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Best Modern Polar Explorers



When you think of polar exploration, your mind might turn to hoary greats like Captain Scott and Shackleton. If you thought that society doesn’t make them like that any more, however, you’d be wrong.

This century has its share of hardy mavericks ready to venture into the depths of the Arctic and Antarctica. Meet five of the 21st century’s most intrepid polar explorers: icemen with the heart to keep going when the mercury plummets to epic depths.

Jim McNeill

Nicknamed the Ice Warrior, Briton Jim McNeill has racked up about three decades of polar exploration. Becoming keenly aware of environmental degradation throughout his years of being an explorer, McNeill grew to become an ardent ecologist. His television news reports on the truth about climate change captivate viewers around the world. On his travel, most of the time the ice man of indeterminate age is strapped into skis, hauling his gear behind him. In 2013, he aims to be the first person to walk to the Arctic Pole – the furthest point from land on the Arctic Ocean. No Polar explorer is more extreme than McNeill, who sometimes falls short of his epic targets. He has failed to reach the hyper-remote Northern Pole of Inaccessibility twice. The first time, in 2003, a flesh-eating disease (Necrotising Fasciitis) attacked his left ankle, meaning he could not leave base camp in Resolute Bay, Canada. McNeill’s second stab at the singularly remote polar spot in 2006 was hampered by melting sea ice, some 130 miles into the journey. Still, that’s about as hardcore as it gets.

Robert Swan

Not to be confused with the Canadian skier of the same name, Robert Swan has carved out a sparkling polar career that underlines that the Brits have a talent for subzero exploration – it must be the country’s notoriously brisk climate. Either way, Swan has charged across the ice so adventurously that he holds one of his country’s most prestigious titles: OBE (Order of the British Empire). The titled gent with a streak of steel is the first person to walk to both Poles. Swan and his team reached the South Pole on January, 11 1986 and the North Pole on May 14, 1989. Born in 1956 in Durham, England, he earned a BA degree in Ancient History (1976–1979) at St Chad’s College, Durham University. An ecologist, he is an advocate for the protection of Antarctica and renewable energy. Besides, he is the founder of 2041: a firm devoted to the conservation of the Antarctic and the co-author of Antarctica 2041: My Quest to Save the Earth’s Last Wilderness. Good luck to him.

Borge Ousland

If any other country gives the Brits a run for their money in the polar exploration stakes, it’s the Norwegians. Meet Borge Ousland. Born in 1962, the Norwegian polar explorer, photographer and writer treats the Poles like his backyard. One highlight of his sub-zero career came in 1997 when he did the first unaided Antarctic solo crossing, finishing on 18 January. Another highlight came in September 2010 when his team aboard “The Northern Passage” successfully rounded the North Pole without an icebreaker, apparently setting a precedent. In December 2011, Ousland crossed Antarctica to the South Pole to mark the centennial of the first expedition to reach the Pole. Just to rub in how at home he is on the ice, in 2012 Ousland wed at the North Pole after being flown in by helicopter with about 30 people. Better yet, there is a cracking clip of him having a family encounter with no less than three Polar bears.

Ranulph Fiennes

Those darn Brits. No list of 21st century Polar explorers would be complete without a heavy nod toward one of the world’s most famous adventurers, Ranulph Fiennes. Fiennes is, as the British say, “full-on;” intense and relentless, the holder of a plethora of endurance records. He was born before World War II ended, in 1944. Like his father, he went into the army then, during the 1960s, started pursuing his extreme wanderlust, completing the Northwest Passage, crossing the Antarctic continent unsupported and climbing Everest, among other things. Next, underlining that he is no quitter, Fiennes plans to travel across Antarctica – partly on motorized sleds, partly on foot – in the dead of winter. This marks the first trip of its kind. The question is whether he and his team or the Brits’ arch rivals, the Norwegians, will do it first. Proving that he is not entirely an ice man, Fiennes will also be trying to raise $10 million for a charity for the blind and logging the effects of global warming en route.

Mike Horn

Mike Horn’s name sounds British, but Horn is actually a bit more exotic: a South-African born Swiss adventurer. Horn made his name in 2000 after doing a solo journey around the equator without motor transport. Horn also completed a 2 year 3 month solo circumnavigation of the Arctic Circle in 2004. Plus, in 2006, with our friend Borge Ousland, he became the first man to travel without dog or motorized transport to the North Pole during non-stop darkness. Drawing on his epic experience, Horn works as a motivator, heartening sports teams including the Indian cricket team and the South African one. Check out part one of the “Fearless” documentary featuring Horn in the above video.

“Coach Gary Kirsten’s pre-England trip to Switzerland with the team to have a few sessions on mental conditioning with well-known explorer Mike Horn, definitely reaped rewards,” recently reported, referring to the South African national side. Horn – a versatile ice warrior – finds time to motivate people doing tough work like deep sea drilling.

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