Over the past few years I have read a number of books that fit into the genre that I like to call “Insane adventurers and their jaw-dropping death pursuits”. From sailing around the world and climbing large mountains, to walking across entire continents; the one thing they all seem to have in common is their relentless pursuit of ambitious goals, often in the face of significant adversity, and bordering on insanity.
Bear Grylls is perhaps more known these days for jumping out of helicopters and eating live animals on his sensational survivalist show Man vs. Wild, however we shouldn’t forget that in 1998 he became the youngest Briton to successfully climb Mount Everest.
If you have any doubts about the significance of this feat you should read the book he wrote about it.
Nine men set off individually to sail around the world, in various states of preparation:
“The Sunday Times Golden Globe Race was a non-stop, single-handed, round-the-world yacht race, held in 1968–1969, and was the first round-the-world yacht race. The race was controversial due to the failure by most competitors to finish the race and because of the suicide of one entrant; however, it ultimately led to the founding of the BOC Challenge and Vendée Globe round-the-world races, both of which continue to be successful and popular.” — Wikipedia
The peak of Mount Everest pokes into an altitude where aircraft cruise. The high speed “jet stream” winds make it impossible to climb to the top, except for a short window of time each year when the jet streams are redirected. The mountaineers awaiting this window of opportunity each year attempt to find a suitable weather window in which to scurry (slowly) to the top in a semi-conscious daze and (hopefully) make it back alive..
In the 1996 season the jet streams came back early and caught a lot of people by surprise. Jon Krakauer was there as a journalist on an expedition with acclaimed mountain guide Rob Hall, and documented the adversity in this book.
Mountain climbers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates set out in 1985 to be the first to climb Siula Grande (6,344m) in the Peruvian Andes, via its West face which is almost vertical.
They made it to the peak however there were some 'complications' on the descent. Namely Joe Simpson slipped and injured his leg. Initially he thought the injury was not that serious and that he was just being (in his own words) "a bit wet". In reality, his calf bone had been driven up into the knee joint, which is why he was finding walking a little difficult.
"It completely destroyed both of my meniscus cartilages, crushed between femur and tibia, caused disruption of the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, and also damaged the fibular head and peroneal nerve. To complicate things further I had also fractured the ankle and the heel of the same leg but didn't notice at the time as I had quite a lot on my mind."
By this time the pair had also run out of fuel for their stove and so, unable to melt snow for drinking water, were becoming dehydrated.
This was only the beginning of their adventures.
Steven Callahan set out on a race from the Canary Islands to the Carribean in 1986 but after six days his boat sank and he had to make do in his survival raft for the next 10 weeks, fending off the sharks, fishing with his harpoon gun, and distilling water using temperamental solar sills.
His raft punctured and he had to come up with some ingenious repairs and continually re-inflate it. He used an improvised sextant made out of out of three pencils to navigate. His harpoon gun broke, repeatedly.
Through all this he did not give up and managed to survive until he drifted to salvation.
You might think that some of the people described above are quite hard-core, and yes, they sure are. Sir Ranulph Fiennes, however is an absolute lunatic. He is in a league of his own.
In his auto-biography he describes his exploits from the early days through to modern times. The tales of adversity and stamina on his various expeditions are second to none.
There was this one time, when he visited both the north and south poles on foot; or he time that he got frostbite on his hand and, fed up of waiting for the operation to remove his blackened fingertips, amputated them himself, in his shed, using a saw. Or the time that he climbed to the summit of Mount Everest at the age of 65. Or when he ran a marathon (that's quite a long way)… at the age of 59… (that's pretty impressive)… having had a heart attack and double heart bypass only four months prior… (wow, what a recovery!) I mean, that's pretty impressive, and more than a little insane, right?
Except it wasn't just one marathon. He actually did seven marathons, on seven consecutive days, and did them on seven different continents. At the age of 59. Four months after a heart attack. Bam!