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Explorer starts the coldest trip to Antarctica

Explorer starts the coldest trip to Antarctica

British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes has embarked on an expedition that he describes as one of the last remaining polar challenges: crossing Antarctica during the region's winter.

Fiennes, 68, and his five-member team left Cape Town yesterday aboard the South African polar vessel the SA Agulhas for what they have dubbed "The Coldest Journey."

After reaching the southernmost continent, the expedition will begin its perilous journey via the South Pole on March 21, traversing nearly 4,000 kilometers, mostly in total darkness and with temperatures possibly dipping as low as minus 90 Celsius.

The trip is particularly hazardous because no aircraft can travel inland in the winter due to the darkness and risk that fuel will freeze, meaning there is virtually no chance of a search and rescue operation if things go wrong.

"I usually look forward to expeditions, but there is such a big degree of uncertainty with this one that looking forward to it is probably not the exact right word," Fiennes said. "Some people will say it is irresponsible to go unless you know everything, in which case the Americans would never have gotten to the moon. If humans are going for something new, then unfortunately there are bound to be some gray areas."

Fiennes and his team will have high-tech gear, including battery-operated heating mechanisms in their clothing and special breathing apparatus. They will use modified, 20-ton tractors to transport sledges with mounted living quarters and fuel that is designed not to freeze in the extreme temperatures. The vehicles will have radars that can detect crevasses.

Expedition organizers plan to raise US$10 million for a charity that seeks to prevent blindness. Team members also hope to conduct research aimed at understanding the effect of climate change on the poles.

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