The Coldest Journey

Panasonic Joins Sir Fiennes On ‘The Coldest Journey’: Winter Antarctic Eco Survey Works With Panasonic to Secure Best Technology to Support Challenge

It’s being hailed as the greatest challenge of human endeavour remaining on Earth: to cross the Antarctic in winter. No one has ever attempted such an adventure before. With 24-hour darkness and temperatures plunging below -70°C, this epic 2,000 mile expedition, which will take the best part of a year to complete, is the ultimate test of human endurance. You need to be a very special person to even consider it. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Britain’s best known polar explorer, can’t wait to get started.

Panasonic was chosen as the official technology partner for ‘The Coldest Journey’ expedition, setting off this December, because it is uniquely able to provide the range of technologies required for such an epic undertaking, all of which is guaranteed to work flawlessly no matter how hostile or difficult the environment.

At the heart of the operation will be Panasonic’s P2 Solid State Technology and the AG-HPX250 handheld camera recorder. The rugged CF-53 Toughbook mobile PC will be used to facilitate the expedition’s scientific experiments and communications via an Iridium sat-link, as well as editing footage and photographs taken on Lumix and Lumix G digital cameras and Panasonic camcorders such as the HC-X900.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes originally contacted Panasonic to request their support with helping to capture what may be ground breaking discoveries. Nigel Wilkes, PSCEU Group Manager explained “Our Broadcast P2 camera equipment and Toughbook PCs, have a reputation of reliability to work in extreme conditions. Our customers often use Panasonic equipment beyond the temperature specifications that we guarantee”.

Tristam Kaye, Operations Manager for The Coldest Journey, says that the successful outcome of the project depends on both the amazing reliability of Panasonic hardware as well as its outstanding performance. “It would be incredibly difficult to work in these extreme conditions, for up to six months, without the calibre of Panasonic equipment,” he admits.

According to Tristam Kaye, Ranulph Fiennes “has had this project on his mind for a good number of years - but it was getting the involvement of distinguished members of the Royal Society (a fellowship of the world’s most distinguished scientists) and securing partners like Panasonic that gave it the kick-start it needed.”

Fiennes’ international team, all veterans of working in Polar Regions, will set sail for Antarctica on December 6th. The hope is to reach the Ross Ice Shelf in January, at which point the Ice Team will disembark for their perilous journey. A two man ski team will then begin their walk, leading the way for the rest of the group, two specialist vehicles and a life-support caboose.

“The caboose is basically a modified shipping container on skis,” explains Kaye, part lab part accommodation. It’s from inside this that the team will use the CF-53 Toughbook computers to communicate with the rest of the outside world, and perform a series of scientific experiments. A key objective of the expedition is to collect scientific data about the condition of the ice itself, providing an invaluable resource to those studying the effects of global warming.

“We expect to contribute to the understanding of how the polar icecaps are being affected,” says Kaye. “No one has physically measured the ice sheet profile during the winter months before – it’s been impossible to do so. Current measurements are being done by satellite, but physical on-the-ground measurements taken during the winter to validate the satellite’s readings have never before been possible. Now scientists will be able to make accurate measurements, using Panasonic hardware. It should answer a lot of questions.”

Wilkes of Panasonic says that the scientific discoveries promised by this extraordinary expedition were one of the factors that brought Panasonic onboard as a lead partner. The company has undertaken to supply all the audio visual, camera and rugged computing equipment needed for the project. “We’re a global company and have a global responsibility to help people reduce their carbon footprint and be ecologically sound. And that will all form part of the scientific discoveries that will hopefully be made.”

Ranulph Fiennes’ team were equally keen to have Panasonic involved. “Our cameras are synonymous with being very robust, and they were recommended to Ran as such by other broadcast professionals who swear by them. That’s how we began talking.” Panasonic hardware has a reputation won during the making of landmark shows such as the BBC’s Frozen Planet. “Our broadcast cameras have a big following with Natural History filmmakers and news agencies. We suggested that we could help with this, and that’s how the partnership started.”

Panasonic is supplying a mix of professional broadcast and consumer imaging equipment to the Ice Team, from AG-HPX250 - P2 HD professional broadcast cameras to HC-X900 camcorders. Earlier this year, the Antarctic team took both the professional and consumer cameras to a test shoot in Sweden. “Temperatures dropped below -60°C and the Panasonic kit operated fine.” All things considered, they got off light. Prior to filming Frozen Planet, Panasonic’s broadcast hardware was stowed in a deep freeze to prove that the kit could operate in hostile conditions. The equipment performed perfectly.

“The DMC-GH2 DSLMs and DMC-FT4 compact still cameras are probably going to suffer the most from the cold,” predicts Wilkes. “Professional kit is designed to cope with extreme weather, but consumer kit whilst still durable tends to be used in far less extreme conditions such as family holidays. To help them survive in blizzard conditions, these models will be stored next to the explorer’s body to keep the equipment warm,” says Wilkes. “They’ll get them out for 30 seconds at a time; they are basically for times when it’s not practical to use a large, broadcast camera, like when abseiling down an ice cliff.”

While the Ice Team are not professional cameramen, they have undergone special training by the BBC. “They’ve been taught how to capture the type of footage which will be suitable for the BBC to use in news broadcasts.”

Of course, the mission has another goal: to raise $10m for the Seeing is Believing charity. “When Ran realized how blindness affects people unnecessarily across the world, and can be avoided with something as simple as very cheap and inexpensive medication or intervention from a medical practitioner, he wanted to help,” said Tristam Kaye.

The extraordinary adventure will be covered by various global news outlets, including the BBC, but the team will be thinking of a younger audience too. Planned are frequent video blogs to be viewed by schools. “It’s going to be exceptionally exciting for the kids to see what’s happening on a regular basis,” enthuses Wilkes.

Follow the progress of The Coldest Journey team here.