At the Bottom of the World

Day 52: S90° 0' 0" Distance to go: 0MI

I reached the South Pole in the early afternoon UK time. Fittingly, the day started in a complete whiteout, although the cloud broke up later in the morning as the buildings and satellite dishes and antennae started appearing on the horizon through the fog.

This is the second time I’ve arrived at the very bottom of the planet, the axis of the earth’s rotation, the place where all the lines of longitude converge. Standing at the South Pole, every direction is north, no matter which way you turn. My first time here was in late December 2013, with my team mate Tarka l’Herpiniere. We had walked here from Ross Island, on the east side of Antarctica, and planned to turn around and walk back to the coast again, retracing our route and picking up the chain of caches we had buried in the snow on our outward journey. We had almost nothing in reserve – no safety margin – and we were taking a huge risk. Many of you will have been following that journey too, and you’ll know that the weather turned bad, we had to start halving our remaining rations, and ultimately – hypothermic and near collapse – had to call for help in the form of a resupply flight.

Four years on, standing here with less food for the remainder of my journey than I’d planned, with a safety margin that I felt was too slim, I have decided this time to end my expedition at the Pole. In some ways it was an easy, logical decision to make, and in others it was extraordinarily hard, particularly as I’m not currently in trouble; I’m relatively well, although more depleted mentally and physically than I expected to be after making it through conditions that surprised me with their severity.

And I’ve been both more cautious and more fearful this year in a way I haven’t on previous expeditions. I slipped and lost my balance many times in the 450km or so of sastrugi I encountered, and I recall the moment I suddenly imagined falling and breaking an arm or a wrist. How would I put my tent up? What if I fell and knocked myself out? (I was left unconscious after a bad bike crash in summer 2015, and with a head injury that hospitalised me. My, thankfully slight, brush with brain injury – a minor traumatic subarachnoid haemorrhage – remains the most frightening thing I’ve experienced).

I type this with bittersweet feelings. This is a high-stakes, high-consequence environment and, paradoxically, one where prudence often trumps derring-do and bravado, as Shackleton summed up in his line about lions and donkeys. I’m proud that I’ve always aimed high, I’m proud that I’ve been willing to fail publicly, time and again as I’ve fallen short of some of my biggest goals, and the consolation prize is that I’m now one of a very small group (there are either two or three of us, depending on whether the Russian Fedor Konyukhov reached both Poles solo in the nineties, in journeys I had heard nothing about until recently).

Right now I’m feeling happier and more content than I thought I’d be, but perhaps the regret might follow later. I think I’d have had a lot of trouble believing you if you’d told me aged 18, as I read Ranulph Fiennes’ book Mind Over Matter in my bunk bed in the Scottish Highlands, that in the next couple of decades I’d be the second (or maybe third) person in history to ski solo to both Poles, that I’d hold the world record for the longest polar journey on foot – nearly 500 miles further than Fiennes and Stroud covered on their Antarctic crossing – and that I’d have covered some 4,000 miles on foot in the polar regions. This is a place that has made me as well as pushed me to my absolute limits.

I’ll sign off with words from a friend (an accomplished and decorated Army officer and mountaineer, who helped recover Ueli Steck’s body from Everest recently).

‘I defer here to Whymper’s well-known wise words: “Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are nought without prudence, and that a momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste; look well to each step; and from the beginning think what may be the end.”‘

Ben Saunders (@polarben)
29/12/17
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Comments

Ripley Davenport

04/01/2018

Outstanding Ben. A remarkable achievement yet again. Applause.

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Steve Jones

31/12/2017

Ben,
I read that last post with a gulp in my throat. To achieve what you have done, to leave the ego behind and take the decision you have made is in some sense, a bigger achievement. You are (and I don’t say this lightly), my new personal hero.
I’ve loved reading your posts every day and also keeping you on Instagram via Pip (thank you Pip!)
Wishing you a safe trip back to the UK and a wonderful future with Pip.
Until the next adventure….
Steve

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Chione

31/12/2017

Ben, thank you for the deeply personal account of your latest odyssey. You have nothing to regret. Regret will only arise if you compare your achievements to what others have done or have not done. Let go of comparing yourself to others, and you will be in peace with yourself, your decisions, and your achievements.

