After months of planning, weeks of preparation and a one-day weather delay, the Coldest Journey expedition is set to get underway today. The five members of the expedition’s “Ice Team” will now attempt to complete what some term as the last great polar challenge – a complete traverse of the continent during the dead of winter.
While those of us living in the northern hemisphere were happy to welcome the arrival of spring yesterday, in the Antarctic the equinox hailed the arrival of winter instead. The Coldest Journey team, which consists of Spencer Smirl, Ian Prickett, Rob Lambert, Richmond Dykes and Brian Newham, had intended to launch their trek with the start of the new season, but a four-day blizzard caused them to delay until today. The skies actually cleared ahead of the scheduled start yesterday but the team spent all of Wednesday digging their equipment and support vehicles out from underneath all of the fresh snow. With that task done, they now expect to hit the trail sometime today.
The journey will begin along the Antarctic coast at Crown Bay and will first proceed to the South Pole. That first section of the trip is expected to take approximately 85 days to complete. From there, the team will embark on the second phase of the expedition as they continue on to the Ross Ice Shelf, which will take roughly another 60 days. That is nearly five months of travel, on skis no less, through the harshest and coldest environment possible. Temperatures are expected to drop to as low as -130°F with high winds and heavy snows adding to the danger. On top of that, the bulk of the journey will take place in the dark, as the sun doesn’t shine at the bottom of the world during the winter.
Once the team gets started, it will be nearly impossible for them to call for assistance if they get into trouble. To help mitigate those concerns, the Ice Team will be shadowed by two bulldozers pulling trailers carrying their gear, fuel and other supplies. It is possible that at some point the weather could actually strand them in place for an extended period of time, so the team will need to be able to take shelter if that happens. The supply trailers will serve that purpose as well.
One member of the team who is conspicuously absent at the start of the expedition is polar legend Ranulph Fiennes, who had hoped to be making this journey alongside his friends. But as we told you a few weeks back, Sir Ran was forced to withdraw from the Coldest Journey when he contracted frostbite while training in the Antarctic last month. He is now back in the U.K. serving in an advisory role and cheering on his teammates from afar.
Over the next few months the team will endure very challenging conditions as they look to add their names to the history books. We’ll be able to follow along with their progress through regular updates to the Coldest Journey blog. It should certainly be quite the adventure.