Top That: He’s conquered both poles, been to the top of the world and survived more than most - Sir Ranulph Fiennes tells Camilla Davies why he’s kept pushing himself
The New Year is the time when plans are made; to lose that holiday weight, to get fit, to step beyond the ‘norm’ and embark upon adventure.
For intrepid explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, however, stepping into the unknown is simply the day job.
He’ll be bringing his expertise to London’s The Adventure Travel Show this month.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes doesn’t do things by half measures. After eight years in the British Army, Fiennes has gone on to set countless records, setting foot on the untouched corners of our Earth.
His methods of travel have included hovercraft, ski-doo and long distance trekking; he’s the oldest Brit to have climbed the summit of Mount Everest (at age 65), he’s conquered both the North and South Poles, and he’s circumnavigated the world.
Yet with so many accolades to his name, Sir Ranulph Fiennes claims that, “Achievement has to do with luck,” and the humble explorer credits his greatest triumph as, “probably in this age of divorce, being very happily married for 38 years to my late wife, Ginny, and then being lucky enough to be able to marry again, another wonderful lady, Louise.”
It’s safe to say then, that Sir Ranulph has enjoyed successes in both his personal and professional life. So then, with so many awesome moments to recollect, if he could return to just one moment, when and where would that be?
“I would definitely like to be back on that day in 1982 where Charlie Burton [British explorer] and I got onto the ship of Anton Bowring.
Eleven years of work ended that day when the ship broke through the ice; it was the first time in history that humans have vertically been around the world’s surface through both poles.
Nobody has done it again since either - actually, more people have been on the moon. A lot of luck went into it but when we got onto that ship, along with my late wife, Ginny, it was probably the best moment of all.”
Sir Ranulph is referring to the infamous Transglobe Expedition (1979-1982), whereby he ventured both the North and South poles, travelling the world vertically by surface means. A prolific career as an adventurer has inevitably led to some terrific accomplishments. Most people, for example, would avoid completing a marathon just three and a half months after a heart attack, double bypass and three day coma. Sir Ranulph?
Try seven marathons in seven consecutive days in seven continents! But while Fiennes has navigated some fantastical feats, nothing comes together without a plan.
Calling each challenge “different,” some take more organisation than others. Finding the lost city of Ubar, in Oman, after 26 years, proved a logistical nightmare. “That was eight major expeditions into the desert with Landrovers, each expedition had separate sponsors, separate permits, it was very difficult in that manner.”
And the trying aspects of an expedition can start months before the physical toil, the frostbite, the aching limbs and animal bites. “The Transglobe Expedition had 1,900 sponsors and it took seven years to organise – seven years when we were paid nothing. We had to work at weekends in pubs and that was difficult in a different way.”
But let’s not discredit the physical endurance of each journey, too, and the complications this can bring. “Crossing the Antarctic continent with Mike Stroud, we had nothing that we didn’t carry from day one for 1800 miles and that was physically very difficult with gangrene and frostbite.”
As Sir Ranulph warns, there’s always the danger of underestimating a challenge. “40 per cent of our expeditions have actually failed over the 40 years,” he says, though, “bearing in mind that we’re always going for world records, that’s not surprising.”
That said, Sir Ranulph is a man of extremely high expectations. “Included in our failures we’ve actually broken existing world records but not always gotten to the final goal…”
Sir Ranulph has traversed different corners of the globe - numerous times - but will be working closer to home at The Adventure Travel Show this January, giving talks to fellow explorers, from amateur to pro. With half a century of experience, Sir Ranulph is here to encourage the next generation. Because while he’s created world records, don’t forget, they’re there to be broken.
The Adventure Travel Show takes place between January 17 and 18, London Olmypia.
For more information, log onto the website: www.adventureshow.com