7 Jan 2013

Antarctic expedition a trip into the unknown

11:45 am on 7 January 2013

British adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes is to lead a team to Antarctica to begin a winter odyssey across the southern continent.

The 68-year-old explorer hopes to be the first person to make a winter crossing of Antarctica. The land crossing will begin in March. All previous crossings of the continent have been carried out in summer.

Sir Ranulph has travelled to both polar caps and is the oldest person to climb Mount Everest.

The six-member team will leave Cape Town on Monday to make the nearly 4000km trip across Antarctica where the furthest winter journey has been only 96km in the early 20th century.

"We've been doing expeditions for a total of 40 years. We've broken a great number of world records. In Antarctica we've got two huge records, one in 1979 and one in 1992, but they are all in summer," Sir Ranulph told AFP.

"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 (96km) journey. So we are into the unknown."

The Antarctic has the earth's lowest recorded temperature of nearly minus 90 degrees Celsius and levels of around minus 70C are expected during the six-month crossing, which will be 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," Sir Ranulph said.

"That is why we have to try and take with us a whole year of supplies and a doctor and everything else like that, which makes it the biggest, heaviest expedition that we've ever been involved with rather than just man against the element."

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.

The team, which will be trying to raise $US10 million ($A9.6 million) for the Seeing is Believing blindness charity, have tested their clothing and equipment to minus 58C in the United Kingdom and minus 45 in Sweden.

"The pundits, the clever people who know about Antarctica, are looking at this and thinking you know it might just be a bit crazy. So we will see," co-leader Anton Bowring said.