The Scott Expedition (circa 2013/2014)

27 Jan

As you may have read 2 adventurers, Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere are re-enacting Scott’s 1911 manhauling expedition to the South Pole. Their blog is: ‘The Scott Expedition’ and has many followers. The two hoped to complete the circuit from Scott’s 1910 Base on Ross Island to the Pole and back, thus finishing what Scott failed to do and by doing this, to complete the longest unsupported sortie  ever in the region.

They reached the South Pole on December 26, Day 63 {Scott took 77). The temperature was -26 degrees C. wind chill -35 degrees. They started on the return promptly. They had anticipated that the return journey would be relatively easier than the outward excursion but this was not the case.

Two days from the Pole, (Day 65) Ben described ‘feeling extraordinarily tired… knackered’. By December 29(Day 66), the going was even worse.  Their outward tracks were obliterated by snow, as happened to Scott and his team as they returned in 1912, Ben and Tarka’s satellite tracker failed. On Day 68, New Year’s Day, there was no blog. On January 2, (Day 70), Ben wrote of their exhaustion and said, unexpectedly, that they had failed to meet their mileage targets and had been running on half rations. He describes the food cravings so vividly described by Edward Wilson on Scott’s expedition and wrote that he was getting cold, frostbitten and confused (a symptom of hypothermia). The two fumbled with accustomed tasks. Ben wrote that they had half a days food left but were 74 km from their next depot. Resupplies were called for. Eight days of rations arrived by ski plane. This was no longer an unsupported journey but, after food and sleep, they could think more clearly and were WARM.

However their troubles were not over. Ben felt nauseous, got weaker and weaker, cold and lethargic. He describes how thin they had become.They had a rest day. On two days no blogs were completed.

Subsequently they had similar problems on the Beardmore Glacier, which they have now, happily, got down.

It seems remarkable to me that even now, with all the backup of modern technology, two recent expeditions,(this and Ranulph Fiennes), have experienced problems that so closely follow those of the explorers of one hundred years ago. In this case although the men were eating 6,ooo calories, (I understand it is not possible to absorb much more than this). They were still in a massive negative energy balance with weight, muscle and fat loss.

In relation to these difficulties, many supportive comments have been posted.  However ‘Kristoffer’ for one, has been critical. He defends himself to objectors by quoting, (amongst others), Winston Churchill, who wrote (or said), that ‘criticism may not be agreeable, but is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things’. It seems that what is missing here is an consideration of  the TIMING of the criticism, the ethics of making negative comments when the recipients’ morale is a bit low and when nothing can be done about the situation. I suspect people will vary greatly in their response, but I imagine Ben and Tarka would have preferred to receive and respond to, these remarks later.

The symptoms Ben records are interesting. It is possible that inadequate nutrition, dehydration and stress caused a shut down in the blood supply to digestive organs (the splanchnic bed). This is a survival mechanism. After rehydration and feeding the blood supply to this large area opens up again and this results in a temporary low blood supply to the muscular skeletal system of the body, hence the resulting weakness

A small point about Birdie Bowers: Ben wrote on Day 65, that Birdie abhorred skis and chose to walk instead. This is not the case. Birdie would never have been so unwise. On December 31 1911, as they struggled over the plateau, Scott ordered his second man- hauling team to cache their skis, possibly to reduce pulling weight. This team was Lieutenant Evans, Lashly, Crean and Birdie Bowers. Scott unexpectedly chose to take a party of five to the Pole, Birdie, ski less, amongst them. He had to go a long circuit before he picked up those skis again!


Edward Wilson, Birdie Bowers, Lieutenant Evans, Lashly, Crean, Kristoffer, Winston Churchill,

One Response to “The Scott Expedition (circa 2013/2014)”

  1. Mark Davies February 5, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    Well said Isobel. I have followed this Scott Expedition online after being made aware of it by my son. I have no experience or knowledge of the challenge they have faced (and, as I write, will hopefully complete tomorrow), but I was incensed by the nature of Kristoffer’s comments, and even more so by his reaction to those who, in reasonable terms, suggested that he hold back. My impression is that he must be an arrogant man who is more interested in voicing his opinions than listening to others, never mind taking any account of the impact of his comments on others’ circumstances.

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