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Mike Horn Pole 2 Pole Expedition

We got the chance to catch up with Mike Horn a few months after his crossing of Antarctica. With Mike being an incredible adventurer and having many unique experiences, we took this opportunity to have a discussion and ask him some questions.

Hello Mike, How do you feel today? What are you thinking? Do you feel like “Superman”after this crossing?

You become really small when you know and you think about it. You are humbled because at a certain point I was just 100% lucky. It could have gone both ways. There was no rescue possible. I could have broken a leg in the middle of Antarctica with the number of times I found myself in very strong winds and in crevasses. I was just lucky.

Sometimes, you provoke your own luck and the more you do something the luckier you get. Sitting on my boat again after Antarctica, just drinking a beer, I thought of what I’ve done and I realized that in the end I don’t really have the knowledge to do it again. It’s quite an eye opening experience, when I reflect on sitting in Switzerland and I think “oh well I'm going to cross Antarctica, I have got the knowledge and I have got the experience” and then I do it, only to realise that  I never really had the knowledge and experience for it in the end.

I believe no one will ever really have the complete knowledge and experience to cross Antarctica. It’s simply because the place is so hostile and far away from anything. If you need to be rescued, the plane needs to fly over 5000km and needs to find a place to land as there is no landing strip. The continent is just so inaccessible!

Extreme Winds (Pole2Pole)

Crossing Antarctica and reaching civilization, what was the first thing you did for fun or to relax?

The first thing I was able to do was sit, relax and think of what I had accomplished. I really appreciated that because it was a race against time and not only that but a race to stay alive. Unfortunately with me sailing in, I lost a bit of time and this didn’t give me a lot of time to cross Antarctica in the summer season.

As it was really a race against time, I basically had to get up in good or bad weather. I couldn’t take any days of rest when I needed it. I had to feed myself on the go because what was supposed to be done in 90 days, I had to do it in 60 days.

Antarctica is the biggest continent in the world with 5100 km of ice going up to 3800m and temperatures as low as -70°C, it’s a hostile place! It’s rewarding to come back from there and be able think about it.

What did you do right after Antarctica and where did you go?

After Antarctica, I arrived in Hobart, Tasmania and then from there I sailed to New Zealand to start the next part of my expedition in Fiordland, from there I crossed the Southern Alps and hiked up Mount Cook. Afterwards, I went climbing a little around Rees Valley in the Earnslaw Mountain Range, which was quite technical. 

It was something that I wanted to do to prepare myself for the next part of my expedition, which will take me to India where I will try and climb the two highest unclimbed mountains in the world. It was nice to go climbing as Antarctica was flat, with no vegetation and had not a lot life whereas New Zealand was pretty much the complete opposite. I spent a lot of time in New Zealand to just go out and experience things which I forgot existed whilst I was in Antarctica.

Mike Horn exploring the beautiful South Island of New Zealand.

Your Pole2Pole expedition was interrupted with some projects in between, can you let us know a bit more about these projects?

So I have the Pole2Pole expedition which has so many different facets to it that it becomes difficult to move forward. There are environmental projects which are quite important for us, especially around Australia and the Great Barrier Reef. As always, we also do beach and ocean clean-up projects around the world, where we bring young explorers.

I have to make a living and one way I do that is by doing one or two TV programs where I take celebrities into nature and teach them how to survive. Those programs have worked quite well and have become quite popular; this is basically how I finance most of my expeditions today. As you know sponsorship has become a bit more difficult, so you have to find alternative means of financing. If television is the way to finance what I do, then I have to make space for that.

These projects are relatively short, they normally take only about a week and this allows me to still go out and explore. I will be heading to Papua New Guinea and there I will traverse the islands via traditional transport, I will build myself a canoe out of wood and then paddle like the Papuan people had done to migrate through New Guinea and its surrounding islands. I’ll also focus a little on jungle survival. We’ll also look at the impact humans have had on Papua New Guinea, whilst the place is still predominately protected, there are still a lot of people who would like to exploit it today.

Then I’ll head to Indonesia in South East Asia and continue north to the Himalayas around the Nepal-India border. Sometime next year between March and April, I will try scale two unclimbed mountain summits which are just below 8000m. These climbs are a bit more technical with steep faces and a mixture of rock and ice walls. However, it’ll be easier to acclimatise due to the lower attitude.

From India, I’ll go to Kamchatka in Russia where I will traverse its volcanoes and then go to sail the Bering Strait. 

Finally, I really want to do the crossing of the North Pole through to the southern tip of Greenland. With my experience I had crossing Antarctica; I feel I have a good chance of crossing the Arctic. From the Antarctica success, I feel motivated and am inspired to complete the remaining parts of the Pole2Pole expedition.

