Antarctica... It is our fifth largest continent. It is the highest, driest, coldest and windiest place on earth. It is home to penguins, seals and sea life. No polar bears, no deer and few humans walk this landscape. At the end of this year however, Robert Swan will return to this icy continent to finish something he started three decades ago.
In September 2018 the renowned Antarctic Explorer underwent hip replacement surgery. Most 63 year olds would then decide it was time to hang up the skis, but not Swan. His determination to protect and preserve Antarctica is always foremost in his mind.
In the 1980s, Swan, was the first person, as he puts it, “stupid enough” to walk to both the South and North Pole. Robert Swan was born and brought up in the north of England in the 1960s. Like most school boys, he was fascinated by the legendary British polar explorer Robert F Scott. The naval captain froze to death in Antarctica in March 1912 after Norwegian rival Roald Amundsen became the first person to reach the South Pole, beating Scott by a month.
Unlike most school boys, getting to the South Pole became Swan’s obsession. In 1985, five years of raising funds and organizing a private expedition, he finally set off with two companions.
Known for his physical strength, after 350 miles he could no longer pull his sledge. “I’ve always been able to overcome challenges but I was falling to bits. Should we turn back? Would we die? I felt my dream of all those years fading away.” But all was not lost. His teammates discovered that the runners on Swan’s sledge were attached incorrectly. After maintenance and rest, he got up and carried on and reached the South Pole without any resupply.
More than three decades had passed and the veteran adventurer has been training intensively. That has involved dragging tires on mountain walks and high-altitude cycling but flexibility is the key to his success.
“Back then, I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d never really been camping. I wasn’t a mountaineer. All I had was this passion to get to the pole.” Swan, who resembles a rugged action figure, has a commanding presence. His face is etched by his experiences and stories of some of the harshest weather conditions on earth.
His 1985 journey to the South Pole bleached his eyes and burned his face because of a hole in the ozone layer above the continent. In 1989, his expedition across the Arctic ice cap to the North Pole was close to drowning because of unseasonable ice melting. Ahead of “The Last 300” Expedition to the South Pole, he believes he is better prepared, both mentally and physically.
His passion for preserving Antarctica led him to creating an organization called 2041 which brings young people together to campaign for the preservation of Antarctica beyond 2041. In that year the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty – which designated Antarctica as a natural reserve and prohibits all activities relating to mining for mineral resources – comes up for renewal.
“I’d made a promise to leave Antarctica as I found it,” says Swan. “It took a long time and I was bankrupt but it was worth it. It shaped my life and I’ve never looked back.”
His determination to preserve this incredible continent has no boundaries. In August 2018, Swan had his hip replaced. Most surgeons would suggest taking it easy for a few years and not putting too much pressure on his legs. Not Swan, in the knowledge that the replacement hip was made by Stryker, he is confident he will complete the 300 miles journey on skis to the Geographical South Pole. “Having a hip replacement should not deter me from completing my mission or achieving my goals.”Last 300 Gallery