Last week, I had the pleasure of attending an evening hosted by Bremont in honour of their ambassador, polar explorer Ben Saunders. One of our greatest adventurers, Ben is one of only three who has skied solo to the North Pole and also holds the British record for the longest solo Arctic journey. He is now taking on the longest unsupported polar journey in history. As you do. Leaving in October, Ben’s challenge leads his two-man team on an 1,800 mile round trip on foot to the South Pole. This is a massive challenge. To put things into perspective, it’s equivalent to 69 back-to-back marathons.
Re-tracing Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s original 1911-12 route, this epic journey is aptly named The Scott Expedition. Ben and his team-mate, Tarka L’Herpiniere, have a 16 hour flight from Chile to Ross Island (stopping at previously set-up gas stations on the polar ice to keep their unsupported tag). They will walk from Scott’s Hut on the north shore of Cape Evans, traverse the Ross Ice Shelf before climbing nearly 8,000ft on one of the world’s largest glaciers. Crossing the Antarctic Plateau and onwards to the South Pole they’ll then turn round for the final 900 miles to where they began – passing the wooden hut where Captain Oates left stating he “may be some time”.
Even when they arrive at the South Pole (now with basketball court, cinema and fine dining), they will have to keep their heads down and turn back from where they came. This ‘unsupported’ tag is taken seriously and Ben and Tarka cannot be seen to receive any support along the way. Even a friendly cup of tea offered by those South Pole scientists will be turned down.
Scott and his team were intrepid explorers of their day and had felt prepared for the endeavours ahead. Setting off on foot with huge sledges, they didn’t know a Norwegian team had set out at the same time with the addition of dogs to pull them. Scott’s group arrived at the South Pole to find the crushing blow of a Norwegian flag blowing in the wind. Turning for home, they faced terrible weather conditions, frostbite and ill health. Help was called but never came (their support team had decided scientific research on the boat was a better idea) and Scott and his men perished.
Ben’s team only secured final funding in the last week so the years of training and planning are now in motion, ready for action in 4 weeks. The extent of which they need to plan and think ahead is unfathomable (they have taken off every zip from their kit and replaced with wire in order to save on the weight they carry). The food supplies and skis are now arriving at Head Office and excitement is in the air.
This is an unbelievable journey even for experienced polar athletes like Ben and Tarka. The physical toils of the four months ahead is not the only thing to take into consideration. Facing four months on the polar ice with just your team-mate for company battling temperatures of -50C puts friendship into perspective. This is a lifelong dream for Ben and was humbling to watch his excitement of the months ahead.