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Whistle Norvell

30/12/2017

Thank you Ben for allowing us all to be a part. Very inspiring and exciting to be with you again this time. Best wishes to you and the family!

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Francesca

30/12/2017

Ben,
We are all so inspired by your amazing achievement and have been following your progress with awe. We have loved following little Lego Polar Ben move across the map at the gym although you may want to have a word with Mike about being usurped by Brian Shaw ha ha! Wishing you the best of luck for your future adventures and hopefully see you at One Performance UK gym very soon. It will be a home away from home for you at the mo as it’s pretty chilly! Best wishes Francesca

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Lia

30/12/2017

Great writing as ever. What a journey. Congratulations on the decision to begin, endure and end with prudence. You are an outstanding role model.

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Peter

30/12/2017

Well done. Much respect. You have opened young minds for new adventures.

Peter

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Paul Bower

30/12/2017

One word – A M A Z I N G !

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Ian B

30/12/2017

Having had to overcome the cold, the wind and low visibility at altitude on the same day you reached the Pole, the comfort was that I was only a few hundred metres away from shelter in an Alpine resort. You have persevered to achieve another incredible feat – and always, from your various correspondence and media contact, with a positive attitude and a smile in your voice. Best fortune for your future endeavours and continue to inspire.

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Jessie Della Vedova

30/12/2017

Well done, Ben! Happy new year! Enjoy putting those feet up. Your articulate and vivid depictions of your days down there have been incredibly inspiring. I admire your intelligent and practical decision-making skills, more than ever after reading today’s blog.

I’m not sure how to express this without sounding cheesy, but thanks for making me a better sailor / neophyte adventurer.

Congratulations, and best of 2018 to you,

Jessie

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Stephen Downes

30/12/2017

No regrets. You should be incredibly proud of what you’ve accomplished.

While you’re there could you straighten the south pole? It looks crooked in the photo and it concerns me that the planet might begin to wobble.

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Holly Mikulik

30/12/2017

Awesome feat! Thank you for sharing the experience with all of us. Congratulations and so glad you are safe and healthy – to perhaps try again another day?

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Zoe

30/12/2017

Well done Ben! I’ve loved following your journey. Enjoy some well deserved rest!

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Gary Dunlap

30/12/2017

Thanks as always for taking us along….enjoyed it all as I have all your endeavors.

Get home safe
Well done
2018 will be wonderful

Gary

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Patrick Bermingham

29/12/2017

Ben, following your journey and wise decision has been an inspiration. Well done!

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James Whaley

29/12/2017

Congratulations!! as a result of reading your daily blog, I just ordered a copy of “Mind Over Matter”. I know how much a book can change one’s outlook on life. Peace to you Ben – Jim

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Dave Vero

29/12/2017

Well done, Ben. A wise decision and sensibly made. There will always be another time, if you want there to be. I have enjoyed reading your blog and marvelled at the qualities needed to do what you have done – courage, tenacity, resilience, determination etc etc. Safe journey home to those you love.

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Marc Koska

29/12/2017

Chapeau Ben! You have truly completed a very important journey and there will be many more. Koska

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Douglas Neff

29/12/2017

Thank you, Ben, for continuing to make heroically wise decisions, for setting extraordinary goals, and for inspiring me (and those around me who constantly hear from me about your exploits).

As a solo explorer, it’s easy to think of this as an individual expedition, but we all know that it’s so much more. In addition to your sled, you carry the love of family and friends, you bear the hopes and well wishes of your fans and followers, and you also hold the Ben Saunders of the future… thank you for making decisions that keep all of us in mind. The Boss would be proud and would have acted similarly heroically.

