Last Night in Antarctica

I’ve just heard a rumour that the Ilyushin aircraft that will take me from Antarctica back to Punta Arenas in Chile might be arriving in the early hours of the morning (2am) so I’m on tenterhooks waiting to see if the weather window holds, as it’s forecast to get a lot worse until the next window on Friday.

Most of today had been spent resting, drinking tea and chatting with my fellow inhabitants of this little campsite on the edge of Antarctica. As someone said at lunchtime (I think it was the mountaineering guide Scott Woolums, who has climbed the Seven Summits – the highest peak on each continent – seven times) ‘Unique places attract unique people’. I had the privilege this afternoon of sitting down for a long, frank conversation with Robert Swan. Robert has had a huge influence on the course of my life: reading his book In the Footsteps of Scott as a teenager was one of the things that set me off on this path, he was a patron of my last expedition, and he has become a friend whose wisdom I value enormously.

Some of the wonderful staff and pupils I’ve met from Stowe school might recognise the bobble hat I’m wearing in this photo of Robert and me at Union Glacier, and I hope the picture of me with my hero (Robert was the first in history to walk to both the North and South Poles) and my friend might have special meaning at the start of a new year. It’s no exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t be here in Antarctica if it wasn’t for the example that Robert set, and through the story he told. We must never forget that we are each writing our own stories – hour by hour, day by day, year by year – and as tempting as it is to feel at times that we are too small or too young or too inexperienced, or that what we are doing is insignificant or imperfect or incomplete or irrelevant – we must never forget that our story will one day be an example to others when they in turn are seeking guidance and wisdom and inspiration.

My final answers from Antarctica are to some great questions from another Ben (this one is aged 11):

Hi Ben,

I have a few questions for you! But first I am really inspired by what you have shown me on your blog, that if you try you can achieve great things.

Now to the questions.
1. What did it feel like when you finally reached the South Pole?

I felt a lot of things that day: sadness that I wasn’t going all the way across to the Ross Ice Shelf, relief that I was going to stop and rest (and that I wouldn’t have to put my sledge harness on again the day after!), happiness that I was going to see an old friend (Hannah McKeand, who was at the South Pole camp) and that I would soon be heading home. It’s also a real shock seeing the American base at the South Pole – there are several huge buildings, futuristic-looking domes with satellite dishes and antennae and lots of vehicles ranging from skidoos to giant tractors. After seven weeks of seeing nothing but snow and sky, it all seemed quite alien.

2.What did it feel like to be the only person to try and cross the Antarctic region, solo?

Again, I experienced lots of different feelings, and I tried not to spend too long dwelling on how physically isolated I was. The good thing about being solo is that you’re usually pretty busy – either navigating during the day, or snow-melting, cooking, eating, updating the website and sleeping at night – so there’s not too much time to dwell on the enormity of the challenge or the severity of the conditions. Ultimately I also felt lucky to be here; just being in Antarctica is the culmination of a lot of ambition and work

3. What was your favourite day of the expedition? Why?

It was probably climbing the Wujek Ridge (I think this was Day 12) – at the time it seemed hellishly tough, but now looking back it was one of the most satisfying days of the expedition. Climbing up the ridge with a heavy sledge was the hardest day of work I did on the entire journey, but the scenery was stunning and it was a special feeling knowing that the last person to have travelled that route was Henry Worsley, two years ago.

4.What is your next adventure going to be?

Good question! I don’t have any definite plans yet, although I had a fun conversation over breakfast yesterday with a Norwegian called Ronny Finsaas that had got me thinking about an interesting plan…

Thank you Ben for being an inspiration to me and making me believe that anything can happen if you put your mind to it.
P.S My name is also Ben: age 11 🙂

Ben Saunders (@polarben)



Congratulations on coming back safely. Do you see yourself trying again this year, 2018?


Ben Saunders


I don’t think so! I have a few other plans on the go, and – for now at least – I feel pretty happy with what I’ve achieved…

Susan Denham-Smith


Well done Ben for keeping the expeditioning alive. You truly are a “veteran” now.

Hope you are recovering well.


Zach Brooks


Remember you may have not have reached your quest but you were prepared to do it and you tried that’s all that matters Ben

We are all so proud of you


angela heskell


So full of admiration at your achievement. This is probably a silly question but how are the very lonely photos of you taken
Most of my other questions have been answered.
Thank you and very well done.Enjoy your holiday.



K Robinson


It’s your last night in Antartica… for now. You’ll be back – somehow, someway, trekker, leader, advisor, author – but you’ll be back. I was just reading over my own blog from my time in Antartica and found a quote of the day that seems appropriate. “Now *this* is why I mop floors in Antartica” (said by a friend while staring at the Royal Society Mountains). You have many skills that can give you reason to come back to this incredible place – you won’t need to mop floors – but she’s deep in your soul and you’ll be back. It’s your last night in Antarctic, for now.

I hope you will consider continuing to post to this blog from time to time. You have openly shared your heart and your experiences on this journey. You may have turned your tracker off at 90° South, but your journey will continue for some time to come. Please consider updating us on your journey in the days, weeks, even months to come.
Safe travels home, Ben. Antartica bids you ‘so long for now’.


Kevin Wright


Hi Ben and Robert, lovely picture of you both together. A rear photo indeed of the only 2 people to have have reach both poles man hauling. You may be proud Ben to have this picture of you with Robert but it’s also great for me as you are the two guys who inspired me to visit Antarctica. I met Robert in the late 80’s when he was our Patron to Kirkby Stephen Mountain Rescue and I fixed his pulk to the wall in our new rescue hut which Robert then opened. A tree was also planted by Queen Elizabeth. I have both your pictures in my Antarctica Journal that I wrote during my visit to Antarctica and they are both signed by you guys. I still have a few blank pages left so I hope you don’t mind if I copy this picture in of you together and dedicate to my 3 Grandsons, the charity’s 2041 and the Endeavour fund. Have a safe flight home Guys. Kev

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