Ranulph Fiennes en route to Cape Town

London - The evacuation of injured British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes from Antarctica got under way on Wednesday after the veteran adventurer was forced to pull out of a marathon expedition because of frostbite.

Fiennes was picked up from base camp in the early morning and on his way to a Belgian station about 70km away after injuring his left hand at the weekend, his team said.

The 68-year-old was part of a six-member team attempting the first winter crossing of world's coldest continent.

"In a fond farewell to his team mates today he told them he was unhappy to be leaving them on the ice," Hugh Bowring of the expedition operations headquarters said in a brief statement.

His withdrawal from the epic trek was announced on Monday but a snow storm had grounded the team and stalled his evacuation.

Fiennes was finally picked up Wednesday by a team of Belgians stationed at Princess Elisabeth Station.

If weather permits, he will next be flown from the Belgian base to Novo air base, which is a key route in an out of Antarctica.

"Once there [he] will await a further flight to take him to Cape Town," said Bowring.

Sawed fingers off

The team's doctor on the ice said on Tuesday that "Ran", as the multiple record holder is known, has suffered frostbite to four fingers of his left hand.

This was after he removed a glove to adjust a ski binding at the weekend, forcing him to withdraw from the marathon trek.

Fiennes had suffered severe frostbite to the same hand during a 2000 expedition, and sawed off the damaged parts of his fingers himself.

The five remaining members of the team will press on with the mission, dubbed The Coldest Journey, and are set to start the winter crossing on 21  March.

The group hopes to be the first to make a more 4 000km crossing in winter.

The team members will face six months of mostly darkness in an area where temperatures can plunge to minus 70°C.

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