Where is Pangaea [Mike Horn’s Sailing Boat] at the moment?

I had just sailed across the Tasman Sea and it was a tough one. It’s winter down there now and with the Roaring Forties (strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere), you get low temperatures, some snow and very rough weather.

We’re in Sydney now, where it is a bit warmer. It was sad leaving New Zealand as it is kind of home to me. The country has a lot to offer nature-wise, which is excellent for kayaking, climbing, hiking and cycling. It is probably one of the most beautiful places that an adventurer can go and in a very short space do a lot of different things. If I think a country was created for adventure, I think of New Zealand. 

So we’re in Australia now; I’ll head to the Simpson Desert and do a bit of a survival program there. I hope to work closely with the local people and acquire some of their knowledge and experience on survival techniques. There’s still a lot to learn from the locals of the land. Survival techniques for the Bushmen in the Namib Desert are different to the methods used by Maoris in New Zealand. I want to learn it all!

Have you already thought about new adventures you would like to do after the Pole2Pole expedition?

There are always new things to do. It's only time that becomes the problem. So there are a couple of expeditions that I really would like to go and do in the mountains, especially in regions with lower unclimbed mountains that might be a little bit more technical. I’d like to use skis more while I climb, to be able to ski down unclimbed mountains will always stay a challenge.

We are always climbing routes or mountains that many other people have already done, I kind of get tired with these “overpopulated” mountains. This is in particular with the 8000m peaks. There are some amazing 6000m and 7000m peaks which I would like to explore. 

Taking one year, I’d like to do a route through the Himalayas, Hindu Kush and Karakoram mountain range. With this, I would move from one mountain to another in accordance to how the monsoon season plays out. This adventure would allow me to get away from people and think of what to do next. Life has its surprises, crossing the North Pole is not a guarantee. So let's see what the future holds and if I'm lucky to survive then maybe I will spend a little bit of time in the mountains. 

What will be the biggest challenge in the North Pole?

The heating of the planet causes the biggest challenge for me on the North Pole. As we are on an ocean and the heat causes the ice to break, it’s possible to float away from the direction you are heading. Another challenge is if I need emergency support, it is difficult for them to land as there is no solid surface. 

What will be hard is to see if I can transform my sled into Kayak and stay in it for a few days. You can get quite violent storms and to endure these in a Kayak will be interesting. It’ll definitely be one of the most interesting expeditions because nothing can be calculated really.

So how do you plan your food? Can you get some help? How about supply drops?

I would like to do it unsupported and unassisted like I did in Antarctica as this way gives me the best chance of actually getting across the Arctic. I don’t want to rely on air drops or resupplies for the success of an expedition. I would rather use my knowledge and experience. Børge Ousland went with me during winter to the North Pole in 2006. He contacted me and asked whether he could join me for this crossing, as this time it will be during summer. If he joins, we maybe have a better chance of success.

Polar bears do not eat the meat of the seals they hunt, so if I run out of food I can start feeding myself with what the polar bear hunts. It’s a method I’ve used before and it works very well. I don’t think many people consider this when crossing the Arctic. You just need to be able to locate the Polar bears, which you can do by looking at the birds flying around. It’s possible to fish as well.

A big problem comes with drinking water as all the ice is made of salt water from the sea. Finding clean water is not always easy in the Arctic. You look at the colour of the ice to see how salty or pure it is. You can find blocks from icebergs that come from glaciers in Greenland; these are made of fresh water. So when you find potential useable water, you have to be ready to break the blocks of ice off and transport it around on your sled.

Mike Horn Packing Routine (Pole2Pole)

How do you define home and where is your home for you?

You know, home is planet Earth. That's as far as I know, or how I could define home. But it's always nice to come back to Switzerland, close the door and kind of find your little comforts that you have in life. Although I don't need comforts to exist, it’s nice to feel a little bit safe and not have to sleep with one eye open waiting for the polar bear to come into the tent or for the wind to tear your tent. 

It's nice to come back to Switzerland and be with my daughters a little bit you know. They are helping me so much with what I do today and we are so close to each other but to be able to see them in a more relaxed environment that they call home, that is home for me. 

Home to me is obviously just where I feel happy and on my boat I would say at this stage that's home to me. That's where I feel happy, that's the way I move from one continent to another and from one expedition to another. If you think of the most beautiful places in the world that you would like to have a house or home in,  I can go there with my boat so that's why I think the world has become my home. I just travel from one location to another and wherever that is, I feel happy, I feel at home. 


The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

South Island of New Zealand