Antarctic adventure starts in Cape Town

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iol scitech jan 7 ca p3 fiennes bowring don

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Sir Ranulph Fiennes (left) and co-leader Anton Bowring start The Coldest Journey on earth. The SA Agulhas, below, will drop the six-person team off in the Antarctic to attempt the first winter crossing. Picture: Matthew Jordaan

Cape Town - British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes was set to depart on a two-week trip aboard the SA Agulhas to Antarctica on Monday morning from Cape Town harbour.

Fiennes and his team will spend six months on the frozen continent as they journey almost 4 000km through sleet and snow. While he won’t be the first person to undertake the mammoth trip, he would be the first to complete the journey, which has been dubbed The Coldest Journey, in winter. Robert Falcon Scott attempted two expeditions – during the southern summer in 1902 and 1910.

During summer, temperatures can dip below -50°C. But the lightless winter of the South Pole sees temperatures average around -70°C and plunge below -90°C.

Fiennes is well known for his adventures in the poles. In 2000, he was forced to abandon an on-foot and unsupported trek in the North Pole after his sleds fell through thin ice. He sustained severe frostbite on his fingertips trying to pull the sleds out – fingertips which he later sawed off himself in hospital because he had grown impatient with the pain.

This time the team are taking every precaution, from a portable igloo that will keep them warm even when everything outside is being frozen, and special gloves which heat up when they come in contact with oxygen.

“This time we are prepared,” Fiennes told guests aboard the SA Agulhas on Sunday. “We don’t want one of our mechanics losing fingers.”

But all the preparation will mean nothing if the SA Agulhas is not able to land the team on shore. Expedition co-leader Anton Bowring, who has worked with Fiennes for more than 30 years on a number of projects, said many vessels had struggled to find a break in the ice to offload equipment. “There are signs that it will clear up over the next two weeks, so we remain hopeful.”

The SA Agulhas, which is now a dedicated training vessel, will be manned largely by 50 cadets.

Awonke Notshulwana, a cadet from Port Elizabeth who has been training on board the SA Agulhas for six months, said this would be only his second voyage. “I am excited and looking forward to the challenge,” he said on Sunday, but added he was quite content to remain on board while Fiennes and his team braved the snow. - Cape Argus

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