Veteran adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes sailed for the Antarctic on Monday, leading a team bidding to become the first to cross the continent in winter in what he has describes as a trip into the unknown with no chance of rescue.
Fiennes and his six-member team sailed from Cape Town and were set to reach the coldest place on Earth later this month to start the more than 2,000 miles (nearly 4,000 kilometres) journey in March.
Known as one of the world’s greatest living explorers, Fiennes, 68, became the oldest Briton to summit Mount Everest in 2009, according to his website.
He has also crossed both polar ice caps and in 1992-93 he crossed the Antarctic unsupported in 1992-93.
So far the furthest that a winter crossing attempt of Antarctica got was only 60 miles, in the early 20th century.
Fiennes said previous record-breaking expeditions, including in the Antarctic, had all been in the summer.
“So we aren’t any more expert than anybody else at winter travel. There is no past history of winter travel in Antarctica apart from the 60-mile journey. So we are into the unknown,” he told AFP on Sunday.
The Antarctic has the Earth’s lowest recorded temperature of nearly minus 90 degrees Celsius (-130 degrees Fahrenheit), and levels of around minus 70 are expected during the six-month crossing, which will be conducted mostly in darkness.
“This is the first time once we’ve gone out, all the aeroplanes, all the ships from Antarctica disappear for eight months, and we’re on our own and then you’re in a situation where you would die,” Fiennes said.
The group will be led by two skiers carrying crevasse-detecting, ground-penetrating radars and followed by two tractors pulling sledge-mounted, converted containers with the rest of the team, equipment, fuel and food.
“Anybody who leaves the vehicle and goes out on skis has to accept the fact that if things go wrong, they will die like people did 100 years ago,” Fiennes said.
The team, which will be carrying out scientific research and wants to raise $10 million (nearly eight million euros) for the Seeing Is Believing blindness charity.
The team is travelling on the ice-strengthened South African vessel SA Agulhas and will set out from Crown Bay to reach McMurdo Sound in September.