Published — Tuesday 8 January 2013
Last update 8 January 2013 2:19 am
British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes has embarked on an expedition that he describes as one of the last remaining polar challenges: crossing Antarctica during the region's winter.
Fiennes and his five-member team left Cape Town yesterday aboard a South African polar vessel for what they have dubbed “The Coldest Journey.”
In March, they plan to begin their continent-spanning journey via the South Pole. The plan is to traverse nearly 4,000 km, mostly in total darkness and with temperatures dipping as low as minus 90 Celsius.
Fiennes, 68, says he and his companions will stretch the limits of human endurance.
Fiennes earlier said his bid, with no option of rescue, would be a trip into the unknown despite his multiple record expeditions.
The intrepid adventurer became the oldest Briton to summit Mount Everest in 2009, according to his website. He has also crossed both polar ice caps and in 1992-93, he crossed the Antarctic unsupported.
So far the furthest winter journey in Antarctica covered only 60 miles, in the early 20th century.
“We've been doing expeditions for a total of 40 years. We've broken a great number of world records. In Antarctica we've got two huge records, one in 1979 and one in 1992, but they are all in summer,” Fiennes said.
“So we aren't any more expert than anybody else at winter travel. There is no past history of winter travel in Antarctica apart from the 60-mile journey. So we are into the unknown.”
The Antarctic has the Earth's lowest recorded temperature, and levels of around minus 70 are expected during the six-month crossing.
“This is the first time once we've gone out, all the aeroplanes, all the ships from Antarctica disappear for eight months, and we're on our own and then you're in a situation where you would die,” Fiennes said.
“That is why we have to try and take with us a whole year of supplies and a doctor and everything else like that, which makes it the biggest, heaviest expedition that we've ever been involved with rather than just man against the elements.”
The group will be led by two skiers carrying crevasse-detecting ground-penetrating radars and followed by two tractors pulling sledge-mounted, converted containers with the rest of the team, equipment, fuel and food.
“Anybody who leaves the vehicle and it goes out on skis has to accept the fact that if things go wrong, they will die like people did 100 years ago,” Fiennes said.
The team, which will be carrying out scientific research and wants to raise $10 million for the Seeing Is Believing blindness charity, have tested their clothing and equipment to minus 58 Celsius in Britain and minus 45 in Sweden.
Fiennes said that he and fellow explorers have never used hand-warming equipment on polar expeditions, but “this time we're using every device known to mankind to warm up our bodies, and we've got new breathing apparatuses.”