SA hiker gears up for polar mission

While most South Africans will be soaking up the sun this summer, Greg Benatar plans to hit the ice in a land where the sun doesn’t set.

On November 30 he will set out to reach Antarctica’s highest mountain, the Vinson Massif.

In what is planned to be a 30-day trip, he will attempt hiking across part of the Antarctica continent before reaching the base and conquering the 4 892m-high mountain.

Benatar, the 37-year-old co-founder of Alliance Media, is on a mission to conquer the seven highest mountains on the seven continents. ‘Life is short and you’ve got to test your limits,” he says.

In the past 10 years he’s reached five summits: Kilimanjaro in Africa, Elbrus in Europe, Kosciusko in Australia, Mt McKinley in North America and Aconcagua in South America.

He plans to complete the seven summits when he climbs Mount Everest in 2009.

‘Completing the seven summits is a very personal challenge that one undertakes. There’s a great link between life and climbing. Life experiences have taught me a lot about climbing.”

The month-long trip in temperatures reaching below 40 degrees celsius will have him literally carrying his house on his back.

Weighing 66kg with 9% body fat, he will have to carry more than 45kg of food, clothing and a tent on his back. ‘You don’t shower for a month, so you take pretty much what you’re going to need.”

Benatar plans to gain 4kg to sustain him on the expedition. ‘It’s hard to gain weight while training. I will be using about 8 000 calories per day; I’ll be burning energy to climb and keep warm.”

Benatar is on a strict carbohydrate and protein diet. He’s also on a strong vitamin preventative course to boost his immunity.

On the trip he’ll have to live on energy bars, carbohydrate gels and protein bars. ‘I’ll be snacking all day long; you can’t sit and eat. I have to snack every few hours.”

On his business trips he packs running shoes and trains three times a day, running at least 15km each day. He’s often spotted at gym hiking on an elevated treadmill with leg weights and carrying a 45kg backpack.

‘Fitness is a prerequisite. You need to show up on the mountain with the fitness of an athlete.

‘I plan to do intensive climbing and tracking for eight hours every day in Antarctica. I find the physical work on the mountain is not a problem if I’m fit.

“The problems are the difficult conditions, the lack of sleep at night because of the high altitude and the poor food.”

He’s taking a six-person support team, including world-renowned Antarctic guide Dave Harm, who has finished the Antarctic summit 24 times.

Benatar doesn’t belong to any climbing organisation. He plans to fund the entire trip from his own pocket. ‘I don’t have the time to look for sponsorship and, if I’m to spend money on anything worthwhile, I’d rather spend it on this than a fancy sports car.”

He’s expecting to spend an excess of R300 000 for the 30-day experience. ‘You can get from A to B in a Rolls Royce or on a bicycle. If you live in South Africa, hiking doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money.

“You can literally have a backpack of bananas in your bag and have a beautiful day in South Africa. Get out into the country.”

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