Sir Ranulph Fiennes has been described as the greatest living explorer (Reuters)
Sir Ranulph Fiennes has been described as the greatest living explorer (Reuters) Reuters

Veteran explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes has been forced to pull out of an expedition across Antarctica after developing frostbite.

It is believed the 68-year-old contracted frostbite after using his bare hands to fix a broken ski binding in temperatures around -30C.

The team behind the expedition across the frozen land will continue without Fiennes. His evacuation to South Africa to receive medical help is currently hindered by blizzard conditions.

Starting in March, the 2,400 mile (4,000 km) trek known as the Coldest Journey on Earth, is expected to take the team six months to complete, most of it in complete darkness. No one has ever attempted to cross the Antarctica in Winter, and temperatures are expected to fall as low as -90C for the remainders members of the team.

The Seeing is Believing Charity, who the team is raising money for, said: "We regret to announce that Sir Ranulph Fiennes has developed a case of frostbite. The condition is such that he has very reluctantly decided with the support of the team doctor and in the interests of the success of the expedition and its associated aims, to withdraw from Antarctica while the possibility to do so still exists, before the onset of the Antarctic winter.

"This decision has not been taken lightly and it is, naturally, a huge disappointment to Fiennes and his colleagues.

"Right now the team is working towards evacuating Fiennes from Antarctica. He will be transported by skidoo to the Princess Elisabeth Station about 70km away from his current position, from where he will be flown to Novo to get a connecting flight to Cape Town. This plan is currently being hampered due to a blizzard at their present location which is making the first stage of the evacuation impossible. Until there is a let up in the weather conditions, Fiennes will be unable to leave.

"The remaining expedition members, under the experienced leadership of the Traverse Manager, Brian Newham, have unanimously elected to continue with the winter crossing of Antarctica and will undertake the scientific and educational aspects of the project as originally planned, with its humanitarian benefits. This view is supported by the board of trustees.

"The expedition has reached the point where they can readily establish a supply depot on the Antarctic plateau. This puts them in an excellent position to start the crossing as scheduled on 21st March."

Described as the world's greatest living explorer, Fiennes' previous achievements include being the first person to reach both poles on surface means and being the oldest person to climb Mount Everest aged 65.

He previously lost his fingers on his left hand due to frostbite during an attempt in 2000 to reach the North Pole unaided.