Cool Trip

South Africa's Mike Horn is circling the Arctic by land and by sea—with no engines allowed

Jan 3, 2003
Outside Magazine

What's for dinner? Horn heats things up on Schredny Island, North Siberia, April 2002    Photo: Sebastian Devenish/Arktos


Update: Horn Survives Tent Blaze (click here)

WHEN SOUTH AFRICAN ADVENTURER Mike Horn reaches Coppermine, Nunavut, this month after a 1,500-mile east-west slog across northern Canada, he'll be a third of the way toward his goal of completing a 12,400-mile lap around the Arctic Circle. Horn, 36, launched his $850,000 expedition last August from Norway's North Cape, traveling by sailboat and kite-ski, on foot, and in a kayak—but never by motorized transport. In a two-year ramble that began in 2000, Horn circled the equator while observing the same strict code of no exhaust fumes allowed. Outside caught up with him as he began a wintertime ski trip down Canada's Baffin Island.

This is a far cry from coconuts and grass skirts. Do you miss warmth?
I miss the freedom of hanging out in shorts and a T-shirt, no shoes, without dying of exposure. The cold is like a dog—it's just waiting to bite you.

How are things going otherwise?
I'm in the wrong place at the wrong time. The early closing of the ice in the Northwest Passage stopped my sailing short, and I now have to walk and ski an extra 1,000 miles in Canada. But this improves my chance of seeing polar bears, which is exciting in a way. I imagine you're slamming lots of sports drinks and energy bars.
That stuff's for girls. I drink milk shakes and eat a lot of chocolate.

What's the key to surviving those long, lonely Arctic slumbers?
I dream of heat. The nightmare is when you wake up in the middle of the night, it's minus 40 degrees Celsius, and you have to take a crap.

Any big calamities to report?
Near Greenland, on the ninth night of the trip, I sailed into a log. The only tree out there, and it knocked a hole in my hull. I was hundreds of miles from land and very close to abandoning ship, but I bailed water with a bucket and patched the hole after eight hours. I was unlucky to hit that tree, but lucky that my boat didn't sink. Call it luck with unluck.

What's the deal with all these circular expeditions?
Nothing is complete to me if it doesn't finish where it began. It's like walking out the front door of your house and walking and walking until one day you walk through your back door. My next trip will be a zigzag that connects all of earth's natural wonders, from Everest to the poles to the great deserts and rivers, and I'll end up right back where I started.

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