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Sir Ranulph Fiennes begins his most dangerous adventure yet

 

Speaking ahead of the bid, Sir Ranulph said he was under no illusions about the task.

"The conditions we will face may be nightmarish, they may from time to time be show-stoppers," he said.

"Steel and rubber may crack up. So may some of us."

The expedition team, who hope to raise $10 million (£6.15m) for the Seeing Is Believing blindness charity, plan to dock in the Antarctic later this month.

They will then make preparations to leave their base in March as the Antarctic winter gets into full swing and with no option of rescue once on the ice, unlike in other expeditions.

They will have to be entirely self-sufficient, as aircraft cannot penetrate inland during winter due to the darkness of the Antarctic winter and risk of fuel freezing.

Once under way, the intention is to cover a distance of more than 2,000 miles, smashing the current furthest winter journey on the ice locked land, a 60-mile trek which took place in the early 20th century. Known as the world's greatest living explorer, Sir Ranulph has an astonishing pedigree.

He is the oldest person to have climbed Mount Everest and has crossed both polar ice caps. In 1992-93, he crossed the Antarctic unsupported.

Sir Ranulph said that for this bid, appropriately enough named The Coldest Journey, it was truly a case of heading into the "unknown."

He heaped praise on the others taking part as the "best from across the Commonwealth," adding "No one has been paid a penny. All risk a lot."

The Antarctic has the Earth's lowest recorded temperature of nearly minus 90°Celsius ( minus 130°F), and levels of around minus 70 are expected during the six-month crossing conducted mostly in darkness.

The team will be carrying out research on their journey and as part of their preparations have tested their clothing and equipment to minus 58°C (minus 72°F) in Britain and minus 45 in Sweden.

The group will cross the polar plateau at an average height of 10,000 feet above sea level, aiming to cover 22 miles a day to reach McMurdo Sound, south of New Zealand.