LONDON (AP) — Veteran British explorer Ranulph Fiennes was being evacuated from Antarctica on Wednesday, days after he reluctantly pulled out of a polar expedition team because of severe frostbite.
The team hopes to complete what it describes as the first attempt by anyone to travel nearly 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) across the continent during winter, when temperatures average minus 60 Celsius (minus 76 Fahrenheit) and can drop to almost minus 90 Celcius. The five other members of the expedition, dubbed "The Coldest Journey," will continue without Fiennes.
The 68-year-old Fiennes, who in 2009 became the oldest person to climb to the summit of Mount Everest, began his long journey back to England early Wednesday, his team said in a statement.
The explorer said he was "not happy at all" as he bid goodbye to his fellow explorers. He had to abandon the polar challenge because he suffered frostbite injuries to four fingers on his left hand after he briefly removed a glove to fix his ski equipment, the team said.
"As with all frostbite, it is still too early to determine the full extent of the injury," said Robert Lambert, the team doctor. "However treatment is progressing well, and Ran (Fiennes) is bearing up with his usual fortitude and good cheer."
A Belgian team took advantage of a break in a snow storm and transported him to Princess Elisabeth Station, from where he will be airlifted to Novo, a Russian-run Antarctic research station. The team hopes that Fiennes could then fly from there to Cape Town, South Africa, late Wednesday.
The remaining members of the team plan to set off from Crown Bay in Antarctica on March 21, and begin crossing the continent. The journey is expected to take six months, mostly in complete darkness.
The adventurers will travel on skis and be followed by two tractors pulling cabooses used for scientific work, accommodation and storage. The tractors also pull fuel designed not to freeze in the extreme temperatures.
The expedition is trying to raise $10 million for the charity Seeing is Believing, which seeks to prevent blindness.
"It is now only a few hours since we said our difficult farewells, but we are already moving south and are poised to gain the polar plateau," said Brian Newham, a manager of the expedition. "Onwards."