Explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes will next year attempt the first winter crossing of the Antarctic continent.
He will set off sail south later this year, the centenary year of Captain Scott’s death in the Antarctic and will be joined by five colleagues in the planned trek dubbed The Coldest Journey.
The expedition will have to contend with temperatures as low as –90C and near-constant darkness on the route across the polar continent, a distance of almost 4,000km.
An expedition spokesperson said: “On 21 March 2013, the equinox, the six expedition members will begin a six month journey to reach the Ross Sea.
“Their route from the Russian base of Novolazareskaya to Captain Scott’s base at McMurdo Sound – via the South Pole – will test the limits of human endurance.
“The expedition team will have to be entirely self-sufficient and there will be no search and rescue facility available, as aircraft cannot penetrate inland during winter, due to darkness and risk of fuel freezing.”
The Coldest Journey expedition will also attempt to raise $10m for Seeing is Believing, a global charitable initiative to fight avoidable blindness. The team plans to set sail from London on 6 December this year.
“During their sea voyage, the team will undertake a number of scientific tasks to provide unique data on marine life, oceanography and meteorology,” the spokesperson said. “Using the very latest technological innovations, this epoch-making journey will pave the way for a new dawn in Antarctic, year-round exploration.”
Previously, the furthest any expedition has ever ventured into Antarctica during the winter is 60 miles. On this forthcoming journey, Sir Ranulph and his team will aim to cover 2,000 miles in six months, crossing the polar plateau at an average height of 10,000ft above sea level.
With a winter crossing of the Arctic having recently been completed by a Norwegian expedition, this is the first ever attempt at an Antarctic winter crossing and one of the last remaining polar challenges.
Expedition leader Sir Ranulph Fiennes said: “This will be my greatest challenge to date.
“We will stretch the limits of human endurance. Britain and the Commonwealth have a strong heritage of exploration, from Captain Cook 300 years ago to the present day. As such, it is fitting that a Commonwealth team should be the first to fulfil this last great polar expedition.
“It is a unique opportunity to carry out a number of scientific tasks in the extreme polar environment, which will make a significant contribution to our understanding of the true effects of global warming on the Antarctic continent.”
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has not previously granted permits for winter expeditions in Antarctica as they are deemed too dangerous.
Sir Ranulph and the expedition team will be equipped with high-tech equipment, including battery-powered heated clothing and specially designed breathing apparatus to enable them to survive at –70C and possibly at –90C.
PHD has supplied down jackets, down sleeping bags, down trousers and down mitts and boots to the expedition.
Sir Ranulph said PHD’s down clothing is ‘a keystone of our ability to mount this, the most difficult and ambitious polar challenge in history’.
Testing of the clothing the expedition team will use began last year with cold chamber tests in conjunction with the University of Portsmouth.
Of all the down jackets tested, PHD’s Omega Down Jacket retained the most heat over a five-hour period in a cold chamber at –52C.
However the conditions encountered on this expedition will be so exceptional that PHD is modifying their off-the-shelf gear to give even higher performance. For example impermeable liners inside the Omega clothing and Xero Sleeping Bags will prevent body vapour freezing inside the down and turning them into rigid lumps of ice, while face-tunnels on the sleeping bags will keep the searing cold away from the lungs and minimise ice build-up around the face.
The sleeping bags will be made to a special shape and filled with PHD’s unique 900 down. This will be the warmest kit PHD has ever made, appropriate for such an extraordinary venture, the company, founded by Peter Hutchinson, said.