Mike Horn is a Swiss adventurer and explorer. He rose to fame in 2001 after taking a solo trip around the equator. His two years and a three-month solo circumnavigation of the Arctic Circle in 2004 made him the first person to travel in permanent darkness to the North Pole without a dog or motorized transportation during the winter. In 2006 with explorer Børge Ousland, he was the first man to cross the pole in permanent darkness in winter.
Originally from Johannesburg, and born on born on July 16, 1966, Mike grew up in South Africa. He currently resides in Château d’Œx, Switzerland. During his childhood, he spent most of his time climbing trees, cycling for miles, and fishing with his three younger siblings. He played many sports during his childhood, including rugby, cricket, athletics, tennis, and cycling.
South African Special Forces 4 and the South African Army employed Mike Horn in combat in Angola between 1984 and 1986 during the apartheid regime. He then returned to civilian life and earned a degree in human movement science from the University of Stellenbosch. Mike Horn He then worked in his uncle’s fruit and vegetable business selling imports and exports.
Mike said he learned to challenge himself from an early age, but survival was something he learned in the military. “I hate war but I think it prepared me for what I’m doing today,” he recalls his military service when he was sent to Angola and saw death for the first time. “I was only 18 when I discovered that we would do anything to stay alive”.
Mike says he was 24 when he first felt the call of nature. To live in Switzerland, he gave up everything he owned, including his easy job in sports science. Following sanctions imposed on the apartheid regime in South Africa, only Israel, England and Switzerland allowed South Africans to travel visa-free at this time. As the first flight offered from Johannesburg to Zurich was to Switzerland, he left the country. After that, he embarked on a series of thrilling adventures that included descending a 22,000-foot mountain in a delta plane and traversing the deepest canyon in the world.
Height (approx): 5 ft 9 in / 176 cm
Weight: 176 lbs / 80 kg
Eye color: Brown
Hair color: Dark brown
Family and ethnicity
Father, Mother, and Siblings
He is the son of two university educators, and his father is also a high-ranking rugby fan. A former rugby player, his father was a school principal and taught the sport. When Mike was 18, his father passed away. Mike Horn
Relationships/ Affairs, Wife, Children
In 1990, he met Cathy (May 2, 1963 – February 19, 2015) Mike Horn, a native of New Zealand and a nurse by profession who had settled in the Vaud Pre-Alps a year before meeting her husband in a café in Château-d’Œx. Later on, she coordinated his expeditions by taking care of logistics, supplies, and communication. She became his right arm in his journies. After battling breast cancer for 7 years, Cathy passed away on February 19, 2015.
Through his experiences, Horn motivates athletes and others involved in tough jobs such as deep-sea drilling. He has inspired many cricket teams to win too.
He embarked on his first major expedition in April 1997 – a six-month independent trip around South America. He accomplished this feat by himself and without assistance in six months. His way of life was to hunt, fish, and survive off the land.
Latitude Zero (1999-2000)
Mike embarked on an eighteen-month journey to circumnavigate the equator on foot and by sailboat in 1999.
He sailed the Atlantic aboard a Corsair F-28 trimaran and traveled to Brazil from Gabon. In addition to cycling and paddling, he has also traveled on foot through Brazil and Ecuador. His journey ended with a journey on foot across the African continent passing through Congo and Gabon.
For the first time, a solo circumnavigation around the equator had been accomplished – without engine assistance and external assistance.
An expedition named Arktos took Mike around the world solo and across the Arctic Circle in 2002-2004. During a 20,000-kilometre (12,000 mi) odyssey without motorized transport (boat, kayak, kite-skiing, and on foot), he traveled alone for two years and three months.
In addition to visiting the locals, Mike spent time with the people who had bravely adapted to the harsh environment.
‘Conquering the Impossible’ (reprinted in English in 2007 as Conquering the Impossible by St Martin’s Press) has a detailed version of Mike’s expedition.
The North Pole by Night (2006)
In 2006, Mike and Norwegian explorer Børge Ousland ventured on another expedition for 60 days without dogs or motorized transport during the Arctic night in the world’s first attempt. Throughout the two-month trip, the duo walked in complete darkness, often on very thin ice.
