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Mike Horn - One of the Greatest Living Explorers

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A Nature Lover more Committed than Ever

📷 Credit: Mike Hoorn's Youtube Channel

Michael Horn, more commonly known as Mike Horn, is a world-renowned explorer, adventurer, survival expert, survival coach and speaker. Born on 16 July 1966 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Mike has spent most of his childhood running, fishing, cycling and other outdoor activities. 🚵‍♂️

His father was a university professor and an amateur rugby player, and was his hero, he wanted to be like him. His father taught him the lesson that would guide him for years to come: "Mike, you can never be me" you will never be me but you can be much bigger and stronger than me. 

Mike's determination was felt at a very young age, at just 8 years old he would go running at 6am every morning with his father. But determination and a childhood in the wilderness are not enough to create an outstanding explorer. At 18, he joined the army, an essential step in his life to forge the metal necessary for the challenges ahead. "I hate war, but I think it prepared me for what I do today."

At 20, he moved to Switzerland to work in the science of human movement. 

Fascinated by tales of adventure and exploration such as those of Jacques Cousteau

and Ernest Shackleton, Mike decided to listen to his instinct. Only 4 years later, at the age of 24, he quit his job and gave up everything to go on an adventure. 

Identity card

mike hoorn portrait

POLE2POLE expedition. Pangaea sailing in Antarctica. Arriving to the Antarctica.Mike Horn testing his kite. Auteur : Dmitry Sharomov | Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International : CC BY-SA 4.0

Last name : HORN  

First name : Mike

Sex : M

Date of birth : 16 July 1966

Place of Birth: Johannesburg, South Africa

Activity: Explorer, adventurer, survival expert, survival coach and speaker

Family: Cathy Horn (wife), Jessica Horn & Anika Horn (daughters)

Nationalities: South African 🇿🇦, Swiss 🇨🇭

📕 Books : 

  • Latitude zéro 40000 km pour partir à la rencontre du monde by Mike Horn (in french)
  • Dream of a Lifetime: Crossing Antarctica by Mike Horn
  • Conquering the Impossible: My 12,000-Mile Journey Around the Arctic Circle by Mike Horn 
  • Vouloir toucher les étoiles by Mike Horn (in french)
  • Mike Horn, Aventurier de l'extrême by Mike Horn (in french)
  • etc. 

🎥 Films : 

  • Expédition Latitude 0° - Mike Horn | Le Film (1999-2000) (in french)
  • Expédition Arktos - Mike Horn | Le Film (2002-2004) (in french)
  • Beyond the Comfort Zone - 13 Countries to K2 (2018) Directed by: Nils Krebs
  • etc.

Family

Mike Horn is the proud father of two daughters: Anika Horn (born in 1993) and Jessica Horn (born in 1995) whom he had with his wife, Cathy Horn, who passed away in 2015. He has been living for several decades in Château-d'Oex, Switzerland, a base camp from which he prepares his adventures while recharging his batteries with his family.

It was in Château-d'Oex that he met his wife Cathy in 1990, while she was working in a local inn. Trained as a nurse and of New Zealand origin, Cathy quickly became Mike's right hand and main partner in his expeditions, managing the logistics and coordination of his multiple expeditions. After 27 years together, she passed away after a 7 year battle with cancer.

Very family oriented, Mike and his daughters have set up a company managed by Anika and Jessica, which covers the media life, communication and marketing of their father.

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The Great Adventures of Mike Horn : 

Mike has been performing exploits for almost 30 years in a wide variety of environments. Here are the stories of his most memorable adventures: 

His First Major Expedition, Conquest of the World's Largest River - 1997

Mike's first major expedition took place in 1997 in South America. The goal was to go from the Pacific Ocean alone to the other side in the Atlantic Ocean. To help him in his quest, he had a hydrospeed designed for the expedition, swim fins, a wetsuit and a bag with the bare minimum (medicine, paper, SOS beacons, fishing net, machete, etc.). 💊

Aerial view of the Amazon Rainforest

Visão do Alto, da janela do avião, o Rio Solimões, parecendo uma cobra grande, como é chamado pelos indígenas. Rio Solimóes - Amazonia - Floresta Amazonica - Brasil .9 septembre 2009, 06:48, Catedral Verde - Floresta Amazonica | Author: lubasi

To prepare for the trip down the Amazon River, Horn needed 2 years of preparation, including 1 year with the Brazilian army to learn how to survive in the Amazon forest. The story goes that Mike made a bet with a friend that for 5 Swiss Francs he would cross the world's largest river, so he did!

