Ben Weber, who graduated from St Andrews in 2004, plans to circircumnavigate the globe, on the polar axis with his small team. On his journey he will cross Everest and both Poles. The Saint’s ERIN LYONS contacted the intrepid explorer.
Erin Lyons: What was behind the idea for the expedition?
Ben Weber: I started the project on paper and in research around a year ago, though the ideas have been growing for quite a while… they just hadn’t clicked! I guess the ideas for the whole project have been somewhere around in my head for a long time! When I was a kid, I loved all the stories of Scott of the Antarctic and his race against Amundsen, and the stories of the attempts to climb Everest; these stories and also the European explorers going to Africa – Mungo Park trying to find the Niger, and then of course, Livingstone and Stanley. All of them were captivated by the adventure of going into the unknown and I guess somehow this sense of adventure has come through to me! I was discussing with my wife about how we could escape this life and go on some sort of one-two year journey (possibly following the general route of the Silk Road from China to Europe), but then I thought that going around the world from east-to-west, though very interesting, would not be quite as interesting as going north-south, which would allow you to see the full range of climatic zones from deserts to mountains to the polar circles, and the peoples/animals in these zones. Hence I began researching the project and started to organize the whole thing.
BW: Extremely demanding! We are leaving São Paulo in March 2014 and not tomorrow mainly due to the amount of training we will need to do over the next couple of years. We have got to be able to cope with freezing conditions, massive distances, high altitudes, glaciers, difficult mountain climbs, being on our own in the middle of nowhere, among various other points, so we have to have training to cope with this. We will be doing polar survival training in Canada in February 2013 for a few weeks and there will be further arctic survival courses before we leave. Every week day we are going to the gym for general fitness training as well as working on the climbing wall – obviously the climbing wall is not the same as the real thing but it helps us work on the right muscles and techniques used on the mountains – and on the weekends we are going rock climbing outside of São Paulo, and going for long hikes in mountains to get us used to walking long distances with heavy backpacks. For the polar aspect, we will need to be pulling heavy tires along beaches to get us used to pulling heavy sleds across the difficult icy climates. By the time we leave, we need to be able to continually do strenuous exercises for sustained periods of time – after all we estimate that we will be going over 60-70 days at each pole in the freezing cold and this is not something that any of us can afford to underestimate.
EL: What charities are you fundraising for?
BW: In looking for our charities, as we are going around the world, we wanted organizations which have global reach and, with the goals of the expedition, work in campaigning regarding the climate and also with the natural environment.We have chosen the first of our two charities: 350.org. This is a organization that seeks to build up grass roots awareness to help solv th climate crisis. The campaign is named after 350 parts per million, the safe upper limit of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, according to the latest science (current CO2 levels are at 390ppm). The second charity we are close to confirming. It is centered around conserving wildlife and habitats, tackling climate change and promoting sustainability in regard to human activities and the natural environment. We hope to be able to confirm this organization very soon!
BW: Aside from gaining the sponsorship (which is actually coming along rather nicely with Brazilian companies being particularly interested in the whole scheme, and there being special incentive laws in Brazil for companies to provide sponsorship), there will be three main physical challenges: the North Pole, Mount Everest and the South Pole. If I could pick a single one of these as the biggest one, I would say the North Pole. Apart from the physical challenges… there are the psychological challenges. Three of us together for over three years… this will be a challenge! Our third team member, Norm, from the United States is a great guy, and Natalia is wonderful. But I am sure that over the three years of the journey we are all going to have our fair share of disputes, good and bad moods, and necessities to have a bit of time to ourselves. What is it they say about the best way of destroying even the best of friendships? Living with them for a period. I am sure there will be times when one or the other in the team thinks, when its -40C outside and a gale is howling outside our tent: why on earth are we doing this?!
EL: What are you most excited to do/see and is there anything you’re not looking forward to?
BW: It is difficult to pin-point anything I am not looking forward to. It is all such an adventure and even just preparing for it, it feels like we are starting to live much more than we were in just the city rat-race. It is a massive challenge and incredibly exciting. Just the feeling of getting to the polar ice cap is something that I imagine will give a great thrill – seeing the vastness of the empty space ahead of us and knowing that we will have to cross it. Getting back to Everest again (I have already been to base camp once) will be great, and actually attempting to climb it is daunting… but the thought of managing the ascent… again, it will make everything worth it. We have to be realistic with Everest in that not every climber manages to ascend it as it is very easy to be unlucky with the weather, and I imagine that if this happens, then yes the disappointment of not being able to complete the ascent would be quite tough, but it is something that we will be able to deal with – the most important is to attempt it! The thought of getting to the South Pole… walking in the footsteps of Scott… Amundsen … other great explorers… again, pretty special. I guess in a funny kind of way, though the sense of accomplishment we will have when we manage to complete the circle will be absolutely enormous and incredible, I believe that once we complete the expedition, after the euphoria, it will be strange, and this is perhaps I am not really looking forward to: what next?! We will have been training and travelling together for almost five years and then when we get back everything will be different. We will have been working on this incredible expedition and I think that it will be difficult to top it, so what we will do afterwards is a bit blank! However, we have plenty of time to think about that am there are a couple of ideas already which are in place… and obviously, first thing’s first!