Sir Ranulph Fiennes: I've dealt with gangrene and crotch rot

Sir Ranulph Fiennes explains how his faith helps him cope with adversity and how his thesaurus helps him find different ways to describe the whiteness of snow.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE is described by Guinness World Records as “the world’s greatest living explorer”. His latest book Cold: Extreme Adventure at the Lowest Temperatures on Earth (£20) was released last November.

The New Testament

My Anglican upbringing has helped me in my job, which is mainly trying to break world records before the Norwegians do. Even if you train hard, things go wrong and dealing with gangrene, crotch rot or frostbite requires mental strength. I’ve explored with all sorts of people who, like me, struggle against the wimpish inner voice saying, “You could stop now.” Those with faith, in whatever form, tend to be stronger. You can’t take anything unnecessary for survival on an expedition, not even a toothbrush, but I do carry the words “With God nothing shall be impossible” in my mind.

One Man in His Time By Serge Obolensky

When I was trying to get my A levels at Eton, my wonderful English teacher David Callender gave me this autobiography of a Russian prince and soldier and told me to précis it down to some 3,000 words. I found the process of reducing the book to only the most important points, while retaining its essence, a fascinating exercise. I often think of the lessons I learned back then, which have stood me in good stead for the 20 books I’ve written myself. Sadly I failed all my A levels…

Roget’s Thesaurus

I use my edition of the Thesaurus enthusiastically at all times and it has often proved an invaluable resource. But it was never more vital than when I was writing Mind over Matter: the Epic Crossing of the Antarctic Continent. In 1992 Dr Michael Stroud and I completed the longest unsupported polar journey in history. But the entire 1,500 miles were in white—white sky, white snow. There were no animals, birds or even bacteria to break the monotony. There was no history to draw on and no weather as we know it. So writing 100,000 words for the book without being boring required me to make the most of the friction between my colleague and me—and to find a few different words for white.