Best to you, Ben. I hope to shake your hand one day.
Douglas

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Greg Jerome

29/12/2017

Ben

Congratulation on reaching the Pole and thank you so much for sharing your journey with us. I can’t imagine putting in that kind of effort every day and still having the energy to write up a post every night. It’s very generous of you and has made for some great reading for all of us!

I can’t imagine having the fortitude or the gumption to do what you do for a living. I’m so glad that you do so that the rest of us can follow along and see what is possible when we push ourselves to the limits. I will surely be thinking of your efforts on my next run, next ski day, next hike, next adventure.

Thank you so much and enjoy all those things you have been looking forward to as you return to civilization. All the best!

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Gavin

29/12/2017

Hi fella,

I remember waking up to that incredibly emotional blog back in early 2014 when you had elected to resupply. I remember thinking how much courage that decision must have taken and at that time you had someone with you to help shoulder that responsibility. I have similar feelings now.

Solo journeys in the most inhospitable place on Earth are not to be taken likely; every step is a considered one. Without enough food, the remaining journey would have been a fool’s expedition. It is always good to remember the time to quit is before you wish you had.

I know you will no doubt revisit this decision, but hopefully you will remain content that it was the right and only one to make.

All good wishes for the future and hope to catch up soon,
Gavin

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Ale

29/12/2017

Mr. Ben Saunders,
congratulations for your amazing achievement. You’re truly inspiring me. Thank you for sharing all this with the world, and so with me.
Ale
p.s. thank you for answering to my question! 🙂

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Rachel

29/12/2017

Your achievement is all the greater for having the wisdom and the courage to know when to make the right decision. For all of us who have followed your journey, you have shown what it takes to be a true explorer and adventurer, going alone into an unpredictable and inhospitable wilderness and demonstrating incredible physical and mental fortitude. Thank you for being such an intrepid polar explorer and for giving substance to our dreams. Your next adventure awaits you.

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Kat

29/12/2017

Congratulations, Ben on an amazing achievement. I don’t think there’s anyone, anywhere, that could question your prudent, wise decision to cut short your expedition or think less of you for doing so. Hats off to you, and thank-you for sharing this experience with us. If I’m relieved you’ve chosen safety over wilful danger, I can only imagine how relieved your friends, family, and loved ones must be to know that you’ll be winging your way back to them in one warm, solid, unbroken piece.

Wishing you health, happiness, and zero regrets for the New Year.

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Sally

29/12/2017

Dear Ben,
We have read of your highs and lows with a mixture of awe, fear, concern and excitement. I can hardly imagine the emotions that you are feeling now. We are so relieved that you are safe and well and so very proud of what you have achieved and what you have put yourself through. You made a very brave decision to stop. It’s the right decision-we want you, not a statistic or a headline, back here among us- and can’t wait to see you.
With much love
Sally, Harry and Anna

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Sharyle Doherty

29/12/2017

Well done, Ben! Congratulations on reaching South Pole. You are a wise man. The Boss would be proud of you. It has been tremendously enjoyable reading your daily posts and following your adventure. Safe travels home and best wishes for a happy new year.

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Mal Owen

29/12/2017

Ben,
Congratulations on your achievement and the very wise decision you have made. I shall miss the blog but look forward to your next adventure. Thanks for sharing your experiences and best wishes for the wedding and your future together.
Mal

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K Robinson

29/12/2017

Well done, Ben! You are an amazing man and have accomplished am amazing feat. The man who throws safety aside due to fear of ‘failing’ to reach a self imposed goal is not a true hero. Too often that man becomes a sad footnote in history or, if he succeeds, may place those who follow in jeopardy as they feel compelled to push beyond their intuitive voice as well. A true hero is a man who pushes himself and perseveres beyond what he thinks he is capable of and also empowers those who come after him to do the same. A hero wisely inspires future heros. You, Ben, are a true hero.

