March of the Engines: Inside the Beast

A look at Ranulph Fiennes' epic snowcat caravan.

    Photo: James Provost

A) THE CATS
A small heater will keep fluids and batteries from freezing, tracks have removable spikes that can be used to climb glacial ice, and tow points will allow one Cat to pull the other out of a crevasse.

B) LIGHTING
High-intensity, 360-degree illumination will provide relief from constant darkness.

C) RADAR
A ground-penetrating system, pulled by a skier or carried by a Cat, will help identify crevasses. However, on the Cat, the system offers only 30 feet of warning. Since the caravan can’t back up, stumbling upon a crevasse could mean hours of delays as it’s filled in.

D) COMMUNICATIONS
A media area will hold laptops, satellite gear, a real-time tracking system, and film equipment. With an Iridium satellite hookup, the team will have Internet and phone service the whole time.

E) PROVISIONS
A sledge will carry 2.8 tons of food, enough to last a year. The expedition’s math: 5,000 calories per day times six people for 390 days equals 12 million calories.

F) FIRST AID
A portable X-ray machine, ultrasound, and defibrillator round out the medical kit, which is all the help they’ll have.

G) FUEL SUPPLY 
Each Cat will tow seven skids with a combined 10,500 gallons of Jet A1 FSII fuel. An ice inhibitor in the fuel will keep it liquid to minus 100 degrees. However, the engine won’t turn over below minus 95 degrees, so they’ll have to wait out the cold.

H) HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Living quarters, complete with three bunks, kitchen, and shower, will be kept at 65 degrees (average temperature outside: minus 80 degrees). A TV, iPads, six terabytes of movies, and a carbon-fiber guitar will also be available.

I) HORSEPOWER
Finning’s Cats were designed to haul 55 tons, but each of the trains will weigh nearly twice that. But for repairs, the caravan will need to stop on a downslope in order to get moving again. 

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