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He walked to the poles

Robert Swan found courage in tales of explorers past as he walked on melting icecaps, under a hole in the ozone layer

travel Updated: Aug 09, 2010 09:44 IST

He has walked under a hole in the ozone layer at the South Pole and almost drowned due to unseasonable melting of Arctic ice at the North Pole. Robert Swan was a student when he saw a film on Antarctica that changed his life. Watching the great explorers in blackand- white at his home in England as an 11-year-old, he dreamt that one day he would walk to both the Poles. At the age of 33, Swan became the first man in the world to have done exactly that. 

But the journey from the idea to its completion wasn't easy. "People laughed," said Swan, now 54. "But I was a young boy with dreams." After graduation, he started to raise $5 million for his expedition. "What I thought could be done in two weeks took seven years," said Swan, who worked as a taxi driver in the night during that period.

After finally raising the funds, Swan sailed through Antarctica for a year before heading to the Poles without radio or any other backup. During his journey -- 70 days in which he walked 1,600 km and lost 30 kg -- the polar explorer also had his first brush with global warming, which led to his turning into environmentalist on a crusade to save the Polar ice caps.

Recalling his walk under the hole in the ozone layer that left his face blistered and changed the colour of his eyes to light blue, Swan said, "I realised that if the layer didn't exist, life on Earth would cease. That experience changed my view of the world."

Today, Swan is the president of 2041, a company dedicated to the preservation of the Antarctic. He leads corporate teams and groups of young people on expeditions to the fragile region.

All you need to know

In his mission to promote renewable energy, Robert Swan initiated a worldwide lecture series and sailing expedition called The Voyage for Cleaner Energy. The yacht and Swan's organisation are named 2041 as that is the year in which the Madrid protocol comes up for review. The Protocol designates Antarctica a Natural Reserve Land for Science and Peace and puts a ban on mining and mineral exploration till 2041. The yacht 2041 will reach India in January 2011 and continue its journey for another four months after that. It will take individuals from various companies and schools on an expedition to Antarctica.

First Published: Aug 09, 2010 09:44 IST