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K Robinson

29/12/2017

I realized i did not make the core of my thought clear: By undertaking this journey, seeking the unknown in harsh wilderness and within yourself, you are a great hero. And by making the decision you made today you stand as an even greater hero. You are that man who lives to inspire the next generation to dream, push themselves beyond what they think they are capable, and yet realize that the finish line does not define them – it’s the actual journey that counts. Bravo, Ben.

kevin wright

30/12/2017

Well said K Robinson. Inspiration for young people of this nature, not only strenghtens their abilities, but makes them part of a stronger team that not only masters the journey but saves lives in the process. Kev

South Dakota fan

29/12/2017

Well done, Ben Saunders!

You ski as a giant among men. Hold your head high for the hard work you’ve done, smile for the tough decision you made and be secure in the knowledge that yea you shall live to ski again.

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Brad Borkan

29/12/2017

Hi Ben, A brave and heroic undertaking, and a brave and heroic decision. Ben, you are a true Antarctic hero, and this decision proves it all the more.

You exemplify all that is great about polar exploration — passion, strength, wisdom and an ability to convey in words the mental & physical challenges of such a great undertaking, so those of us who don’t have such bravery can follow along and learn from your adventures.

From all of us in the Richmond/Kew area who have been following your expedition, wishing you a safe & speedy trip home.
Best wishes
Brad

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Tobias Mews

29/12/2017

Ben my friend

You have me utmost respect for this courageous and wise decision. It was without doubt the best choice and I admire you even more for choosing to quit whilst your ahead rather than risk loosing it all! Can’t wait to see you and Pip for a catch up and a beer. And give you both a hug of course. Bravo old bean. You’re a legend! Love from Tobias and Zayne

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Ben Goad

29/12/2017

Ben,

Well done for achieving getting the South Pole and pulling along all you need to live in the process, you are an inspiration!
Have a Happy New Year and get back and enjoy your family and friends.

Ben

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Laurence B Jacobs

29/12/2017

Congratulations Ben on another phenomenal polar expedition. The Boss would have been proud to have you on Endurance and the James Caird.

Safe trip home.

Laurence

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Gary Wright

29/12/2017

Hi Ben,
This is my first post on your blog.  You will be familiar with my brother Kevin and I’m sure he told you of our trip to Antarctica in 2015.
I just wanted to say well done and thank you.
Well done for achieving such a immense thing. Standing at the bottom of the world just once is something mere mortals could never dream of. Doing it twice is something else. 
To pull out now must be so hard, yet I appreciate and respect that it is also the wisest thing to do.  Like Kevin I have read many stories of such endurance (although not so many as him) and always been astonished at the resilience of mankind.   Shackleton’s Forgotten Men is one of my favourites.
I am very proud of you Ben and I thank you for your achievements under a British flag. 
Now go home to Pip and your family and rejoice in the knowledge that you are one of the world’s greatest achievers.

Huge respect!

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Lynn Campbell

29/12/2017

Lovely words Gary

André Lambert

29/12/2017

Congrats on reaching the pole! I will miss the daily updates.

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Don Carslaw

29/12/2017

RESPECT RESPECT RESPECT 🙂
A difficult decision wisely taken, but to do what you have done is a huge achievement – especially in the awful conditions that you’ve had.
Your blog was captivating, as on your previous expedition, thanks for sharing the experience.
Safe return and best wishes for 2018 from S France –
Don (friend of Tarka)

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Sean Canning

29/12/2017

Hi Ben

Well done on reaching the South Pole! I’ve enjoyed reading your updates every day since the start! Fantastic achievement 🙂
Will you be posting up the exact GPS route you took? Would be fascinating to see.

All the best!

Sean

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Martina Michel

29/12/2017

Ben, I coincidentally discovered a week ago that you are on tour again and have been reading your blogs daily since. You will not remember me but I had the joy of listening to one of your talks in London years ago. Don’t ask me why but I have been so worried that you might not have the strengths to stop and would move on. I am so happy that you had the courage and clarity to take this decision. Thank you! I tried to explain to my husband yesterday why to me you are such a role model. I will write an email to explain. For now I just had to send you this message! Please come home safely. Warm regards, Martina

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Andrew Paterson

29/12/2017

Ben,

Decisions like that make you even stronger and more admired, only those that have had to make similar calls know what’s involved – and that’s very few people.

