Smirl and Dykes, you will recall, were the mechanics in charge of the two specially-modified Cat D6N dozers on the trip.
After 307 days in the Antarctic, they are now back home.
Smirl and Dykes faced winds of up to 125km/h, delivering a wind chill of -88 degrees, as they maintained and operated the two Cat D6Ns, manoeuvring across crevasse fields and blue ice, while towing science and accommodation cabooses in an ice train.
As has been well documented, the original mission of crossing the South Pole was abandon back in June after traversing just 313km of the planned 3,822km. But the team had to wait until Antarctic’s summer was over before they could safely set off back again. They were pretty rough conditions to be trapped in.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the original frontman who bailed out in February with frostbite, said: “They are the first team ever to camp throughout the Antarctic winter in the permanent darkness and temperatures as low as -60 degrees. And, they achieved one of the longest Antarctic journeys in winter.”
Spencer Smirl says of the experience: “This was an unbelievable journey, pitting man and machine against the most unpredictable and harsh conditions on the planet. When you are relying on a Cat D6N to travel in temperatures as low as -60 degrees, in the dark, you know your focus has to be on the performance of the machine."
Smirl continues: “But in order to keep it performing well, you have to keep yourself in top condition, alert to every possible issue and ready at any moment to perform maintenance, change plans and support the rest of the team. Both Richmond and myself have had our engineering skills tested to the max and it has been such a rewarding and amazing experience.
“Even though the main goal of the expedition, to traverse the Antarctic in winter, had to be changed due to weather conditions, we have broken dozer records and been able to achieve our own key goals for the expedition. By getting the team and equipment back safe and sound, we have proven that the vision of Sir Ranulph Fiennes, to develop Antarctic ready Cat D6Ns that can operate in the Antarctic winter, has been achieved. Words can’t describe the whole experience, but it has certainly been life changing.”
Richmond Dykes adds: “For the Cat D6Ns, this has been a three-year journey, with five months of it operating in the Antarctic. Designed by Finning engineers in our Cannock UK headquarters, the performance of the Antarctic ready Cat D6Ns has been fantastic. This was completely new territory for everyone involved and our ultimate goal as engineers was to deliver the whole team and equipment back safe and sound, so it is fantastic to have achieved this.
“Throughout the journey I think we have become one with virtually every part of Rover and Seeker [the names given to the dozers] and alert to the tiniest of differences in performance. Faced with a constant battle against the elements, you also realise that snow and ice is relentless and finds the tiniest of gaps to fill, meaning we have had a constant battle on your hands, throughout the journey.
“We are both now in a unique position to share our experiences with others and in particular our fellow engineers across the whole Finning and Caterpillar businesses. The knowledge that we have gained will certainly make a difference to the future of plant equipment development and most importantly the safety of the engineers that maintain it."
Dykes continues: “We are both quite sad to leave such an amazing place, but are very excited about the future and can’t wait to thank everyone that has helped us make this journey possible. These experiences are once in a lifetime opportunities and we have both felt privileged to take part.”
While Smirl and Dykes are now back in the UK, they will have to wait a few more months before they see their machines again as they will make the journey home by boat.
While the cost of the whole enterprise has not been disclosed, it has raised nearly £1.2m for the charity Seeing is Believing, which Standard Chartered Bank has agreed to match.