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Gymbia Heroes: Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

Gymbia Heroes – Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

As a part of my 12 month 4 cycle transformation challenge I will be detailing the people that I find most inspiring who relate to the specific cycle I am doing at any one time (Endurance à Hypertrophy & physique à Strength à Calisthenics). For the endurance cycle I have picked Sir Ranulph Fiennes who I actually had the honor of meeting a few months back after one of his talks at the Great British Museum. I hope this post will give some insight into the feats & personality of this great British hero.

Known chiefly for his polar endurance expeditions & recognized by Guiness world records as the greatest living explorer in the world, Sir Ranulph Fiennes is probably the one of the toughest old boots that one is likely to find.

He joined the SAS in the early 50’s & led numerous operations, markedly those in Oman whereby he commanded a guerilla force of 100 men in the defense of an Omani city against the rebels there who sought to topple the sultan at the time. The aim was to keep the sultan in power for long enough so that his son could then come into power. His son was forward thinking & brought in numerous laws to the benefit of the country. Over a period of 3 years Ran & his guerilla force successfully resisted the group of rebels numbering around three thousand.

He was then later kicked out of the SAS for using C4 plastic explosive on a civilian structure – a film crew had moved into his local village & dammed up the river for months on end causing the villagers much distress so one day he decided that he would blow it up. The villagers hailed him as a hero & the film crew took their leave but the SAS didn’t look very kindly on this & he was left without a job & broke.

This is when he decided that it would be a good idea to make a living from expeditions. One thing I really liked about his attitude was that he considered doing a lot of the mad stuff he did just as literally a means of paying the bills – lead an expedition, write a book about it, sell the book, pay the rent was how he saw it.

His early expeditions saw him lead a team onto the Jostedalsbreen Glacierin Norway to geologically survey it to ascertain whether it was going to crush the village below in the coming years. The big selling point to the media was that the team was going to parachute onto it, which had never been done before. The expedition was a success so the next one was to make a film about the Yukon river in British Columbia. After this he led an expedition down the nile to map out unexplored territories at the time. Again, this expeditions selling point was that the expedition was to be via hovercraft, which was a new technology at the time.

Increasing in popularity & having built a reputation for good leadership skills & successful expeditions he was able to secure more backers for larger expeditions which is when he began his polar exploits.

I will try to explain how absolutely gnarly polar travel is; Imagine pulling a 200 pound sled with everything you need to survive strapped to it for 100 days+ into endless white. Imagine also that you are expending in the region of 10000 calories a day (him & Mike Stroud, his nutritionist companion on a few expeditions worked their calorie expendature out) & can only physically take in about 3500 at a push as the cold temperatures blunt hunger. You are actively starving & wasting away as your body takes muscle & fat to use as fuel in the absence of enough calories. Mix in snow blindness, crotch rot, a bleeding & cracked face & permanent temperatures in the minuses, the worst with the potential of being -85 *** Hypothermia & cold related deliriums are common. Also if you are in the north then bears are a very real & present danger with Ran having run ins with a fair few (they never ever killed a bear but fired warning shots to scare the bears off). Some days you might toil for 10 hours by carving paths through the ice boulders & you may only get two miles & call it a good day. Crevasse fields are an extreme hidden danger, more common in the South Pole. Basically you don’t know that you’re over a crevasse until the ground falls from beneath you & a huge chasm opens up.

Making a crossing of either pole need to be timed immaculately – too early in winter when it is very dark then you may not make progress due to the extreme colds. Too late & you run the risk of being stranded on an ice floe around the North Pole when everything breaks apart due to melt. On the Transglobe expedition Ran & Mike actually floated for hundreds of miles on a rapidly melting ice floe & it got pretty touch & go but their team on their boat managed to break through the ice & pick them up. This in itself was extremely risky to the crew as the ice floes can easily crush & sink boats.

One of of his greatest achievements was the Transglobe expedition – a three year expedition to be the first team to successfully navigate the earth along it’s vertical axis without using air travel of which Prince Charles was the patron. This meant leaving Greenwich on the boat & sailing south to Africa whereby they drove Landrovers all the way down the continent. From here they crossed to the South Pole & manhauled sledges from one side to the other, tracking previously unmapped & unknown territory. From there they sailed up & across the pacific to Alaska to attempt the legendary north west passage. Over history many many sailers & crews had met their end trying to find this passage – it was believed that there was a route through all of the small islands next to Greenland & spanning Canada through to use as a quick shipping route to China. Many were commissioned to find it & most got lost & died along the way. It did so happen that the passage does exist however it would have been virtually impossible to use as a shipping route due to it being very hard to find, very hard to navigate due to currents & razor shores & also it was only actually passable in summer due to it completely freezing over in winter. Ran & his team’s challenge was to navigate a tiny boat through this passage to safety on the other side before the passage froze over. They just about managed it after an epic 40 day journey in which they nearly died more than once & survived from an about an hours sleep a night. Their boat still got frozen in but luckily they were close enough to where they needed to get to to make camp for winter. Finally to complete the expedition they needed to cross the North Pole but first had to wait out the winter in makeshift cardboard cabins dug into the snow as the crossing was too dangerous in the winter. They eventually got across & got picked up by their large boat as detailed above & made it back to Greenwich after an epic 3 year journey. All in all the expedition took 8 years from beginning to end with them securing 23 million pounds worth of sponsorship (Massive boat, plane for supply runs, fuel, gear, food for a big crew for 3 years etc). I find it a huge testament to Ranulph’s leadership & organizational skills to keep it all together & crew moral afloat even though they had quit their lives for 3 years for no pay to fulfill an expedition that could have failed at any time for any number of reasons. Ranulph knew of course that it could have failed at anytime, explaining the huge risks to all those involved but they stayed anyway & the expedition was a huge success because of this.

