The year 1912 was one of the most consequential in the history of polar exploration. The race between Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott to reach the South Pole was on its return leg, and a third explorer had just arrived, far behind but undaunted.
He arrived on January 19, “in the smallest ship ever to try its luck in these perilous waters.” His expedition ultimately did not reach the pole, and he was soon forgotten even inside Japan. But as this Antarctic expedition season gets set to kick off, one explorer is determined to bring his story back to light.
In two days, Japanese rickshaw driver and accomplished adventurer Masatatsu Abe will set out to ski the route attempted by his childhood hero to the South Pole. If he’s successful, Nobu Shirase may still get his just dues in the annals of polar exploration history.
Abe will begin his solo human-powered ski trek to the South Pole sometime around November 20 from the so-called “Messner start” on the Ronne Ice Shelf, pulling a sledge and averaging 20-30 km/day.
Despite a language barrier, time zone difference, and the massive logistical challenges that lay ahead prior to his departure, Abe took some time out to answer a few questions for Unofficial.
Note: The following conversation took place over several conversations via Facebook Messenger. It has been slightly edited for clarity, but hopefully retains Abe’s original passion and voice.
How’d you get started on this crazy life of adventure?
Because of job hunting when I was a university student. At that time, I found myself not wanting to get a job or a Master’s degree. However, I was loving to read books of explorers since I was a small kid. Explorers were the HERO to me. I did not want to finish just as a dreaming kid. I decided to live my life. Live as I dreamed. Live like my HEROES.
Do you use rickshaw driving as a way to keep you in shape for your adventures?
Yes, rickshaw driver work is for the sake of keeping myself FIT. Work in the office all the time is not efficient to be a well-trained person. Another reason is that I wanted a Japanese-like job.
Why was it important to you to follow in the footsteps of Nobu Shirase?
To make sure his dream is never-ending. Nobody has ever followed his undone path to the South pole. Nobu Shirase was HERO to me. I will make my HERO’s dream.
When do you leave, how long is the trek, and is there a way people can follow along on social media?
I leave Japan November 9th. Will start walking November 20th or so. The trek takes 40 days, or a maximum of 50 days. I will update my GPS position and journal on my homepage and Facebook page account.
Anytime, you can check what I am doing in Antarctica today.
Like his childhood hero, publicity surrounding Abe’s journey has been relatively low key prior to the departure. American Colin O’Brady and Brit Lou Rudd are flashier fundraisers and spent more time in the spotlight. But if Abe reaches his goal, they’ll be sharing that spotlight with both Abe and Shirase. Time to make room…