The Wrong Boots

Selected by Ranulph Fiennes

I don’t like heights and I don’t like climbing but despite this, I decided to climb Mount Everest in 2005. In the preceding two years, my wife of 38 years, my mother, and two of my three sisters had died and I was in a bad state mentally. So I thought, ‘I must get my mind off it’. One way of doing that is was to do something I really didn’t like: climbing. So in 2005, I decided to climb Everest with a friend, Sibusisu Villane, from the side he wanted to — Tibet. The trouble was, as I was 61 by then, I couldn’t keep up with the 30 and 40 year old climbers in our group. Despite this, everything went pretty well and if I hadn’t had an angina attack I would have probably succeeded on that attempt. But I didn’t and I decided my next attempt in 2008 would be from the Nepal side.

I was determined to succeed this time, and so, to give myself an edge on these young climbers, I decided against properly insulated climbing boots which are heavy, in favour of light ones. I thought they would help me keep up. Unfortunately they had the opposite effect, which was to swell my feet up and give me bad blisters. It was too late when I discovered my mistake and I couldn’t tell anybody that I’d been so stupid.

I did manage to get quite high on that attempt despite the state of my feet. But I didn’t make it. It wasn’t until 2009, using heavy, properly insulated boots, that I did actually get there. The lesson I learned was not to try to keep up with people. Just plod along in your own time. This time, instead of going with Europeans, I went with just one Sherpa. I knew that my highly competitive nature would not even try to compete with the Sherpa. They can climb like goats and I accepted that next to the Sherpa, I was a second-rate human.

About Ranulph Fiennes

Ranulph Fiennes, also known as Sir Ranulph Twisleton- Wykeham-Fiennes, 3rd Baronet, OBE, is a British expedition leader and holder of several endurance records. After failing his A-levels at Eton, Ranulph served in the British Army for eight years. He later undertook numerous recordbreaking expeditions and was the first person to visit both the North and South Poles by surface means during the Transglobe Expedition (1979–1982). He was the first person to completely cross the Antarctic continent on foot. In May 2009, at the age of 65, he climbed to the summit of Mount Everest. According to the Guinness Book of Records he is the world’s greatest living explorer. Ranulph is also a prolific charity fundraiser, having raised over £14m for different UK charities. He has written numerous books about his army service and his expeditions, as well as a book defending Robert Falcon Scott from modern revisionists.