Explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes Had A Gruesome Reason For Amputating His Own Fingertips

There's no two ways about it: Ranulph Fiennes is a hardman. A cousin of legendary actor Ralph Fiennes (of "Schindler's List" fame), Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, born March 7, 1944, proved himself a man of action from his early years, dropping out of Eton for poor grades before his dismissal from British Special Forces training for attacking a movie set, per Britannica. Apparently, he was furious that the set was disrupting the local wildlife. 

After a few years of small time, Kiplingesque adventuring, the 25-year-old Fiennes led an expedition by hovercraft up the Nile to Lake Victoria. More adventures followed, including the first north-south crossing of British Columbia entirely by water. The bulk of the 1970s he spent with his wife and a crew of fellow adventurers circling the world in a straight line, due south from London. This meant walking across the entire continent of Antarctica in a record 67 days and spending three months marooned on an ice drift in the Arctic Circle, waiting for a boat. In 2009 he became the oldest Briton to summit Everest, suffering — and ignoring — a heart attack mid-climb.

The most unkindest cut of all?

Frostbite is worse than you think. As the University of Rochester Medical Center explains, frostbite is a skin condition caused by prolonged exposure to cold. In the most serious cases, its damage is permanent, and the cells in the exposed hands (or feet, or face) simply die. This means amputation. At that point, there's nothing else to be done.

In 2000, Ranulph Fiennes, experienced explorer and writer, stepped through a shallow ice sheet in the Arctic, plunging into the freezing sea below. He was in the dark water long enough that the dreaded, tingling numb feeling began to spread across the fingers of his left hand. Sure enough, it was frostbite. As he told The Guardian, once he got home, there were no surgery appointments available for months, and the pain was excruciating. 

"So I got out the Black and Decker bench and my wife brought me a cup of tea," he said. He used a micro saw blade. "The surgeon said I'd done a good job."

World's greatest living explorer

According to a profile at the Explorers Club, Fiennes boasts the title of "world's greatest living adventurer," bestowed by Guinness World Records in 1984. But not all of his enormous energies go into Arctic treks and desert skirmishes with guerrillas. Fiennes lectures extensively — much more than most Old Etonians, even those who had good marks. He has also written dozens of books, not just accounts of his own adventures (or those of his heroes, like Robert Falcon Scott), but also novels and a book about fitness called, appropriately, "Fit For Life." Since the early 2000s, he runs crosscountry for about six hours per week, with weight training on alternating days. After his heart attack he was forced to give up his beloved tobacco — the Daily Mail clocked him at half a pack of strong Gauloises a day, and as he confirmed with the Scottish Daily Record he was once Pipe Smoker of the Year. He cut back to a single cigarette a day, to keep his life interesting (via The Guardian), but has given that up as well. 

As for the mutilated left hand? It doesn't seem to bother him much. "I have still got the mummified fingers: it's very difficult to throw away something that has been part of you for 60 years or so," he told The Guardian. "I keep them in my office drawer in an old Kodak tin."