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Living It: Sir Ranulph Fiennes
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Sir Ranulph Fiennes: Mad, Bad, and Dangerous
The "world's greatest living explorer" keeps on ticking.  
Text by Mary Anne Potts   Photograph by Ian Parnell

Photo: Sir Ranulph Fiennes

High Profile: "The Madness of Sir Ran" >>

Exclusive Interview with Sir Ranulph Fiennes:  Page 1  |  Page 2

What's your new book (due out in October) about?
Sir Ranulph Fiennes:
It is an update of an autobiography I wrote in 1994, which basically brings in things I've done since 1994. It covers various projects, including the seven marathons in seven days on seven continents, the Everest climb up the north side where I got an angina attack only 300 meters [984 feet] from the top, and climbing the north face of the Eiger. Both of the Everest and the Eiger expeditions, in terms of the money they have raised, have been big successes. But I don't like being beat so I'm going to go back to the south side of Everest this coming spring. I hope my ticker behaves better.

What inspired the title, Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know?  
The book it talks about my late wife, how I met her when she was nine and I was 12. I talk about how we grew up together, how we eventually married. Her father, from the age of when she was 13, didn't like me, thought I was wild. He said that I was mad bad and dangerous to know. And he said that to my girlfriend who later became my wife (maybe she was encouraged by that).  

Why did you choose the Eiger?
I wanted to climb it for a number of reasons. My late wife, we were married for 36 years. When she died, I was in a bad way. I wanted to try and get positive instead of totally negative. If you do something which grips your attention, which you are very frightened of, it takes your mind off it. And nothing would do that more than my phobia for heights.

Is that why you picked such a deadly mountain?
No, not knowing anything about any mountains, I figured the best challenge is the one everyone's heard of—Everest. After 72 days, I hadn't had any problems at all. Then I had an angina attack within six hours of the summit of Everest. That was very frustrating, but I was lucky to survive. I had pills. When I got down I realized that I hadn't seen a drop anywhere on the entire ascent, because you always have a wide shoulder below you.

So it wasn't scary enough?
No, it just wasn't scary at all. But one of the people who had been training me for Everest said, "If you want a challenge, there's a hill much closer to home which is really tough." And that's how I came to the Eiger.   

When did you first realize that you were afraid of heights?
Oh, I can't remember the time when I was little. But certainly I remember it when I joined the British Army and was asked to drop out of airplanes from 600-meter [1,969-feet] high baskets, for parachute purposes. I did what the sergeant majors said you shouldn't, which is close your eyes on exiting from the airplane. This is a punishable offense because then you can run into other people when your chute has just opened, so you are meant to keep your eyes open and steer away from other parachutes in your airspace. But I believe what you see is what you fear, so for climbing, I trained myself not to look down.

Why was Traverse of the God on the Eiger so difficult?
Traverse of the Gods … I don't know whether it was difficult or not, because I was too frightened to think. But I found that one extremely unpleasant in every way because it defeated my focus on not looking in a downwards direction. I found that you couldn't actually look for your next foot point for your crampons without looking down. Normally there's some sort of slight bulge below you. Here there was no bulge at all. It was just an immediate void for a very long way.

Did you ever regret having lost parts of the fingers on your left hand while climbing the Eiger?
I only once did—I had a nasty experience on the crystal ledges about two-thirds of the way up. There was a particularly small, crumbly hold that coincided with having to use my left hand [which was severely damaged by frostbite during an Arctic expedition in 2000]. I couldn't use an ax, and I couldn't use my other hand. I made it through because I'd been doing arm strengthening exercises for the sixth months prior, on the specific instructions of a very derisive climbing instructor.

Did the Eiger create the fear you were looking for?
Yes, it definitely did. But instead of curing me of this vertigo problem, it actually has reinforced it. We have a secondary aim to each expedition—to raise a certain amount of money for a particular charity. It looks like we will triple our objective on the Eiger and raise more than $3 million for Marie Curie Cancer Care. So in that regard, it has been extremely successful.
Continue to next page >>

High Profile: "The Madness of Sir Ran" >>

Exclusive Interview with Sir Ranulph Fiennes:  Page 1 |  Page 2

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