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Fiennes begins Antarctic expedition

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Sir Ranulph Fiennes and his team hope to become the first to cross the Antarctic during the polar winter

Sir Ranulph Fiennes and his team hope to become the first to cross the Antarctic during the polar winter

Sir Ranulph Fiennes and his team hope to become the first to cross the Antarctic during the polar winter

Veteran explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes is due to set off on a gruelling Antarctic challenge, but is more worried about missing his daughter's birthday.

He and his five-man team hope to become the first to cross the continent during the polar winter, in temperatures plummeting to minus 90C. But he will be leaving behind his only child, six-year-old Elizabeth, during the six month expedition and will miss her seventh birthday in April.

Sir Ranulph, who was childless until he met his second wife Louise, said: "My late wife was usually the radio operator on my previous expeditions but when I re-married when she died seven years ago, we had a daughter so this will be the first expedition where I'm away from a child and my 18-year-old step-son."

He does not yet know if he will be able to contact his family and said he had left presents for Elizabeth's birthday. He has flown out to join the SA Agulhas, the team's ship, in Cape Town, South Africa.

The journey across the Antarctic has never before been attempted during the polar winter but a Norwegian exploring team recently crossed the Arctic during the summer months.

At 68, Sir Ranulph is the oldest explorer to attempt the crossing and has been described by The Guinness Book of Records as "the world's greatest living explorer". He was the first person to visit both North and South poles by surface means and the first to completely cross Antarctica on foot.

He said: "In the last moment before certain expeditions there is a feeling like in the old days of not wanting to go back to school. It is my fault for planning and spending four and a half years organising and finding sponsors for this. Now it would be stupid to think I wish I wasn't doing it."

In March 2013 the Ice Team, as they are known, will set off to travel 2,000 miles across the Antarctic, mostly in complete darkness and in temperatures averaging to minus 70C.

During their sea voyage, the team will undertake a number of scientific tasks to provide unique data on marine life, oceanography and meteorology. They will be using the very latest technological innovations such as DRX vehicles used by scientists, but these have never been tested in such severe winter conditions.

Sir Ranulph explained: "I'm particularly worried about the welding on the tracks. We are not entirely sure when they are under strain. We'll need to carry a lot of food and fuel for a year for six people."

PA