In a world in which there are few lands left to discover, few physical feats to conquer, and a general lack of willingness to dream big, British polar explorer Ben Saunders hopes to inspire us. To that end, on October 25, Saunders – along with fellow explorer Tarka L'Herpiniere – left a hut on the Antarctic coast on a journey to make history.
In retracing the ultimately doomed steps of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's fateful 1910–1912 Terra Nova expedition, Saunders and L'Herpiniere hope to become the first to successfully complete the 1,800-mile trek from the coast to the geographical South Pole and back, on foot, and completely unassisted.
Saunders is a veteran explorer, with solo skiing expeditions to the North Pole and the record for the longest solo Arctic journey by a Brit under his belt. Still, there's no question that this journey, dubbed the Scott Expedition, is his most demanding yet: It's a boundaries-pushing, body- and mind-testing gauntlet of punishments in the most extreme climate on Earth. What's more, there's a particularly morbid elephant in the tent – the last team to attempt the feat died trying.
"No one has ever walked there and back, and the distance these guys covered a century ago hasn't been surpassed; that's as high as the bar has ever been set," Saunders said, in a conversation with 'Men's Journal' prior to his departure. "Given everything we've learned in the last century, from material technology, nutrition, fitness, training, GPS, communications, solar power - all those things - how come, given all this innovation, all these advantages, this journey just simply has not been bettered?"
The two men are already on their way, but before taking off, Saunders detailed the intense and often grueling process he undertook to make this journey possible. "I think everyone has their own South Pole," he said. "My aim is that this journey, this story, might get people to think a little bit differently about their own limits, their own lives." Here's what to expect.
Don't forget your iPad.
For Saunders and L'Herpiniere, the mystique of the Scott Expedition is in hewing as close to the specifics of Scott's original Terra Nova Expedition as possible. When it comes to technology though, they've gone decidedly in the other direction. The duo is outfitted with a cleverly modified (and powerful) satellite antenna, as well two state-of-the-art, ruggedized laptops – the combination of which will link them back to the world outside of Antarctica. "We've been working with Intel, who are one of the partners, to fine-tune the technology. We're limited to Iridium, which is a satellite phone network that covers both poles, and it has really tiny bandwith. So trying to figure out how to send data back has been a real challenge," Saunders says.
The hard work was worth it though, because the team will now provide the outside world with an inside look at the progress of their mission. "We have a highly modified satellite antenna, and then we have two Ultrabooks that we'll use every evening to send back not only text – little blog posts, diary entries for each day – but also images, and hopefully video once a week, probably," Saunders says.
While the technological leap taken by the Scott Expedition team might take a little bit away from the authenticity of following in Scott's steps, the reward of being connected outweighs that small sacrifice in the mind of Saunders. "Unlike Scott, we're a pretty high-tech expedition," he admits. "But I love the fact that this time we can tell the story in real time. People can follow along, they can interact, they can ask us questions. So I'm really excited about that."