One of the world’s greatest-ever modern-day explorers Mike Horn was the keynote speaker at the Explorer Yachts Summit 2023, which took place on 9 November. Ahead of the event, he sat down for a quick chat with BOAT's editor-in-chief Stewart Campbell about his new expedition and plans for the future.
“I'm 57 years old and still have stuff to do,” he begins. "Often journalists ask me: ‘What’s left for you to explore in life? You’ve crossed the North Pole, the South Pole, climbed some of the world’s highest mountains without oxygen. You’ve swam down the Amazon, sailed around the world 27 times… So what’s left?’ Well, this is my chance to really push the extremes of exploration before I get too old. Also, I live on my boat and never stop sailing!" ”
‘What’s Left’ is the inspiration and name for his new expedition, a new four-year circumnavigation programme on board his 32-metre yacht Pangaea to report on the signs of climate change and inspire environmental action.
The South African-born adventurer wants to use his experiences to show how much the world is changing and inspire younger generations. “I want to pass on my knowledge, not only to my daughters and to my family, but to the youth of today and empower them to take action," he says.
With Pangaea as the principal mode of transport, his expedition will include the Arctic, the Amazon jungle, Antarctica, Patagonia, the Australian desert, New Zealand, northern Canada, Alaska and Asia, with Horn and his crew spending up to six months in each destination.
Horn is famous for accomplishing feats previously considered impossible such as a round-the-world trip around the Equator without the use of any motorised vehicles. Together with his partner Børge Ousland, he was the first man to reach the North Pole on foot in winter and in complete darkness and he has scaled four of the world’s highest peaks Gasherbrum I and II, Broad Peak and Makalu without sherpas or the use of oxygen cylinders.
Despite a lifetime of pushing the envelope, Horn still has a long bucket list, starting with the Arctic: “I want to explore Greenland in winter, to cross the frozen fjords and climb mountains and then ski down them. That would give me immense pleasure.”
One thing he will definitely avoid doing again is climbing an iceberg. Horn and fellow climber Fred Roux were scaling a block of ice in the North Pole in 2020 when it flipped over, plunging them into the icy sea and nearly crushing them. Horn had taken some precautionary safety measures (to the extent of making sure both he and Roux had gone to the toilet beforehand to keep check on their body weight), but he had miscalculated the force of the underwater currents caused by his boat reversing and tipping the iceberg up.
Luckily, Horn knew from experience that he could survive in any sub-zero water for 18 minutes and could stay calm. A dingy had also been launched before the incident which they could both climb onto. The video of the accident later went viral and was seen by millions across the world.
“Even professionals get things wrong,” he admits. “When you see that mass of ice coming down on your head and you think, well this is most probably the last big mistake that I’ll ever make… and you’re so disappointed in the way that you've miscalculated small things which professionals shouldn't do. So if I can give a little bit of advice to anyone wanting to climb an iceberg – don't do it!”