He set off from the Pacific Ocean with 600 km (≃373 miles) of walking (with all his equipment) before arriving in the Peruvian Andes where the river begins. From there it was a 7,000km (≃4,350 miles) hydrospeed descent to the other side, his adventure lasting 171 days. 

During his expedition, Mike had many problems to overcome, for example, he broke his knee in the first 1000 km (≃621 miles). Imagine having to swim 6,000 km (≃3,728 miles) with a broken knee, well Mike did it. He stayed on the shore without moving too much for 4 days, bandaged it up and then left, 2 weeks later he had no pain. 💪

Finding food was also a big challenge, he was feeding mainly on fish. His method for saving time and energy was to stay on land for 2 or 3 days to find food and then stay in the water for 6 or 7 days. He slept, ate and swam in the water, the most he stayed in the water in a row was 10 days! He did this because the middle of the river is where there is the most current to move forward and it is also the safest.

📷 Credit: Mike Hoorn's Youtube Channel

One particular anecdote is incredible: An Inca tribe in the Ucayali region imprisoned Mike, they thought he was a child-killing devil who had to be killed. 

He managed to persuade them (he speaks Spanish and a translator was in the tribe) that killing a devil was unnecessary. 

"If they try to kill me, I will become two devils, if they try to cut off my head, suddenly there will be three devils. Anyway I am immortal, you can't kill me." 😈

They searched his bag and SOS tags were found, one of the tribesmen activated the SOS signal. Mike said if you kill me, men will come from the sky (helicopter). 3 hours later the choppers did come, causing panic among the Incas.

Mike was free, but he knew that the expedition would be cancelled if the chopper found him, as he was in a forbidden red zone because of the narcotraffickers. So he quickly turned off the beacon and hid to continue his adventure. He indicated on the beacon that everything was fine, and then he only moved at night to avoid being found while he was in the red zone. 

After almost 6 months of expedition, Horn arrived on the Atlantic side, he knew he had arrived by tasting the water, he tasted the salt water and realised that he had arrived. And looking at the horizon, he said to himself that if he could continue on this way, he could go around the world, and that's when the idea of Latitude 0° was born. 

Latitude 0° : A Most Astonishing Round the World Tour 1999 - 2000

Latitude 0° is probably Mike Horn's best known expedition to date. The concept of the journey is simple, to circumnavigate the world around the equatorial line alone and without motorised vehicles. The concept is the only simple thing about the project. The 18 month journey started in Gabon and went west to Brazil in a Corsair F-28 trimaran.

Corsair F-31 trimaran sailboat Osprey 2818

A Corsair F31 trimaran sailboat named Osprey.9 June 2018, 14:06:04 / Ahunt Own work | Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 International : CC0 1.0

He crossed South America by bike, canoe and on foot to arrive at the Pacific Ocean. He recovered his boat (moved from coast to coast by his crew) to cross the Pacific, passed through the Galapagos Islands and crossed Borneo and Sumatra on foot. He finished his journey by crossing the Indian Ocean and then Africa, passing through the Congo and finally returning to his starting point, Gabon. 

One of the most complicated stages of the expedition was actually the financing, at that time Mike had very little money and such an adventure required a lot of resources. After convincing sponsors and even individuals to help finance his project, he was able to buy his boat. 

📷 Credit: Mike Hoorn's Youtube Channel

As with his first expedition, our explorer had problems to overcome. Mike had a near death experience in the Amazon rainforest when he was bitten by a poisonous snake, the bite didn't hurt a bit, but the poison nearly killed him. He fought the poison for 4 days, cutting the side of his hand regularly to try to get it out. 🐍

During the trip he carried an argos beacon with him at all times to transmit messages. Not complex messages, just simple messages using numbers to keep his wife informed, he wanted to send her the message that said "I think I'm going to die". He passed out before sending the message. Fortunately, thanks to the antibiotics, his strength and his mental attitude, he managed to survive this horrible event.  

Although this was probably the most frightening ordeal he experienced during the expedition, Horn came close to death countless times, and it would take too long to tell you all about it! But some of the anecdotes are too good to pass up.  

