Photo: AP Images
Sir Ranulph Fiennes is touted as “the world’s greatest living explorer.” He has earned his reputation by surviving the most hostile environments on Earth. This includes being the first person to visit both the North and South Poles, and scaling Mt. Everest.
The British adventurer’s latest record-breaking expedition takes him to Antarctica. Fiennes, joined by five other explorers, will attempt to be the first to cross the continent during winter.
He plans to complete the more than 2,485-mile journey on skis, but will receive some support from heavy snow vehicles.
The mission is filled with unexpected dangers. Expedition co-leader Anton Bowring has already predicted that something bad will happen. Even Fiennes expressed a tinge of doubt when he wrote that the team stands “a reasonable chance of success” in a recent blog post.
But one story from Fiennes past gives us confidence that the veteran explorer will be make it out alive — or at the very least, a look at the true grit of his character.
In 2000, Fiennes traveled across the Arctic alone. Along the way, his sled carrying all of his food and equipment fell through the ice. Fiennes had no choice but to pull the sled free because he was on his own. He pulled off his gloves and dipped his left hand into the frigid water, which hovered around 30 degrees Fahrenheit.
“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,” Fiennes wrote in his autobiography.
The explorer was evacuated the next day. Fiennes learned at the hospital that the top third of all of his fingers and half of his thumb would have to be amputated. The surgery would cost more than £6,000 (over $9,000 today). Fiennes wasn’t keen on spending that kind of money to lob off his digits.
So he took matters into his own hands (This next bit is not for those with a weak stomach):
“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 wrote. “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.”
Three years later he ran seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.
Fiennes will begin his Antarctic expedition on March 21. It will take around six months to complete the journey, trekking around 22 miles a day, mostly in complete darkness.
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