INTO THE WHITE
The explorer Matthieu Tordeur is training ahead of his 50-days trip across the South Pole.
At 26, Matthieu Tordeur is the youngest French explorer and he is about to pull an amazing feat. In November, Matthieu will attempt to cross Antarctica skiing in full autonomy for 50 days. From the gloves to the pulka, everything has to be meticulously prepared. Alone in the South Pole, surrounded by -40°C, Matthieu will not have a second chance. And he won’t need it.
Why have you decided to put yourself in this situation?
M.T : Well, I’ve always been fascinated by Antarctica. It’s a bit of a mystical land: wild and isolated from everything. We actually know better the surface of the Moon than Antarctica. And that calls me. The idea of a polar expedition doesn’t come out of thin air. The original idea goes back to few years ago. I went to Greenland in 2017, and before that I went to Norway for a ski trip with a sled. These two experiences gave me the desire to try. I want to be in that very wild, hostile environnement and to walk on the very steps of the first polar explorers.
How do you prepare for the expedition?
M.T : I went out in the cold and in the nature. First, I’ve been to Norway. Then, I headed to the Svalbard Archipelago, in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. There, the conditions are very close to those I’ll encounter in the South Pole, plus, there’s virtually no one. For me, it was perfect. There’s also a big part that’s just mental. I’ve been training my mental like a muscle for several years by pushing the limits every time I do an expedition. And then, there’s a less glamorous part that consists in looking for partners, sponsors…
What do you pack when you go to Antarctica ?
M.T : I’ll drag approximately 100 lbs of supplies in a pulka. It’s a sort of big sled. I’ll have my tent, my sleeping bag, my food, and gas for the stove. Everyday, I’ll use 2 lbs of supplies to meet all my needs in food and heat. I’ll also have a satellite phone that I’ll charge with solar panels.
How cold will you be?
M.T : The average temperature will be -40°C. The thermostat can go down to -50°C if there’s blizzard. The toughest will be to have no sense of time. During the austral summer, there’s daylight 24/7. You can’t make the difference between midnight and midday without a watch. I’ll also have to watch out for “white days”: it’s the effect of wind and snow combined that completely obliterate the horizon line. In these conditions, it’s very easy to walk in circle for several days. I’ll rely entirely on my GPS and my compass.
Is it dangerous?
M.T : In Antarctica, I won’t have a second chance. If I lose a glove, if I don’t strap my skis well, it can quickly snowball. Every single minor mistake can really turn into a major one. To that regard, it’s slightly crazy, but through a good training, you decrease the risks a lot. In Antarctica, there’s no crevasse, and I’ll be on real ground, not on ice. And, there’s not bears, it’s one less danger! (laughs)
What if it goes wrong ? What’s your plan ?
M.T : Everyday, I’ll have a radio call with a logistic center based on the coast of the continent. It’s mandatory when you are there. If I miss two calls, they will come flying at my last known GPS location. In case of wounds, I’ll have to set my tent quickly, limit my movements, eat my food and wait until they reach me. Unlike a navigator fallen in the ocean that sees his boat sailing away without him, there’s nothing too fatal for me there. Or it would be slower.
Let’s be honest, are you afraid?
M.T : I’m not afraid. When I start an expedition like this one, I’m always febrile. I overthink a bit. But as it starts and time passes, I get used to it, and in the end, I’m even happy I’m doing it. (laughs)
What does a day in Antarctica look like ?
M.T : First, everything has to be done with gloves. You have to operate the stove, set up the tent, change clothes. I gotta pay attention to every single move I make. If I spill the stove, the flame can burn the tent. And if you burn your tent, there’s no more tent. By -40°C, it can be a real problem. Everything has to be efficient. When I get in the tent, I have to make sure I don’t have to get out again. For toilets it’s the same. Either I use a bottle, or I have to organize myself to get the least exposed to the cold.
What are your thoughts when you’re all alone with your skis, your sled and the nature ?
M.T : It’s absolutely exhilarating to be alone in the middle of nowhere. It’s an amazing privilege to be in such a beautiful space, as hostile as it may be. I’m not a lonely type of guy but nowadays, we’re rarely alone. So I find it really interesting to be back in the wild, facing the essentials : drink, eat, ski and sleep.