Sure, there are fanatics doing all sorts of crazy things these days and everyone thinks they’re made of the same ‘hero’ stuff but that’s totally misconceived, what makes the rare standout (as someone once said) is “courage is grace under pressure”.

We’re proud of you and everything you’ve shared with us and that’s unerasable.

Safe trip home!

Andrew & Paul

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BH

29/12/2017

Dearest Ben we are so proud of you. Huge congratulations from us all. An amazing achievement. The mornings are going to be very flat without your daily blog to update and inspire us! Our eyes have been opened to the the world that is Antarctica. For that we salute you.
Sitting here listening to Desert Island Discs on a very wet English morning. I wonder if your selection would be different now after 52 days on your own listening to a prerecorded shuffle?
We so look forward to welcoming you home soon. x

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Lynn Campbell

29/12/2017

Hi Ben

HUGE respect to you. I hope the stress of these last few weeks has now melted from your shoulders. Thank you for sharing every day of your journey with us.

You write you have ‘failed publicly’, which I think is very harsh on yourself…you have honoured your friend Henry’s memory wonderfully, raised tens of thousands for The Endeavour Fund and triumphed yet again to The South Pole.

Whilst I shall miss your daily posts you have a whole new chapter of your life ahead of you when you marry the wonderfully supportive Pip.

Antartica will never hand this particular record to anyone without the fight of their life.

‘The difficult is what takes a little time; the impossible is what takes a little longer’
(Nansen).

Safe home x

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Hannah

29/12/2017

My family and I have been following your journey. My 2 small boys have been enthralled by your writing as has their Grandmother. Thank you and we wish you a safe journey home.

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Sally Elizabeth

29/12/2017

Ben, This country needs more men like you!!
“You gave much and know not what you gave at all” Thank you.
Sally

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Lynn Campbell

29/12/2017

Great quote Sally

Annabel Buchan

29/12/2017

That’s a sensible decision. Your blogs are so interesting, revealing and descriptive – I will miss them dreadfully each morning. Have a good and safe journey home.

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Brian Farrant

29/12/2017

A great achievement and an eminently sensible decision. The Antarctic isn’t going anywhere will be there if you decide to try again. You’ve already proved that you can ‘be the best’.

With best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.

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Paul Finch

29/12/2017

Hi Ben,
What a huge achievement, I have followed your footsteps from the begining. You undetook one of the harshest courageous challenges left to man and succeeded, you have so much to be proud of. At the end of the day self preservation and safety must come first, anyway we want to hear to tell your story in the flesh! Take care and pat yourself on the back for a job well done, there is always a next time!!
West Sussex

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kevin wright

29/12/2017

Hi Ben, Congratulations on reaching the South Pole, a mammoth task in its own right and especially with the awfull weather conditions and some of the worst sastrugi ever experienced by any PolarExplorer. I think it goes without saying that we your supporters agree that you have made the right dicission for both yourself and your loved ones. What you have done will go down in history and lead the way forward, if not by you then hopefully another British Explorer. If Shackleton and your friend Henry were alive today they would give you a massive hug for being so brave and sensible. Thanks for your invite to the Royal Geographic Society in September 2017 and to allow me to support you everyday using the blog. Also thanks for our brief meeting and signing my Antarctica Journal for my 3 Grandsons. We are all so proud of you and will be there if you go for it again. Have a safe journey home and a great wedding. Pip is waiting for you! Signing off! Kev, Wilf, Frank and Ned.

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Lynn Campbell

29/12/2017

Kevin I’m going to miss reading your comments too😊

kevin wright

30/12/2017

Cheers Lynn, its been a pleasure to follow you also and all the other amazing supporters. It has made some great bedtime reading for me. I’m sure we’ve all played a small part to support Ben and Pip on this expedition! Its also been great for my 3 grandsons and many other young people following with parents and schools. Im sure Ben will be back one way or another, he hasn’t finished with Antarctica yet! When he does I hope too see you on his blog again. Take care Kev.

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