Britain has some form with producing polar explorers – and of that impressive lineage, Ben Saunders is the current flag-bearer. The youngest man in history to reach the North Pole alone and on foot – he did it at 27 – he also led the first ever return journey to the South Pole via the route that Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott took in their attempts. As well as sheer grit, he owes much of his success to a brutal work ethic, using deadlifts, tyre flips and sled drags as well as more traditional training to build strength alongside endurance.
What’s the adventure you’re most proud of?
The Scott Expedition. Between October 2013 and February 2014 my team-mate Tarka L’Herpiniere and I made a 2,888km round-trip to the South Pole on foot. It was a 105-day journey, the longest ever polar journey on foot, and the first time that this journey – the same route that defeated Ernest Shackleton and killed Captain Scott and his team – has been completed.
And what was the toughest physical challenge you’ve faced?
See above! We were dragging 200kg each at the start of the expedition, and we covered 69 back-to-back marathons in the coldest, windiest, driest, highest-altitude continent on Earth.
What was the most dangerous situation you’ve found yourself in – and how did you get out of it?
We were attacked by a polar bear on my first major expedition, back in 2001. My companion on that trip, Pen Hadow, was carrying a Russian shotgun, which jammed five times before he was able to fire shots into the air to scare it away.
What would you say is the biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself during your adventures?
That I have an extraordinary capacity for endurance. I’m definitely not superhuman, however, and I have internal battles with laziness, self-doubt and procrastination like anyone else.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about the world?
The sheer scale of Antarctica was the thing that surprised me most. I’d been churning out this glib line about it in years of drumming up sponsorship – that it was nearly twice the size of Australia, or the same as China and India put together – but it was only after it took us three days to fly across it in October 2013, in order to reach the start point of our expedition, that it really sank in.
What’s your advice to an average guy who wants to inject some adventure into their lives?
Don’t overthink it! The hardest part of any adventure, or indeed of most training sessions, is getting out of the front door.
For more on Saunders, visit bensaunders.com