Ben Saunders reaches the South Pole

52 days and 1,086km into his Trans-Antartic solo expedition, Ben Saunders has reached the South Pole. After facing unrelenting sastrugi and continuous white outs, he has halted the expedition following fears he would run out of food.

Throughout the expedition, Ben has faced unrelenting sastrugi – hard packed wind-blown formations of snow and ice, which are usually ankle to knee height but on this expedition have reached shoulder level and higher – and has endured almost continuous white out conditions, meaning navigation is a constant challenge. Ben commented ‘the physical exertion has felt more like a North Pole expedition, the conditions have left me depleted physically and mentally. I am 52 days into the expedition, and my Scott expedition in 2013 / 2014 saw us sled hauling for 105 days on the ice. I have never seen conditions like this in Antarctica’. 

Having expected to reach the South Pole with 20 days of food remaining to see him through the final 576km of the journey, which he expected to take a minimum of 17 days, Ben only had 13 days of food left due to the ferocious conditions he has faced, which drastically hampered progress. Taking on more food at the Pole would render his unsupported record attempt a failure; continuing on with depleted rations would mean banking on near perfect conditions and unhampered skiing. There are also sections of the final glacier where air rescue is impossible due to the nature of the terrain and there is no margin for error here.

“I made a promise to Henry to get home in one piece. As much as I am determined to finish this trip for him, I need to make my decision based on safety and not let my own determination cloud my judgement. There is a very fine line between success and failure in extreme environments”.

Despite calling a halt to the expedition now, in reaching the South Pole Saunders becomes the third person in history to have completed full length solo ski expeditions to both the North and the South Poles. He is the only person in history to have done so without support (such as food resupply) or assistance (such as with the use of kiting equipment) and he is the only Briton to have ever done so.

This is Saunders’s twelfth expedition in the Polar regions. In 2014 he completed the longest ever polar journey on foot, and the first completion of the expedition which defeated Captain Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton – a 105 day round trip from the Ross Ice Shelf on the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back again. Ben has covered more than 7,000km in the polar regions since 2001 and was the 3rd person in history to ski solo to the North Pole. Ben also holds the record for the longest solo Arctic journey by a Briton. 

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