In September, serial adventurer Mike Horn, 48, will weigh anchor on one of the world’s last undone firsts: a motorless circumnavigation of the earth via the two poles. True to form for Horn, who walked to the North Pole in 2006 in winter, the expedition is daunting. He will sail a 105-foot reinforced ketch, the Pangaea, south from Monaco to South Africa, where he’ll pick up a four-person crew for the leg to Antarctica. There Horn will disembark, with a pair of skis and a 450-pound sledge, to shuffle 3,600 miles across the continent, negotiating mountains nearly 11,000 feet high. (Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Charles Burton made the crossing on snowmobiles during their 1979 to 1982 motored circumpolar navigation.)
Once reunited on the opposite coast, Horn and company will sail north through Alaska’s Bering Strait, until the pack ice begins. There he’ll jump ship and start walking again, this time over pressure ridges and melting ice while dragging a modified sea kayak. The goal for the leg: crest the top of the world and travel 2,500 miles south into Greenland, where he’ll board the Pangaea and sail back to the starting point. “It’s 360 degrees in 360 days,” Horn says. He likes the symmetry of it.
The voyage is as grueling as they come, but Horn has never shrunk from a slog. In the late 1980s, he served in South Africa’s special forces, fighting in bloody guerrilla combat in Angola. In 1997, he swam the length of the Amazon while clinging to a motorized boogie board, called a hydrospeed, and used his bush training to hunt for meals. “I’d eat everything that moved,” he says, “and if it didn’t move, I kicked it until it did.” Beginning in 1999, he spent two years walking the equator without motorized help, through jungle, swamp, and hostile countries. He returned home long enough to do his laundry, then headed out on another two-plus-year solo circumnavigation of the Arctic Circle.
Horn’s Arctic experiences will help him as he makes his way across Antarctica, likely the most dangerous part of the trip. If he doesn’t reach the Pangaea before the winter freeze, when rescue becomes extremely difficult, he’ll have to detour to a weather station.
“My dreams still scare me,” says Horn. “If they don’t, they’re not big enough.”