Sir Ranulph Fiennes to attempt record winter Antarctica expedition
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Monday 17 September 2012
It is testimony to Sir Ranulph Fiennes and the scale of his previous triumphs that in order to achieve his next - and possibly final - exploration first he will have to spend four months skiing in the dark in -70C of cold followed by two 20-ton bulldozers dragging 140 tons of supplies.
The 68-year-old adventurer today unveiled his plan to lead the first team across Antarctica during the southern winter, describing it as the last milestone in exploration in an era when “everyone's grandmother goes up Mount Everest at the weekend”.
In order to achieve the 2,000 mile crossing of the polar continent in among the most inhospitable conditions on the planet, Sir Ranulph and his team of five will mount an extraordinary expedition based on guiding across Antarctica a life support system in the shape of two caterpillar-tracked earth movers.
The bulldozers will drag behind them customised sledges fitted with pods to provide shelter as well as holding the equipment and fuel necessary for the six-month trek which is due to begin next March after the team leave London by ship this December.
The expedition, which departs in the centenary year of Captain Scott's death in the Antarctic after he and his team became trapped in the southern winter, was first contemplated by Sir Ranulph 25 years ago but dismissed by him as “impossible”. It has only become thinkable now because of recent technological advances.
Speaking at the Royal Society in central London, which has a 200-year history of involvement in polar exploration, Sir Ranulph, who has survived cancer and a heart bypass operation in recent years, swatted aside any suggestion that his advancing years made the journey too risky.
He said: “We heard a rumour that Norwegian explorers were contemplating this, so we realised we were going to have to have a go.
”You just must not think about getting old. If you still are lucky enough to be able to walk around not stooped, no crutch, no Zimmer frame then you might as well go for it.
“It is the last really big expedition in these days where everybody's grandmother goes up Mount Everest at the weekend.”
In his 40 years of exploration, Sir Ranulph has racked up a series of iron-willed achievements, including the first circumnavigation of the globe on its polar axis, and often travelled unsupported.
But such are the extreme conditions created by the Antarctic winter, that his latest endeavour - entitled The Coldest Journey - can only be undertaken with considerable hardware. The two Caterpillar bulldozers will drag with them 155,000 litres of fuel and enough supplies to ensure that the expedition, which will be beyond reach by rescuers, can survive unaided.
Sir Ranulph and a colleague will ski in front of the vehicles, dragging a ground-penetrating radar to spot crevasses which could imperil the convoy, for up to eight hours a day, covering an average of 35km. The lack of winter sun on the south pole means that four of the six months will be spent in permanent darkness.
In order to overcome temperatures which can freeze human flesh within minutes, the team will use technology including battery-powered boot warmers and a giant “sleeping bag” for the bulldozers to prevent the machinery from seizing during stops.
Experts said that even with the latest equipment, the £6m expedition, which will also conduct a series of scientific experiments in areas from global warming to the existence of cold-resistant bacteria, was not guaranteed success.
Anton Bowring, who has worked with Fiennes for 30 years and organised the South African government-owned ice breaker that will transport the expedition, said: “It is a major and risky attempt on something that hasn't been done before. It is an enormous undertaking.”
If all goes to plan, the expedition, which is being sponsored by Standard Chartered bank and aims to raise £10m for a blindness charity, will arrive at its destination by 21 September 2013. Even then the difficulty of travel means the team will have wait until January 2014 to start its journey back to Britain.
Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Wreckage could be found within a week as search reaches 'very critical juncture', says minister
South Korea ferry disaster: Released transcripts show chaos and confusion in the moments before ferry sinks
Unbeliebable: The White House offer 'no comment' to anti-Justin Bieber petition
Loch Ness Monster found on Apple Maps?
South Korea ferry disaster: Families watch as remains of Sewol victims returned to shore
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
'Sinful': Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy comes under attack
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back
An open letter to Nigel Farage: you may smile, but I am not seduced
Abdullah Deghayes: My son was the martyr of a just cause, says father of British teenager killed in Syria conflict
- 1 Jose Mourinho: Graceless reaction of Chelsea manager a sad effort to hide his own flaws
- 2 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 3 Unbeliebable: The White House offer 'no comment' to anti-Justin Bieber petition
- 4 Loch Ness Monster found on Apple Maps?
- 5 Shropshire criminals ‘using unmanned drones and infrared cameras to find illegal cannabis farms’ – and then steal from the growers
£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...
£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...
Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...
£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...