Sir Ranulph Fiennes to attempt recordwinter Antarctica trekVeteran explorer describes planned 2,000-mile trek in temperatures as low as -90C as hisgreatest challenge to dateMaev Kennedy, Monday 17 September 2012The appalling challenge of a six-month 2,000-mile walk across the south pole, in the perpetual darkness of theAntarctic winter when temperatures can plummet to -90C, proved, perhaps inevitably, irresistible to the veteranexplorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes.Fiennes hero, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, wrote "great God, this is an awful place" when he finally reached thesouth pole a century ago, before freezing and starving to death with his team on the return journey. Apsley Cherry-Garrard called his own trek "the worst journey in the world". Ernest Shackleton abandoned another expedition as theweather closed in to save the lives of his crew.Those journeys were made in summer. Nobody before has attempted, still less achieved, crossing the pole in winter.In a prepared statement, Fiennes said: "This will be my greatest challenge to date. We will stretch the limits of humanendurance."Britain and the Commonwealth has a strong heritage of exploration, from Captain Cook 300 years ago to the presentday. As such, it is fitting that a Commonwealth team should be the first to fulfil this last great polar expedition."However, in person, at the launch at the Royal Society of The Coldest Journey, Fiennes could not really explain whyanyone should contemplate such a venture, still less a man aged 68 who has survived cancer, major heart surgery, andthe loss of most of the frozen finger tips on one hand – which he cut off himself with a saw bought specially for thepurpose. "Its what I do," he said, looking slightly puzzled at the question.Fiennes – officially the worlds greatest living explorer, according to the Guinness Book of Records – was the first,with Dr Mike Stroud, to cross the Antarctic continent unsupported; the first to cross both polar ice caps; the oldest t oclimb Everest, finally conquering it in 2009 aged 65 on his third attempt, after suffering a major heart attack on hisfirst; and the first to traverse the globe from pole to pole, with the late Charles Burton. He described this trip as one ofthe last great challenges, "now that everyones grandmother goes up Everest at the weekend".He admitted his wife, Louise, and six-year-old daughter are not thrilled. "But Ive never done anything else, its how Iearn my living. And youre much more likely, statistically, to die on the roads here than on the polar ice."He shrugged off suggestions he might be too old for such jaunts: "If youre still lucky enough to be able to walkaround, you might as well go for it." As with Scott and his great rival Roald Amundsen, who beat him to the SouthPole, it was rumours of a Norwegian team preparing for the same challenge that goaded Fiennes into an expeditionwhich he himself dismissed as impossible 25 years ago. Another Norwegian recently achieved the winter crossing ofthe Arctic.After training in the Swedish Arctic in a relatively balmy -40C, his team will sail from London on 6 December on aSouth African research ship, the SA Agulhas – leased at a bargain price from the South African Maritime SafetyAuthority.The ice trek proper will begin on 21 March, the equinox that marks the official start of the polar winter, from theRussia base of Novolazareskaya. Fiennes and his five team members must then climb more than 3,048 metres on tothe inland plateau, trek for several hundred miles with all the supplies and equipment they need, descend another3,000 metres, and finally cross almost another 2,000 miles to reach the Ross Sea.
If they reach Captain Scotts old base at McMurdo Sound, via the South Pole, by the spring equinox six months later,they will still have to wait for months until the sea ice retreats enough for their ship to collect them. The saddest man on the ice will be Stroud, who for decades was Fiennes joint expedition leader and medical officer. He dreamed up this adventure but finally concluded a fortnight ago that he could not join it – mainly because more than a year away from his work at Southampton University would pummel his pension entitlement. He will sail with them and then wave them off. He is currently desolately interviewing for his own replacement. It takes a special temperament to fit into a "very small, very isolated group in very extreme conditions", he said – so isolated that space travel researchers will be monitoring their progress, in a project dubbed "White Mars". His replacement must cope alone with any medical emergency – not just trivialities such as coughing blood from lungs damaged by the icy air, experienced by both Stroud and Fiennes on their last Antarctic expedition, when each was hauling 220kg of supplies. In the event of what he terms "a howling disaster" the team will carry a dead body with them – in cold storage, as he pointed out cheerfully. This time Fiennes and Strouds replacement will lead the way on skis, towing relatively light ground-penetrating radar equipment. The radar should give the two following tractors 30 to 40 metres warning of ice crevasses, which could swallow them whole in a few seconds. The tractors are heavily modified standard machines, stripped down and rebuilt, every piece of plastic replaced with more resistant silicone, and adapted to run on aviation fuel, each towing about 70 tonnes in equipment and the living pods. The team will include an engineer and a mechanic able to make running repairs, but in the event of calamity will have to camp out until summer, the earliest a rescue mission could reach them.Stroud estimates each team member will need around 6,000 calories a day from freeze-dried supplies, although heand Fiennes consumed up to 11,000 calories each on their last Antarctic expedition.Fiennes just hopes there are good flapjacks, the highlight of each of his last days on the ice – until he noticed thatStroud was giving him a much smaller one. He demanded to be allowed to choose his own, but after a week realisedthat his still looked smaller."As you get hungry, it has a bad effect on your personality," he explained - the only glimpse he offered into theinternal workings of the mind of an extraordinary man.Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/sep/17/ranulph-fiennes-antarctica?INTCMP=SRCH