📷 Credit: Mike Hoorn's Youtube Channel

When he was crossing Colombia, he had an unexpected encounter with a group of drug dealers who were making cocaine hidden in the jungle in Araraquara. They wanted to kill him, but Mike explained the situation, showed his cards etc. The drug dealer was impressed with his courage to cross the entire Amazon forest and decided to let him pass. 

Mike thought he would be safe when he crossed the border from Colombia into Ecuador where US soldiers were guarding the area. But the US soldiers thought he was a drug dealer because no one enters or leaves such an area. So they captured him and beat him up before they realised he was just an explorer.

On his boat trip across the Pacific Ocean, Mike caught malaria, which made him very weak for several days, he even passed out for almost two and a half days. 🤒

To finish on the anecdotes, (although there are many others), Horn met a boat during his crossing of the Pacific, which offered him food. He was starving, so he accepted with great pleasure, the big can was full of meat, fish, whisky, beer, etc. But unfortunately the can was not closed properly and it leaked right in front of the poor man's eyes... 

It's in these moments that Mike Horn proves that he has an incredible mental capacity, despite the hunger, he hasn't been on it for a long time. According to him, it didn't matter, he didn't need it: "When you have a lot of expectations in life, that's when you can be disappointed and when you have very little expectation, that's when life is almost normal and you're never really disappointed."

Within 18 months, Mike has covered 40,000 km (≃24,855 miles), this was the first to go around the world by crossing the equator alone, without a motorised vehicle. In 2001, Horn became world-famous for his feat and yet this was only the beginning of his exploits… 

Arktos : Another World Tour, this time Through the Arctic Circle - 2002 - 2004

To go around the world via the equator was not enough, Horn also wanted to go around the world via the Arctic Circle. An expedition twice as short in distance, but no easier. As with Latitude 0°, he was alone and without motorised vehicles, otherwise it' too easy. 😎

World map with arctic circle

World map with arctic circle in SVG format. Based on World.svg. 24 juillet 2009. Author: Thesevenseas | Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

This 20,000 km (≃12,427 miles) odyssey lasted two years and three months (808 days) during which he travelled by boat, kayak, ski kite and on foot. The Arktos expedition started at the North Cape in Norway and travelled to Greenland, Canada, Alaska, the Bering Strait and Russian Siberia before reaching the North Cape again. 

On this trip, no snake bites, however, with the extreme temperatures, Mike suffered 3 frozen fingers after only 1 month on the expedition. As you can imagine, when it's -30 degrees (-22° F) outside and -15 (5° F) in the tent, you get very cold very quickly. 

Sometimes he couldn't see or hear anything for over a month, just snow for miles on all sides... The only life he saw was a few wolves and polar bears. Mike also spent time with local people, especially in Greenland. 

Another constraint of doing an expedition on the Arctic Circle is that there is almost no food, so Mike had to move a very heavy pulka (sled used for transportation) with all his equipment to be able to go to the Arctic Circle. He also broke one of his skis, damaged some kitchen equipment and his tent but he came back alive! 

It seems that this expedition around the Arctic Circle was a lot of fun for him because it was not the last time he was going to go back... 

North Pole by Night - 2006

Mike Horn's next expedition is again a world premiere, as usual. For this adventure he was accompanied by polar explorer Børge Ousland (one of the greatest living experts in this field). The two men set off from Cape Artichesky in Russia to the North Pole, and the incredible thing about this mission is that they did it at night. 

Børge Ousland at Zero 2010

Børge Ousland. ZERO- konferansen arrangeres av den norske miljøstiftelsen Zero Emission Resource Organization (ZERO). Foto: Eirik Helland Urke. 22 novembre 2010, 17:49:33. Flickr: Zero 2010. Zero Emission Resource Organisation | Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

No motorised vehicles, no dogs, just two men in total darkness, on ice that could break at any moment. From February to March 2006, they walked for 60 days in a -40 degree (-40° F) environment over 1000 km (≃621 miles). 🥶

They became the first men to walk to the North Pole during the Arctic night. 

Pangaea : Mike Horn, Dedicated to the Planet - 2008 - 2012

Pangaea is Mike's longest expedition, although clearly not the most dangerous. In 2008, Mike embarked on an educational adventure with over 100 teenagers selected through the Young Explorers Programme (YEP). This programme allowed these teenagers and young adults (15 to 20 years old) from all over the world to travel around the globe through 12 expeditions over 4 years. 

