Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Coldest Journey

Sometimes I shake my head and say what is a sane or rational adventure and what is not ?

Then to note that my old friend Sir Ranulph Fiennes is soon to start what some call an attempt to overcome the great polar challenges, I really wonder who the hell would want to spend 6 months in a tracked motor vehicle in the dark. But then, I spent 13 months with 3 other people in Antarctica in 1970, so who am I to argue? So, I go with the media hype, " Today only one true challenge remains - to be the first to cross the Antarctic in winter."

Coincidentally, another old friend Will Steger, the first man to reach both North and South Poles using dog teams, was with me at Eureka weather station at 80 degrees north on Ellesmere Island Canada when we met Sir Ran in 1986 when we were on separate North Pole expeditions. We were an 8 person unsupported dog-sled expedition and Ran was man hauling with Robert Swann. Their expedition struck trouble and they never made and 6 of our 8 members made it to the North Pole.

So good on you Ran, good luck, and I hope we 'share spoons again.'  In 1986 when I was at the same table as Ran in the Arctic, we were short of spoons. So when I finished my meal, he looked at my spoon and said "finished?". I said yes and he picked up my dirty spoon and immediately started his meal.

For more than 100 years the world has witnessed a golden era in modern exploration, as
adventurers from across
the globe have battled against each other to overcome the great polar challenges. Today
only one true challenge remains - to be the first to cross the Antarctic in winter.
Ever since US Navy engineer Robert Peary allegedly reached the North Pole in 1909
and Roald Amundsen and his crew reached the South Pole in December 1911, there
have been numerous successful attempts to close out the remaining challenges.
Although a team of Norwegian explorers achieved the astonishing feat of crossing
the Arctic during winter in 2010, crossing the Antarctic in near permanent darkness
and in temperatures as low as -90C has by many experts been seen as one step
too far - until now.

The Coldest Journey on Earth

Setting off from Greenwich aboard the South African ice-breaker, SA Agulhas, Sir Ranulph
Fiennes will lead an experienced and dedicated team of six explorers in this record-breaking
attempt to do the unimaginable. There can be no mistake, attempting to cross the Antarctic in
winter carries very high risks and completing the challenge will require extraordinary endurance,
bravery and will power.
The ground-breaking venture is one of the largest non-governmental initiatives ever to
take place, and it is fitting therefore that it should get underway on the centenary year
of Captain Scott's death in the Antarctic. Achieving their goal will further cement Britain's
reputation as the world's leading nation of explorers and be a fitting conclusion to an
extraordinary period in human history.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has up until this expedition refused to grant
permission  to take on the challenge because it has always been deemed far too risky
and the chances of disaster too high. This decision was only overturned after it was shown
technological innovations could mitigate some of the major risks of the crossing.
Despite this change of heart, the risks remain high for the team; simply by inhaling air below
 -60Ccan cause irreparable damage to the lungs (the average winter temperature at the South
Pole is approximately -60C!) and exposure to the skin to such temperatures causes severe
frostbite in a matter of seconds. If anything should go seriously wrong, a search and rescue
missionwould be impossible since aircraft cannot fly in such cold conditions due to the
 threat of their fuel freezing. In the event of a major incident, the crew will have to sit out
the winter on the ice until summer when a rescue attempt can be made.
Novo stationThe selected crossing from the Russian base of Novolazarevskaya (right), via the South Pole, to Captain Scott's base at McMurdo Sound, will take six months - mostly in complete darkness - and span more than 2,000 miles. In total, the team will spend an estimated 273 days on the ice, and once under way, travel at an average of 35km per day, with every one day in three being allocated as reserve (for rest or bad weather).
Throughout the crossing a two-man ski unit will lead the party, dragging a pulk kitted out with a ground-penetrating radar. This radar will transmit real-time information about the terrain - and any crevasses - to a Mobile Vehicle Landtrain (MVL) following close behind, which will be
 made up of two modified Caterpillar D6N vehicles each towing a caboose and store and
fuel sleds. If crevasses are discovered they will be assessed as potential threats and if
they are deemed significant or too large to fill an alternative route will be taken.

D6N with teamThe team will eat and sleep
in one of the heated cabooses,
while the other will house the
 expedition's scientific
equipment and workshops.
Due to the bitter conditions
the team will be wearing
clothing that is vital to keep
them alive and make the
crossing possible.

During the traverse, Sir Ranulph and his team will receive regular communications
and support from the ship, managed by Anton Bowring, and from the Expedition
Office based in London and headed up by Tristam Kaye, which will provide
additional communications and a link to the outside world.

What Do They Hope to Achieve?

On 6th December, a team of explorers led by Sir Ranulph Fiennes will set off from London
on the world's first ever attempt to cross the Antarctic in winter.
The 2000-mile journey has for many years been considered too perilous to try and the group
 will have to overcome one of earth's most hostile environments if they are to succeed,
exposing themselves to temperatures dropping close to -90c and operating in near
permanent darkness.
A winter traverse of the Antarctic is widely regarded as the last true remaining polar
challenge and the expedition's success will reassert Britain's status as the world's
greatest nation of explorers.
A fund-raising initiative will run side-by-side with the expedition with the aim of raising
$10m for Seeing is Believing to help fight blindness around the world.
Having never been attempted, the expedition will also provide unique and invaluable
scientific research that will help climatologists, as well as forming the basis for an
education programme that will reach up to 100,000 schools across the Commonwealth.

Good luck guys from someone who knows the long Antarctic winter. Bob McKerrow

No comments: