He might be regarded as one of the great modern-day explorers, but Mike Horn’s legacy will not only be what he has done, but also what the young men and women he has inspired will accomplish.
Mike Horn almost died several times during his 1999 Latitude Zero expedition, a 17-month solo circumnavigation of the globe along
the equator by foot, bicycle, canoe and trimaran. Once, after being bitten in the Colombian jungle by snake, he lay blind and helpless for five days, waiting to die.
It was the only time Horn contemplated sending the 16th frequency on the Argos beacon that kept him in contact with home. According to codes worked out with his wife and logistics manager, Cathy, it meant: “Expedition aborted; beyond rescue. I love you; love to our daughters. Goodbye.”
This is the kind of story you’d expect when one of the greatest modern-day explorers sails into port. But when Horn, 46, visited Cape Town this year, there was no chest thumping about conquering the Amazon on a glorified bodyboard, or the Arktos Expedition, which saw him circumnavigate the Arctic Circle on foot, or when, with Norwegian explorer Børge Ousland, he did the first-ever walk to the North Pole during the darkness of an Arctic winter.
Instead, one of the world’s toughest athletes leans back in his seat in the conference room of the Pangaea, a 35m aluminium-hulled yacht he fondly refers to as his “4x4 of the seas” (it can cut through Polar pack ice), and makes a surprising admission that’s more Iron John than Iron Man.
“My prime time as an extreme explorer is finished,” he says. “My value now is sharing what I’ve experienced with the younger generation.”
Horn has been doing just that for the past four years with his Pangaea Expedition, named after the unspoilt supercontinent of 300 million years ago. It aims to shift mindsets, and reverse the environmental degradation and disrespect that will spell extinction. “I’m not worried about the planet because she has a way of looking after herself,” says Horn, who after 20 years in her extremes is well placed to deliver a prognosis. “The planet will survive. The question is whether the human race will survive, because we can be erased very quickly.”
Shifting the greedy mindset of his generation would be like turning the Titanic, says Horn. “We’re too old and set in our ways. Young people are our biggest source of untapped energy. They are not influenced economically and politically. For a young person who comes out of school, everything is possible. If I can get the best kids who are going to run the world tomorrow, take them to the most beautiful places in the world and establish a bond between them and the environment, they are going to protect the planet when they run big companies.”
It took years of planning – the Pangaea yacht was built in Horn’s head during 2002’s Arktos Expedition – but by October 2008 he was ready to sail with his first multinational team of six teenagers for a three-week Antarctic expedition.
Following a series of selection camps at his expedition centre in his Swiss home of Château-d’Oex, the former South African special forces commando who fought in the Namibian bush war has led 11 more teams of 15 to 20-year-olds from all over the world on three-week expeditions to New Zealand’s South Island fjords, Malaysia, Borneo, India, the Himalayas, the Gobi Desert, Russia, the magnetic North Pole, Canada’s Nunavut, the Everglades, the Amazon River, Namibia’s Skeleton Coast and South Africa.
Using the Pangaea as an operations centre and laboratory, Horn’s protégés have explored and studied their surroundings with scientists and environment experts, participating in clean-up programmes and environmental outreach projects with local communities. Once Horn’s young explorers return to their home countries, they become ambassadors of Horn’s Pangaea project, who spread the ecological gospel through word and deed, Twitter and Facebook.
Read the full story in December's issue of The Red Bulletin.