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Transglobe Expedition 1979-82


  • Led by Sir Ranulph Fiennes this expedition was the first to travel around the globe from pole to pole.
  • The expedition was planned from 1972, and was funded entirely through sponsorship deals and the free services of expedition members.
  • They left London on board the Benjamin Bowring in September 1979. Whilst they were supported on their trip by the expeditions aeroplane, the three men who were doing the polar journeys never once travelled by plane but used it as a support plane.
  • They were in Antarctica between January 1979 and April 1981, Ranulph, Charlie and Oliver travelled across the Antarctic via the South Pole on skidoo, making the fastest crossing of the continent.
  • They were in the Arctic between June 1981 and April 1982, Ranulph and Charlie travelled across the Arctic, taking in the North Pole.
  • This expedition achieved a number of polar firsts, including the first dog to visit both poles!

View photographs from the expedition

This expedition led by Sir Ranulph Fiennes had first been envisaged in 1972 by Ranulph’s wife Ginny, who had the idea of travelling around the world from pole to pole. It took seven years to plan, and to raise the money to fund the expedition; with all their finances and equipment coming from sponsorship. The fourteen team members from eight countries were all unpaid volunteers.

Their route would follow closely the Greenwich Meridian, the 0°line of longitude. Departing from Greenwich, London they would travel south through Europe, and Africa to Antarctica. They would cross Antarctica through the South Pole and then northwards through the Pacific to Canada’s west coast; from here they would cross the Arctic via the North Pole and return to Greenwich. To do this they would use a range of different transports methods, travelling by icebreaker, Land Rover, rubber boat, ski, snowshoe, skidoo and canoe. A plane would accompany them, however, this would only be used for support purposes not travel.

Prince Charles who was the expedition’s patron described their intentions as ‘mad but marvellous’. The party left Greenwich in September 1979 onboard their expedition ship the Benjamin Bowring. Their journey would begin travelling south where they would travel through Africa by Land Rover and then by ship to Antarctica.

They were in Antarctica between January 1979 and April 1981. Five of the party (plus the Fienne’s dog Bothie) wintered undertaking scientific experiments. They lived in huts made out of a thin cardboard with a single layer of insulation. Charlie Burton, Ollie Shepard and Ranulph Fiennes departed to cross the Antarctic continent using skidoos on 28 October 1979. During their crossing they were given aerial support, bringing further supplies and surveying possible routes. At every latitude change they stopped to collect ice-cores which were to be taken away to be analysed to ascertain the average snowfall rates. They made it to the South Pole on 15 December 1980, where the USA now had a station. Whilst there they played the first ever game of cricket at the South Pole, beating the Americans. The expedition plane brought out some of the members of the expedition who were not taking part in the polar crossing, including the expedition’s dog Bothie. They then pressed on to cover the second half of the Antarctic continent. The second part of their journey included trekking along the Scott Glacier, on 10 January having negotiated a number of difficult crevasses and surviving collapsing snow bridges they made it to the tip of White Island. At this point one of the skidoo’s developed piston trouble, luckily they had transported a spare engine and it could now be put to good use enabling the three to complete their crossing. Their journey time of 67 days was the fastest time in which the continent had been crossed.

The group then travelled northwards via New Zealand, Australia, the USA, and Canada to begin the Arctic part of their journey. The Benjamin Bowring anchored off the Yukon Delta on 30 June 1981, from here the Dunlop expedition aeroplanes set off to transport the equipment and stores for the journey up the Yukon. Originally the same team who had crossed Antarctica were to cross the Arctic, however, Oliver had to leave the expedition due to family commitments and so Ranulph and Charlie for the most part undertook the trip alone.

Due to their earlier experience with an inflatable boat collapsing and as they were unexpectedly reduced to a party of two they had to rethink their choice of transport. Luckily they were able to secure sponsorship from the bank Morgan Stanley and an 18ft Boston Whaler called Outrage was purchased and renamed the Morgan Stanley. By 21 July Ranulph and Charlie were on their way travelling along the Northwest Passage. They arrived at Gjoa Haven on 11 August. Meanwhile other members of the team had flown to Resolute where they established the next base and laid down some fuel depots for Ranulph and Charlie.

They discovered that the originally planned northward route was solid with ice and so a more easterly route along the coast of Devon Island was followed. They reached the Tanquary Fjord on 31 August, from here they had to cross on foot to reach Alert on 26 September, here they wintered for five months waiting for the summer when it would be light enough to attempt a crossing. They left Alert on 12 February, beginning their journey on skidoo. They found that the skidoo moved very slowly across the terrain, which was reducing their travelling time, this ran the risk of extending the expedition for another year. A backup plan was put into action which was the delivery by air of two pulks (sledges) that could also be used as canoes in small stretches of water. This enabled them to cover the same distance in a day which would have taken two days on a skidoo.

It was planned to fly replacement skidoos out to the men but unfortunately a fire at the expedition’s base camp destroyed the skidoos. The Canadian firm of Bombadier kindly replaced the skidoos and they were flown out. However, they were too light to tow the sledges and so the skidoos they had abandoned earlier needed to be collected from Markham Fjord. With these they made good progress until Ranulph’s fell through the ice taking the sledge with it. They managed to rescue most of a survival kit but were left without a tent and food. A plane left Alert with replacement gear, reaching the men the following morning. However, three days later the men found themselves in a difficult situation again, as they became stranded on an ice floe with open water all around. The winter was mild and open water had developed where there should have been solid ice. Luckily a sudden change in the weather caused some of the ice to freeze and by taking a short detour south they were able to head northwards again.

They reached the North Pole in April. The plane flew out bringing with them other members of the expedition, including Bothie who became the first dog to visit both poles. Ranulph and Charlie set off again to complete the rest of their journey. By 23 April the temperature had risen and so further surface travel was not possible, instead they floated southward on an ice floe. The Benjamin Bowring finally picked them up after 99 days on the ice.

They had managed to complete their intention and circumnavigate the globe from pole to pole. This was not their only achievement of the trip, they established a number of firsts on their voyage:

  • They were the fastest team to cross Antarctica.
  • The first team to cross the Yukon and the North West Passage in the same season.
  • The first team to reach the North Pole using mechanical transport.
  • Bothie was the first dog to visit both poles. He accompanied them for the journey being taken by helicopter to the actual poles.
  • Ginny Fiennes was the first woman to join the Antarctic Club and to receive the Polar Medal.

Further Information

Visit the offical Transglobe website:

Fiennes, R. (2000) Beyond the Limits. The Lessons Learned from a Lifetime’s Adventures. Little, Brown and Company.

Fiennes, R. (1987) The Autobiography of Ranulph Fiennes, Living Dangerously. London: Macmillan London Limited.

Fiennes, R & Fiennes, V. (1984) Bothie the Polar Dog. Hodder and Stoughton.

Fiennes, R. (ed) (1984) Report on Scientific Work of the Transglobe Expedition 1979-1982.

Fiennes, R. (1983) To the Ends of the Earth. The Transglobe Expedition 1979-82.

Reader’s Digest Travels and Adventures From Pole to Pole (1997).