New Chapter Added to Century-Old South Pole Exploration Story

Mar 3, 2014

A two-man team who walked to the South Pole and back is adding a new chapter to the story of Captain Robert Scott's ill-fated 1911 South Pole attempt. But just what did they accomplish?

Captain Robert Scott’s 1911 trek to the South Pole, the final mission of the Terra Nova expedition, was remarkable in any number of ways. What is remembered by most is that he and his team were beaten to the pole and then died on the return journey.

Last fall, a two-man team known as The Scott Expedition set out to write a new ending. Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere spent four months grueling months pulling sleds across Antarctic snow and ice in an effort to become the first to walk to and from the South Pole without outside support. In the end, they had to request one resupply drop, but completed the trek and returned to civilization in mid-February, safe and sound.

I caught up with expedition leader Ben Saunders shortly thereafter, and got his thoughts on what the expedition did and did not accomplish (or try to).

  1. A repeat of the Terra Nova expedition? No. The Scott Expedition followed the same track as the Terra Nova team, and captured some of the same meteorological data. But expedition leader Ben Saunders says he set out to do something new, something forward-looking. The pole was found and claimed a century ago, and there are many scientists studying Antarctica. Saunders says he went as an athlete, pushing the bounds of what human beings are capable of withstanding and accomplishing.
  2. Unsupported? Kind of. The original goal was for Ben and Tarka to carry all of their food and other supplies on sleds they pulled behind them - no one else hiking out to leave food depots, or dropping them from air. In the end, they had to call for one resupply drop (a gripping story, in itself, which you can read here).
  3. A success? Yes. Saunders acknowledges that the expedition didn't go exactly as planned, but says he has no regrets and isn't disappointed. What he and Tarka accomplished is still unprecedented, and makes polar expeditions of a century ago seem that much more remarkable.

Ben Saunders says he'll start work on a book about The Scott Expedition later this year.

You can listen to my whole conversation with Ben Saunders:

Photos from the Scott Exhibition Instagram Page