Winter South Pole crossing: Alone on the Ice

Posted: Feb 04, 2013 12:03 pm EST

(Newsdesk) "We are alone now", wrote Brian Newham in The Coldest Journey's blog after the ship, the SA Agulhas departed from Crown Bay yesterday and left the 6 men, Ranulph Fiennes, Richmond Dykes, Rob Lambert, Ian Prickett, Brian Newham and Spencer Smirl, on the ice for their winter journey on Antarctica.

"There are certain moments in life that are so hard to describe that it is almost futile to try. What happened here just a couple of hours ago was one of those moments," said Newham.

The farewells were extremely hard, he added. They shot some film and then "stood on the ice as a small group of six whilst those onboard hung over the bow. Slowly the ship eased back away from the ice and the ship's horn sounded long and loud and marked the moment when we felt that this was now the point where the true journey begins."

From the ship Anton Bowring wrote, "There was nothing to do except prowl up and down peering, when possible, through binoculars at the black dots which were our colleagues on the remains of the ice shelf."


The Agulhas arrived at Crown Bay on January 20th after departing Cape Town on January 7th. They were greeted by the Belgians who had driven from their base, Princess Elizabeth, some 200 km away. More than 100 ton equipment was off loaded from the ship. All the heavy items of equipment first, wrote Anton Bowring. "The Science/Workshop caboose and its sledge was already on deck, they would be unloaded first. By positioning them on the ice near the ship, the pump (housed in the caboose) for the transfer of fuel from the drums into the sledge (or 'Scoot') mounted bladders would be at hand as the drums were unloaded."

"The living caboose sledge was next. A certain amount of modification to the spreader beams was necessary before the two adapted containers that make the living quarters could be set, side by side, on the sledge."

On January 29th the ice team spent their first night in the living caboose. "Inevitably, there have been teething problems so it's been a case of working through them and coming up with solutions," wrote Brain Newham. "The skills for this are wide and varied: electrics, plumbing, fuel systems, carpentry, communications and a lot more besides."

Richmond Dykes described how they were testing the Fuel Scoots with an estimated test pull weight of 60 to 65 tons. "The Cat D6N was put into gear 1.5 and full rpm of 2250 and took up the slack at speed. The ropes are of a dynamic design and their construction allows you to pull the scoots at speed and stretch the ropes before the pull is transferred to the scoots."

"The load moved with ease. However, when l proceeded to do a circle with about 150 yards radius, I noticed as we turned the corner that a build-up of snow was accumulating in front of the drawbar as the bar was not high enough above the ice. This build-up probably equated to about two tons, hence adding to our train weight which was not desired or necessary. After discussing the issue over a cup of tea with the whole team, a new build and improvisation plan was conceived and put into effect."

Ranulph Fiennes and team plan to start on March 21st, 2013 at Crown Bay, Queen Maud Land, near the Russian coastal base, Novolazareskaya and cross via the Geographic South Pole (90°S), down the Leverette Glacier to the Ross Ice Shelf and end six months later at Robert Scott's 1911-13 hut.

Ice Team: Ranulph Fiennes (co-leader & ice team), Richmond Dykes (mechanic), Rob Lambert (doctor), Ian Prickett (ice team), Brian Newham (traverse manager) and Spencer Smirl (mechanic). Biographies of extended team.

The South Pole winter stretches from March 21st to September 23rd. The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth, -89,2 °C (-128 °F), was recorded at the Russian science station, Vostok, July 21st, 1983. Vostok; 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 done. 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.


Previous - Winter South Pole crossing: Ranulph Fiennes and ship set sail from South Africa to Antarctica

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The Coldest Journey website


"Five men and a photographer - the Ice Team watch on as the SA Agulhas prepares to leave them behind in Antarctica. (to avoid any confusion, the photographer is Brian Newham, traverse manager, and not a dedicated snapper following the team on the ice!)"
Image by Brian Newham courtesy The Coldest Journey, SOURCE
The Agulhas at Crown Bay.
courtesy The Coldest Journey, SOURCE
The Cats lifted off the ship.
courtesy The Coldest Journey, SOURCE
Fuel flubbers and Scoots.
courtesy The Coldest Journey, SOURCE
The living Caboose.
courtesy The Coldest Journey, SOURCE
Some of the [South African] Agulhas cadets.
courtesy The Coldest Journey, SOURCE

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