As a follow-up to the Young Explorers program, Mike and his team launched Pangea in 2008. The event invited young adults aged 15 to 20 from around the world – for this program to explore the continents of the Earth and sail across the oceans with an expedition sailboat. He accompanied a hundred Young Explorers on 12 missions around the world where they worked on environmental and social projects according to the motto “explore – learn – act”. Despite the end of this project in 2012, the Young Explorers, who now are a part of the Young World Ambassadors, continue to implement different types of projects around the world.
Driven to Explore (2015)
The “Driven To Explore” expedition, sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, was embarked by Mike Horn in May 2015. The journey began in Switzerland, and Horn traveled through 13 countries before reaching Pakistan, where he attempted the summit of K2 (8611 m), in the Karakoram mountain range.
“Pole2Pole”, a two-year expedition around the globe via the South and North Poles was also Sponsored by Mercedes-Benz and Panerai. With the support of Prince Albert of Monaco II, Mike set out from his starting point, the Yacht Club of Monaco, on May 8, 2016. Mike has circumnavigated the globe on his exploration sailboat, Pangea, starting in Africa and traveling to Antarctica, Oceania, Asia, the Arctic, and back to Europe. It seemed natural that the Pole2Pole expedition falls under three different themes: Adventure, Environment, and Sharing.
Crossing Antarctica (2016-2017)
During the afternoon of February 7, 2017, Mike Horn made the longest solo, an unassisted north-south crossing of Antarctica, from the Queen Astrid Coast to Dumont D’urville station via the South Pole. It was January 9, 2017, when he reached the pole. He covered a total distance of 5100 km in 57 days.
Crossing the Arctic (2019)
The first-ever complete crossing of the Arctic Ocean via the North Pole was undertaken by Mike Horn and Børge Ousland just before midnight on December 7, 2019.
Aiming to sail as far north as possible towards the North Pole, they planned to sail until solid ice prevented them from going any further. By the way, Pangea ended up being the farthest north a sailing ship has ever traveled. Of the 87 days of their journey, 57 were spent in total darkness due to the winter season.
The main challenges were the delicate nature of the ice due to global warming and the strong negative drifts preventing the duo from achieving their objectives. This increased delay caused by these challenges forced Mike and Børge to end their expedition in a different way than they had originally planned. It was originally planned to be picked up by Mike Pangea’s boat near the Norwegian breakwater where the solid ice broke away. Food shortages forced a larger boat to pick up adventurers instead of a smaller boat capable of cutting its way further north through the ice.
Gasherbrum 1 (8035 m) and Gasherbrum 2 (8068 m)
Without oxygen, Mike, Jean Troillet, Fred Roux, and Olivier Roduit reached Gasherbrum 1 (8035 m) and Gasherbrum 2 (8068 m) in 2007. Originally, they had planned to climb four Himalayan peaks reaching 8000 meters.
Broad Peak (8047m)
As part of the Karakoram mountain range in Pakistan, Mike and his Swiss mountain guide/mountaineer Köbi Reichen reached Broad Peak (8047m) without using supplemental oxygen in 2010.
Makalu (8463 m)
During their descent from Makalu (8,463 m), Mike and Fred Roux climbed the mountain in alpine style without the help of porters or oxygen.
K2 (8611 m)
Dedicated sponsorship from Mercedes-Benz helped Mike Horn embark on the “Driven To Explore” expedition in May 2015. In two Mercedes-Benz G-Class SUVs, Horn traveled through 13 countries in an attempt to climb K2 (8,611 meters ) in the Karakoram in Pakistan. Unfortunately, the team did not reach the summit due to unfavorable weather conditions.
The Island: Seuls au mondes
As the show’s survival expert, Horn took part in seasons 1, 2, and 3 of M6’s French television series “The Island: Seuls au mondes”, in which he shares his survival knowledge with the participants of the show so that they survive on a tropical island without food or assistance for a month.
Horn participated in M6’s French version of the American television series: Running Wild with Bear Grylls, entitled À L’Etat Sauvage between 2016 and 2018. In each episode, Horn takes a different celebrity on his adventures which included, Michael Youn, Matt Pokora, Laure Manaudou, Christophe Dechavanne, Shy’m, and Adriana Karembeu.
After 6 episodes of “À L’Etat Sauvage”, Horn launched his own show: “Cape Horn”. It has featured celebrities like Arnaud Ducret and Bernard de La Villardière, with whom he embarked on adventures in the Philippines.
