Antarctic trek frostbite blow leaves Sir Ranulph Fiennes 'extremely frustrated'
Sir Ranulph Fiennes said yesterday he was “frustrated” at being forced to pull out of an expedition across Antarctica due to frostbite.
The 68-year-old fell while skiing during training in Antarctica and developed frostbite after taking off his outer gloves to fix a ski binding in temperatures of minus 33C.
It has forced him to quit the Coldest Journey expedition, which has been five years in the planning, but he will continue to support the project through fundraising.
After flying back to the UK yesterday morning, the explorer told a press conference at a hotel at Heathrow Airport: “I’m on pills at the moment. The vascular surgeon I saw yesterday said that, in his opinion – he wasn’t sure – two of the fingers definitely would not require surgery and two of the fingers might require surgery.”
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Although Sir Ranulph, who lives on Exmoor, has had to give up the challenge, his team-mates will continue with the 2,000-mile trek, which they are expected to embark on later this month.
Sir Ranulph went on: “You could not put a better team together than that lot. I’m very pleased with and proud of the team in charge of the crossing. Everything is going totally on schedule as of today.”
Sir Ranulph had a double heart bypass in 2003 and suffered a heart attack two years later as he came agonisingly close to the summit of Everest. He finally reached the top in 2009 on his third attempt, becoming the oldest Briton to do so, at 65.
Hailed as the last great polar challenge, the journey across the Antarctic has never been attempted during the winter.
The team Sir Ranulph has left behind will experience some of the toughest conditions on Earth – near permanent darkness and temperatures of minus 90C during their six-month journey.
Sir Ranulph would have been the oldest explorer to attempt the crossing.
Raising his left hand, which is heavily bandaged, he joked: “There are gory pictures of it from my doctor last week.”
Describing how he felt at having to pull out, he went on: “It is extremely frustrating. I started working on this expedition five years ago.
“I’ve been working on it, and nothing else, full-time and unpaid for five years, so it is definitely frustrating, but unavoidable.”
He said the main aim of the expedition was to carry out the first crossing of Antarctica in winter, which starts on March 20, the day the team is now expected to set off.
Sir Ranulph said another part of the challenge was to have somebody carry out the journey on skis, a role he had planned on performing.
He added that the other aims of the challenge were to carry out “intense” scientific research and an educational programme, but above all to raise money for the charity Seeing Is Believing, which is committed to eradicating preventable blindness in the developing world.
He added: “I will focus now 100 per cent on making sure that the expedition has every possible encouragement, and has every chance of making maximum money for our charity. The expedition will take six months, during which three million people will go avoidably blind.”
Sir Ranulph said he got the frostbite while he was building up his skiing during preparations for the challenge.
“I was trying to fix the ski binding in a total white-out,” he said, adding that at minus 33C “it wasn’t particularly cold”.
“I tried fixing the bindings with my big overgloves on – couldn’t do a damn thing. Some people would say surely you shouldn’t take your mitts off. OK, so you sit there and go nowhere and die of cold.”
Sir Ranulph lost his fingertips and tip of his thumb on his left hand 13 years ago.
Joanna Lumley, a trustee with the Tawt Trust behind the expedition, spoke enthusiastically, saying: “This is the most extraordinary adventure. It is utterly thrilling.”