Vegans make history in self-supported South Pole trek

6 June 2023

Three vegan adventurers have completed an incredible unsupported trip to Antarctica. They opened a new route and had no supplies other than what they took with them.

The 50-day route covered 880 km and each pulled their own 100 kg sled, powered by 100% vegan food.

There was no support. Dogs are banned for Antarctica and there were no depots or supply drops by plane. In the event of a rescue, a flight costs over US$100,000 and can only proceed if the weather conditions allow. Three could only rely on themselves and each other.

The Austrian team selected the challenge as it was new and ‘untrodden’.

“In the last 15 years we have done numerous treks and expeditions all over the world. Especially in India, Tibet, Nepal, South America” says Jens Neumann. Jens is a trainer and business consultant. Also a ski instructor and trekking guide, he takes outdoor team building exercises that are as fun as they are effective.

“Alexandra and I have also been on the Patagonian Ice Field and in 2014 we successfully climbed the highest mountain in Antarctica, Mount Vinson.” At 4,892m, Vinson is one of the Seven Summits.

They were struck by the expanse and loneliness of Antarctica, and the view from the peak called them back for a longer challenge.

“I know that expeditions like this can be a unique opportunity to get to know yourself and your limits” added Stefan, a senior manager in heathcare. “Such an opportunity does not come along often in life. Sometimes you have to accept great challenges in order to recognize your weaknesses and fears, overcome them and learn from them in order to take a step forward.”

Preparation for the extreme challenge meant getting into shape for long days of trekking with a sled.

“We completed a quite sophisticated and intense mix of gym work out, interval and cardio vascular training” Jens explains. “A balanced mix to train power and endurance.

“Besides that, we did mountaineering, long distance treks with heavy backpacks, distance-trail running, as well as pulling old car tires (which is an established “classic” for polar sled pulling training). We did the same with bags full of sand. All that was part of our physical training.”

Mental preparation was key too. Meditation was part of the process; Alexandra organizes meditation retreats which was no doubt applied.

Vegan powered

All three explorers are dietary vegans.

Alexandra has been vegan for five years. She stopped eating meat 30 years ago and her diet has evolved in stages. She’s a psychologist and has worked with athletes in preparation for the Olympics.

“Each change in my diet has been for health reasons” Alexandra says. “When I started eating purely vegan, I gained more stamina and ease in my life. I solved many health issues due to the change to a vegan diet.”

She is also acutely aware of other benefits.

“The ethical aspects came later. Now they come first. So I eat strictly vegan but also avoid sugar, flour- and wheat products, gluten and coffee. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and my diet consists of 80% raw food.”

Jens has also been vegan for five years, and stopped eating meat 25 years ago when his girlfriend was vegetarian and skilled in the kitchen.

“The philosophy behind eating vegan became more important to me as well. Today I eat vegan for all reasons you can think of: For the sake of the animals, for the sake of the whole environment, and of course for the health of my body. I also do not drink any alcohol (all three of us don’t) and I quit eating sugar as well.”

Stefan and his wife stopped eating meat 20 years ago. He also made changes in stages and has been vegan for five years.

“The reasons for the change were originally primarily health-related. After only a few months on a vegan diet, I could already tell from my body that I felt much better and healthier. Later, the motivation included other reasons such as the environment or ethics. In other areas, I regularly look into the possibilities of using only vegan products and try to leave out more and more animal products.”

Sourcing food was a challenge, as they planned 5000 Kcal per day each. The food they sourced was sugar free and organic where possible. They used LYO expedition food, and bars and cookies from Lifefood.

They filled up on a breakfast of hot chocolate and coconut milk powder and muesli mix with oats, nuts, dried fruit, coconut far and date sweetener.

Lunch was typically noodles in miso soup, cookies and nuts. For dinner they would have Miso soup, and vegan freeze dried food such as lentils, chickpeas and curries. There was also olive oil and powdered seeds to provide the protein and fat.

Throughout the day they ate raw quality snack bars, chocolate and cashew cookies.

“The sourcing of food took a very long time and it was a very important part of our preparation…. We did a lot of research on the internet and we tested many different things in advance during our training sessions and worked together with different suppliers.”

“You need to like what you are eating as well! There is one thing you definitely do not want to become on a seven weeks polar expedition: ‘hangry!’ ”

The route is now officially called ‘Filchner Ice Shelf-Support Force Glacier-South Pole’ although the team named it ‘Peace of the Heart’.

“That is what we experienced” says Alexandra. “The official, geographical name is quite boring.”

The incredible journey now complete, the team have now returned to their normal lives with a life-enriching experience behind them.

See more on their Instagram page and website.