Polar explorers regain strength in lap of tourist 'luxury': Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Dr Michael Stroud have walked 1,350 miles across the Antarctic. Will Bennett reports

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The Independent Online
BY THEIR own harsh standards the explorers Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Dr Michael Stroud were in the lap of luxury yesterday. They had eggs for breakfast and enjoyed a long sleep.

They were recovering after being picked up from a 1,350 mile record- breaking Antarctic journey in a condition which the expedition organisers described as 'more dead than alive'.

Ironically, they were taken to a camp at Patriot Hills in the Chilean sector of the Antarctic run by a company called Adventure Network International, which organises trips to the South Pole. About 4,000 tourists a year now visit the Antarctic, many of them with ANI, and a few of these make it as far as the South Pole, once the ultimate dream for explorers. Such visitors do not suffer great privations.

By contrast Sir Ranulph, 49, whose many expeditions have kept alive the tradition of the eccentric British explorer, and Dr Stroud, 37, have each lost one- third of their bodyweight and are suffering from severe frostbite.

The two men were picked up by an aircraft on Thursday night about 350 miles from their original target. Despite having to call for help they had broken two polar records.

By early this week they had walked 1,350 miles in 88 days pulling their own supplies in sleds behind them and without back-up support.

A second record came when they completed the crossing of the Antarctic continent on Sunday. Such feats of endurance baffle those who prefer to travel shepherded by a courier and with the firm promise of a hotel room and a three-course meal at the end of the day.

Charlie Burton, who accompanied Sir Ranulph on his trans-globe expedition in 1979-82, said: 'Everyone has their own reasons for doing it. It is the challenge more than anything else, the challenge of hauling a sledge more than 1,300 miles.

'The main criteria is whether it has been done before. I would not climb Mount Everest because people have done that. Only in the Arctic and the Antarctic are there now things which can be done for the first time.' Nigel Winser, deputy director and expeditions officer for the Royal Geographical Society, said: 'The world would be a less rich place if Ran did not do it. The quest to go and explore where few people go is something that we all have in us.'

There are other more tangible reasons for the two men having submitted themselves to such acute hardships. One is that through sponsorship the trip should raise up to pounds 2m for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

They are also acting as guinea pigs taking their bodies to the edge of endurance so that scientists can see how they react. Dr Stroud is a specialist in nutrition, fitness and body metabolism. Before he left he said: 'You could never persuade anyone to work and suffer that hard in a laboratory. This is a unique opportunity to see precisely what these extremes do to an individual.'

For Sir Ranulph, such expeditions provide him with a living through lectures and books and he admits that he drives himself hard because he failed to follow in his father's footsteps as commanding officer of the Royal Scots Greys. But despite his repeated protestations that he only does it for the money and to satisfy his readers, most of his friends believe that there is more to it than that. As Tom McLean, another British adventurer, said after sailing the Atlantic in a giant bottle: 'I did this both for the hell of it and the pat on the back you get at the end.'

(Photograph omitted)

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