Insatiable explorer recalls an adventurous life

2008-02-13 00:00

Probably Britain’s best known living explorer, Ranulph Fiennes had led the sort of adventurous life most of us armchair travellers can only dream about. Fêted by both press and public his list of exploits recalls the golden age of Victorian exploration.

Among other things he made the first recorded descent of Norway’s highest glacier, was the first person to reach both poles overland and also took part in the first totally self-supporting polar sledge journey ever made and the first totally unsupported crossing of the Antarctic landmass.

At an age when most normal people are thinking about retirement he has continued to seek out new challenges.

Despite a lifelong fear of heights he decided, at the age of 61, to attempt Mount Everest (in the company of black South Africa climber Sibusiso Vilane), getting to within 300 metres of the summit before an old heart condition — which had caused him to abort one of his previous polar expeditions — forced him to return to base. Undeterred, he next set his sights on the north face of the Eiger, a technically more difficult climb than Everest especially for someone who had lost several fingers to frostbite and suffered from vertigo. Despite a couple of close calls he made it to the top …

A natural storyteller, Fiennes is remarkably candid in describing the incredible journey of his life and generally resists the temptation to always paint himself in an heroic light. What emerges most strongly from his autobiography is his stubbornly independent nature and sheer force of character. To his thirst for adventure he had harnessed brutal willpower, coupled with the sort of determination that has enabled him to keep going in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds and under the sort of extreme conditions that no sane person would voluntarily subject themselves to.

By the same token he also reveals a more vulnerable, human side — his love for, and devotion to Ginny, his wife of more than 30 years (who sadly died of cancer) is made abundantly clear from the way he writes about her.

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