(Newsdesk) A hundred years ago the Brits and the Norwegians battled it out to claim the discovery of the South Pole. The race continues as veteran British Polar explorer, Ranulph Fiennes, has announced a first winter South Pole ski attempt, reports BBC UK. September 17th. The main reason for the attempt, "We heard a rumor that Norwegian explorers were contemplating this. We realized we were going to have to have a go," says Fiennes.
Next Antarctic winter he will lead a team on a six month expedition across the Antarctic continent. They plan to start as the winter begins, after the equinox, on March 21st, 2013.
The team will be dropped off by ship on the Pacific coast of the Antarctic continent and set off over the ice shelf to the South Pole, reported BBC. From the Geographic South Pole, 90°S, they will continue their crossing and hope to reach the Ross Sea. According to them they will cover a distance of 3200 km (2000 miles).
Asking previously South Pole winter-over scientist Sven Lidstrom’s opinion about SP winter ski, he told ExplorersWeb it “would be very, very difficult and definitely very, very dangerous. There would be absolutely no room for error and chances of something minor getting really serious quickly is huge.”
Fiennes (68) and a skiing partner (his name is not mentioned in the article) will lead on skis, dragging one sled, while they will be followed by two bulldozers dragging industrial sledges.
Inside three containers on the front bulldozer sledge will be their living quarters, supplies, and a science lab. The second dozer behind this will be dragging fuel bladders.
In a Midwinter interview with ExplorersWeb, Swedish IceCube scientist and 2012 South Pole winter-over, Sven Lidstrøm, says the cut off temperature for the use of any vehicles is -60°C. “At those temperatures the fuel gels and a lot of things are very fragile so they just break.”
Sven also gave some temperatures that were measured at 90 degrees South (Fiennes and team’s midpoint) in the first half of the South Pole night. “We went below -100°F [-73.3°C] already early April, breaking the previous record for earliest -100°F. A week ago we went below -74°C or -102°F. Right now it is -59,5°C [-75.1°F] mainly because the wind picked up.”
The team tested their equipment in Northern Sweden earlier this year and in a cold chamber. Like much of the equipment, though, they do not know if it will work, they say.
"This technology is used extensively in Antarctica, but in the summer," says Steve Holland, who is running the expedition's equipment research team.
Dr. Mike Stroud, who had done previous polar expeditions with Fiennes and is also one of the expedition advisers, says to BBC the challenge is whether it is possible to operate and be out there in the coldest place on earth at the coldest time of the year.
He adds, "Your lungs definitely suffer. The air going in is so cold it's going to freeze some of the moisture that's in that system."
Frostbite will inevitably be a problem. BBC says at -40°C during the Swedish training, the fingers of one team member simply froze up after exposure to the cold for too long. “They have been experimenting with boot warmers. Ski bindings will have to be adapted to fit the clumpy footwear.”
They are also developing a giant "thermal bag" for the vehicles so the engines do not freeze during rest stops, says the news source.
Sven Lidstrom and a colleague slept outside the South Pole building in a tent with no heat during this year’s SP midwinter celebrations. He told ExWeb the temperature was -59°C when they got into the tent but it dropped fast. “By the time we went to sleep, 1 hour later, it was, -60,5°C.” The morning when they woke up it was -66,5°C, “so a bit chilly.” [Ed note: The SP station operates on New Zealand time and at Midwinter it is 24-hours dark outside at the Pole.]
The two men slept in a regular Scott Tent without heating, used 3 sleeping bags “and did OK, but it was cold outside the sleeping bags. Everything was really, really stiff and covered with frost.”
On a question from ExplorersWeb to Sven if he thinks a winter South Pole would be possible, he says, “I think it would be very, very difficult and definitely very, very dangerous. There would be absolutely no room for error and chances of something minor getting really serious quickly is huge.”
The reason for the winter attempt
"We looked at this 25 years ago and realized it was impossible," says Sir Ranulph to BBC. So why do it now, they asked. Rivalry is a large part of the answer.
"We heard a rumor that Norwegian explorers were contemplating this. We realized we were going to have to have a go," says Fiennes. “We like to break world records. Sometimes we don't succeed, but it's what we go for. It's our specialty.”
The team will also raise money for a charity, Seeing is Believing, and will do science experiments.
About his age Ran says, "You just must not think about getting old. 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."
The summer South Pole ski season stretches from the end of October to the end of January; the time when airplanes fly on Antarctica. The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth, -89,2 °C (-128 °F), was recorded at the Russian science station, Vostok, July 21st, 1983. Vostok is located at 78°27′51.92″S 106°50′14.38″E.
At the Geographic South Pole, 90°S, the sun disappears below the horizon for the polar night/winter at around the March equinox, March 20th, only to appear again above the horizon around the September equinox, September 22nd.
A winter South Pole expedition has never been attempted before. Twice a winter North Pole ski and swim has been attempted. Both expeditions departed from Russia (Cape Arktichesky, a distance of 980 km in a straight line).
In 2006 the Norwegian and South African duo, Børge Ousland and Mike Horn, attempted the North Pole in Winter, unassisted, unsupported; starting January 22 and arrived at the North Pole March 23; after 61 days on the ice and only two days after sunrise. They pulled all their food, fuel and gear with them from the start.
The Russians, Matvey Shparo and Boris Smolin, started their expedition on December 22, 2007, the day of winter solstice, from the Arktichesky Cape – the northern point of the Zevernaya Zemlya Archipelago. They reached the NP on March 14, 2008, after 84 days of traveling and one week before the beginning of the polar day. They received one food, fuel and gear resupply by air.
Midwinter living on the edge: ExWeb interview with Sven Lidstrom at the South Pole
2006 North Pole Winter Borge Ousland and Mike Horn at the Pole: They made it!
2008 Winter North Pole: Putin to Matvey Shparo and Boris Smolin, "Well done!"
ExWeb interview Alex Hibbert and Justin Miles: two-phase 2012, 2013 winter Arctic expedition
Last flight out of the South Pole, goodbye to Evans
Hundred years ago: Amundsen breaking news; Scott in a very bad way
South Pole anniversary final: March 29, 1912
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