the Journey

  • Distance to go: 0 Mi

    Ben and Tarka will cover 1800 miles starting from Scott's Terra Nova Hut at the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole and back to the coast again. That's equivalent to 69 back-to-back marathons hauling up to 200kg each (the weight of roughly two adult men) of kit and supplies necessary to survive.

    Distances here are shown in statute miles.

Ascent (Day 46)

Day 46: S85° 11' 36", E161° 35' 16.8"

Duration: 8 Hr 30 Min

Daily distance: 17.4 Mi

Distance to go: 1239.6 Mi

Temperature: -15 °C

Wind chill: -30 °C

Altitude: 7539 Ft

You'll have to excuse a rather brief update today I'm afraid as it's nearly 10pm here in the tent, we're both exhausted, we've only just eaten our dinner and the alarm is set for 6am again tomorrow. Today turned out to be way tougher than we expected. We're off the Beardmore now, but the final ascent (we're now camped at 7,539ft above sea level) was via a series of snow-covered slopes, often steeply ramped, and a succession of false summits.

We clocked 17.4 miles (28km) which we're happy enough with, but the distance was hard-won today, we worked extremely hard and we're both feeling pretty tired.

The reason we're running late this evening is that we're leaving a big depot tomorrow morning before we head off, so we've been sorting through gear to leave here (our crampons, rope and all of our crevasse rescue gear) as well as calculating how much food and fuel to leave here, and how much to take with us. For the expedition/camping enthusiasts, you might be interested to learn that we've used far less fuel than I'd expected. Our allowance is 500ml per day (250ml per person) but we've averaged about 350ml per day so far.

I think some of this efficiency must be down to the cooking pot we're using (a Primus ETA with a modified MSR heat exchanger around it) though I'm also aware we'll use more at this altitude, and in the lower temperatures we're expecting on the plateau, so we're still taking 500ml per day to get from here to the Pole and back, as well as an emergency 2.5 litres in reserve.

Apologies for the lack of deep thought or half-remembered bits of poetry. I think all the blood went to my legs today.

Also, a huge happy birthday to my expedition manager and stalwart right-hand-man through thick and thin, Andy Ward. 


# Richard Pierce, December 10th 2013

Off the Beardmore at last. Hopefully he will be as benevolent to you on the return trip.

It will be very interesting indeed to read your plateau updates, and to see how the seemingly endless whiteness affects you - perhaps all the space will allow your mind to roam even more freely.

I raised my eyebrows slightly at your decision to leave behind your crevasse rescue gear - there will be crevasses on the plateau, too, won’t there? Though I’m sure you’ve thought this through more than I have in my freezing office back here in Blighty.

Good luck and God Speed on this lext leg of your trip.


# Kristoffer, December 10th 2013

You’re not the only one who is surprised that they’re leaving behind their crevasse rescue gear.  Kevin Wilson is too, and based on your surprise, I’m a little concerned about this decision.

# Scott Expedition, December 10th 2013

Richard - Ben and Tarka have spoken to both previous expeditions with first hand knowledge and also scientists that have spent years in the region to seek advice on crevasses on the plateau. Their plan to depot some of their crevasse gear was carefully planned and it will not affect their safety travelling on the plateau. They still have all the equipment they require to cross or extract themselves from any crevasses that they may encounter in the next section of the expedition.

# dj, December 10th 2013

To add dimension to the decisions being made one should take a look at the up-to-date high-definition satellite MODIS image of the area. Today (10th, day after current blog post) their track shows that they spent almost an hour jogging northwest before turning south again. Click on the MODIS image and you can see that they scrambled up a fairly steep incline to the top of a ridge in order to avoid some fairly deep, dark “shadows” in the topography. [Map available for free download at: ]

The trip across the plateau looks, from satellite images, like a completely different trip than they had across the Ross Ice Shelf.  In fact, as I’ve looked at this for over a week, I’ve been wondering about how they were going to pick and choose their convoluted path across the area - or if they would just “plow” their way across the topography. If I were there I’d definitely have someone watching the satellite and helping me navigate on a real-time basis!

# Richard Pierce, December 11th 2013


That’s a relief. I remember Hillary and Fuchs half-losing a tractor/weasel down a crevasse on the plateau on the 57/58 expedition.


# George Chapman, December 10th 2013

We’re all here with you, thinking of you every day. The beautiful photos have been great. Those last few miles up will be nicer not having to carry so many supplies with you. I imagine though it will a lot of straight up traveling but then think about how the downhill trip will be much easier. I’m still hoping you can make it to the Pole by Dec. 23 then you can spend Christmas day at the pole resting and basking in your accomplishment. Take a couple days rest at the Pole before heading home. Take care and God bless.

# Eleanor Gay, December 10th 2013

Cooking pot sounds excellent. Choice of food and water good.  Thoughts and prayers go with you two.  Anticipated arrival at South Pole Dec.23.  Okay.  Much success in the coming days.

# John Brain, December 10th 2013

Great account, as ever. Though in no way belittling your achievement in conquering the Beardmore, I cannot help but observe that you appear to have had less difficulty than either Scott or Shackleton and seem to avoided the Shackleton icefalls altogether. No doubt you will comment in due course.