The idea: "Explore - Learn - Act", these 4 years of education allowed these young people to work for ecological and social projects. For those who wonder why such a name, Pangaea is the name of Mike's exploration sailboat designed for extreme adventures.

In this expedition, no particular feat for Horn, the real aim of the project being to show how beautiful and fragile the world is and how important it is to preserve it. 🌍

The expedition ended in 2012, but the young explorers are now ambassadors of the world. They are working to ensure that the values they learned during these 4 years are communicated to the rest of the world. 

Driven to Explore : Mike Horn's version of Family Holidays - 2015

📷 Credit: Mike Hoorn's Youtube Channel

Mike and his two daughters Annika and Jessica decide to go on a family adventure after the death of Cathy Horn. She was Mike's wife who passed away in February 2015 from breast cancer which she had been battling since 2008.

The expedition, sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, took the Horn family through 13 countries from Switzerland to Pakistan, at the foot of K2 (8,611m, the second highest peak in the world) (≃9417 yards). Mike then tried to reach the top of the mountain, but was unable to do so. 🏔

The Dream of a Lifetime, Crossing the Antarctic - 2017

📷 Credit: Mike Hoorn's Youtube Channel

In 2017, Mike was off on another crazy expedition, he wanted to cross Antarctica alone, without a motorised vehicle. He left South Africa with his sailboat and after a month of sailing, he arrived at the Antarctic coast. Unfortunately, it was impossible to get close to the planned point because of the ice, so he left his boat and pulled his pulka for 200 km (≃124 miles). 

Antarctica map

Antarctica map, CIA World Factbook Antarctic Region (PDF). Archived from the original on 2012-05-18. CIA | Public Domain

He left the Novolazarevskaya base for a 57 days crossing in temperatures of up to -60 degrees (-76° F). Due to unforeseen circumstances, Mike arrived late in Antarctica, which is a problem as summer lasts only 2 months, so it was a race against time!

Mike used the wind to his advantage to move fast with the help of a kite and his skis. The problem is that when you're going 30 or 40 km/h(≃19 or 25 miles/h) in -50 degree weather (-58° F), you're suffer a lot. The second problem is that once you're away from the search bases, rescue becomes impossible, Mike was on his own. 

The extreme cold and lack of rescue was not even the biggest problem Horn had during his expedition. Mike got caught in a sastrugi (a very solid snowdrift), he jammed one ski on one side and the other ski on the other, he twisted his ankle in the middle of nowhere at 40 km/h (≃25 miles/h) with the kite. When he finally stopped, he took care of his sprain and resumed his adventure the next day. 

Another problem Mike had was that his feet were bruised from stamping on his shoes all day. He had to make little holes in his feet to relieve the pressure, which hurt like hell. As for the North Pole expedition at night, Mike had to bring food with him, the pulka with all its equipment weighing 230 kg (≃507 lbs). 😫

Despite all his adventures, after 57 days and 5,100 km (≃3,169 miles), Mike arrived at the Dumont-d'Urville base on the other side of Antarctica. This is the longest solo north-south crossing of Antarctica without assistance ever made. 

Pole2Pole : The Most Difficult Expedition of his Life - 2019

📷 Credit: Mike Hoorn's Youtube Channel

The 2019 North Pole crossing was Mike's most challenging expedition of his life. Horn did this expedition with the polar explorer Børge Ousland, who he had already worked with in 2006. The two men aimed to sail as far north as possible with the Pangaea until the ice was too hard to go any further. 

This point was reached on 11 September 2019, and they left on the 12th with their pulkas weighing 180 kg each (≃397 lbs). By the way, the Pangaea boat holds the record for the most northerly sailing ship in the world. A record that will probably soon be broken, given the speed at which the ice is melting due to global warming.

The two men did not come across a single polar bear during their 87 day expedition, whereas Mike had seen a lot of them in 2002 during the Arktos expedition. Not seeing polar bears is sad, but Mike and Børge have experienced the cause of their extinction, the melting ice. 🧊

You might think that if it's warmer, it's easier to cross the North Pole, but it's the opposite.  First of all, because it's not much warmer, and secondly, because the ice is more fragile, it's very difficult to walk on it. Moreover, during big storms, gaps are created, which makes the crossing very difficult. Even to cross a 15-metre (≃16 yards) zone of water, the two men lost a lot of time, which is a problem when food is limited. 

