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Madswimmer team sets world record swim after grueling Himalaya trek

A testament to the indomitable human spirit, the Sky is the Limit's Madswimmer team triumphantly returned to a base camp in Kagkot in the Himalayas on Sunday afternoon with a record-breaking highest-altitude swim record, following a grueling 15-day trek.

Consisting of seven-members from South Africa, Nepal, Turkey and Switzerland, the Sky is the Limit’ Madswimmer team triumphantly returned to base camp in Kagkot in the Himalayas on Sunday afternoon, May 12, marking their reconnection with civilisation and their first steps on solid ground after a grueling 15-day ascent on the icy slopes of Mt Putha Hiunchuli in the Himalayas.

Their mission was to complete the highest-altitude swim ever recorded, which they archived on the morning of Friday May 10, at an altitude of 6 405 meters.

They surpassed the previous record of 6,370 meters set by Australian adventurer Dan Bull in the Andes Mountains in South America in 2020, thus shifting the highest swim record to a new continent amid challenging conditions.

Jean Craven, expedition leader and founder of South African non-profit company, Madswimmer, noted that the trek to the swim site was the most rigorous part of the expedition. Following three flights and a nerve-wracking 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.

Further describing the swim, Craven was quoted -on – as saying: “The last accessible liquid (swimming) 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 3.7 degrees Celsius, with the outside temperature at minus six.”

Despite most team members lacking experience in high-altitude climbing, none suffered severe medical conditions. The team was under the watchful eye of Dr Chiara Baars, who diligently monitored the members general health throughout the nearly 3-week long expedition.

100% of the funds raised from the campaign will benefit child support services.

Fostering global dialogue on climate resilience

The team pointed out that 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.

Comprising well-known South African sports personality Vanes-Marie du Toit, award-winning SA filmmakers Neo Mokuene and, as well as Switzerland world champion ice swimmer Deniz Kayadele, the team emphasised that over and above raising funds for 3 children’s charities, the swim also intends fostering global dialogue on climate change, which is increasing the pressure on water bodies – be it lakes, rivers and the oceans and seas – as noted in places like the Himalayas, where the increase in temperatures is higher than the world average. As such, climate change is expected to impact water resources in the region in a grievous way, affecting over 2 billion of lives and livelihoods.

With global awareness campaigns initiated by Nepalese tourism and the vivid documentation by Madswimmer, the aim is to spark meaningful discussions about the impacts of climate change across the globe, and highlight the urgent need for sustainable solutions to help lessen its effects on marine ecosystems.

The Sky is the Limit’ Madswimmer Team: crowdfunding on BackaBuddy

The expedition comes just weeks after the Sky is the Limit’ Madswimmer Team 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.

Craven believes that in the dynamic world of open water swimming, Madswimmer stands out as a beacon of hope and perseverance. Through this historic expedition, the team’s mission was to reclaim the high altitude swimming record for South Africa ‘to show that we are capable of much more than we think or believe,” he said, adding: “We do not swim for adventure only but also to become heroes for the children and communities we serve, and to set an example of what can be achieved through courage, unity, and a heart for change. We want to challenge people to step out of their own comfort zones to do and achieve more.”

How to join the Madswimmer Team on their mission to support children in need?

At the time of publishing (Wednesday May 15), the campaign had raised over R24,000 of their R2,000,000 goal with the support of 17 donors.

Watch the campaign’s YouTube update video below:

Editor's Desk
Editor's Desk
Curated by editor-in-chief, Tankiso Komane, this special collection of articles from the Editor's Desk unpacks topics of the day, including commentary, in-depth analysis and partner content.
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