Two Antarctic explorers have completed a historic journey across the frozen continent, spending more than three months battling the elements while following in the footsteps of a polar legend. Last week, Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere, collectively the Scott Expedition, reached the finish line of their 1800-mile trek, and in the process managed to accomplish something that no one else had ever managed to do – complete the route pioneered by Robert Falcon Scotty over a century ago.
Ben and Tarka began their journey along the Antarctic coast back in November. Setting out from Scott’s original wooden hut, located on the Ross Ice Shelf, they followed the same route as the British explorer all the way to the South Pole. For most adventurers, that would be enough of a challenge, and a significant accomplishment in and of itself. But just like Scott on his fateful expedition back in 1911 and 1912, the Pole was just the halfway point. They also had to turn around and ski back to their starting point.
The story of Robert Falcon Scott is a well known and tragic one. Back in 1911, he and his team were locked in a race with Norwegian Roald Amundsen to be the first to reach the South Pole. Amundsen would ultimately win that battle, arriving at 90°S a few weeks ahead of his rival. When Scott and his men reached that point in January of 1912, they found the Norwegian flag already planted in place. Dejected by this defeat, Scott spent just a few days at the Pole before starting the long journey back to his starting point. He and his men never made it however, with Scott and two others perishing in a tent when they ran out of food and fuel during a nine-day blizzard. They were 11 miles from a supply depot that would have saved their lives.
Ben and Tarka didn’t face a blizzard of that ferocity, but they still had incredible challenges to overcome along the way. Skiing the entire distance while pulling heavy sleds filled with gear behind them, they attempted to remain fully self-sufficient while out on the ice. High winds, extreme cold and whiteout conditions all conspired against them however, and on their return trip from the Pole they were forced to call in a supply drop. At that point, they were physically and mentally exhausted, low on food, and nearly at the end of their rope. The resupply may have saved their lives however, and allowed them to finish their journey.
The expedition came to an end last Friday with their arrival back at the coast after a total of 105 days out on the ice. The two men were relieved to be done at long last. But, their return home was delayed for until yesterday, as bad weather prevented them from catching a flight back to Chile, and eventually home to the U.K. When they arrive there, they’ll no doubt be welcomed as heroes, having finally completed Scott’s expedition.