look at the nervous smiles as we publicly failed. Again and again.
The journey is just underway…the plan is to travel 1800 miles to and from the South Pole and you can track their progress online and read tweets and blog posts from Ben and Tarka along the way. Back in 2005, when Ben and Tony were planning this trip the first time around, they sold miles of the expedition for donations of $100 apiece. They didn’t make it that year obviously and in the days before Kickstarter, crowdsourcing $180,000 was a bit more difficult than it is now. But I bought a mile back then (I actually got mile #900, the point at which they’ll reach the pole) and I am beyond excited that they’ve set off and can’t wait to see how the trip progresses. Good luck, Ben and Tarka!
Polar explorer Ben Saunders is off again on another expedition. This time, he’s trying to break the North Pole speed record, but he’s doing it solo and unsupported.
In 2005 a guided team using dog sleds and several air-drops of food reached the Pole in 36 days, 22 hours, and in 2010 a Canadian team reached the Pole on foot in 41 days, 18 hours with one resupply flight. Ben is travelling alone and on foot, and will have no support en route.
Ben’s had rotten luck on his last two attempts (broken equipment and spoiled food); here’s hoping this time goes a lot better.
And so adventurer Ben Saunders is off again on one of his little jaunts. This time, he’s headed to the North Pole in 30 days, skiing alone and unsupported, attempting to shave six days off the 2005 record set by an entire team that used dog sleds and resupplying. Dangerous? Yep: his equipment page has a “bear safety” section. Watch his journal (and perhaps his Twitter) for updates…he’ll be posting entries and photos via satellite phone as soon as he gets underway.
My pal Ben Saunders is headed North, in an attempt to set a new world record for the fastest trip to the North Pole.
The current record was set in 2005 by a guided team using dog sleds and numerous re-supplies in a time of 36 days 22 hours. Ben’s expedition will be solo and unsupported and on foot. This route has only ever been completed once solo and unsupported, by Pen Hadow in 2003. Ben aims to halve his time and complete it in 30 days. More than geographic exploration, Ben is exploring the limits of his own human potential.
Unsupported means that Ben will carry everything he needs to make the trip with him from the beginning. Check out the gear he’s bringing with him, including the tech he’ll use to update his journal along the way. Good luck, Ben!
Ben Saunders points up towards the two craziest people in the world, Francois Bon and Antoine Montant, and their speedflying videos, in which videos they half-ski half-parachute down a rocky mountain. “Undoubtedly the most hardcore thing I’ve seen for a long time.”
Ben and Tony are postponing South, their unsupported trek to the South Pole and back again, for a year. I own mile 900 of their journey, so I’m looking forward to it, whenever they go.
Ben Saunders is a little bit crazy. He does stuff like ski solo from Russia to Canada via the North Pole just for the heck of it. When I was last in London, I called him up to make dinner plans and he apologized if he seemed a “little” tired because he’d been out for a “bit” of a run this morning. That short run turned out to be 20 miles. (At dinner that evening, Ben and his training partner, Tony, ate everything on the table short of the cutlery.)
Ben’s latest endeavor is his upcoming expedition across Antarctica to the South Pole, dubbed SOUTH:
Here’s the plan. The first return journey to the South Pole on foot and the longest unsupported polar journey in history. In October next year, Tony Haile and I will set out from Scott’s hut, on the shores of McMurdo Sound on a 1,800-mile, four-month round trip, from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back. No dogs, no vehicles, no kites, no resupplies. We’re calling it SOUTH.
The great Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen made the only return journey, using dogs, 93 years ago. His rival Captain Scott died on his return from the Pole just 11 miles from the relative safety of his largest depot. Since then every expedition has either been flown out from the Pole or used dogs, kites or vehicles. Many people have blamed Scott’s failure on his reliance on human power, and many experts still believe an entirely human-powered journey of this magnitude to be impossible. We think otherwise.
Expeditions of this sort are generally funded by large corporations who give money in exchange for advertising and sponsorship opportunities. On his last expedition to the North Pole, Ben blogged (and photoblogged) daily using a PDA & satellite phone and was cheered along by the thousands who read and commented on the journey. So for SOUTH, Ben and Tony are doing something a little different…they are seeking financial support from private individuals (and companies/groups/etc.). For a donation of $100, you can “own a mile” of the expedition, which means you get a listing on the site, a listing on the front page when your mile of the expedition is completed, your name enscribed on one of the expedition sleds, and your name on a flag planted at the South Pole. Ben and Tony are great guys and I would love to see them succeed, so give them a hand if you can.