As if all these problems were not enough, the duo moved in total darkness, they could not even see the sled which was 2 or 3 meters (≃2 or 3 yards) behind them. Of the 87 days of the expedition, 57 were in total darkness. For 2 weeks they had a freezing headwind which meant they were slowed down and frozen cold. Finally, both men suffered from negative drifts all along the journey "it was like walking on a treadmill".

They both came close to death on this expedition by falling into the freezing water. Fortunately, they did not fall at the same time, but both men experienced the pain. The ice gave way under their feet, in which case they had to put up the tent as quickly as possible and remove their wet clothes to avoid hypothermia. 

Because of the drifting, the loss of time due to the breaches and other problems, Mike and Børge drifted away from their objectives. Pangaea was supposed to pick up the two explorers on the Norwegian side of the North Pole, but the duo were running out of food, so a larger boat that could break through the ice further north went to get them. 🚢

📷 Credit: Mike Hoorn's Youtube Channel

On 7 December 2019, after travelling 1500 km (≃932 miles), the two adventurers made the first complete crossing of the Arctic Ocean via the North Pole. The success of this expedition is considered a historic moment in the world of polar exploration.

But the adventure wasn't over yet, as the larger boat that came to pick up Mike and Børge got stuck in the ice due to the extreme temperatures. So the whole crew spent Christmas lost in the North Pole on a stranded boat. On Christmas Day, all the crew saw a mother polar bear and her two cubs, as a gift to give hope. 

Mike Horn is not Limited to Exploring

Mountain Men

Mike Horn is mainly known for his expeditions, but his exploits do not stop there. He is also famous for climbing some of the highest mountains in the world

    • Gasherbrum 1 (8,035 m) (≃8,787 yards) and Gasherbrum 2 (8,068 m) (≃8,823 yards) in 2007 with Jean Troillet, Fred Roux and Olivier Roduit (without oxygen).
    • Broad Peak (8,047 m) (≃8,800 yards) in 2010 with Köbi Reichen (without oxygen).
    • Makalu (8,463 m) (≃9255 yards) in 2014 with Fred Roux (without oxygen).

📷 Credit: Mike Hoorn's Youtube Channel

  • K2 (8,611 m) (≃9,417 yards) he tried 3 times, in 2013, 2015 and 2019, in this third attempt he had to give up 400 m from the summit because of the weather. (without fixed ropes and without oxygen).

Mike has climbed other peaks but the list would be too long. 🧗‍♂️

Survival Expert

Horn has also appeared on The Island, seuls au monde”, the french adaptation of “The Island with Bear Grylls” and "À l'état sauvage", the french adaptation of “Running Wild with Bear Grylls” as a survival expert

Mental Coach

He has also worked as a sports and mental coach for the team for several top sportsmen:

  • The Indian cricket team, the team won the world cup in 2011
  • The South African cricket team who beat England (the best team in the world at the time) to be ranked number 1 right after. 
  • The Kolkata Knight Riders cricket team from India, the KKRs won the Indian Premier League.
  • Finally, the German football team (soccer for our American readers) in 2014, which won the World Cup that same year.

Speaker

📷 Credit: Mike Hoorn's Youtube Channel

Mike Horn gives public and private talks to share his values and experiences. 

“I often say, in life we only have 30,000 days to live, so we mustn’t waste any of them.”

Other

  • He becomes sponsor of the ocean racing sailboat Sodebo Ultim 3 in 2019
  • He will participate twice in the Dakar Rally in 2020 and 2021 with Cyril Despres. 
  • Again in 2020, Horn takes advantage of the COVID-19 confinement to go to the Arctic again. He left with navigator Bernard Stamm to communicate on the return of wildlife to its natural habitat and the impact of human activities on the ecosystem.
  • Mike Horn has a YouTube channel where he is very active, telling anecdotes about his adventures, giving survival tips, talking about his daily life, etc. 📹

Conclusion

Mike Horn is undoubtedly one of the greatest living explorers, but he is also an inspiration to thousands of people. He constantly sets himself new challenges, works for worthy causes and makes the whole world dream with the images he brings back from his expeditions. 

"If your dreams don't scare you, they are not big enough. "

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Author: Felix

Felix is a very curious person who is always looking to learn and explore. Always in search of the unknown, he hopes through this blog to share with you his passion for adventure and vintage objects

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