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Explorer to make 'coldest journey' to Antarctica

| Monday, Jan. 7, 2013, 9:36 p.m.

JOHANNESBURG — It's a six-month expedition in almost constant darkness, in the coldest place on the planet, with no chance of rescue if things go wrong. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, a British explorer, calls it one of the last remaining polar challenges: crossing Antarctica during the region's winter.

Fiennes, 68, and his five-member team left the South African port city on Monday aboard a South African polar vessel, the SA Agulhas, for what they have dubbed “The Coldest Journey.”

After reaching the southernmost continent, the expedition will begin its journey via the South Pole on March 21, traversing nearly 2,485 miles in a place, beautiful and forbidding, where temperatures often dip as low as minus minus 94 Fahrenheit.

Or colder. Antarctica has recorded the lowest temperature anywhere on the planet — a shocking minus 128.

The trip is particularly hazardous. No aircraft can travel inland in winter because fuel may freeze, meaning there is no chance of rescue if disaster strikes.

Even Fiennes, who has spent a lifetime embracing peril, is circumspect.

“I usually look forward to expeditions, but there is such a big degree of uncertainty with this one that looking forward to it is probably not the exact right word,” said Fiennes, third cousin to actors Ralph and Joseph.

Fiennes and his team will have high-tech gear, including battery-operated heating mechanisms in their clothing.

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