Nordic

Matthieu Tordeur crossed the land of extremes

Matthieu Tordeur has embarked on the expedition of his life. The figures speak for themselves: at 27, he covered 1150 kilometres on skis in 50 days in November 2018 with a 100-kilo sled in tow. This makes him the youngest ever and first French explorer to make the journey from the Antarctic coast to the South Pole - alone on skis, without a kite and without any outside support. After his return, he talks about the peculiarities of Antarctica, the special living conditions there and why he didn't take off his skis from the very first day when he wasn't in his tent.

How can you describe your expedition in short words?

I set off from the coast of Antarctica, from a point called Hercules Inlet, and traveled to the South Pole on my own. Without assistance, meaning without a traction sail, without sled dogs, without a motor vehicle. Just with my legs. I was on skis and completely independent. I pulled everything I needed to survive on a big sledge. There was no food placed along my route by a plane or other people.

What is so special about Antarctica?

Antarctica is a continent that is hard to access, so if there is a problem, things can quickly take a turn for the worse. Luckily, I had a way of calling a plane to rescue me, but this plane could only have picked me up if the weather allowed it. So the rescue options were not guaranteed. You face several risks during a solo trek in Antarctica. There are crevasses, there are sometimes very strong winds, and there is the cold of course. There were also some intense moments, especially when there was a lot of wind and I had to set up my tent. The tent blows around everywhere, so you have to throw yourself on top of it or pitch it securely to the ground so it does not blow away, because if it does, there is nothing to stop it. No trees or boulders.

Was there a critical moment during the 50 days?

On the first day, I got very scared when I fell into a hole. I fell into a hole up to my hips and I had to be really careful because when I fell, I could tell there wasn’t much under my feet. So I wriggled my way out of the hole. It happened because I had taken off my skis. And when you do that, your weight is no longer distributed over the 2 meters of the skis, only over your 2 feet, so you’re more likely to fall into a hole or a crevasse. Fortunately, I was able to get out of the hole and after that I never took off my skis again. That was probably when I was most scared, and it was the first day.

How were the living conditions?

Well, you have the world’s most beautiful landscape all to yourself, since there is no one else around, and that’s great. But the living conditions are pretty Spartan. You live in a tent, all crouched over. There is no shower, no drinking water. Or rather, no running water. I got my water by melting snow. So it is like camping taken to the extreme. I went 60 days without a shower since I did not wash during the trip there or back. I changed my underwear and shirt just once.

How did you keep from giving up?

It was always daytime, 24 hours a day. And it wasn’t as cold as in winter. The temperatures could drop down to -30°C or -40°C but in winter, they can go as low as -80°C.

How do you hang on when every day is just like the last, when the landscape is monotonous and you are really cold?

It is definitely not easy, but I used some little techniques that were often pretty basic. I would set myself very short-term goals. Sometimes it was like telling myself: “I will listen to two or three more songs before I eat a piece of chocolate.” I really tried to keep my mind as busy as possible to be able to keep on going and to avoid asking myself too many questions.

Photos: © Matthieu Tordeur

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