It’s been a tough winter in the UK with record breaking low temperatures, paralyzing snow storms, and perilously icy conditions causing havoc across the country. There surely can’t be many out there who aren’t pleased to see spring on the horizon. However, there is one Englishman who clearly can’t get enough of the arctic weather, so much so that right now he is just north of Ward Hunt Island in Canada. His name is Ben Saunders and he is skiing alone to the north pole!

Ben Saunders alone on the ice once more

I’ve written about Ben before; he’s an inspiring guy. A record-breaking long-distance skier, with three North Pole expeditions under his belt, the youngest person to ski solo to the North Pole, and the record holder for the longest solo Arctic journey by a Briton. Despite his achievements he’s a humble man, describing himself as someone who “specializes in dragging heavy objects around cold places.”

In 2008 his attempt to set a new world speed record for a trek from Ward Hunt Island to the Geographic North Pole was thwarted by an equipment failure after just 8 days.

At the time he was philosophical about the disappointment. “The only true failure would have been not to have started this expedition in the first place.” He said.

It is, therefore, perhaps no surprise that Ben is back on the ice tonight, determined to set that new world speed record from Ward Hunt Island to the Geographic North Pole. The current record of 36 days 22 hours was set in 2005 by a guided team using dog sleds and numerous re-supplies. Ben, however, will be skiing alone, pulling a sledge containing all the food and fuel he needs for the expedition.

Back in 2003 Pen Hadow proved this was possible. It took him a grueling 64 days in which he swam part of the way wearing an immersion suit, fell through the ice, and lost a ski. Ben’s ambitious aim is to halve Hadow’s record and complete the expedition in 30 days.

Ben Saunders.The expedition is a lonely journey of some 478 miles across moving ice in one of the harshest environments on the planet. He’ll be pulling a 60kg sledge in bone chillingly cold temperatures as low as -50°C and -70°C in the wind!

He set off on Monday and you can follow his progress on his blog (updated daily via satellite phone). He does have a Twitter account, though I am not sure if he’ll be updating that too.

Ben will be completely alone in a region spanning more than 5.4 million square miles. That’s a land mass larger than the entire United States of America! He will be reading the comments on his blog while he is out there so I’m sure he would appreciate your words of encouragement as he battles the elements alone.

Unfortunately Ben’s attempt to get to the North Pole was once again brought to a premature and disappointing end by an unexpected equipment failure. A few days after setting off one of the two plastic five-litre fuel containers in the back of Ben’s sledge broke and contaminated nearly all of his food bags.

Upon returning to his Canadian base Ben had to decide whether or not to continue. However, after what I imagine was a time of difficult soul searching, Ben has decided to postpone the expedition until next year.

Ben Saunders : Self portrait, 2010.

“Gale-force winds and a blizzard warning in Resolute this weekend have meant grounded planes and long delays to flights; if I were to try again this year, I’d now be starting in early April.” Said Ben on his website. “To my mind, the combination of unseasonably balmy temperatures (-8 C. in Resolute on Saturday and a scarcely-believable -4 at the Catlin Arctic Survey’s Ice Base) along with a full moon (and the biggest tides; never good news when you’re walking over the sea), high winds and a lot of thin first-year ice off the coast of Cape Discovery spells conditions that will not just be difficult, but irresponsible to take on.”

I can only imagine how disappointing it must be to have essentially minor equipment failures bring months of preparation to an unwelcome end in such a dramatic and desolate place. He’s set to return to the UK this week whereupon he will begin preparation for his 2011 expedition.

Showing that the failure hasn’t effected his sense of humor Ben’s last blog post finished with this humorous request. “If anyone makes a non-leaky fuel bottle they think could handle being in a tumble dryer at -40 degrees C. for about five weeks, I’d love to hear from you.” – You can contact Ben though his website.

Ben Saunders ‘North 2’ website & blog
Ben’s previous ‘North’ blog
Following in Captain Scott’s footsteps
Not like the old days
Ben Saunders on Twitter
Into the great wide open
Be inspired : Ben Saunders