'Gutsy' Britons reach Pole

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The Independent Online
A BRITISH expedition, attempting to be the first to cross the Antarctic continent on foot and without air support, yesterday reached the South Pole, the half- way point in an epic journey.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Dr Michael Stroud, after travelling for 69 days, set off almost immediately on the second half of their 1,800-mile expedition. Their bitter rival, the Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge, who arrived at the Pole last week after skiing there unaided, said: 'They've got guts.'

US officials, reporting by radio to the expedition base camp here, said that, though Sir Ranulph has lost at least three stone and Dr Stroud two, both looked strong. 'It will become a case of will-power over starvation,' Sir Ranulph said by radio last week.

Hauling all their own food and fuel on sleds - 480lb apiece - Sir Ranulph, 49, and Dr Stroud, 37, who are trying to raise some pounds 3m for the Multiple Sclerosis Society in the UK, have astonished even sceptical polar travellers with their perseverance. Their load is nearly double that pulled by Mr Kagge or by the Tyrolese mountaineer Reinhold Messner who crossed the continent with the aid of pre-positioned supplies in the 1989-90 season.

The expedition is hoping that the second leg of the journey, down the route pioneered by the doomed Scott party in 1912, will be appreciably less gruelling than the first. The sleds have lightened to about 350lb each, the going is initially downhill and the big winds that come rolling down the polar dome will be at their backs.

However, the two men face a terrible challenge. Delayed by bad weather, and then obliged to pick their way in relays through a nightmarish crevasse field, they are behind schedule. They have also run down their food and fuel, which was originally laid out to cover only one hundred days. For unknown reasons, they abandoned the parachute sails that permitted Mr Messner to log distances of up to 104km a day on the second leg of his traverse.

Sir Ranulph is now the first man to reach the Pole twice travelling overland; he first achieved the feat in 1980.

(Photograph omitted)

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