British Explorers Abandon Winter Crossing Of Antarctica

by Kraig Becker

A team of British explorers attempting a daring crossing of Antarctica in the middle of winter have given up their expedition after making very slow progress amidst incredibly bad weather and dangerous surface conditions. Unfortunately, those very same conditions make it impossible for them to be extracted from the frozen continent at the moment and they now face the very real possibility of remaining stranded there for another three months until spring arrives. The expedition, which we told you about back in March when it got underway, was dubbed the Coldest Journey and was to have been the first traverse of the Antarctic continent during the harsh and unforgiving Antarctic winter. Originally the team was led by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, one of the top polar explorers on the planet. But he contracted frostbite during a training exercise and had to be evacuated from the Antarctic prior to the start of the expedition. The remaining members of the team – Spencer Smirl, Ian Prickett, Rob Lambert, Richmond Dykes and Brian Newham – set out on foot on March 21. A pair of tractors pulling sledges full of gear and supplies followed close behind, lending support to the endeavor.

While out on the ice, the team encountered some of the worst weather imaginable. Temperatures routinely dropped to -80°F or  colder. High winds and heavy snows didn’t help matter either, making it incredibly difficult for the explorers to make much progress at all. But the real danger didn’t come from the sky but was underneath the ground instead. The icy surface was laden with hidden crevasses that were extremely difficult to spot or go around. The situation was made all the worse when the days started to get extremely short. At the moment, there is nothing more than a few hours of twilight each day and the dangerous crevasses are all but impossible to see in the dark.

All of these elements conspired against the team as they tried valiantly to press forward along their chosen route. It became so bad at times that it would take all day just to cover a couple of exhausting miles. So, with their time slipping away and the distance ahead of them not getting appreciably smaller, earlier this week the team announced on their blog that they were halting the journey while they also considered their options for what to do next. They will continue to conduct research and collect data about the area around them but they’ll do so from just their current location.

The Antarctic winter doesn’t tend to really being to let up until September or October, which means they can’t be extracted off the ice at the moment.. That means they could conceivably  be stuck at their current location for another three or four months.

[Photo Credit: The Coldest Journey]