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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

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Cumbrian explorer joining Ranulph Fiennes on Antarctic crossing bid

A Cumbrian explorer will join Sir Ranulph Fiennes on the world’s first ever attempt to cross the Antarctic in winter.

Brian Newham photo
Brian Newham

Brian Newham will embark on 2,000-mile polar expedition, a perilous feat that would re-define the limits of human courage and endurance.

The team will travel across the most inhospitable wilderness on the planet in almost permanent darkness where temperatures can plunge as low as -90°C.

The 54-year-old, from Uldale, near Caldbeck, will be part of a six-man team risking their lives in what Sir Ranulph has described as “the last great polar challenge.”

He said: “I’m excited, not nervous. I have worked in the Arctic and Antarctic for the last 30 years.

“I’m used to polar conditions but what’s different is the fact that it’s a winter journey.

“It’s a very long trip and we will be very isolated in that there is no opportunity for any outside help.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office had previously refused to grant permission for an expedition of this kind because it was deemed far too risky.

But the decision was overturned after it was shown that technological innovations could mitigate some of the major risks of the crossing.

The team will have specially designed clothing, including electrically heated gloves, boots and a helmet with a visor and breathing mask.

Simply inhaling air at that level of temperature can cause irreparable damage to the lungs and exposure to the skin to such temperatures causes severe frostbite in a matter of seconds.

Mr Newham said: “We can’t expose any flesh at all because it would freeze instantly.

“If you breathe in air at minus 80°C you will get ice crystals on the surface of your lungs.”

If anything should go seriously wrong, a search and rescue mission would be impossible since aircraft cannot fly in such cold conditions because of the risk of fuel freezing.

In the event of a major incident the crew would have to sit out the winter on the ice until summer when a rescue attempt can be made.

Mr Newham said it was “very difficult to say” what motivates explorers to take on such gruelling high-risk expeditions.

He said: “A lot of people are looking for adventure and to do something different. They don’t want to lead the mundane life that so many people do. It’s a mixture of adventure and a challenge to overcome the obstacles.

“It’s the sense of achievement that comes from pushing the boundaries of what we have done before.”

Mr Newham, an experienced alpine mountaineer and skier, has spent more than 20 seasons in Antarctica and had nine visits to the Arctic.

Mr Newham’s partner Jo Hardy, 52, said: “It’s an incredible trip and an amazing opportunity for the guys doing it.

“There is a huge education angle which will reach so many people, including children.

“It’s such an unknown and such a harsh environment but he wouldn’t be doing it if he didn’t think it was achievable.”

A fundraising initiative will run side-by-side the expedition, which leaves in December, with the aim of raising more than £6m for Seeing is Believing to help fight blindness around the world.

Having never been attempted, the expedition will also provide unique and invaluable scientific research that will help climatologists, as well as forming the basis for an education programme.

Mr Newham is not the only Cumbrian playing a key role in the expedition.

Tristam Kaye, 29, originally from Crosby, near Maryport, will be helping to oversee the expedition from Marlborough House in Pall Mall.

He said: “Everything that happens has to go through my office.

“I wanted to have the opportunity to say that I had helped to organise something that was going to push the limits of human endurance and make the world a better place.”

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