In 2015, he was chosen to host L’Île on M6, which advises participants on how to survive in hostile environments.
At the beginning of the year, he became the sponsor of the new offshore racing trimaran, Sodebo Ultim 3, hosted by Thomas Coville.
He took part in the 2020 Dakar Rally with Cyril Despres as a co-driver. With Cyril Despres, he took part in the Dakar again in January 2021, intending to collect data for the design of a hydrogen vehicle. With this team, they finished 10th overall in Automobiles.
Facts / Anecdotes
- At the age of eight, Horn made a determined effort to cycle 300 km to visit his cousin, but his father stopped him before he got too far. “I was curious how many days it would take,” he said.
- Inspired by his father’s success as a rugby player, he showed a similar talent for the sport, but because his country was facing bans from certain events, he realized he couldn’t reach the top then chose adventure instead.
- Horn found a job in his uncle’s food import/export business and took advantage of the winter cold that destroyed South African cabbages. He made a lot of money out of it.
- Fascinated by the stories of Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen, and Jacques Cousteau, he was always passionate about adventure, but it was an accident that pushed him to become an explorer.
- As soon as he arrived in Europe, he learned to ski on his own to earn money as an instructor. He did the same with rafting; then signed up for a marketing campaign and embarked on great adventures abroad.
- While paragliding around Machu Pichu, he crashed and ended up in hospital for a month. “That’s when I made the most important decision of my life: to become an explorer,” he said.
- Horn completed two years of military service in the Angolan guerrillas with the South African special forces. “It made me realize that life is not a game,” he told Sidetracked. “I knew I had to go there to survive.” Then, ahead of his first major Amazon expedition, he joined Brazilian special forces in Manaus to learn how to survive in the jungle – which he did, despite being bitten by a snake and “stumbling blindly for five days”.
- Horn spent 18 months circumnavigating the equator using only human power – sailing three oceans, cycling, paddling, hiking through Brazil and Ecuador, and hiking through Borneo, Sumatra, and all of Africa. He then spent more than two years traveling 20,000 km around the Arctic Circle using a boat, kayak, kite ski, and his two feet, traveling above the tree line and against winds and mainstreams to make it harder. But one of his adventures also involved tough overland driving – taking a 4×4 car through 10 countries from Switzerland to Pakistan, aiming to reach the summit of K2 on arrival.
- When Horn embarked on his first adventure with another explorer in 2006 – a world-first trek to the North Pole in the dark Arctic winter with Ousland. He saved his expedition partner’s life.
- Before this Arctic expedition with Ousland, Horn spent time in a wind tunnel in Germany, practicing pitching a tent in 150 km/h winds. “At the end of the day, I could pitch a tent with my teeth and my feet,” he said.
- He also drank two pints of olive oil every morning to accustom his body to the 12,000 daily calories he needed to keep working in the extreme cold. On the expedition itself, he ate 100g of pure butter a day for quick calories. And to avoid freezing, he drank water to make sure he woke up every two hours. Each time, he urinated in a water bottle and used it as a hot water bottle to warm his sleeping bag from -39°C to 5°C.
- While abseiling after summiting 8,047m Broad Peak in the Himalayas with Swiss mountaineer Köbi Reichen, he ran out of pitons – so he took off his watch and stuck in a crack. It was a big risk, but he put a rope around the watch and used it as an anchor to carry his body weight and help him rappel down. The watch is still there on the mountain.
- Horn speaks seven different languages and has used his fluent French to make a name for himself on TV, appearing in three series of The Island: Alone in the World showing contestants how to survive on a tropical island for a month.
- Since 2016, he has hosted the French version of Running Wild with Bear Grylls and his subsequent version, Cap Horn, taking French stars on adventures in Namibia, Sri Lanka, Botswana, Venezuela, and Nepal.
- On his lonely crossing of Antarctica in 2017, he used uninterrupted sunlight to trick his body into thinking a day was 30 hours instead of 24 so he could sleep for five hours, eat for five hours and walk for 20 hours. He predicted it would take 110 days to complete the 5,100 km trek, but he did it in 56 days and 22 hours. “Every four days I was winning a day,” he told MR Porter magazine afterward.
- His motivational sessions helped India win the 2011 Cricket World Cup, contributed to South Africa’s upset victory over England in 2012, and turned a shaky German football team into winners of the World Cup in 2014.