Mission success on 102-year-old polar quest

Ben Saunders and Tarka L'Herpiniere complete historic return trip to South Pole.
Ben Saunders and Tarka L'Herpiniere pose for a selfie at the South Pole
South Pole selfie! © www.scottexpedition.com
By Andy Pag

Captain Scott famously led the first British team to the South Pole in January 1912, but they all perished on the return journey.

In 2014, two explorers, Ben Saunders and Tarka L'Herpiniere, have finally completed what Scott set out to do. For Saunders, who's previously skied to the North Pole solo, retracing Scott's unfinished expedition had been an ambition for over 10 years. With L'Herpiniere, he set off in October last year on the gruelling 2,888m walk, following the route of Scott’s mission.

Ben Saunders and Tarka L'Herpiniere and the flags marking the South Pole
Flags mark the South Pole © www.scottexpedition.com

The pair averaged 17 miles/day for 105 days, facing wind chill temperatures as low as -46ºC, and dragging all their cooking fuel, food and supplies with them in sleds which initially weighed 200kg each.

They dumped caches of supplies for the return journey on the outbound leg. Their intention was to conduct the whole journey without external support, as Scott had. Even when they arrived at the Admundsen-Scott research station marking the geographical South Pole, they turned around and continued their journey without breaking their routine or restocking.

Ben Saunders and Tarka L'Herpiniere at the South Pole in 2014
The team all smiles at the South Pole © Xenia Brundin

Peter McDowell, who provides logistical support for polar expeditions, described the project as 50 percent harder than anything he'd seen before.

Sadly the ambition to complete the epic journey unsupported started to unravel around day 60. The pair had set the ambitious target of covering 42km daily on the return leg, and had spaced their resupply caches accordingly. The blistering pace took its toll, and they fell behind schedule forcing them to eat half rations and forgo sleep. Low on energy their progress slowed even further. A week later, with L'Herpiniere showing signs of hypothermia, and with only half a day's food to the next resupply 70km away, Saunders accepted they had to call for an air-drop.

Saunders and L'Herpiniere near the end of their Antarctic expedition in February 2014
The tired duo approaches the finish of their trip © Xenia Brundin

In a moving blog post Saunders wrote “I came here to be challenged and tested, to give my all to the hardest task I have ever set myself. Here was the crux. This was the moment that mattered, not standing by the Pole having my photograph taken, but standing next to my friend, in a howling gale, miles from anyone or anything.”

Not being able to call the expedition ‘unsupported’ would have been a major disappointment for the men who started this trip four months ago, but having pushed themselves to the physical limit, they've returned valuing their camaraderie as much as their historic achievement of finishing Scott's route. Learn more about the expedition at the website.

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