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Legendary British Explorer Announces Greatest Challenge Yet: Travel Across Antarctica… In Winter..
September 17, 2012
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If there's one word to describe Antarctica, it's cold. With a capital C. In fact, at the coldest time of year, the temperature can fall to -90C.

So, the idea of walking 3,200 kilometres (2,000 miles) across Antarctica is... well... kind of insane. Unless of course, you're known as the greatest explorer alive and your name is Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

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Today, Fiennes said he's up for the challenge. He plans to leave for Antarctica on December 6th, and hopes to begin the trek on March 21st of next year. It should take about six months. If he does it, he'd be the first person to cross Antarctica in the middle of winter.

Just to get to the route, Fiennes and his crew will have to climb more than 3000m onto the inland plateau; then trek for several hundred kilometres with all their supplies; descend another 3000m to the ice shelf; then do the 3,200km across the continent.

If that isn't tough enough, Fiennes is no spring chicken. He's 68 and has survived cancer and major heart surgery. Oh, and he's also lost most of his finger tips on one hand due to frostbite. (He actually cut them off himself with a saw)

Fiennes has been training in the Swedish Arctic, where temperatures drop to about -40C. But Antarctica is a whole different animal.

Fiennes expects blizzards, whiteouts, and cracks in the ice up to 600m (200 feet) deep. This crossing has never been done in the darkness of winter. And 25 years ago, Fiennes said it was "impossible." So, what's different now?

Speaking to the BBC, he said "We heard a rumour that Norwegian explorers were contemplating this. We realized we were going to have to have a go."

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Fiennes will set off on skis with a partner, but he'll be followed by several other crew members, driving two modified 20-tonne bulldozers.

The dozers will carry the crew's living quarters, supplies, equipment and fuel (that's designed not to freeze). They'll also carry a science lab, so the crew can do research on marine life, oceanography and meteorology.

"There is a huge, blank knowledge of the winter of Antarctica," Fiennes said. "What is happening to Antarctica during a period when the scientists can't normally get out there."

The crew will also have special boot warmers and ski bindings, plus a giant 'thermal bag' to put over the bulldozers so the engines don't freeze when everyone is sleeping.

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Fiennes hopes to raise 10 million US dollars for Seeing Is Believing, a charity to fight avoidable blindness around the world.

If the crew gets into trouble, it will be virtually impossible to rescue them. But Fiennes isn't thinking about that. "If you still are lucky enough to be able to walk around not stooped, no crutch, no Zimmer frame then you might as well go for it," he said.

The BBC's Matthew Price has been following Fiennes' as he prepares in Sweden. You can check out his report here.

Fiennes is the first explorer to cross both polar ice caps. He's the first to traverse the globe from pole to pole. And he's the oldest to climb Mount Everest, conquering it in 2009 on his third attempt. He was 65 at the time, and had suffered a major heart attack when he tried to climb it the first time.

But he's not the only one who has taken an ambitious walk and told the tale. Rory Stewart, a Scottish academic, author and Conservative politician, went on a 32-day solo walk across Afghanistan during the winter of early 2002.

He survived the trip using "his wits, his knowledge of Persian dialects and Muslim customs, and the kindness of strangers," according to his website.

Unlike Fiennes' treks, which pit him primarily against nature, Stewart's journey also took him into close contact with Afghanistan's people, and at least one dog: a retired fighting mastiff named after the country's first Mughal emperor.

Read more about the book right here.

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