Grit and Charity Drive Heroic Ranulph Fiennes to Top of the World at 65

Marianne BevisSenior Writer IMay 21, 2009

8 Dec 1999: Steve Seaton, Peter James and  Sir Ranulph Fiennes of Team Hi-Tec during  the glacier hike stage twenty of the 1999 Eco Challenge in Patagonia, Argentina Mandatory Credit: Graham Chadwick/ALLSPORT

In a life jam packed by remarkable physical endeavour, Ranulph Fiennes last night took a step beyond even his own many records of achievement. 

At 65, Fiennes became the oldest Briton to conquer Mount Everest. With poetic understatement, he described the journey as “the closest you can get to the moon by walking."

But only last year he swore, after his second failed attempt, that he would never try to climb Everest again. After all, his first attempt in 2005 had also ended short of the summit with a heart attack.

What changed his mind?

The spur to this ultimate mountaineering challenge was his disappointment at failing to reach his £3 million target for the Marie Curie Cancer Care charity. He raised only £2.6 million in his 2008 attempt because he was forced to turn back from the peak with exhaustion.

Quite simply, he was determined to make up the difference. And extra motivation—the x-factor that galvanised his soul—surely came from the loss of his wife, mother and sister from the disease within 18 months of each other.

The pace of his successful climb was, according to the BBC correspondent Andrew North, who accompanied Fiennes during the first two days of the climb, "remarkably fast."

Fiennes reached the summit from the highest camp in just nine hours. Not bad for a man who has had triple heart bypass surgery!

North’s independent viewpoint contrasts with the avowed strategy of the man himself: “Plod forever, but never believe you are going to get there."

Fiennes will be little known outside his homeland, but can probably lay claim to being one of the world's greatest living explorers.

He completed the first successful circumnavigation of the world on its polar axis in 1982.

He has also travelled to both Poles unaided, undertaking the 97-day trek across Antarctica in 1993. These adventures, incidentally, meant he undertook the Everest climb without most of his left-hand fingers: They were lost to frostbite!

In November 2003, he fought back from heart surgery to take part in the Land Rover 7x7x7 Challenge: to run seven marathons in seven days on seven continents. On that occasion, the money raised was given to the British Heart Foundation.

He claims, in his self-effacing way, to keep undertaking these physical challenges to make a living. But he also admits to them being a kind of addiction. Suffice to say he is already thinking about the next adventure.

It may be appropriate—in the view of those beyond the borders of the UK—that Fiennes’ forthcoming book is to be entitled “Mad Dogs and Englishmen.” It might better be called “Plod to the Moon, and You Might Reach the Stars.”