Sir Ranulph Fiennes is one of the last of the old-school explorers. He's spent more time traipsing around the Arctic and Antarctic than a penguin in a polar bear suit, and at the age of 68, he's now preparing to do something that's never been done before (because it's utterly crazy): crossing the entire continent of Antarctica, on foot, in the dead of winter.
Let me just explain to you why Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes OBE is the most badass dude ever:
- He was in the SAS, a British special ops unit.
- He blew up a dam with explosives, in an English village, because he didn't like the way it looked.
- He went exploring up the Nile in 1969. In a hovercraft.
- He was almost James Bond, but was narrowly beat out by Roger Moore.
- He traveled around the world between 1979 and 1982 not by the equator, but by the poles.
- He may have discovered an actual Lost City in Oman.
- He ran seven marathons on seven continents in seven consecutive days. At the age of 59. Four months after a heart attack. And double bypass surgery.
- He climbed Mount Everest at 65.
- He has seven honorary doctorates.
- He is entitled to be called "Sir" as a knighted officer of the British Empire.
But all of that stuff is pansy-foof compared to what happened to Sir Ranulph on his solo expedition to the north pole back in 2000. The supply sled he was pulling along behind him fell through some thin ice, and Sir Ranulph had to pull it out, which meant taking off one of his gloves and reaching into the arctic ocean, and then exposing his now wet hand to temperatures of about 80 degrees below zero: "My fingers were ramrod stiff and ivory white. They might as well have been wood ... I had seen enough frostbite in others to realise I was in serious trouble. I had to turn back."
He did turn back, but by the time he was airlifted to Canada, the top third of his fingers had turned into "gnarled, mummified, witch-like talons." They'd have to be amputated, but the doctors suggested waiting five months and they were going to charge him $10,000 to do the job. Sir Ranulph was having none of that. From an interview with The Guardian:
"I purchased a set of fretsaw blades at the village shop, put the little finger in my Black & Decker folding table's vice, and gently sawed through the dead skin and bone just above the live skin line," he writes. "The moment I felt pain or spotted blood, I moved further into the dead zone. I also turned the finger around several times and cut into it from different sides. This worked well, and the little finger's knuckle finally dropped off after some two hours of work." It took him five days to do the rest; a job, he says, well done.
With that sort of pedigree, it's not surprising that Sir Ranulph isn't done exploring yet. His next expedition will be a 2,000-mile trek across the 10,000-foot-high Antarctic plateau, in winter, where it's perpetually dark and temperatures can plummet to -130 degrees. For the record, nobody up until now has been insane enough to venture out more than 60 miles in those conditions. The expedition will include three tractors pulling sleds full of supplies, but if anything goes wrong, rescue will be absolutely impossible.
So why try and do this? According to Sir Ranulph, "we heard a rumour that Norwegian explorers were contemplating this. We realised we were going to have to have a go." There's charity involved too: the expedition will be raising money to help prevent avoidable blindness in developing nations. With that in mind, here are two more bullet points on why Sir Ranulph Fiennes is the most badass dude ever:
- He raises millions of dollars for charities.
- He does nearly impossible things because if he doesn't do them, someone else will.