Explorers battle cold and hunger in Antarctica

© Andy Ward

Polar athletes Ben Saunders and Tarka L'Herpiniere battle to complete their 3,000km polar trek.

It is so hard no one has even attempted to repeat it in 100 years. Until now. British polar athlete Ben Saunders and Tarka L'Herpiniere are currently battling against exhaustion, cold and constant hunger as they attempt to journey to the South Pole and back again to the Antarctic coast, using man-power only.

They set off on October 25 with 110 days' worth of supplies, pulling sledges that weighed almost 200kg with the goal of doing the entire 2,900km journey unassisted. As of Monday, January 13, they'd been going for 81 days.

My stomach growled permanently. My ribs became more prominent by the day, my legs were painfully weak.

The route they have chosen is not the usual highway to the pole favoured by modern adventurers, but one steeped in history. It's the route Capt Scott took during his ill-fated 1911-12 journey that famously cost him and his companions their lives.

Ben Saunders and Tarka L'Herpiniere at the South Pole
Saunders and L'Herpiniere at the South Pole© www.scottexpedition.com

Although vastly better equipped – check out some of their gear here – Saunders and L'Herpiniere have nonetheless been beset by the same problems as Capt Scott and his men.

Not long after reaching the South Pole, they ran low on supplies and were forced to call in an air-drop.

“My stomach growled permanently,” Saunders wrote in a moving blog post. “My ribs became more prominent by the day, my legs were painfully weak and my mind and thoughts and decision-making grew foggy and dim. On our second day of half-rations, I got dangerously cold.”

In windchill temperatures as low as -45 and with just eight energy bars each, half a breakfast and half an evening meal to make 74km to their next stash of food they'd left on the onward journey, Saunders was forced to give up his cherished goal of doing the whole journey unassisted.

Ben Saunders from Scott expedition treks to South Pole
Saunders treks towards the South Pole© Andy Ward

But their problems didn't end there. Saunders suffered digestion issues with the resupplied food and, two days later, went down with his worst case of hypothermia. Only thanks to the quick thinking of L'Herpiniere, who got him in the tent, does he owe his life.

“It's not something I'm keen to repeat in a hurry,” wrote Saunders.

At the time of writing they still faced over 900km to return to their starting point. To put the physical effort into context, Saunders says they're doing more than 70 hours a week of intense physical exertion, which is twice as much as a Tour de France cyclist and over 15 weeks, not three.

The pair are expected to arrive where the trip began at Scott Hut, Cape Evans in mid-February, no doubt with even more adventures to tell.

For more information on the expedition and to follow live, check out their website here.

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