Mad swimmers take the plunge on top of Himalayas

Madswimmer Founder Jean Craven waves the SA flag high

Madswimmer Founder Jean Craven waves the SA flag high

Published May 19, 2024


The Sky is the Limit Madswimmer Team triumphantly returned to a camp in Kagkot in the Himalayas last Sunday, marking their reconnection with civilisation and their first steps on solid ground after a gruelling 15-day ascent on the icy slopes of Mount Putha Hiunchuli in the Himalayas. Their mission was to complete the highest-altitude swim ever recorded.

On the morning of May 10, at an altitude of 6 405m, the team achieved their ambitious goal. They surpassed the previous record of 6 370m set by Australian Dan Bull in the Andes Mountains in South America, thus shifting the highest swim record to a new continent under challenging conditions – a testament to the indomitable human spirit.

Jean Craven, expedition leader and founder of Madswimmer, noted that the trek to the swim site was the most arduous part of the journey. Following three flights and a nerve-racking 17-hour Jeep ride along steep cliffs, the team embarked on a 138km uphill trek that lasted 15 days.

With the aid of 18 sherpas and a caravan of 35 donkeys and yaks, they transported over a ton of equipment and supplies essential for their survival. They faced harsh icy conditions, battling wind and snow, and navigated treacherously near crevasses that threatened to collapse beneath them.

Craven recounted: “The last accessible liquid (swimmable) water was found at 4 900 meters. To achieve a world record, we needed to venture higher and create a suitable swimming environment at 6 405 meters. We carved out a swimming hole in the ice and melted ice in large drums that preserved the liquid water overnight.

“The swimming hole was covered under a tent canvas to prevent refreezing at night. The next morning, we removed the canvas, filled the ice hole with the liquid water we preserved, and took turns swimming in it for about three minutes each, wearing Speedos only.

“The water was chillingly cold at 3.7ºC, with the outside temperature at -6ºC.”

Madswimmers Vanes-Marie Du Toit, Neo Mokuene, Deniz Kayadelen, Chiara Baars (Team Doctor), Thufayl Ali (Cameraman), Sean Disney (Himalaya Tour leader) and Sean Jean Craven, Madswimmer Founder

The expedition was conducted with a commitment to environmental stewardship. After their historic swim, the water was carefully returned to the mountain, where it refroze.

Dr Chiara Baars, the team doctor, diligently monitored the members’ vital signs and general health throughout.

Dr Chiara Baars, the medical doctor who was attending to everyone else on the 15-day ascent on the icy slopes of Mount Putha Hiunchuli in the Himalayas

“Oxygen levels were measured in the morning and again at night and it was interesting observing how sleep aided their acclimatisation overnight. Despite most team members lacking experience in high-altitude climbing, none suffered severe shortness of breath or other altitude symptoms. Three members took medication to facilitate acclimatisation, which was discontinued as they began their descent.

“Post-swim, everyone was warmed in heated tents, dressed in warm clothes covered with hot water bottles, ensuring their bodies recovered well from the extreme cold,” said Baars.

The team emphasised that their expedition aimed to witness and document the impacts of climate change. They encountered alarming signs, like running water appearing nearly 5,000m above sea level. The solid ice is crucial for binding the soil in these frigid zones.

“The melting of it threatens devastating land and mudslides that could obliterate communities. With global awareness campaigns initiated by Nepalese tourism and the vivid documentation by Madswimmer, the team hopes to spark meaningful discussions and highlight the urgent need to address climate change.

The Sky is the Limit Madswimmer Team has launched a crowdfunding campaign on BackaBuddy to support two children's charities with their dedicated swim: the Universitas Academic Hospital Oncology Unit for Teens and Adolescents and the Red Cross Children's Hospital.

So far, the BackaBuddy campaign has raised R24,200 of their R2,000,000 goal with the support of 17 donors.

Donations can be made via BackaBuddy:

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