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15th March 2017

The Long Haul

Ben Saunders

Ben Saunders

In January 1912, the leader of the British Terra Nova expedition, Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his team reached the South Pole to find the Norwegians had got there first. Bitterly disappointed and already close to the limit they turned for home, but the extreme cold and rigours of the journey took their toll and the entire team were to perish. Ben Saunders and Tarka L’Herpiniere completed their journey, and with it the longest Polar man-haul in history, over 105 days:

Day 86: It wouldn’t surprise me if I have recurring nightmares about today; Tarka called it one of the “Top ten worst days” of his life, and it was certainly character-building from start to finish. We were woken up just before 5am by some of the strongest winds we’ve had on the entire expedition, with our trusty tent (pitched at a wonky angle on blue ice, with only four ice screws and two spare ski poles pinning it down) flexing and bowing inwards under the strain. We had to shout above the noise of the gale, and we started melting snow for breakfast and for our drinks for the day at 5.30am.

About a minute after taking the tent down, and before I’d put my crampons on I was blownover on the blue ice, landing so hard on my right elbow that I thought I’d broken something. The day got worse from there, really, and the Beardmore assumed a horribly menacing, malevolent air, like it didn’t want to relinquish its grip on us as we neared Mount Hope and our exit to the safe ice shelf beyond. It tried to smash or to steal everything we own, it tried to swallow us whole a few times, and our sledges, blowing crazily in the wind and sliding around on slippery ice descents, were possessed by spiteful poltergeists. Mine kept running into the back of my legs so hard that it bruised my calves, doing its best to knock me over or to trip me up with the trace (the rope that connects the sledges to our harnesses). It tried to push me into an open crevasse and when I stood fi rm, it tried to pull me into another a little later in the day. Another of its favourite tricks was to wait until I was gingerly walking over a snow bridge spanning a closed-up crevasse, then to hurtle forwards and join me on the bridge, like an obese, idiotic dog that didn’t understand the snow might not hold our combined weights.

We had to stop several times to repair Tarka’s crampon, often stacking the sledges on top of each other to make a windbreak to work behind. Tarka was incredibly stoic all day, but even he roared a few choice swear words into the wind at times, and I came close to full-on rage with the weather, the ice, and my crazy sledge, hurtling and veering around like a schoolboy bully that had just learnt to lock up the back brakes of his bike and pull skids, taunting me before thumping me in the calves again.

Tomorrow should be our last full day on the Beardmore, so we’re keeping everything crossed for better conditions. Thanks to Tarka’s skill at navigating glaciers we’ve come further west now than on our ascent, and the view of the ice from our tent looks promising, like the worst might be behind us now.

POLAR EXPEDITION JACKET & SALOPETTE

‘This was the type of project that made me want to be a designer to begin with, highly specialised kit for the most serious use. Polar gear is famous for its lack of innovation and there was a significant opportunity to use modern fabrics, construction and design to produce something much better and more functional than what’s currently available.

The development of the Polar Expedition Jacket and Salopettes began with the custom suits we made for Ben and Tarka’s record breaking Scott Expedition and went on to include significant further input from some of the world’s most experienced polar travellers and guides.

The biggest difference to a traditional Polar suit is the use of the electrospun fabric. This has all the breathability and comfort of the traditional double layer windproof system, but with much increased protection, both in terms of simple wind resistance but also in the fabric body not deforming as much in strong winds.ME-Polar Expedition Jacket-Mens_Light Ocean-

The Salopettes have a POLARTEC® Alpha® insert in the thigh and seat areas which specifically protects against the classic polar travel injury of ‘polar thigh’ whilst still allowing high breathability and extremely quick drying.ME-Polar Expedition Salopette-mens_Light Ocean_2The hood allows a superb tunnel to be formed with a much stiffer peak area than traditional jackets. The fabric stiffness, wired peak and lamination allow the hood to be adjusted to protect against side winds however severe the conditions.’

Sam Stephenson, Head of Design and Development

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