On December 6, 2012, 68-year-old Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes and a team of explorers will set off from London, England on a privately funded 2000-mile winter traverse of the Antarctic that’s been dubbed “The Coldest Journey.” The expedition team – which is comprised entirely of volunteers – aims to raise US$10 million for Seeing is Believing, an international initiative between Standard Chartered Bank and the International Agency for Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) that focuses on tackling avoidable blindness. A two man ski unit – towing a ground-penetrating radar – will lead the traverse on what is possibly one of the last great overlanding challenges. The rest of the team will follow immediately behind them in a Mobile Vehicle Landtrain (MVL).
Sir Ranulph Fiennes, one of Great Britain’s most noted explorers, said of his latest venture: “This will be my greatest challenge to date. Britain and the Commonwealth have a strong heritage of exploration, from Captain Cook 300 years ago to the present day. As such it is fitting that a Commonwealth team should be the first to fulfill this last great polar expedition.”
The MVL, towed by two specially modified 20 tonne, 150 hp Caterpillar® D6N tractors (provided by Finning UK), will consist of a variety of fuel and supply sleds along with two sled borne 28-foot-long insulated caboose units. The latter will be linked together to provide four heated living and work areas; a bunkroom, living/dining room, a combined boot room and restroom and a plant room. The length of the landtrain may well qualify it as the largest ice trailer-based MVL of all time.
Power for each caboose – for heat, light, energy for snow melting and cooking – will be provided by the vehicle engines whilst on the move and from two 16kW generators when stationary. In those instances where the generator is not running a 24V low power system, running off a battery bank, will be used for LED lighting and other low power requirements whilst a separate heater will provide some welcome warmth for the main living area. Dometic UK has provided the expedition with a WAECO CR50, 50-litre compressor refrigerator compressor fridge so that thawed milk is always on hand to supply team members with the almost obligatory cup of English tea.
“The Coldest Journey” team will depart the Russian base of Novolazarevskaya on March 21, 2013, and head via the South Pole, to Captain Scott’s base at McMurdo Sound. The journey – which has been estimated to take six months – will be undertaken in almost complete darkness and in temperatures that can fall as low as minus 90 centigrade. Indeed, it’s so cold that team members will be wearing heated clothing! If all goes according to plan the team should complete their journey on September 21, 2013.
The departure of the expedition from Greenwich, England aboard a South African ice-breaker, the SA Agulhas falls in the centenary year of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s death in the Antarctic. Scott and his team – who are still entombed in the Ross Ice Shelf – tragically perished on the return leg of their polar expedition back in 1912.
Whilst specialist ice fishing trailers and cabins provide North American RV dealers with a welcome source of revenue in the slower winter months it’s unlikely that even the most obdurate fisherman would consider fishing in temperatures that touch on minus 90 centigrade. In any event, the depth of the Ross Ice Shelf – several hundred metres in some places – might make drilling that ice hole just a little too laborious which may explain why the caboose has a floor level escape hatch and no fishing holes. It would however make a pretty cool ice fishing cabin so lets hope the Coldest Journey team put it up for auction after they have completed the expedition.