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.
Endurance is everything.
The distance that Saunders and L'Herpiniere will ultimately cover over the course of the 110-day expedition will amount to 70 consecutive marathons – a grueling test of endurance that will push their lungs to the brink on a daily basis. In preparation, Saunders pulled out all the stops during the last year of training, trying anything and everything to get himself into the best shape of his life. "When I'm in London, it's a lot of running and cycling, and if we're farther afield, it's in the hills with a pack on or skiing," Saunders says. To keep up the regimen, he says he relied on the kindness of sadistic training partners. "I've kind of surrounded myself with people who can kick my ass in whatever it is – the guys who I run with are way stronger and faster than me." he says.
That, it turns out is a good strategy. Saunders recently ran a marathon in two hours, 55 minutes – muscles and all. "Getting to that point has been fun," he says. "I've proved quite a few wrong along the way who said it couldn't be done."