AT one point during Sir Ranulph Fiennes’s very witty and interesting sold-out talk his interviewer asked “Are we even the same species?”
It was a fair question agreed the packed audience, who heard how the world’s greatest living explorer was the first to circumnavigate the globe along its polar axis, crossing both poles, the first to cross the Antarctic unsupported, and the oldest Briton to reach the summit of Everest, aged 65.
These exploits all took place in conditions of extreme cold where it was commonplace, Sir Ranulph explained, to experience “crotch rot, gangrene and your fillings falling out but still with no end in sight”.
But the man who lost the fingers on his left hand to frostbite is also a veteran of nail-biting feats in some of the hottest places on earth, as told in his new book Heat.
Speaking about the six-day desert marathon he completed this year aged 71 in temperatures of 56 degrees celsius he joked that “the French organisers had a helicopter nicknamed La Vulture to pull you out if you weren’t fit enough,” adding, “if you look geriatric and are running in a Union Jack vest, you were in trouble!”
The explorer’s exploits have raised millions for Marie Curie Cancer Care, but his adventures in searing heat began long before in the Omani desert, where his regiment sent him during the Sixties to help the sultan’s government against communist insurgents.
Placed in command of a ragtag unit of sixty Baluchi and Zanzibari soldiers Sir Ranulph, who was terrified of spiders, described the moment an enormous camel spider crawled on him in front of his men.
“I would normally scream — but I didn’t move because I was more afraid of losing the men’s respect. Forced confrontation had removed the phobia.”
By the end of his service he was able to endure “enormous wolf spiders — which are much worse”.
It is reassuring to know that even great explorers were once afraid of spiders.
At the end of his talk Sir Ranulph gave the audience pause for thought when he warned that if we don’t act before the earth’s temperature increases by two degrees celsius, then the extreme temperatures described so brilliantly in his new book could one day, regrettably, become an everyday occurrence for all of us and not just something that great adventurers have to endure.