December 21, 2012
I don’t know if you spotted Ran Fiennes latest Antarctic adventure: to travel to the South Pole in winter, a place that gets colder in the media the closer to departure, 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; travelling down by boat, which will pick them on the other side.
All this might sound nuts, but really it’s nothing but an extreme caravanning holiday, the team being housed in several shipping containers mounted on sledges, 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 will just ride with the team, as operating in anything less than a spacesuit in those winds/temps would-be suicide; doubly so when you’ve already lost most of your fingers to frostbite.
Is he mad then?
I don’t think so, in fact, I expect he’s on to a win-win here, in that he’ll either pull it off – although, 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 gnarliness is assured, which is what is banked on.
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, neither have ever found anything) - who I’ll rename “the worlds greatest living gnarler” Borge 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 or chaffing. He is a Norwegian for Thor’s sake, a county whose females have ski shaped genitalia, so try can give birth more easily to their ski shod babies, usually done while skiing uphill. Ran has no chance of besting such a man, coming from a mother who had a Barbour welly shaped vagina (I bet no one has ever written that combo of words before!)
Anyway one of the more gnarly things Borge has done – apart from skiing solo from Siberia to Canada via the North Pole or the first man to cross Antarctica solo, I could go on – was to ski to the North Pole in winter. Now I like gnarly stuff, but the idea of skiing to the North Pole in the Spring sounds bad enough, so doing it in the dark, in those temperatures, is more mental illness than adventure.
Not long after this trip, I met Borge in Banff, where we were both doing talks at the mountain festival. As you’d expect, Borge was one of the hardest men I’ve ever met.
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 voice – “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 me with his ice-blue eyes – note: they may have been green – and didn’t even reply, but simply walked away into the snowstorm (by snowstorm 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 high – actually 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 - as 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, along with Kenton Cool, as well as spending two months on Everest with him. So perhaps Ian told this story to Ran, a story about Ran’s nemesis, a story about pushing a box to the South Pole, a story Ran confused with a plan?
And so when I saw Ran on the TV, talking about his trip, saying “We had heard the Norwegians were planning on doing it”, I suddenly felt responsible, that if anything bad happens to Ran, it’ll all be down to me.
Oh, and if you’re reading this Borge, your ice-cold fingers grasping a dying iPhone at minus 120 degrees C, stood in your box, with 10000km to go, I do apologize for blowing your cover; but as long as you can ski faster than a bulldozer pulling a load of shipping containers, then you should get there first; Norwegian Antarctic supremacy assured – even if it was made possible, by British ‘into the box’ thinking.
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