Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Ran the man

Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes
No more heroes any more? Try Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, who turns 69 today.

Sir Ranulph is a blast from the past. A Boy's Own adventurer. A Scott or a Shackleton for our time.

He’s climbed Everest after a heart attack; walked across Antarctica (twice); run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents; slogged around the world, pole to pole, without leaving its surface – a 52,000 mile journey that took three years.

But the ordeal for which he’s most famous is of course the toe-curling surgery he underwent at his home on Exmoor in 2000. DIY surgery. Involving a fretsaw and a vice.

Fiennes, a former SAS man, had just returned from the Arctic with a badly frostbitten left hand. The fingers were black and mummified, the slightest brush against them agony. But doctors said it was too early to amputate. So Sir Ranulph decided to act alone.

“After four months of living with grotesque, witch-like talons, purple in colour, sticking out of my stumps, I could take it no longer…” he writes in his autobiography. “The answer was obvious. The useless finger ends must be cut off at once.”

One by one, Sir Ranulph put the dead digits into his Black & Decker table vice and “gently sawed”. Six days later the job was done.

When Fiennes’s surgeon, Donald Sammut, heard the news he was not impressed. “I apologised to Donald,” Fiennes writes, “but felt secretly pleased with myself since life improved considerably once the gnarled mummified ends no longer got in the way.”

Those same finger stumps last week forced Sir Ranulph to pull out of his latest mad adventure: a first ever attempt to cross Antarctica in winter. Frostbite again. The world’s greatest living explorer could be facing more surgery.

But typically he is unfazed. Fifty percent of his expeditions so far have failed. He’s used to setbacks. He’s used to picking himself up and giving it another go, 69 years old or not.

So happy birthday, Sir Ranulph, and many happy returns to the world's most remote and frightening places. Like most of the great explorers of the past, you’re as daft as a badger. But you’re also an inspiration, a shining example of human courage and endurance.

Read more about Sir Ranulph's improbable adventures in his autobiography Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know

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