Meet the adventure legend that is Mike Horn

He’s faced-off polar bears, crocs and K2 and puts his survival down to listening to his inner voice.
Mike Horn posing for a frosty portrait.
Smile: Mike Horn is a living legend © Sebastian Devenish/Mike Horn
By Tarquin Cooper

There are not many adventurers who are living legends, but Mike Horn is one of them. He's circumnavigated the globe along the equator, swum the Amazon, trekked to the North Pole in winter and recently taken to climbing 8,000m mountains for relaxation. Just before setting off on his latest expedition to Makalu, he explains why the slow slog of high altitude mountaineering agrees with him and what to do when a polar bear sits on you.

Mike Horn conquering the bad polar weather conditions.
In 1997 Mike descended 4,350 miles of the Amazon © Sebastian Devenish/Mike Horn

What do you eat for breakfast?
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and if your stomach is really full your day can't go wrong. In the Arctic I would eat oatmeal with brown sugar, olive oil, and full double cream powdered milk because I needed the calories. More and more people should have proper breakfasts and they would walk out of the house with a smile on their face instead of feeling shit all day.

Mike Horn hicking over the polar ice.
Jungles, poles and peaks: Mike has done them all © Sebastian Devenish/Mike Horn

Ocean, pole, jungle or mountain. What's next?
I'm on my way to the 8,463m peak of Makalu. I thought I'd like to relax a little bit! Hopefully I'll get to Base Camp on April 18 and summit during the weather window between May 16-26. I'm taking a glider along with me as well to see if I can fly off from the top.

Mike Horn hiking down from the K2.
Mike has recently taken to climbing 8,000ers © mikehorn.com

Is this part of a plan to climb all the 8,000ers?
I'm very fortunate to have done three. I don't want to collect [all 14] 8,000m peaks but I really enjoy going out there and climbing them. As I grow older, it suits me. It's a slow slog up the mountain. The climbing is more about decision making. I kind of like that challenge.

Mike Horn climbing up the mountain.
Job hazards: avalanches, crocs and polar bears © mikehorn.com

What's harder: 8,000m peak or Pole?
I don't think there's been anything more demanding than the North Pole Winter Expedition. That was just day-in day-out trying to haul your 200kg sled across these massive big ice blocks. You have constant risk of thin ice and polar bears. And everything is moving as you're on an ocean.

Climbing is relatively quick. Most of the 8,000 peaks I've done were under 42hrs whereas the North Pole was 15 hours of effort every day for three months. But then, making the right decisions at 8,000m demands different skills. In the death zone you have a third less oxygen and you don't have that issue on the Arctic Ocean.

Mike Horn conquering the bad polar weather conditions.
North Pole in winter: The hardest ever © Borge Ousland/Mike Horn

Polar bear vs Amazon croc? Who's more deadly?
I don't like running into either of these two! The croc is an ancient dinosaur animal and doesn't have much of a brain. But once a croc has decided to attack, it's very difficult to get away.

The polar bear also has a better chance of eating you than you getting away. He's cleverer in the way he attacks. He follows you for days. He's waiting for his moment. But you need to know he can't bite straight. So move in front of him when he moves. It's like playing chess in way.

A polar bear once sat on me when I was in the tent. It was in my sled, which was right next to the tent, trying to find my food while I was asleep. The important thing is not to over-react.

Two polar bears fighting in the snow.
Mike likens a polar bear face-off to chess © MyLoupe/UIG via Getty Images

Do you have an inner voice? What does it say?
The inner voice is something we all have and develops according to your skills and talent but you have to be able to open yourself up to accumulate that knowledge. I was on K2 last year and all factors were right to hit the summit. The weather was perfect, it was warm, there was no wind. Then from one step to the next it changed.

All of a sudden I didn't feel so great. I started looking at my mate and he looked at me and he felt the same thing. Something was not right. We didn't know exactly what it was. Maybe it was just the sound when your foot goes through the layer of snow and you don't feel the same consistency. We turned back at 7,600m.

A New Zealand team carried on. Unfortunately they were caught up in an avalanche and died. The inner voice is fuelled by opening up your human survival need, but you've got to listen. Unfortunately we don't always do that.

Mike Horn posing for a portrait.
Mike Horn listens to his inner voice to stay safe © mikehorn.com

Inspired? Follow more of Mike's adventures at www.mikehorn.com

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