Return journey: Walking to the South Pole and back
Completing the original Terra Nova expedition was the equivalent of 69 back-to-back marathons, carrying 200kg in snow.August 30, 2015
In terms of human endeavours, trekking to the South Pole on foot has long been considered one of the most gruelling challenges that man can face.
In 1912, the iconic trek proved too much for the great British explorer Captain Robert Scott, who despite successfully leading his team to the world’s most southerly point, lost his life - as did all the members of the Terra expedition - on the return journey, just 11 miles from the finish.
Scott’s record of longest polar journey on foot, stood for more than 100 years, until last year when British adventurer Ben Saunders and his French partner Tarka L’Herpiniere successfully bested the 1,795-mile walk across the continent of Antarctica. Setting out to retrace the footsteps of Captain Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova mission, the duo battled temperatures of -46C on the monumental trek that took the pair 105 days, setting the world record for the longest polar journey on foot in history.
Pulling close to 200kg of equipment and walking an average of 17 miles daily, the entire trek was equivalent to 69 back-to-back marathons.
EDGAR caught up with Ben Saunders for a chat several months after his record-setting journey...
Why did you do it?
The underlying truth is because people have a sense of adventure. I think that's underneath it all, we are all just big kids that want to go off exploring. Life is short – 650,000 hours is the average lifespan – and I believe that is too short to do something that you are not passionate about. It took me 10 years to plan and fund the expedition. The ultimate goal was to finish the expedition that had killed both Captain Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton. It seemed bizarre to me that it had never been completed and that the high watermark for the toughest trip in the human endeavour was set in 1912 and hadn’t been broken.
How tough were the tough times?
It was extraordinarily challenging. I had spent years telling my sponsors about how tough it was going to be, without actually sitting down and properly realising just how difficult the task was. I have never worked so hard in my life, it pushed me to my absolute limits.
It was like when you run a marathon and you hit ‘the wall’, where your mind and body just doesn’t want to continue – except, we hit that wall every day, for 105 days. And when you returned?
When I got back home, I felt like a different person. In fact, it took me about nine months to get back to feeling normal again. I really underestimated the psychological impact that it would have on me. When you are trekking for that long, and in those conditions, you just have to shut off the rest of the world. I was so mentally drained, that it took me the better part of a year to feel like I was firing on all cylinders again.
Was it worth it?
Unquestionably. Completing Scott’s Terra Nova expedition has been a life-long dream, and 10 years in the making. There is genuine wilderness out there. Hundreds of thousands of miles that have not yet been discovered. When times were good, they were magical.
There were times when we would be walking through glaciers that very few people had ever laid eyes on before – let alone walked on them! It was like being in a childhood story. Details: To read more about Saunder’s expedition visit scottexpedition.com