by Kraig Becker
As the fall climbing season in the Himalaya slowly grinds to a halt, the attention of the outdoor adventure community turns southward. November always marks the start of the Antarctic expedition season when teams of explorers and solo adventurers head to the frozen continent where they’ll spend weeks – and in some cases months – out on the ice. Most go for two reasons, to ski to the South Pole or climb Mt. Vinson, the tallest mountain in Antarctica. This year, one team has gotten a jump on the traditional start of the season as their journey will be longer and more difficult than most.
Early last week, Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere caught the first flight to Antarctica out of Punta Arenas, Chile, the traditional gateway for reaching the remote continent. The two men have undertaken quite the challenge this season and they were eager to get their journey underway. They hope to make an unsupported journey to the South Pole and back along the same route that legendary explorer Robert Falcon Scott took on his fateful expedition back in 1911. In order to accomplish that goal they’ll spend upwards of two months traveling more than 1800 miles on skis, all the while pulling heavy sleds filled with all of their gear and supplies behind them.
The route begins at the famous Scott Terra Nova Hut on the Ross Ice Shelf. That same hut was used by Scott himself when he began his attempt to reach the South Pole. At that time the British captain was in a race with rival Roald Amundsen of Norway to see who would be the first to reach the Pole and plant his country’s flag there. Both ended up getting to 90°S but Amudnsen was a few weeks faster. As a result, when Scott and his men arrived they found the Norwegian flag already in place. It was a crushing blow to the team’s morale and the five men turned back for the coast completely dejected. All of them perished on the return trip, with Scott himself the last to go. His journal indicates that he was stranded in his tent thanks to a week-long blizzard that raged outside. He died there of exposure and starvation, just 11 miles away from a depot of food and supplies that would have saved his life.
Because Scott and his entire team perished on their return trip, no one has successfully completed the intended route to and from the South Pole. Ben and Traka hope to change that. After spending two days getting their gear organized and ready for the journey, they traveled to the Scott Hut at the end of last week. Once there, they began the journey at last.
Throughout the expedition the boys will post regular updates on their progress to their official blog. You can follow along with the adventure as they go and learn about the challenges of Antarctic travel. In a few weeks time, they’ll be joined by other teams as well, each with their own plans and goals.