British explorer pulls out of Antarctic trek after severe frostbite
British explorer Ranulph Fiennes is shown on board the polar vessel S.A. Agulhas in Cape Town, South Africa, on Jan. 3, 2013. (AP Photo)
The Associated Press
Published Monday, February 25, 2013 2:31PM EST
LONDON - A British explorer has pulled out of a group expedition to cross Antarctica during the region's winter, but the team that includes a Canadian says it will continue on without him.
Ranulph Fiennes is leaving the expedition dubbed "The Coldest Journey" after developing a severe case of frostbite.
The 68-year-old and his five-member team had hoped to conquer what has been called one of the last great polar challenges -- traversing nearly 4,000 kilometres in a place where temperatures often dip as low as minus 70 Celsius.
"The condition is such that he has very reluctantly decided ... to withdraw from Antarctica while the possibility to do so still exists, before the onset of the Antarctic winter," the expedition said in a statement.
It added that the team is working toward evacuating Fiennes from Antarctica, but that the evacuation is being hampered by a blizzard.
But the others -- including 28-year-old Spencer Smirl of Peace River, Alta. -- plan to carry on with the mission, which aims to raise $10 million for a charity that seeks to prevent blindness.
Smirl, a mechanic, said last month he was looking forward to an unforgettable experience.
The expedition's website said the team has reached a point where they can readily establish a supply depot on the Antarctic plateau, putting them in an "excellent position" to start the crossing as scheduled on March 21.
Fiennes, who has been going where others fear to tread for decades and in 2009 became the oldest person to summit Mount Everest, is already missing parts of his fingers on his left hand because of frostbite suffered on a North Pole expedition a decade ago.
"This will be my greatest challenge to date," he had said on his website before the journey began. "We will stretch the limits of human endurance."
The trip is particularly hazardous because no aircraft can travel inland in the winter due to the darkness and risk that fuel will freeze -- meaning there is virtually no chance of a search and rescue operation if disaster strikes.
With files from The Canadian Press