Lewis Pugh tells of terror as 'almighty boom' erupts during Antarctic swim
Capetonian Lewis Pugh plunged into an an Antarctic lake on Friday to raise awareness of climate change and the need to halt overfishing.
On Twitter, he said venturing under the ice sheet was the most beautiful and terrifying swim he had done.
“Midway I heard an almighty boom above me, and thought my time had come. Luckily, it was just the ice shifting,” he said.
Pugh's Twitter account provided live updates of the build-up to the 1km swim in a supraglacial lake formed of melting water collected in a depression on the east Antarctic ice sheet.
A view of my final training swim before I attempt the main swim. This spectacular beauty defies a darker reality - this river is the result of the melting ice-sheet in East Antarctica. It’s time for urgent action on the climate crisis. #Antarctica2020 pic.twitter.com/2vO9voKpvd— Lewis Pugh (@LewisPugh) January 24, 2020
Finished my last training swim! Swam 300m. Out safely. Emanuel Guy dressing me as quickly as he can. It’s now a race. British emergency doctor Charlotte Haldane is on standby. I’m absolutely frozen, if you zoom into my fingers you’ll see they’re completely white. #Antarctica2020 pic.twitter.com/p2Ncj9DXAb— Lewis Pugh (@LewisPugh) January 23, 2020
After a final training swim on Thursday, the 50-year-old's feat began with a three-hour hike from his base camp, followed by a 70m abseil down an ice wall to the lake.
Then he stripped off and took the plunge into water at 0°C, wearing just a pair of swimming trunks, a cap and goggles.
First sight of the glacial river that I’ll be swimming. It may seem shocking that someone would be able to swim in a river that runs under the ice sheet, but that’s the point. Antarctica is melting. Scientists have discovered over 65,000 supra-glacial lakes in this region alone. pic.twitter.com/GXvcBZzePX— Lewis Pugh (@LewisPugh) January 24, 2020
He said he was dreading the -20°C wind chill which he said would blast his arms every time he raised them out of the water to complete a stroke.
Pugh, who lives within walking distance of the icy water off Noordhoek beach, is the UN patron of the oceans.
I swam here in East Antarctica to bring you this message:— Lewis Pugh (@LewisPugh) January 24, 2020
Having witnessed the rapid melting in this region, I have no doubt that we are now facing a climate emergency.
At #COP26, world leaders need to step up or step aside. Time is running out.
Please share.#Antarctica2020 pic.twitter.com/YJZJeKNPlf
Friday's swim was to draw attention to the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet, and he now plans to travel to Russia and China in an attempt to get their backing for a network of marine protected areas around Antarctica.
This is the superb team that made it happen here in East Antarctica. We come from the UK, France, Russia, Argentina, South Africa and Costa Rica. Each with a highly specialised role. I am so grateful to every one of them!— Lewis Pugh (@LewisPugh) January 24, 2020
🙏 🐧 🐳 #Antarctica2020 pic.twitter.com/WtyEZiao1M
All other nations with a say in the matter have agreed to the measure to protect the region from overfishing.
This week, Pugh took part in a live link-up with the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland.
In 2016 Pugh helped to persuade world leaders to approve a marine protected area covering 1.5 million sq km of the Ross Sea off Antarctica. In 2018 he became the first person to swim the length of the English Channel.