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.
The Devil is in the details.
Pulling off the Scott Expedition is an historically impressive endeavor any way you look at it. Without underplaying the physical challenges that Saunders and L'Herpiniere are enduring right now though, much of the hardest work has been basic logistics. As Saunders is quick to note, you don't just wake up one day and decide to traipse off to the South Pole – pulling all the details together literally takes years. "Figuring everything out – chartering planes, hiring pilots, getting permits, using the airstrips. It's a complex project," Saunders says. "We've had to work for more than a decade to get this off the ground."
On a personal, physical level, Saunders and L'Herpiniere have also had to dedicate themselves to accumulating the know-how and abilities to even consider such an undertaking. "This is the culmination of using a lot of expeditions as stepping stones leading up to this one," Saunders says. "This is my 11th big expedition. I've spent more than 300 nights in a tent. I'm at a point where it's a viable undertaking."