In under a month Jacob 'Valhalla' Myers, an intrepid polar enthusiast and Shackleton Guide, is set to embark on his attempt to become the youngest person in history to complete a solo, unsupported ski expedition to the South Pole. Here he shares his pre-departure thoughts and the steps he has taken to prepare for this gruelling 700+ mile ski journey in isolation.
In September of 2020 I was sitting atop the highest point of a prominent mountain range in the Northern Rockies of Montana to watch the sunrise. The range had been distraught with fire that burned for days, and it hadn’t even been a full two days since the flames were officially extinguished. While the sun rose over Yellowstone in the distance, the scent of pine and ash filled the air so thickly I thought it might taint what little snow dotted the mountaintop. I had recently found an interest in the world of polar travel, and after celebrating the feats of men such as Henry Worsley, Ernest Shackleton, and my now mentor Louis Rudd, it was in a single moment of inspiration from this extreme landscape that Antarctica found her way into my life. It’s been three years since that moment, and as I write this I sit a mere two weeks away from flying massive duffel bags full of equipment down to Chile, and then to the Union Glacier logistics base at the edge of Antarctica before attempting to find myself a space in the brief but exhilarating world of polar travel.
I’ll have a couple weeks in South America to prepare, but afterwards, theoretically beginning November 18, I will be attempting to ski over 700 miles in complete solitude to the Geographic South Pole from the Hercules Inlet, and if successful cementing myself as the youngest person in human history to complete this journey in such a style.
These last three years of preparation have brought me to so many amazing places where I’ve shared some rather hefty challenges with the larger adventure sports community. I’ve been blessed to call the mountains of Montana my new home for two seasons, I’ve completed one of the hardest hundred mile races in the US not once but twice, and I’ve camped out in the cold a ton. Alongside the physical training, I’ve also had opportunities to shape my mind for both the isolation and the sheer length of the journey. In moments of weakness marching through the long night of the Canadian Arctic I found strength in the beauty of the Northern Lights, and despite the difficulty of navigating varied terrain on Norway’s Hardanger Glacier during a 20 day solo journey, I found peace in the plateaus of ice and snow. The single best thing polar travel has brought me is a newfound confidence in myself to endure a whole host of challenges in pursuit of my dream and the discipline necessary to realise it.
These gifts are not taken for granted, especially in the face of preparing a memorial for a dear friend and community member who took his life this week. I am someone who has also dealt with and continues to work through mental health issues and I’m finding now, possibly more than ever, just how beneficial the kind of consistency my training regiment offers is.
These three years of preparation have all been plenty cold but looked pretty different, and I think it’d be fun to cover them in brief.
I was a fairly athletic kid, if not pretty underweight and unassuming. My first Winter of preparation I took up weightlifting and incorporated a ton of backpacking before attempting a thru-hike of the 800-miles of desert that make up the Arizona Trail. I spent most of this journey alone and went through some uncomfortable growing pains as I learned to be comfortable in nothing but my own company. In total the journey took 39 days.
After interviewing to be a Level III client on a Shackleton Challenge, I was informed that, despite my fitness and outdoor experience, I didn’t know enough about the cold to attempt a full week in Norway with the team. I asked my now mentor Wendy Searle, who at the time was handling client interviews, if she felt I could gain enough experience on my own by moving from my home to a Wintery mountain range (the same one where my South Pole dream began) some 2,000 miles away to train on my own before the Shackleton Challenges season began. She agreed to let me try, and I simultaneously trained to run my first 100-miler while testing all kinds of equipment alone in the snow. After completing the Level III challenge in April, Wendy approached me with an interest in supporting my dream expedition.
By this point I understood most of the systems necessary to keep myself safe on the ice, but I had a lot of skillset honing and cold exposure necessary to qualify for a solo South Pole expedition. I dragged tires and sleds through the mountains of Montana and sat up to my neck in a frozen creek almost daily, once at -40F/C. I competed in a 300-mile race in the Yukon in February, holding first place until some very painful sciatic issues convinced me to surrender to the course in order to prioritize the larger South Pole mission (I’ll be back). Three weeks later I flew to Norway to take on a 20-day mini expedition in complete isolation before joining the Shackleton team as an apprentice guide.
And now for the big one. With a mere two weeks before I fly out, these last days are spent trying to stay healthy and sharing some precious moments with loved ones and supporters before I disappear into the heart of Antarctica.
You can follow along with daily updates on The Youngest to Pole Project’s page on the Shackleton website once the journey begins in earnest November 18th.
Header image credit: Jack Anstey.