Tony Medniuk, The Coldest Journey chairman, said he was “tremendously proud” of the Ice Team’s unanimous decision to carry on after Sir Ranulph Fiennes developed second stage frostbite in his left hand.

He said he was profoundly disappointed for Ran and the team, but that the contingency planning that had followed on had been excellent.”Don’t be under any illusions of the hardship and the chall…enges that lie ahead for the Ice Team,” he added. “This will be an epic achievement and we are tremendously proud of them.

“We have absolute confidence that they will make it.”

Brian Newham, Ian Prickett, Rob Lambert, Spencer Smirl and Richmond Dykes are currently making a fuel depot nearly 300km south of Crown Bay before returning to the bay for the start of the expedition in less than three weeks.Anton Bowring, joint leader, said he felt bitterly disappointed for his old friend Ran, but was “selfishly delighted” at his return to the UK.

“Having him back makes our job here somewhat easier,” he said. “Ran is in a very good position to promote the wider aims of the trust – including the educational programme, but particularly the Seeing is Believing initiative, which is something we all feel very strongly about.

“I am thrilled he is here and look forward to getting to work right away.”

Joanna Lumley concluded saying Ran’s premature departure from the ice was “no more than a blip in this huge extraordinary journey.”

By Hugh Bowring