Best Wishes from Robert Swan.

When I first met Hap in Ushuaia, Argentina, I admired his determination and resilience in facing insurmountable challenges to reach his goal of living and working in every continent.  I wish him every success in reaching Africa, and ultimately achieving his dreams.

Robert Swan, OBE

The words above are pretty special to me. As some of you may know Robert Swan was the first polar explorer to walk unassisted to both the South and North poles. Rob is also one of my inspirations behind my Final Continent Expedition (FCE) after I met him in Ushuaia, Argentina this time last year when I was trying to gain work in Antarctica (read more below). I asked Rob if he wouldn’t mind writing some words of support for my Hilary Expedition Grant application and the FCE in general. So to gain these words from such a busy man of this calibre really does mean a lot.

It’s great to have the support of both my expedition inspirations, the other being Kiwi Rob Thomson who gained the world record for longest unassisted skateboard journey with his amazing 12,000km skateboard odyssey he completed in 2008.

Below is what I wrote about Robert Swan under the inspiration section of my blog, which answers who Robert is and how he inspired me. Enjoy.


Who is Robert Swan?

Robert Swan is a polar explorer and is known as the first man to walk unassisted to both the South and then the North Pole. He is currently an advocate for the protection of Antarctica and renewable energy. He is also the president of 2041, a company which is dedicated to the preservation of the Antarctic.

His interest in polar exploration began at school in England with the race to the South Pole between Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen. It was Scott’s tragic final journey to the South Pole that inspired Swan’s commitment to follow in his footsteps to the Pole.

In 1979, he began to raise the necessary funds to reach the Pole. It took him five years of planning and fund raising to reach the $5 million he needed for the expedition.

He procured a ship and called it the Southern Quest. It set sail on November 3, 1984 to travel Antarctica. Upon arrival on the frozen continent, Robert and his team wintered over waiting for the summer to kick off their “in the footsteps of Scott expedition”. When the winter had passed, Robert and two others set out to walk 1,400km to the South Pole. They arrived at the South Pole on 11 January 1986, after 70 days without the aid of any radio communications or back-up support and having hauled 160kg sledges. His team had achieved the longest unassisted march ever made in history. Once at the pole, they received the bad news that their ship, ‘Southern Quest’ had been crushed by pack ice and had sunk, leaving him with a $2million dollar debt! – just what you want to hear!.


Three years after reaching the South Pole, he assembled a team of eight people from seven nations for an attempt at the North Pole calling the expedition “Icewalk”. His team reached the North Pole on 14 May 1989. The team nearly drowned during their expedition to the North Pole, due to the unseasonable melting of Arctic ice. Their journey made him the first man to walk to both the North and South poles.

From then on he dedicated his life to the preservation of Antarctica and renewable energy. You can read all about his expeditions and inspiring environmental advocacy and achievements in his book Antarctica 2041: My Quest to Save the Earth’s Last Wilderness. I highly recommend it.

How Robert inspired me?

I really am not a stalker, although if you asked Robert Swan he would probably tell you otherwise.

In November 2009 I found myself in the port of Ushuaia, the southern tip of South America and the jumping off point for Antarctic bound ships. As I sat in the hostel chair that had become my office where I would spend all day churning out emails to potential Antarctic employers I got talking to two guys staying at the hostel. They were both going to Antarctica the following day on an educational/awareness expedition with the organisation 2041. Jelle the dutch fella asked me, “do you know who Robert Swan is?” No. He then told me briefly about him and said that I should go and check out the 2041 website.

The next 3 hours I spent on the 2041 website and reading about Robert and the obstacles he overcame to get to Antarctica and what he is now doing for the continent in an environmental capacity. Then I knew that if I could talk with him and if he had a spare berth on his expedition ship he would be the kind of person to give me the opportunity. So the next day armed with a letter to Mr Swan I jumped in a taxi with the two guys who were off to meet the rest of the 40 expedition participants at the prearranged hotel. If you would like to read the blog post I wrote on this stalking event please click here.

After this first stalking event I was so humbled by Robert giving me his personal email address and telling me to keep in touch and he would see what he could do for the next year’s expedition. I wanted to read more about this famous Antarctic explorer that had just given me a precious couple of minutes to talk with him over the phone whilst he was in a meeting.

A week or so later I got hold of his book and read it cover to cover in 3 days. I felt so inspired by his story and his dedication to climate change and the protection of Antarctica I wrote him a 6 page letter telling him so. In true stalker fashion I found out roughly when his flight would be leaving Ushuaia after he got back from Antarctica and I waited for him there. He finally arrived and I approached him with a parcel containing the 6 page letter and one of my “I will do anything to work in Antarctica” T-shirts.

When I approached him and introduced myself he said “So you’re the man are you?”, referring to me being the person that he had talked to on the phone at the hotel 2 weeks prior, who had left a letter for him at his hotel reception, had talked to his co-workers, had emailed him, had commented on the organisation blog………..basically your everyday stalker kind of stuff. And then his following words I will always remember “well Hap, I admire your determination” – wow, coming from a guy that had walked unassisted to both the north and the south pole that really meant a lot. Anyway, in that 6 page letter I gave to Robert I sincerely told him that he had inspired me and that I wanted to help his organisation and I wanted off set my Antarctic carbon foot print (At that point my Antarctic cruise ship waiter job was in the pipeline).

So to keep my word to Robert I have decided to offset one continent with another. Working on the Antarctica cruise ship disgusted me, as a mode of transport its criminal (read this blog post), the over consumption of passengers and not to mention the 10 tonnes of fuel used each day! So I scrapped ideas of doing Africa on motorbike and decided to make my final continent a human powered expedition.