As I read the daily blogs, and join you Ben and Tarka on my own vicarious trek from the comfort of a warm room, I have the various first-hand accounts of previous expeditions along this route beside me.

If I have things right, it would appear that each reached approximately today’s point as follows:
1908: Shackleton. On 17 December after 50 days.
1911: Scott. On 22 December after 52 days.
1985: Mears. On 20 December after 56 days.
2008: Worsley. On 24 December after 40 days.
2013: Ben and Tarka. On 10 December after 46 days.

Conditions, starting dates, party sizes, etc. were clearly different for each expedition but it was Shackleton, of course, who pioneered the route without a map, no human having previously seen or climbed the Beardmore .

# David Paabo, December 10th 2013

Nice summary John Brain. I was wondering about the dates myself.  Very interesting.  The guys look like being back comfortably before 110 days all going well.

# Kristoffer, December 10th 2013

Thanks for doing the checking John!  I will add my own math.  Ben and Tarka are (16.3636 x 46) - (1800 - 1239.6) = 192.3256 miles behind where they should be.  Assuming they close this deficit at 3 miles/day, we’re looking at 19.3256/3=64.10853 days to close the deficit, so they will close the deficit at day 110.  A close-run thing.

# Kristoffer, December 10th 2013

Whoops, int the second calculation, it should be 192.3256, not 19.3256.  The result remains the same, it was just a typo.

# Scott Expedition, December 10th 2013

Kristoffer - Ben and Tarka are not 192 miles behind ‘where they should be’ and they are on track as planned.

# Kristoffer, December 10th 2013

I guess it’s a matter of interpretation.  If the average mileage they should maintain over the course of the journey is to be disregarded in the hopes that they make up for it later, very well.

# Rich Townsend, December 10th 2013

Kristoffer, it looks like you’re assuming their speed will be constant throughout the trip. Just from looking at the Google Earth maps, this clearly isn’t the case—as their loads have lightened their mileage has steadily improved, and that’s certainly a trend which will continue. Also, on the return journey they will have the wind mainly at their backs.

# Kristoffer, December 10th 2013

Rich, we don’t know just what has caused the increase in speed.  We know the weights have gone from 200 to 170 to 140 to 100 kg, but we’re not sure exactly when those happened and how those correlate to increases in speed.  Furthermore, as I have already stated, the wind will not always come from one direction during the entire journey or even part of it, as Scott’s meteorological record proves.

# Ann, December 10th 2013

It also seems reasonable to expect that they will make better time going down the Beardmore than they did on the way up.

# Phil B, December 10th 2013

John Brain. Do you know the answer to a previous question I posted earlier - how many people have actually climbed the Beardmore? I was interested to compare it to the number of men who’ve walked on the Moon (12). I’m sure it’ll be more but not much more, but it would give a real sense of what a remote and challenging environment Ben and Tarka are working in.

# Kristoffer, December 10th 2013

Phil B, the total is certainly more than 12, as 12 is the number of people that scaled the Beardmore as of Scott’s journey (Shackleton, Marshall, Wild, Adams, Scott’s party and Second Return Party)

# John Brain, December 10th 2013

Phil B. I don’t have a precise answer to your question. Scott’s party = 12. Shackleton = 4. Mear = 3. Worsley = 3. That makes 22. Also there are regular visitors to the Beardmore from the various scientific programmes (Mear et al. met some on their trek) and Fiennes and Stroud descended the Beardmore on their continental crossing, plus I am sure there have been others. Suffice it to say, I bet the ‘rusty tin can’ was just dropped from a passing Hercules!

# Kristoffer, December 10th 2013

I left out the First Return Party because I don’t think they scaled the Beardmore all the way.

# Steve, December 10th 2013

Hi Kristoffer
I think this is worthy of comment in case any of the many thousand readers of the blog are concerned for Ben and Tarka based on your figures. I see that you have taken the total return journey distance stated as 1,800 miles and divided this by the 110 days available to give a daily average of 16.3636 miles per day. After 46 days they have not skied 46 x 16.3636 miles and on this you extrapolate that they are behind schedule. However, an average speed over the whole journey is not the basis that this expedition was planned, and as far as I know, nor is it the experience of any other human-powered return journey expedition in polar history. It is a false basis upon which to monitor their progress, and as such is misleading.

They are doing really well and readers should be pleased for them and not concerned that they are behind schedule.

