British explorer and endurance swimmer, Lewis Gordon Pugh, has successfully completed the extraordinary challenge of being the first man to swim at the Geographic North Pole.
The 1km swim took 18 minutes and 50 seconds in freezing temperatures of minus 1.8º centigrade – the coldest waters a human has ever swum in – and was conducted in accordance with Channel Swimming Association Rules in just Speedo briefs, cap and goggles. It took place at 02.00 on July 15th (it’s daylight all hours.)
Pugh’s endeavour, The Investec North Pole Challenge, was made to visibly demonstrate the devastating impacts of climate change on our planet.
Lewis Gordon Pugh, nicknamed the Polar Bear, said: “I hope my swim will inspire world leaders to take climate change seriously. The decisions which they make over the next few years will determine the biodiversity of our world. I want my children, and their children, to know that polar bears are still living in the Arctic – these creatures are on the front line up here.
“I am obviously ecstatic to have succeeded but this swim is a triumph and a tragedy – a triumph that I could swim in such ferocious conditions but a tragedy that it’s possible to swim at the North Pole.”
He described the swim: “The water was absolutely black. I shook Jørgen Amundsen’s hand and then plunged into the sea. It was like jumping into a dark black hole. It was frightening. The pain was immediate and felt like my body was on fire. I was in excruciating pain from beginning to end and I nearly quit on a few occasions. It was without doubt the hardest swim of my life.
“I just kept on looking at Jørgen Amundsen skiing next to me, encouraging me. I will never ever give up in front of a Norwegian! Let alone a relative of Roald Amundsen. There is just too much rivalry between our two nations for that.”
Pugh, Ambassador for WWF UK, has spent a great deal of time previously defying the elements in expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic. Increasingly concerned about the effects of global warming both on the polar regions and in the UK, he has been working in conjunction with WWF, the global conservation charity to raise awareness of climate change.
Investec, the international specialist banking group is the sponsor of the event and CEO of Investec Asset Management, Hendrik du Toit, commented: “We congratulate Lewis on this milestone achievement. We hope this world first today will inspire people to take the battle against climate change seriously. It would be wonderful if in 50 years time, an 87-year-old Lewis were once again able to walk, rather than swim at the North Pole.”
WWF Head of Campaigns, Colin Butfield, said: “Lewis succeeded in being the first person to complete a long distance swim at the Geographic North Pole. Lewis’s swim has highlighted the impacts of climate change in an area that is showing rapid warming. Some experts predict that the Arctic may be virtually devoid of summer sea ice by 2040. If the UK is serious about tackling global warming, the forthcoming Climate Change Bill target to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% by 2050 must be increased to 80%.”
Pugh set off from Murmansk with his team on July 8th which included Expedition Scout, Jørgen Amundsen, who skied alongside him to find open sea to make the record attempt. (Jørgen Amundsen is a relative of Roald Amundsen, who was the first man to walk to the South Pole and first man to fly across the Arctic Ocean via the North Pole.)
Jørgen Amundsen, is Brand Director for The Villemont Company who provided the timekeeping. He said: “It was amazing to watch. I have never seen someone push them to that limit before. The atmosphere was incredible! It was 18 minutes 50 seconds of a very special moment in history. For Villemont it was extraordinary to time an event at the North Pole, where time does not exist.”
Other team members included his mind coach, David Becker and Professor Tim Noakes of the University of Cape Town, who is a leading expert on the effect of cold water on the human body. Lewis’s core body temperature was 36.5 degrees on exiting the water and dropped to 35 degrees 20 minutes later.
Professor Tim Noakes said: “Lewis has once again pushed the boundaries of what is possible in these conditions. To swim at the North Pole is an incredible achievement and is the culmination of years of unique endeavor by an astonishing individual. At the end of the swim Lewis was showing obvious signs of distress but he never faltered and his performance was his best yet. As on all his previous swims, his body recovered extremely quickly and he was back to normal within an hour of finishing the swim.”
Stephen Rubin, Chairman, Pentland Brands, a supporter of UN Global Compact since 2000, commented: “We are delighted that such a unique and worthwhile expedition has proved a success. Climate change is an incredibly important issue and raising its profile on the news agenda is essential. As the world’s leading swimwear brand, Speedo is constantly trying to push the boundaries and we are proud that Lewis, an extremely accomplished swimmer, has completed such an exciting challenge to draw the world’s attention to this important issue.”
The geographic North Pole is situated at 90º North, and the previous record held for the coldest point swum by a human is 0ºC off Antarctica – a record also held by Pugh.
The Carbon Dioxide emissions from the travel associated with this swim is being offset for the whole team, using the Gold Standard offsetting scheme.
Investec, the international specialist-banking group is the sponsor of the event. The time keeping equipment is being provided by Villemont Watches. Speedo is sponsor of Lewis’ swimming briefs.
Lewis has previously said of his endeavour: “In recent years the Arctic has had the greatest increase in air temperatures in the world and a substantial decrease in sea ice. Areas of open sea are now appearing and the sea temperature in the Arctic Ocean is predicted to increase by 9ºC by the end of the century. These changes are being driven by global warming gases, such as carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere. Scientists predict that by the year 2040, the Arctic may be nearly devoid of ice during the summer. Just five or ten years ago this swim would never have been possible – most people have no idea that you can find patches of open sea at the North Pole in summer. It’s deeply regrettable that it’s possible now because of the devastating effects of climate change. “I want to raise awareness of this by showing dramatically what is happening in the Arctic. I can’t think of a better way to show that climate change is a reality than by swimming in a place that should be totally frozen over.”