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On January 7th, 68-year-old British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and his team of five sailed off from the picturesque port of Cape Town, to begin the first leg of what is aptly being called 'The Coldest Journey' - A never before done 2,300-mile trek across the Antarctica in winter!
The approximately two month voyage aboard the specially built SA Agulhas will take them to Crown Bay, Queen Maud Land in Eastern Antarctica, where they will set up base camp and spend a few days, testing their equipment.
If everything goes according to schedule, the team will begin their treacherous journey on March 21st, 2013. A two-man ski team will lead the way, with the rest following behind in a Mobile Vehicle Landtrain that comprises of two Caterpillar D6N tractors specially modified for the terrain and two specially developed cabooses loaded with scientific equipment, the team's nightly accommodation and storage. Also in the caboose, will be additional fuel - One that has been specially concocted so that it will not freeze.
In order to avoid getting lost, the team will follow the well-traversed route carved out for the annual Extreme World Races/Arctic Trucks. The 1,381 mile (2,223 km) long journey, which will take them directly to the South Pole is expected to take 84 days - assuming that they can travel at about 35km/hr for eight hours at a time. To make sure they are not over-optimistic the team has built in a 21-day buffer for rest and any equipment repairs, if necessary.
After resting a little, the men will embark on the second and final leg of their journey - A 61 day, 994 mile (1,600 km) trek following a route laid out by the US Antarctic Program. This will take them across the polar plateau via the Leverett Glacier to the Ross Ice Shelf. From there they will traverse through the Mcmurdo Ice Shelf and finally to the coast near Ross Island.
Once at Ross Island, the team will set up camp and wait to be picked up. However, while they expect to be there by September 21st, 2013, exactly six months after they leave, their ride home will not arrive until January! That's because only then, will the conditions be warm enough for a polar ship to be able to sail to the region.
With temperatures dipping as low as -90° C (-130°F) and the continent completely shrouded in darkness during winter, this journey across the frozen continent has never been attempted before. In fact, it is considered so dangerous that nobody has even been given permission to try it, prior to this. What is a little nerve-racking is that while modern technology will allow the team to keep the world abreast of their progress, there is very little anyone will be able to do, if they are in distress. That's because a rescue attempt in the Antarctica during the middle of winter, would be totally futile.
However, given how experienced the team is and the fact that they have been preparing for this event for five years, a call for help is a very remote possibility. All of them have received intensive training in first aid, rescue operations and equipment repair. They have also spent many hours getting used to the severe weather conditions by simulating the trip in Sweden, during peak winter. In addition to that, their gear, clothing and equipment has been created specially to withstand and protect them in what is considered the harshest environment on earth!
We for one, have no doubt they will succeed in not only completing this gargantuan journey, but also, fulfilling their goal to raise $10 million USD for 'Seeing is Believing' a charity, whose mission is to eradicate blindness! To read more about this fascinating quest or keep track of the team's day-to-day adventures be sure to check out thecoldestjourney.org.