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Tuesday, 22 February, 2000, 19:40 GMT
North Pole bid defeated by frostbite

Ranulph Fiennes wanted to conquer the Arctic alone
Severe frostbite has forced explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes to call off his latest record-breaking attempt to reach the North Pole.

Sir Ranulph, 56, cancelled the 520-mile solo trek across some of the harshest terrain on earth where temperatures are as low as minus 56C, when he developed frostbite in his left hand - just seven days into the trip.

Ranulph Fiennes
Ranulph Fiennes: Frostbitten hand
He lost all feeling in his hand after plunging it into freezing water when one of the two food supply sledges he was towing fell through thin ice.

Sir Ranulph was then forced to make a 12-hour trek retracing his steps to the expedition starting point in Water Hunt Island on the most northernmost tip of North America.

He then radioed the UK base camp in Aberdeen for help.

"He is in a stable condition and is receiving specialist medical treatment in Ottawa. He seems to be responding to treatment," said Lawrence Howell, the UK base leader, whom Sir Ranulph called for help.


Within a minute of coming out of the water my hand was completely frozen to the extent that it was useless

Ranulph Fiennes
"He was pulling the smaller of the two sledges, which weigh 500lb in total, when it fell through the ice. He managed to pull the sledge out of the water but in doing so lost feeling in his left hand.

"The weather conditions around him were poor. He was not able to pitch his tent because of his injury and then had no choice but to retrace his steps."

Upon returning to base camp, the Old Etonian, from Exmoor on the Devon-Somerset border, was picked up by a Twin Otter aeroplane before being flown to Ottawa.

Sir Ranulph, a former SAS member, had prepared for the trip by eating chunks of butter to pile on a two stone layer of fat to counter below-freezing temperatures.

The two sledges held a pack containing enough food for 115 days.

He had hoped to become the first person to walk solo and unsupported to the North Polo and complete the trek in 80 days.

He had hoped to raise at least 1m for the Cancer Research Campaign.

Narrow escape

Sir Ranulph had already made a solo crossing of the Antarctic in 1993. In 1982 he was one of the first people to circumnavigate the globe on its polar axis.

Sir Ranulph said that his survival on the latest trip had been a "very, very close run thing".

He told the ITN Nightly News: "Within a minute of coming out of the water my hand was completely frozen to the extent that it was useless.

"Fourteen minutes later my body core was completely cold. I managed to start the cooker using my teeth and one hand which had a little bit of feeling in it."

He was unable to pitch his tent and then set off to return to base camp.

Sir Ranulph added: "It was a very, very close run thing.

"I had to try to get back to the land because all the time the ice was breaking - so the moral is that in those conditions if you are going out by yourself then you have got to keep one hand workable at all times or you are dead mutton."
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See also:

06 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
Explorer's relics unfrozen
25 Jan 99 | Sci/Tech
Ministers brave Antartica on ice
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