|Sir Ranulph Fiennes, The world's greatest living explorer|
Sir Ranulph - The Early Years
SAS and Army Years
Over the three years of active service in Oman he became acquainted with the Eastern Makara tribes, apparently descended from the Queen of Sheeba, living in the only place where Frankincense trees grow, resulting in the opening of ancient trade routes between Oman through Arabia and on to Israel when this business was at its height.
However, during the Dhofar Rebellion these nomadic tribes were wholly dependent on camel milk, grazing and living in rough tents, with Sir Ranulph’s pictures demonstrating the extreme poverty of their existence, both then and today. They told tales of a lost City in the desert and Sir Ranulph started to wonder if this could be the city referred to in the Bible as ‘Sodom’, and in the Qur’an as ‘Iram of the Pillars’, or even the ‘Atlantis of the Sands’, spoken of by T E Lawrence. He spent the next 26 years scouring the desert for it, eventually finding that all the time it had been a few hundred meters from his desert base whilst on duty in Oman.
Leading Expeditions - as a Profession
|Sir Ranulph Fiennes, Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know|
In the mid ‘70’s “fashion changed quickly in which expeditions to do”, according to Sir Ranulph’s “boss”, his literary agent, with Americans going off hot expeditions, so he “needed to go Polar”.
Transglobe Expedition 1979-1982
Sir Ranulph recognised they had to be ambitious and do the first journey round the world through both poles, “there have been far more people on the moon than have done this trip round the world.” Apparently it was his late wife, Ginny, who came up with the idea of travelling along the Greenwich meridian to avoid crossing USSR territory as the route for their Transglobe Expedition (1979-82).
"Ollie Shepherd had been a beer salesman in London for nine years, and Charlie Burton in the butchers' business in London and South Africa," Fiennes said in an interview for the London Business Forum, adding, "they had the right characters" - you cannot teach people to change their character as if you were teaching them a new skill.
When the season changed Charlie and Sir Ranulph got going. Charlie got fungus in his feet but they kept going. When he started skiing "the fungus fell off the bottom of his feet, leaving no skin. His language got bad and he developed hemorrhoids and his language got worse. One day he fell over and cracked his head on a rock, his eyes filling up with blood... and he started to whinge a bit then..." However, Fiennes has also described Burton, now deceased, as “the toughest guy I ever met”.
Quest to Find the Lost City of Ubar
In 1992 the quest to find the lost city of Ubar was on in earnest. NASA had been taking satellite images of the desert with a capacity to penetrate up to 10 metres below the earth’s surface. These had made out some vertical lines and it was felt such structures could not have occurred naturally or been ‘created by God’. Sir Ranulph set out with 4 Land Rovers donated by Land Rover, Solihull, and Dr Juris Zarins, an American-Latvian archaeologist specialising in the Middle East who felt that God could well have created the the right-angled structures so they “reverted to traditional archaeology” which lead them to Shisr north of Shalalah and South of the Rub Al-Khali desert.
According to an interview with Linda Chapman, October 2001, Sir Ranulph explains the moments leading up to the discovery of the lost city saying to Zarins, “Well, there's some rubble about 300 meters from where we’re based, in the desert. It's rubble rather than flat ground and he said: All right, we'll get some practice for the team. And he started and within three or four days, about nine inches down, he'd unearthed a two-and-a-half-thousand year-old chess set. And within six weeks, I think, he'd found the outline of the city wall. Once you've found the outline it gets quicker." It was at that time, "the biggest active excavation works in Arabia. But it took 26 years to locate it and archeologists have tried to find it before without success: since the 50s.”
Unsupported Crossing of the Antarctic
In the mid 1990’s they heard that the Norwegians were about to cross the Antarctic without any support. Shackleton’s plan had involved bags being dropped off at the South Pole and Sir Edmund Hilary and Dr Fuchs had relied on a pincer plan. Sir Ranulph knew, as he had "done the maths" that an unsupported expedition was effectively an 'impossible task' – you simply could not carry all your kit and enough food, but, his professionalism demanded a response - if your rivals were about to do something then you had better get on and start competing.
Hire the Character and understand Motivation
Stroud was taking blood specimens from Fiennes for various universities around the world every five days making Fiennes collect his own urine after drinking a special fluid every fortnight. "I began to 'hate' Mike," Sir Ranulph says, explaining that the urine collection was especially difficult because any appendage exposed outside the tent for more than 48 seconds would suffer permanent damage. "I'm not normally vindictive but, in the tent one night... I noticed that his was much more blistered and damaged than mine, which made me very happy at that time," he told the London Business Forum in May 2007.
Undeterred by frostbite and gangrene they continued, descending the Mount Beardmore glacier with Sir Ranulph explaining how they felt, “Every day you didn’t want to be the one who was first to stop. Every day I hoped that the other man would break a leg or something so that we had to stop. Mike had devised a diet of 62% fat with ghee butter covering most of what we ate. For several weeks Mike would pick out a couple of flapjacks, handing one to me, and it would always seem that mine was the smaller, so I suggested to him that I choose my own flapjack. But after awhile even when I chose my own it still seemed smaller than his.” Nonetheless they made it to the Pacific completing the longest unsupported Polar journey in history and, by the way, raising £4.2m for the building of the UK’s first Multiple Sclerosis Centre in Cambridge.
Marathons and Motivation
An hour cannot really do justice to the exploits of Sir Ranulph Fiennes. We hardly heard about his running seven marathons in seven days on seven continents when he teamed up with Mike Stroud once more, despite having undergone a double heart bypass operation just four months before, to carry out the extraordinary feat of completing the Land Rover 7x7x7 for the British Heart Foundation. "In retrospect I wouldn't have done it. I wouldn't do it again. It was Mike Stroud's idea", he’s been quoted as saying. Their route took them to Patagonia, the Falklands, Australia, Singapore, London, Cairo and New York.
So what motivates the man: “Some people are motivated by their religion; I was raised Church of England but this wasn’t enough. My dad and my granddad were my heroes and motivated me. I didn’t ever want to let them down.” So has this 66 year old, like many others his age, decided it’s time to hang up his stakes once and for all? Has he heck, he’s working on his next trip which is still too secret to divulge – for the time being, at least.
Birmingham Post Business Blog http://blogs.birminghampost.net/business/2010/11/sir-ranulph-fiennes---leadersh.html