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Explorer learns to love lockdown in Swiss chalet

After venturing through the Amazon, the Himalayas and reaching both Poles, explorer Mike Horn is now, thanks to the coronavirus crisis, discovering new, uncharted territory: home.

Positive thinking in the most extreme circumstances has seen him through many an expedition, so the South African adventurer is applying the same principles to lockdown.

He is sticking to the advice to stay home and wants to make this period a “rewarding experience,” he told AFP at his chalet in Chateau d’Oex, in the mountains of Vaud in western Switzerland.

He has even continued training in the woods around his home, pulling three car tyres behind him on a rope to simulate the 180-kilogram (28-stone) sled he uses on Polar ice caps.

Horn settled in the rolling Alpine pastures somewhat by accident in the 1990s after leaving South Africa in search of adventure. The 53-year-old has spent little time in his Swiss base due to his regular expeditions.

However, Switzerland imposed restrictions in mid-March in a bid to halt the spread of the pandemic, meaning Horn had to deal with his world shrinking down to a chalet.

He saw it as an opportunity to enjoy a “slightly different form of freedom… the freedom to think, to be creative, and to really bond with the family”.

The adventurer, whose wife Cathy died in 2015, is spending more time with their two daughters Annika and Jessica. He said the cosy certainties of lockdown were “a privilege to experience, immediately after an expedition where my life was not guaranteed every day”.

Swiss chalet
Swiss chalet with flowers. INQUIRER.net stock photo

Facing fear

Imposed confinement is something “you cannot change,” the former special forces soldier said, adding, “I am someone who invests energy into things I can change.”

On his last expedition, Horn listed in his journal all the things he wanted to do once he got home.

Lockdown has allowed him to tackle those tasks with gusto.

He has set about chopping up wood for next winter, throwing out old equipment and skis, and writing the tale of his first major expedition: riverboarding the entire length of the Amazon in 1997.

In 2001, Horn completed an 18-month solo journey around the Equator without any motorized transport. Then, in 2004, he completed a two-year circumnavigation of the Arctic Circle.

In 2006, he and Norwegian explorer Borge Ousland completed the first unsupported winter trek ever attempted to the North Pole.

While he accepts the need for lockdown in big cities where the risk of infection is higher, he is less keen on how it is being applied across the board.

“People who are in good health, who know that risk exists in life but are respectful towards others and keep their distance, why lock them indoors?” he asked.

Horn would also like to see public fear about the virus wane over time.

“Fear and worry is more dangerous than COVID-19,” he said. “Fear is something that you have to learn how to manage. For me, it’s part of my job.”

explorer lockdown switzerland
South African-born Swiss explorer and adventurer Mike Horn poses for a photograph as he stays at home in his chalet in Chateau-d’Oex. Image: AFP/Fabrice Coffrini

Pause for thought

Horn has spent some of the lockdown reflecting on the environment.

“It is rather encouraging to have the proof now that if man changes or reduces his activities a little, we can take care of this planet which feeds us,” he said. “I was on the ice four months ago and where it was 2.5 meters thick at the North Pole in 2006, in December it was five centimeters.”

It is with these thoughts in mind that he is charting out his next steps once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Horn is thinking about taking people with him on expeditions to carry out environmental projects.

“I said to myself, ‘Mike, at your age, you also need to start changing your life. You have to do something different,'” Horn said.

“I can be more active in teaching young people about the state of our planet, how we can change the way we live so that our planet can benefit and exist for much longer,” he explained. “That’s what motivates me today.” JB


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