In November 2017, record-breaking polar explorer Ben Saunders set out to make the first solo, unsupported and unassisted crossing of Antarctica. This west-to-east traverse from Berkner Island to the Ross Ice Shelf via the South Pole was planned by Ben’s close friend Lt Col Henry Worsley, who nearly completed the expedition before falling ill and passing away in hospital in Chile in January 2016.
Ben left in November 2017, but on 28 December 2017 – 52 days and 1,086km into his TransAntarctic Solo expedition – Ben reached the South Pole and after facing unrelenting sastrugi and continuous zero-visibility whiteouts, halted his expedition due to having insufficient remaining food to reach the east coast of Antarctica, 576km away.
Taking on more food at the Pole would have compromised his expedition’s unsupported status, and continuing with insufficient rations would have meant an unacceptable degree of risk, particularly with air rescue being difficult or impossible during the final sections of his descent of the Leverett Glacier.
‘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 such extreme environments’.
Ben, a career-long polar specialist with a world-class support team, has covered more distance on skis – in 11 expeditions – than any British explorer in history. He holds the record for the longest solo Arctic journey by a Briton, and the outright record for the longest ever polar journey on foot, set during his 2,888-km, 108-day Scott Expedition. It was Ben’s belief that the most fitting way to honour his friend Henry was to complete his expedition, and also to build on his legacy.
Ben is one of the world’s leading polar explorers, and a record-breaking long-distance skier who has covered more than 7,500km (4,700 miles) on foot in the Polar Regions since 2001. His accomplishments include leading The Scott Expedition, the longest human-powered polar journey in history, and the first completion of the expedition that defeated Captain Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton, a 105-day round-trip from Ross Island on the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back again.