Caterpillar donates dozers to "The last great polar challenge"

By Chris Sleight18 September 2012

Expedition leader Sir Ranulph Fiennes (L) with Finning engineer Spencer Smirl (R).

Expedition leader Sir Ranulph Fiennes (L) with Finning engineer Spencer Smirl (R).

Caterpillar has donated two heavily modified D6N dozers to aid an attempt by Sir Ranulph Fiennes to cross Antarctica over the winter months. It will be the first time this feat has been attempted, and Sir Ranulph described it as "The last great polar challenge."

The expedition is due to start on December 6th, with the sailing of the expedition ship, SA Agulhas from London to Cape Town, South Africa and then on to the Russian base of Novolazareskaya on Antarctica. Beginning on 21 March, 2013, the six man team will attempt to cross the 2,000 miles (3,200 km) km to McMurdo Sound, via the South Pole, mostly in complete darkness and at temperatures as low as -90° C.

The expedition will also be used for scientific research, particularly the impact of climate change on the polar icecaps. Medical research will also be carried out into human physiology in the extreme cold, and without the normal day/night cycle. According to expedition medical advisor Dr Mike Stroud, there is interest from the space exploration community into the trip, because of the long period of isolation in a hostile environment that the team will face.

All of the provisions, fuel, living quarters and scientific equipment for the expedition will be towed by two D6N dozers donated by Caterpillar. They will be driven by Canadian-born Spencer Smirl, a technician from Caterpillar dealer Finning, and a second engineer who is yet to be selected.

Mr Smirl said, "I feel it is a once in a lifetime opportunity that will test man and machine to the limits. Knowing I am going to be one of those people making sure the machines are working correctly is a huge responsibility, but I one I am excited to take on."

The two dozers have been heavily modified by Finning to withstand the extreme cold, and have since undergone winter testing in Sweden at temperatures of -40° C. According to Finning, hundreds of modifications have been made to the machines to prepare them for the task, and these include a specially designed insulated canopy with an escape hatch (should the dozers fall into a crevasse). There is also a combined crane and crevasse arm mounted to the blade for recovery of the machines in such an event.

Protection from the cold will include a central heating system for the engine and all fluids along with full insulation of the machine, and there is also a special package to manage the flow of the cooling air. Towing performance will be enhanced by special grouser bars on the tracks and removable ice spikes, and a winch and towing attachment has been added to tow the cabooses (sledge-mounted living quarters), which will weigh up to 70 tonnes when fully loaded at the start of the journey.

One of the greatest hazards to the expedition is crevasses, despite the fact that it will follow an established route across Antarctica. To mitigate against this, two lead explorers - one of which will be Sir Ranulph - will ski ahead of the dozers carrying ground-penetrating radar. These will relay information to in-cab displays in the dozers to highlight any danger areas before they are encountered by the heavy equipment.

Proceeds from the expedition will be donated to the Seeing is Believing charity, which raises money to prevent avoidable blindness around the world.

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