Fiennes’ hero, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, wrote “great God, this is an awful place” when he finally reached the south pole a century ago, before freezing and starving to death with his team on the return journey. Apsley Cherry-Garrard called his own trek “the worst journey in the world”. Ernest Shackleton abandoned another expedition as the weather closed in to save the lives of his crew.
Those journeys were made in summer. Nobody before has attempted, still less achieved, crossing the pole in winter. In a prepared statement, Fiennes said: “This will be my greatest challenge to date. We will stretch the limits of human endurance.
“Britain and the Commonwealth has a strong heritage of exploration, from Captain Cook 300 years ago to the present day. As such, it is fitting that a Commonwealth team should be the first to fulfil this last great polar expedition.”
However, in person, at the launch at the Royal Society of The Coldest Journey, Fiennes could not really explain why anyone should contemplate such a venture, still less a man aged 68 who has survived cancer, major heart surgery, and the loss of most of the frozen finger tips on one hand – which he cut off himself with a saw bought specially for the purpose. “It’s what I do,” he said, looking slightly puzzled at the question.