SOUTH, the magnificent title of Ben’s brainchild expedition, and the culmination of years of his hard work and learning, is a bold project.
It aims to be the first unsupported return journey to the South Pole. We walk to the Pole, turn round, walk back again, come home. The journey will be 1800 miles, or 69 back-to-back marathons and will take four months to complete.
What counts as ‘unsupported’ is a contrived argument, but it is an important one in the polar world. Basically, an expedition is defined as being supported if it uses dogs, professional guides, air resupply or kites. We, of course, will be greatly supported in our expedition, by our sponsors, by our friends and family, and especially by Andy, the expedition manager. But, in terms of the rules of the game, we will not be supported on the ice. Only ten people have ever made a return journey on land to the South Pole (list here). Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Evans would have be the first men to manhaul to the South Pole and back, but sadly they did not return. (Captain Oates died on his 32nd birthday, the same birthday that I shall celebrate on that continent.)
Fewer than 20 people have made an unsupported one way journey to the pole from Berkner Island
, the place Ben and I will begin. If we make it even only to there it will still mean that Ben is only the 12th person ever to have made it to both Poles unsupported which would be amazing. Hopefully that point will only be halfway for us and we shall turn round and head for home picking up our welcome caches of food along the way.
Can we achieve what those astonishingly tough men of the Terra Nova expedition did not? We are not so stupid or deluded to think for a moment that we are better, or stronger, or harder than them. No way. But the advantage we do have is almost a century of learning on our side. Equipment, nutrition, communication, preparation, navigation: everything has progressed so much since 1912. I have spent three months riding, ill-equipped, through the cold of Siberia, and the prospect of a four month slog seems short and sweet in my experience. Mentally I am positive. Ben has the experience of six tough Arctic expeditions under his belt and I trust his judgement. We will arrive in Antarctica as well prepared as is possible. The rest is up to us.