I don’t know if you spotted Ran Fiennes latest Antarctic adventure, namely to travel to the South Pole in winter, a place that is very cold (the closer to deparcher the colder it got in the media - hitting minus 90 last time I looked) and very windy (ditto - with 200mph bandied around). Ran’s six million pound expedition plans to cross the continent in its coldest season, tagging the pole on the way, and should be totally self sufficient (traveling down by boat, which will pick them on the other side).
All this may sound pretty nuts, but really it’s nothing but an extreme caravanning holiday, with the team being housed in several shipping containers mounted on sleds, and pulled along by two diggers. Ran has said he’ll walk in front looking for crevasse as the diggers drive slowly behind, but personally I think Ran’ll just ride with the team, as operating in anything less than a space suit in those winds/temps would be suicide (especially if you’ve already lost most of your fingers to frostbite).
Is he mad then?
I don’t think so (although I’d never trust a man with my life who wears a wig!), in fact I expect he’s on to a win win here, in that he’ll either pull it off (looking at his boots I doubt it) or he’ll make it a short way, everything will break down, and he and his team will live for six months in their caravans. Either way, the Fiennes brand of true Brit gnarlyness is assured.
So why am I going on about Ran’s winter holidays? Well it’s because I feel a little responsible, in fact I think that maybe it’s all my fault that he’s going in the first place.
Let me explain.
The story begins with the bona fide “worlds greatest living explorer” (a daft title in fact as neither have ever found anything) - who I’ll rename “the worlds greatest living gnarler” Mr Bergo Ousland - who hails from… can you guess? Yes - Norway.
How hard is Borge? Well many things Ran has done, Borge has done before him, or solo, or for longer, or faster and generally in better style and with far, far less suffering and chaffing (he’s Norwegian for gods sake, a county who’s females have ski shaped genitalia, so try can give birth more easily to their ski shod babies - usually done while skiing up hill). Ran has no chance of besting such a man, coming from a mother who had a Barbour welly shaped vagina (bet no body’s ever written that before!)
Anyway one of the more gnarly things Borge has done (apart from skiing solo from Siberia to Canada via the North Pole, or being the first man to cross Antarctica solo, etc, etc) was to ski to the North Pole in winter. Now I’m into gnarly stuff, but the sound of skiing to the North Pole in spring sounds bad enough, so doing it in the dark, in those temps, really is beyond grimness.
Not longer after this trip I met Borge in Banff, where we were both doing talks at the mountain festival, and out of every amazing person I’d ever wanted to meet, Borge was at the top of my list. After his presentation I asked him when he was going to ski to the South Pole in winter, to which he replied (cue deep Norwegian ascent)
“The cold, the wind, the darkness - it would be impossible”.
I was a bit taken aback by Borge’s defeatist attitude, but guessed that if the gnarliest man in the world said it was too gnarly, then you had to listen. But then I’m not the type of man to take no for an answer, so thinking laterally I just said “how about if you just stood inside a big box, and sort of pushed it along all the way?”
Borge looked at my with his ice blue eyes (they may have been green) and didn’t even reply, but simply walked away into the snow storm (by that I mean the toilet).
I forget all about our conversation, and my little plan, until several days later I bumped into Borge in the bar. He walked over as tall as a mountain, and stood in front of me - seven feet heigh (6.1) and fixing me with his ice cold eyes again (maybe they were an autumnal hazel), said “I have been thinking about your idea Andy…”
And so - like I do - I took this story and told it to a few people, thinking it was funny, one of those people including Ian Parnell. Now Ian knows Ran, having climbed the Eiger with him (pre wig), and spending two months on Everest with him (maybe it’s not a wig, and was altitude induced hear growth?).
Perhaps Ian told this story to Ran, a story abut Ran’s nemesis, a story Ran confused as a plan?
And so when I saw Ran on the TV, talking about his trip, saying “We’d heard the Norwegians were planning on doing it” I suddenly felt responsible. If anything bad happens not Ran, it’ll all be down to me.
Oh and if you’re reading this Borge, you’re ice cold fingers grasping a dying iPhone at -120 degrees C, stood in your box, with 10000km to go, I do apologize for blowing your plan. As long as you can ski faster than a bulldozer pulling a load of shipping containers then you should get there first, and Norwegian Antarctic supremacy shall be assured (even if it was made possible by a bit of Brit ‘into the box’ thinking)
A Snickers bar costs 60p. Were these words worth as much?
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Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram