As Sir Ranulph Fiennes heads off to attempt the first winter crossing of Antarctica, he talks to Phoebe Smith about the challenges ahead
Sir Ranulph Fiennes has just set off on a mission to complete the first journey across the Antarctic continent during the Polar winter. If successful, it will be a Brit-led world first, providing priceless scientific research for climatologists. It will also raise $10m for the charity Seeing is Believing to help fight blindness around the world.
Before he set sail from London, Wanderlust editor Phoebe Smith caught up with Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE to find out more…
So, I have to ask, why do this?
Quite simply because it’s not been done before. Yes we will raise money for charity and help with scientific research – we had to do this to get approval from the FCO – but we want to show that something like this can still be done.
This is not your first time to Antarctica though…
No. In 1992 myself and Mike Stroud did the first unsupported crossing of the Antarctic continent – the longest unsupported journey in history. About four or five years ago Mike sent me an email suggesting we try it in winter. It seemed we would never get permission and it took a long time to secure sponsorship and get the right team, but finally we did it. Last month we got a permit through – the first one ever given. It was definitely an itch that needed to be scratched.
Will you be unsupported this time?
No, we will take vehicles to shelter in when it gets extremely cold and will rely on these for taking food through – no air evacuation will be possible.
What is your main concern about doing this? What is most likely to go wrong?
Welding on the vehicles. Metal does not like to be at such low temperatures. We have an excellent welder with us, but it is still a worry.
You’re facing getting stuck in your tent for days, in temperatures of minus 90 and pretty dire conditions. How will you cope?
By wearing my Paramo underpants!
How long will it take you?
Well for it to be considered a winter crossing we have to get it done by the spring equinox. If we set out a day early or a day late then it will all be over. The Norwegians will be watching – believe me – so we have to get it right.