Fiennes in SA for medical treatment

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ranulph fiennes AP File photo: British explorer Ranulph Fiennes

Cape Town - Injured British adventurer Sir Ranulph Fiennes arrived in South Africa on Thursday for medical treatment after he was evacuated from an Antarctica expedition because of frostbite.

The 68-year-old said he was “extremely disappointed” to have been forced to pull out of an attempt at the first winter crossing of the world's coldest continent.

“I have undergone a number of tests on my frostbitten hand both in Antarctica and since arriving here in Cape Town,” Fiennes said in a statement.

Additional tests are due before he leaves for the United Kingdom, he added.

Fiennes landed at 7:30 am local time (05:30 GMT) after bad weather stalled his evacuation for several days and was immediately taken for assessment and treatment of his hand.

He is now recuperating in private before his return home, the expedition said.

The five remaining members of the team will press on with the epic trek, dubbed The Coldest Journey, and are set to start the winter crossing on March 21.

“I am naturally extremely disappointed not to be able to continue with them and be a part of the expedition on the ice,” Fiennes said, citing many years of planning for the trip.

But his focus was now on returning to Britain, getting well and helping the team meet its target of raising $10 million (7.6

million euros) for a blindness charity, he added.

The multiple record holder suffered frostbite to four fingers on his left hand after removing a glove to adjust a ski binding at the weekend.

Fiennes said the five men he left on the ice were “forever in my thoughts” and had “every chance of pulling off this extraordinary feat”.

“It is a very difficult and dangerous undertaking, but if there is any one group of people who can do it, it is them,” he said.

Writing from the ice on Thursday, Ian Prickett said that the journey was “far from over” despite Fiennes's withdrawal.

“We are still giving our all towards being the first people ever to cross the continent in winter, something never before even attempted. We are determined to do it.”

The absent adventurer's camping mat has also already been cut up to insulate heaters, to help against the minus 50 degree Celsius (minus 58 Farenheit) temperatures that the team will face for most of the trip.

Other benefits of his departure were extra space in the team's cabin and more toilet roll, said Prickett.

The team are now 2 100 metres above sea level with the Antarctic sun sunshine lessening every day.

Nearly all of the main Antarctic research stations shut down for winter or revert to a skeleton staff.

“We are now well and truly alone on the ice with literally no-one within hundreds and hundreds of miles - and absolutely no way out,” said Prickett.

The six-month winter journey via the South Pole will be mostly in darkness.

The expedition has been dubbed as the “last great polar challenge” with Antarctica having the planet's lowest recorded temperature of minus 89.2 degrees Celsius.

So far, just 60 miles (37 kilometres) of the more than 2 000 mile journey has been achieved in winter.

The campaign aims to raise funds for the Seeing is Believing blindness charity and will carry out scientific research.

With several records to his name, Fiennes was the oldest Briton to summit Mount Everest, has crossed both polar ice caps, and has also crossed the Antarctic.

More than a decade ago, he had suffered severe frostbite to the same hand while on expedition. He later sawed off the damaged parts of his fingers himself. - Sapa-AFP

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