Ranulph Fiennes Launches Winter Antarctic Crossing Expedition
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Ranulph “Ran” Fiennes, dubbed by Guinness as “the world´s greatest living explorer,” set sail today for the Antarctic, leading a team of adventurers who want to be the first to cross the vast continent during winter. Fiennes has described the expedition as a trip into the unknown with no chance of rescue if the trek goes awry.
Fiennes and crew left Cape Town, South Africa early Monday, cheered off by spectators and a band. They expect to reach the frozen, desolate continent later this month, and then will prepare for the more-than-2,000-mile-trek across the continent, set to begin in March.
Previously, the furthest venture into Antarctica during winter was 60 miles, completed in the early 20th century. If such a journey is even possible, Fiennes is the one to do it. Since 1979, the 68-year-old explorer has broken many records and has completed numerous expeditions.
“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,” he told AFP on Sunday.
“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,” Fiennes added.
The 1979 record was for crossing both poles; in 1992 he crossed the Antarctic unsupported.
According to Fiennes´s website, he became the oldest Briton to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 2009.
But while Mount Everest has its own challenges, they may pale in comparison to the effects an expedition team may face crossing the Antarctic in winter. With the lowest recorded temperatures (-130 degrees F) and sustained temperatures of -94 degrees F expected during the six-month crossing, the team will also face a trek shrouded in darkness, as the continent is not only devoid of sunlight through most of the winter, but also is devoid of life.
Fiennes noted that once winter approaches, “all the aeroplanes, all the ships from Antarctica disappear for eight months, and we´re on our own.”
The six-member crew will be led by two skiers carrying crevasse-detecting, ground-penetrating radars and followed by two tractors pulling sledge-mounted, converted containers which will supply the team with equipment, fuel and food.
“Anybody who leaves the vehicle and 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.
In preparations for the trip, the team tested in temperatures as low as -72 degrees F in Britain.
Anton Bowring, a co-leader of the expedition, described the adventure as “one of the last, great polar challenges.”
“The pundits, the clever people who know about Antarctica, are looking at this and thinking you know it might just be a bit crazy. So we will see,” he said. “I think we’ve worked at it for five years, we reckon we’ve just about covered all the possible problems.”
The team is traveling aboard the SA Agulhas, a retired South African polar research ship, which had been converted into a training vessel.
The team will start their trek across the great white landscape from Crown Bay, crossing the polar plateau at heights averaging 10,000 feet above sea level, and aim to cover about 22 miles per day. If all goes as planned, the team expects to reach McMurdo Sound in September.
Once there, the team will have to camp out for several more months before their research vessel can pick them up.