One of reasons that the planning for this expedition is so interesting is that there is a complex interrelationship between factors that affect their daily distance and some are hard to measure.
The outward journey starts with very heavy sleds at sea-level early season and climbs to altitude, in general against the prevailing wind, especially katabatic wind regimes, the polar plateau is significantly colder than the Ross Ice Shelf or the Beardmore Glacier. Inland there is less glide on skis and sleds. On the return journey you would expect an expedition to be in perfect physical shape for sledging long distances as long as they a) have had enough to eat (good ration planning) and b) are uninjured. Add the downhill from the polar plateau, the light sleds, the travelling with the prevailing wind, warmer temperatures, motivation to ski fixed distances between caches, and the psychological confidence from a) what they have done and b) not having to be so cautious not to burn themselves out early on or have to avoid injury, and this all adds up to covering multiples of their early outward journey distances on the way back. The recent polar expeditions of Norwegian Alex Gamme and the Australian pair James Castrission and Justin Jones aka Cas and Jonesy provide real figures that demonstrate this. Both expeditions had a similar pattern of increasing average mileages. In the second half of their outward southern journey they doubled the average distance they had skied in the first half of the southern leg, just as Ben and Tarka have done. On their return northern legs they averaged double their outward distances, i.e. they skied back in half the number of days they took to ski the outward journey. These examples are from recent expedition history but on a shorter and easier route.
Ben and Tarka are pushing the limits of what has been achieved in 125 years of polar expeditions; they have skied further per day in the first quarter of the expedition than the examples above, have doubled their average daily distance in the second quarter of the expedition and so are on track and are doing rather well.

# Mal Owen, December 10th 2013

Thankyou Steve .....Nice to have positive ,informative info .. Makes for an interesting bedtime read !

# Kristoffer, December 10th 2013


I acknowledge that their journey is not yet done, however from the progress we have seen so far, forgive me if I remain a little concerned.  Incidentally, how are you so certain that this expedition is not planned around an average mileage?  Scott planned his journey for 144 days to the Pole and back, Ben and Tarka are going the same distance in 110 days, and you are telling me that they are not beholden to the average mileage, when at a minimum they have to be at the average by the end of the journey to maintain schedule?

There is a complex relationship between variables, but from your description of them, you must live in an alternate universe.  The slope of the Barrier along it whole length is for all intents and purposes non-existent.  Check day 38, when they were approaching the Gateway, and look back at previous days: local changes of 10 feet in elevation over the course of some miles do not an uphill journey make.  The wind is not always in their faces, as Scott’s record clearly demonstrates that wind direction and intensity on the Barrier frequently change.  Do not dispute that-I have George C. Simpson’s Meteorology Vol. III: Tables in front of me.  The data from Gamme et. al. is pointless without knowledge of their intended schedule, weight of their sledges, and depot laying.  The way you word the averages is imprecise to the point where I cannot tell what northern leg corresponds to what southern leg for doubled averages.

# George Chapman, December 11th 2013

The ultimate object of this journey is to make it to the Pole and return safe without any outside assistants. There is nothing that says we have to meet some planned schedule. If it takes 110 days or 120 days matters not unless they run out of food.  I think they are doing great and I’m wishing them well. “Failure Is Not an Option”.

# George Chapman, December 10th 2013

Wishing you a great day and smooth sailing.

# Mal Owen, December 10th 2013

Deep thought and poetry will be all the better for the waiting… Rest and sleep far more important. Warmest wishes for a good day tomorrow.

# Theresa Bristow, Nottingham UK, December 10th 2013

Just caught up on your blogs; how you manage to remember what you’ve been pondering and share it with us is truely amazing in your exhausted, post walking/ski-ing/ice-climbing day.
Best visual so far, the Beardmore Glacier popping like a chiropractor, thank you for that.

# cifa, December 10th 2013

well done guys - as we say in N.Ireland - “Keep ‘er lit” :)

“During a test , people look up for inspiration, down in desperation, and
left and right for information”

# Mal Owen, December 10th 2013


# twanky, December 10th 2013

Read your blog with enthusiasm every day. Onto the Plateau and beyond. Great work guys

# Dave, December 10th 2013

I never considered the plateau would be devoid of crevasses and areas of extensive ice.  It will be interesting to see your daily distances in the different environment.  Will wind become the dominant variable?

# Rich Townsend, December 10th 2013

Great work, Ben and Tarka—I’m so very glad the Beardmore didn’t chew you up too badly.

I work at a university involved in the Ice Cube neutrino detector project at the South Pole. When you reach the Pole, what rules do you have in place to govern your interactions with the scientists and other inhabitants of the base? Are you allowing yourselves to reprovision there, and/or talk to people—or will it be strict isolation?

# Adam, December 10th 2013

Great job so far, the blog entries have officially become a part of my morning routine!

Not sure how steep sections of the glacier are but will you need a brake on the sledge for the return trip?

# dj, December 11th 2013

Rich… They have written about this several times before.  From what they’ve said, they don’t intend to interact at all with anyone on the entire trip AND from what Ben wrote in this very post, they are leaving all their food at this cache EXCEPT what they are calculating they will need to get to the pole and back. Seems like that would be the answer to your second question.

# Christian C, December 10th 2013


A bare handful of people have done what you have done, even only this far along your journey, in history. Many of them absolute legends now.

Great congratulations on getting this far and the style in which you have done so.

I’ve calculated to 19 decimal places that you are doing ‘bloody well’.

Good luck and God speed for the rest of the journey. Following with interest and not a little jealousy!



# Kevin Wright, December 10th 2013

Hi Guys. Well done but a bit of a warning for you regarding the Temperatures up there. Yesterday a new record was measured for the coldest place on earth! It was smashed by nearly 4 degrees reaching below -92! This was reported on BBC news.
Stay safe and warm. Kev

Commenting is not available for this entry.