Antarctica 2017: Ben Saunders Reaches South Pole, Halts Expedition

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While we were away enjoying the holiday break a lot of things happened in the world of outdoor adventure and exploration. Unfortunately, I’m off again tomorrow on a winter trip to North Carolina, which means we have a lot of ground to cover today, starting with updates from the Antarctic.

Perhaps the biggest news from the past couple of weeks is that British polar explorer Ben Saunders reached the South Pole on December 29, marking a major milestone on his attempt to ski solo across the continent. But, what was to have been just a temporary stopping point turned into the finish line for Saunders, who decided to pull the plug on his expedition at 90ºS.

When he reached the Pole, Ben issued a statement explaining why he decided to end his attempt to make a solo traverse of the Antarctic and basically it came down to simple logistics. He said that when he arrived at the South Pole he felt good, although a bit more physically and mentally drained than he had expected. But, the real challenge was that he had used up more food and supplies than he had planned for just getting to that point. That left him with a narrow margin for error on his return trip to the coast and that was a risk he simply wasn’t willing to take. So, it was with a heavy heart that he announced the end of the journey.

Remember, Saunders was following the same route as his friend Henry Worsley, who attempted a solo traverse a couple of years back. Worsley pushed himself to the absolute limit and came up a bit short on his return journey, having to be evacuated some 30 miles from the finish line. He would later die from exhaustion and a number of ailments that he picked up on his journey. Ben no doubt remembers his well and decided to make the prudent – but tough – decision to call it quits.

As I write this, Ben has already departed Antarctica and his making his way home. A flight back to Punta Arenas, Chile allowed him to exit the continent yesterday. He is no doubt now looking forward to returning to the U.K. to visit friends and family, and take a well deserved rest.

Ben isn’t the only Antarctic explorer who reached the South Pole while we were away. Antarctic Ghurka Scott Sears also arrived at 90ºS, reaching the point on the globe the day after Christmas. He completed the standard crossing from Hercules Inlet to the Pole in roughly 38 days, which is a solid pace along that tough route. He caught a flight off the frozen continent back on December 29, and expected to be back in London in time for New Years.

I’ll post updates on the other ongoing Antarctic expeditions in the next few days as there are still plenty of others who are making their way towards their final goals. The Antarctic expedition season typically runs through the end of January, so we should have some interesting news yet to come.

Kraig Becker