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.
Ignore the haters.
"I don't want to sound too cheesy, but I am doing something that I dreamt of doing when I was a kid. Not many people can say that," Saunders says. He recalls that from a young age, after checking out countless library books on legendary explorers like Scott, Shackleton, Swan, and Amundsen, he decided to be a Polar explorer. As one would expect, the announcement of that life plan was met with skepticism, patronizing dismissal, and the usual questions of practicality. Still, he pursued it. And now Saunders is one of the most prolific explorers of his generation – a modern-day reincarnation of his childhood heroes. Saunders says the key to becoming a Polar explorer – or anyone else with big plans – is the ability to ignore the doubters, the naysayers, and the haters. "It's often experts, and all the people that are close to you," he says. "And from either of those camps, it's hard to ignore that and stay committed to the goal. It's taken a lot of stubbornness, and a lot of kind of bloody-minded persistence and sacrifice. It's just a question of persistence, and self-belief, and determination."