Lewis Pugh is one of the most remarkable and unique individuals in the sport of open water swimming.
Pugh is a maritime lawyer, an environmental campaigner, adventure swimmer, and ocean advocate with numerous pioneering swims including those in the North Pole and in the Southern (Antarctic) Ocean breaking Lynne Cox’s world record for the farthest-south long distance swim by undertaking a 1 km (0.62 mile) swim at 65º South at Petermann Island off the Antarctic Peninsula.
After these swims Pugh had resolved never to do another cold-water swim, but the Himalayas changed his mind. When Pugh heard of Mt. Everest’s Lake Pumori — a body of water at an altitude of 5,300 meters, entirely created by recent glacial melting — he knew he had to do something.
“Glaciers are not just ice: they are a water lifeline for over 2 billion people, and if they melt away as scientists predict, the Himalayas will become the earth’s next big battle ground”.
So to raise global attention for this issue Pugh decided to trek to the foot of the Himalaya’s undisputed icon, Mount Everest, and swim across the icy lake Pumori which lies at an altitude of 17,000ft (5,300m) near Everest’s Khumbu Glacier.
Pugh took twenty-eight yaks and a speedo up the mountain, but he hadn’t factored in the radical tactical shift needed to complete the world’s higest altitude swim ever undertaken.
Swimming at speed was not going to work at high altitude so instead of minimising his time in the icy water and getting through the distance as quickly as possible – his usual approach for cold water swims – he was going to have to slow down. (Easier said than done in 2°C water.) The swim taught him that just because something has worked in the past, that doesn’t mean it will necessarily work in the future.
Environmentalist Lewis Pugh, 40, wore just trunks, goggles and a swimming hat to swim 1km (0.62 miles) across Pumori Lake. Lewis took 22 minutes and 51 seconds to breast stroke across the lake while finding a “delicate balance” between going too fast and too slowly. He says if he had gone too quick he could have lost energy and drowned but if he had been too slow he would have suffered hypothermia.
His epic dip has become the first ever long distance swim to be completed under the summit of Everest.
Pugh says this latest coled water swim was his hardest swim ever as he had to battle altitude sickness as well as freezing conditions.
He said: “It’s one of the hardest swims I’ve ever undertaken. When I swam in Antarctica and across the North Pole I swam with speed and aggression but on Mount Everest you can’t use the same tactics. Because of the altitude you need to swim very slowly and deliberately. I felt I was going to drown. I was gasping for air and if I had swum any faster I would have gone under. I was deeply concerned that I wouldn’t make 1km and I’m delighted that I’ve finally achieved it.
Check out his kickass TED talk about this swim and get inspired: