On February 7, 2014 at 1:05 a.m. British explorers Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere completed a 1,795-mile trek from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back, and achieved the world record for the longest polar journey on foot in history.
The two were retracing what’s become known as the Terra Nova route, after the deadly expedition of 1912 when Captain Robert Falcon Scott and the four men under his command successfully reached the South Pole, but perished on the way back. Saunders and L’Herpiniere named their quest the Scott Expedition, as a reminder of the enormous risk they were taking, and in remembrance of the men who went before them.
“At times we found ourselves in dire straits in the intense cold, wind and altitude of the high plateau, weakened by half-rations and closer to the brink of survival than I had ever anticipated this journey taking us,” Ben Saunders told Men’s Journal. “Both Tarka and I feel a combination of awe and profound respect for the endurance, tenacity and fortitude of Captain Scott and his team, a century ago.”
Saunders and L’Herpiniere spent 105 days crossing the Antarctic tundra, each hauling a 400-pound sled of food and supplies. They covered an average of 17 miles per day in wind chill factors as low as -50 F. The pair survived on freeze-dried meals and energy foods, consuming 6,000 calories per day to combat the harsh conditions and massive physical exertion. “In the end, I lost about 45 pounds,” says Saunders. “I think Tarka lost 55.”
The most difficult part of the expedition for both Saunders and L’Herpiniere was crossing the Beardmore Glacier. One of the largest in Antarctica, the glacier is riddled with crevasses several stories deep. “On the way up, Beardmore was relatively kind to us,” says Saunders, “But by the time we made our way down a month or so later, the surface had changed, the weather had turned ferocious, and we found ourselves battling a fierce wind that propelled us and our sleds along the icy surface allowing little control in negotiating the crevasses. Both Tarka and I had unnervingly close encounters.”
The two returned to civilization on February 13, when they flew from an isolated Antarctic base camp to Chile. “The first thing we wanted to do was eat and sleep, in no particular order,” says Saunders.
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