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Interview: British Polar Explorer Ben Saunders

Interview: British Polar Explorer Ben Saunders
What do you eat in the South Pole? About to embark on a four-month expedition to the Antarctic, British explorer Ben Saunders tells Chris Anderson what’s on the menu.
Travelling to a different part of the world usually means an exciting opportunity to sample the local cuisine. If you’re headed to somewhere as uninhabited and challenging as the Antarctic, however, then you will only get to eat what you bring with you – and you better make sure you have enough. Just over 100 years ago, in March 1912, Captain Robert Falcon Scott led his men to the South Pole, only for hunger and exhaustion to ensure they never returned.
Scott’s expedition in particular is one that has always fascinated British polar explorer Ben Saunders, who in October plans to follow in his footsteps, allowing himself four months to follow and complete the exact route. “It’s a 1,800-mile round trip, there and back,” Ben reveals. “There will be myself and teammate Tarka L’Herpiniere, an experienced mountaineer, and nobody has ever attempted that kind of distance before. It will actually set the record for the longest unsupported polar journey in history, and the first ever completion of Captain Scott’s route.”
Ben will be facing temperatures that average -25°C, as well as incredible winds. The terrain will consist of high ice caps and heavily crevassed valleys, and the duo will navigate these on skis, wearing harnesses and dragging sledges full of equipment. “It’ll be tough at the start, as we’ll be pulling 200kg each, and about three-quarters of that is food,” says Ben. “It will get lighter the more we eat, and as we’re heading there and back on the same route, we can leave some at different points along the way.”
There is no denying that the trip will require huge
Interview: British Polar Explorer Ben Saunders
amounts of physical exertion, and on a daily basis, with Ben and Tarka training relentlessly in the months beforehand. Food plays an important part here too. “I’m eating a lot because of the training, but I’ve also got to fatten up, as I’ll be losing a lot of weight while I’m there,” Ben tells us. “So I’ll have energy shakes and bars, then cheesecake, donuts and cookies. I’m trying to put on 10kg, and we’ll be losing a kilo a week on the trip.”
Most of the food Ben is taking is custom-made and freeze-dried. What he eats and when will be an important part of his daily routine to ensure he has plenty of energy. “We’ll get up in the morning, light the stove, melt snow and make hot drinks,” he says. “Breakfast is like a hot granola, made with powdered cream, so it’s quite stodgy, and then we’ll have a protein shake and supplements on top of that. We’re basically having 1,000 calories for breakfast.”
The eating then continues throughout the day. “We’ll trek six or seven hours, and every 90 minutes stop for an energy bar and a hot drink,” says Ben. “In the evening we’ll pitch the tent, and the dinner we have is close to normal food. We have six or seven varieties, with things like green curry or beef and ale stew, very high calories but light in weight, and the shelf life is incredible. Tear the top off, add hot water, then a few minutes later eat it from the bag. And there’s no washing up.”
It sounds more advanced that anything Captain Scott took with him, but after four months will Ben not be craving regular food? “I’m sure on a trip this long we’ll have some weird cravings, but on my very first expedition we really misjudged nutrition, and I was desperately hungry,” says Ben, who has also been to the North Pole. “I’d much rather have monotony and not be ravenous than have variety and not have the right amount. It’s like putting fuel in a car.”
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26 September 2013
By: Chris Anderson
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