In addition to his various polar exploits Ranulph also had extensive operations in Oman working for the sultan to discover the lost city of Ubar. After 3 expiditions spanning nearly 30 years he found the lost city under the sands which caused a lot of controversy as he proved NASA satellites to be obsolete while searchingfor lost cities.

One of the gnarliest stories about Ranulph was when he got frostbite. He was embarking on a solo expedition to the North Pole as no one had ever done this before. Solo polar exploration is extremely dangerous as there are so many things that can go wrong with no one to help you if you find yourself up shit creek without a paddle. He was man hauling his sled across an ice slab when it flipped & his sled which he was roped up to with all of the essential gear needed for survival (tent, food, equipment etc) plunged into the icy water below. It didn’t pull him in though but he was still roped to it. Cutting it lose was not really an option as he would have froze to death within a day so he had to plunge his hand into the water to get a purchase on the sled to drag the thing back out which he just about managed. In doing so he lost all sensation in his fingers & saw them die before his eyes. Knowing he was in trouble he called off the expedition & turned back. Fortunately he was not that far from basecamp as this happened within the first couple of days of him leaving. He got extracted out of there alive but with blackened stumps for fingers. A few months later & getting frustrated with the doctors taking so long to operate he went into his garden shed, took a hacksaw & sawed the stumps of his fingers off. In his book his following statement was “Well, there was no point crying over spilt milk” & he began to plan the next expedition. Nutter!

I could go on & on about this guy, there are so many stories about all of the mad & amazing things that he has done over the years but I will say that if you are interested in learning more about Sir Ranulph Fiennes then get his books; either “Beyond the Limits” – a overview of his most famous expeditions & the lessons he learned from them. I’ve got a signed copy of this one! Or “Cold”, detailing all of his exploits in the coldest temperatures on earth. Oh yeh, I just remembered he’s climbed Everest as well but it took his 3rd go to do it as the other two he had heart attacks on. Cold is a great book, not just about what he has done but also about everything polar – From the history of polar discovery to Inuit cultures & traditions, Polar wildlife to our sad dark history of whaling for oil. It’s got it all & will make you want to visit the poles!

So in conclusion Sir Ranulph Fiennes is one of the gnarliest Brits ever in my opinion & I believe few people will be able to top his numerous & varied feats over the years. It always helps me to think of pulling a sled heavier than me for 100+ days while starving when I am doing my own challenges & things are getting hard. It puts things into perspective a little bit!

He’s got quite a few books out, I would recommend “Cold” & “Beyond The Limits”.

Below is a list of Ran’s achievement’s over the years as the worlds greatest living explorer. Thanks for reading!

  • 1967 – Jostedalsbreen Glacier Expedition
  • 1969 – The Nile Hovercraft Expedition
  • 1970 – 2nd Jostedalsbreen Glacier Expedition
  • 1971 – The Headless Valley Expedition
  • 1976 – 78 – Greenland: Hayes Peninsular Expedition
  • 1979 – 82 – The Transglobe Expedition
  • 1986 – 90 – The Unsupported North Pole (Canadian) Expedition
  • 1990 – The Unsupported North Pole Russian Expedition
  • 1991 – The Discovery of the Lost City of Ubar
  • 1992/1993 –  The Unsupported Antarctic Continent Expedition
  • 2000 – The Arctic Solo Expedition
  • 2003 – Seven marathons in seven days on seven continents
  • 2005 and 2008 – Everest Tibet and Everest Nepal summit Attempts
  • 2007 – North Face of the Eiger
  • 2009 – Everest Nepal Summit (Became the first person ever to summit Everest and cross both polar ice caps)
  • 2014 – The Coldest Journey – Antarctic plateau through polar winter
  • 2015 – Marathon des Sables, Sir Ranulph becomes the oldest Briton at the time to complete the ‘toughest footrace on earth’ in aid of Marie Curie.
  • 2016 – The Global Reach Challenge . Attempting to become the first person to have crossed both polar ice caps and climbed the highest mountains on each continent

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