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Polar explorer abandons solo Antarctic quest amid ‘ferocious’ conditions

Ben Saunders aimed to spend 65 days travelling more than 1,000 miles across Antarctica.

British polar explorer Ben Saunders has been forced to abandon his quest to cross Antarctica unassisted after “ferocious” conditions left him without enough food to complete his journey.

Mr Saunders, 40, attempted what he described as the first solo unassisted crossing of Antarctica in memory of his friend Lieutenant Colonel Henry Worsley, who died on an expedition to traverse the Antarctic alone last year.

He aimed to spend 65 days travelling more than 1,000 miles across Antarctica, but was forced to cancel the trip when he arrived at the South Pole on Thursday, after 52 days.

Mr Saunders said he had just 13 days of food for the remainder of the expedition, which he expected to last 17 days, but only with near perfect conditions and unhampered skiing.

Air rescue would also be impossible on certain sections of the final stretch due to the nature of the terrain, he said.

Despite ending his quest, Mr Saunders said he is only the third person in history – and the only Briton – to have skied by himself to both the North and South poles.

“I made a promise to Henry to get home in one piece,” he said. “As much as I am determined to finish this trip for him, I need to make my decision based on safety and not let my own determination cloud my judgment.

“I don’t think Henry would be telling me to go for it given my concerns about the diminished safety margin. It feels like the most respectful thing I can do after Henry’s fate is to be prudent and safe.”

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Henry Worsley died in an Argentinian hospital after suffering from exhaustion and dehydration (Family handout/PA)

Lt Col Worsley, inspired by Edwardian explorers Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen, aimed to be the first person to cross Antarctica on foot without assistance.

Struck down by exhaustion and ill health after covering 900 miles, the 55-year-old was forced to call for help, but despite being airlifted to hospital in Chile, doctors were unable to save him.

Mr Saunders used his trip to sponsor the Endeavour Fund, part of the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, which supports injured military veterans.

It was his 12th expedition to the polar regions having covered more than 7,000km since 2001.

The announcement comes days after Scott Sears, brother-in-law of tennis star Andy Murray, completed his solo expedition to the South Pole.

At 27, Sears is believed to be the youngest person to complete the trek.

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