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The Big Interview: Sir Ranulph Fiennes

The Ultimate Mountain Man

Journalist Arnie Wilson tracked down famous explorer, Ranulph Fiennes. He talks about the Eiger, Everest and plans for his own family ski holidays.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes world famous explorer

Sir Ranulph Fiennes has been described as The World’s Greatest Living Explorer. He could also have been one of the great Bonds! According to an interview on Top Gear, “Ran” as he is known to his friends was considered for the role of Bond, making it to the final six contenders, but was rejected by Cubby Broccoli for having “hands too big and a face like a farmer”. Roger Moore was eventually chosen. Imagine if he’d been playing himself (and after all he was in the SAS!). You can almost hear him now, in that deep masculine voice, saying: “The name’s Twisleton-Wykeham- Fiennes. Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes.”

Where was your first expedition?

My first expedition of any size was up the White Nile in 1969 – from sea to source in a two-seater hovercraft. Then, the following year came an expedition to Norway‘s Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier in continental Europe. For the Transglobe Expedition between 1979 and 1982, I was joined by two fellow former members of 21 Special Air Service Regiment, Oliver Shepard and Charles R. Burton, journeying round the world on its polar axis using surface transport only. Nobody else has ever done so by any route before or since.

Have you completed any challenges in the Alps?

Yes, I’ve skied the Haute Route from Saas Fee to Chamonix, climbed the North Face of the Eiger, the Mont des Géants, near Mont Blanc, and many, many other standard routes. I’ve also been on countless downhill ski holidays over 50 years,
mainly in Chamonix, Arosa and Zermatt. For many years I taught langlauf (cross-country) in the British Army in Bavaria.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes on skis on an expedition

What was it like to summit Everest?

Summiting Everest in March 2009, on my third attempt, was a really great feeling. Sadly my Sherpa, Tundu – who climbed with the speed and skill of a mountain goat – died last year in an avalanche. Since I was six inches taller than Tundu when we climbed Everest, I was at that moment the highest person on Earth. At 65, I was then also, apparently, one of the oldest people ever to scale the mountain – and the first old-age pensioner to do so. I was a nine year-old schoolboy with wide eyes when Lord Hunt led the incredible expedition which put Hillary and Tenzing on Everest for the first time in 1953.

What’s one of the most unexpected things to have happened on an expedition?

In 1992, finding an outpost of Arabia’s lost “city of incense” – Iram, also known as Ubar or Wabar, in Oman – 26 years after the first of my eight expeditions to locate it. I wrote about it in my book Atlantis of the Sands.

What else is on your winter challenge bucket list?

I’m still hoping to climb the highest peaks on every continent, including Denali, in Alaska – the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit elevation of 20,310ft – and Aconcagua in Argentina, the highest mountain outside Asia. At 22,838ft it’s the highest point in both the Western Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere.

Who would you take on your next ski holiday and where would you visit?

I’d take my wife Louise our daughter Elizabeth, who is now 11, and a local ski guide who knew the best routes – and we’d go to the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa, so we’d ski in the UK’s summer time. I was brought up in South Africa for 12 years, just under Table Mountain and my three sisters were all taken skiing in the Drakenbergs, but I was considered to be too young.

If you could put a chairlift anywhere in the world where would it be?

How about the North Face of the Eiger? It would make it much easier to reach the summit!

Interview by Arnie Wilson

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