Explorers Connect

The Coldest Journey

CommunityJames Hipkiss

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. On 6th December, the SA Agulhas set off from London on what is the start of the world's first ever attempt to cross the Antarctic in winter. The 2000-mile journey across the continent has for many years been considered too perilous to try and the expedition's six-man Ice Team -led by Sir Ranulph Fiennes - 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. The Journey 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.

On 21st March, 2013, Sir Ranulph Fiennes will set off with five other experienced and dedicated explorers in their 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 -60C can 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 mission would 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. The 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.

The 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 specially-engineered heated 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. Find out more Find out more about The Coldest Journey here and feel free to share your thoughts and messages on our comments pages. Throughout the expedition the site will be updated with regular blogs and bulletins from Sir Ranulph and the crew so you can experience the adventure with them as they take on this extraordinary feat of daring, endurance and life on the coldest journey on Earth.