Explorer Ranulph Fiennes’ next big adventure is over before it even got started. You may recall that the 68-year old Brit was planning on making the first ever winter crossing of Antarctica on foot, which is widely viewed as the last great polar expedition that has yet to be completed. Unfortunately, earlier this week the polar legend contracted frostbite while on a training exercise, forcing him to be evacuated to South Africa for treatment. Fiennes and his team have been in the Antarctic for several weeks now, preparing their bodies, equipment and gear for the long journey ahead. Since they were planning on making a winter crossing of the continent they had to wait until March 21 to officially begin the 2500-mile transcontinental trek. They took advantage of the extra time to acclimatize to the temperatures and organize all of the supplies that would be their lifeline while traveling through what is sure to be one of the harshest and most unforgiving environments that any of them have ever seen.
A few days ago they men were on a routine training exercise when one of Fiennes ski bindings broke. The veteran explorer stopped to make a quick repair as he has done dozens of times in the past, but when he removed his gloves he exposed his hands to temperatures below -20°F. As a result, four fingers on his left hand contracted frostbite that was too serious to allow him to continue. The team immediately called for an evacuation, although it still took a couple of days before a plane could come to pick him up.
Fiennes polar resume is amongst the most impressive in the world, having already visited the North and South Pole in the past. On a previous solo expedition to the Arctic back in 2000 he also contracted severe frostbite in his left hand and was forced to abandon that journey. Upon returning home to receive treatment, his doctor urged him to wait for his fingers to heal before determining whether or not they would need to be amputated. But the pain of the healing necrotic tissue was too great, so the impatient Fiennes famously amputated the tips of his own fingers. Now that he is back in South Africa, treatment on his damaged fingers has begun. The extend of the damage is unknown however and only time will tell if Fiennes will recover the full use of his hand or if he’ll be giving up more of those fingers.
Meanwhile, the rest of the team is preparing to continue with their journey without him. Their expedition, aptly dubbed the Coldest Journey, is still set to get underway on March 21. When they officially get underway they will no doubt be missing those -20°F temperatures. In the dead of winter they are expected to face conditions that will include incredibly high winds, blinding whiteouts and temperatures that will plummet to as much as -130°F.
Now that’s cold!
[Photo Credit: Ranulph Fiennes]