Mind over Matter

In November of 1992, an airplane deposited fifty-year-old Ranulph Fiennes and his partner, physician-nutritionist Michael Stroud, on an ice shelf near the Antarctic’s Weddell Sea. From there, they trekked on foot across Antarctica, its opposite coast 1,700 miles distant.

In order to survive a journey in which they could, at best, hope to average fourteen miles a day, each pulled a supply-and- equipment sledge that weighed 485 pounds. Temperatures sank to eighty-six degrees below zero. Flattening winds stirred up the snow, causing white-outs. Crevasses big enough to hold the TITANIC yawned before them menacingly.

Fiennes, enshrined in the GUINNESS BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS as the world’s greatest explorer, already held two records for the longest unsupported northern exploration. Between 1979 and 1982, he led the first surface journey around the world’s polar axis. Never before, however, had he or Stroud been faced with a more daunting challenge than this one.

The men pushed on with great difficulty, their former close personal relationship becoming severely strained by the daily exigencies of their arduous journey. They crossed mountains ten thousand feet high that had been encrusted in ice for four million years. Finally, on February 12, reaching the Ross Shelf, 289 nautical miles short of their goal, emaciated, starving, severely weakened, the men radioed for the last airplane out before the blizzard season. They covered 1,350 miles in ninety-five days. Fiennes concludes that Antarctica is the best place on Earth from which to monitor the planet’s health.