Madswimmers charity group break Lewis Pugh's highest swim record

2015-12-23 07:00
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Lewis Pugh speaks with us about undertaking the most dangerous swimming effort done by man

2015-02-04 15:08

We speak to ocean advocate Lewis Pugh about the five record-breaking swims he is about to undertake to raise awareness for the Ross Sea. Watch.WATCH

Johannesburg - First the high altitude lakes were frozen over. Then the chainsaws failed to cut through the 30cm ice.

But despite this, a charity organisation has broken the long-standing record set by extreme swimmer Lewis Pugh who, up until now, had completed the highest known swim on Mount Everest in 2010.

The charity group, who call themselves Madswimmers, took on the icy waters of a lake on the Tres Cruces Norte mountain in the Andes on the border of Chile and Argentina on December 9. 

At 5 909m, the lake on Tres Cruces was more than 600m higher than Pugh's Everest swim at 5 300m.

The feat did not come easy.

While the group had initially planned to swim in the highest body of water in the world, a small lake on the Ojos del Salado volcano, some 6 400m above sea-level on December 5, they discovered that it was frozen. Their chainsaws were not powerful enough to cut through the ice.

"So we had to make a quick change of plans and decided on Tres Cruces,” said Jean Craven, one of the founders of Madswimmers.

Trek to Tres Cruces

Madswimmers is a registered charity made up of swimmers whose members collect money for the less fortunate by swimming where others dare not.

After an arduous hike to Tres Cruces, they found it too was covered in a layer of ice about 30cm thick. Again their chainsaws failed.

“We almost felt like giving up, because we didn’t think we were going to break through the ice. After climbing the entire day we were just completely exhausted.”

Eventually the sun melted a few holes in the lake.

This allowed the team to cut through the ice with pickaxes. After two-and-a half hours of hacking a lane to swim in, the team finally got into the water.

Craven and his fellow members, Herman van der Westhuizen and Chris Marthinusen, completed the five-minute swim in average water temperatures of between 0.5 to 2 degrees Celsius in Speedos while Evan Feldman and Milton Brest donned wetsuits.

Members Robert Graaff and Juandre Human were unable to do the swim due to medical reasons. They were accompanied by a team that included a cameraman, tour guide and two doctors.

Mad swim a year

After successfully completing their swim, the group later warmed up in their tents which they had set up beside the lake.

Craven said the idea for the highest altitude swim was planted when an Eskimo asked him what he planned to do next, following a swim in Alaska. 

According to Craven, who is in the agricultural business, all Madswimmers were ordinary people with day jobs.

Each year Madswimmers plan one big swim, preferably a challenging one that has not been done before or often.

So where to from here?

In 2016, said Craven, the team planned to follow its high with a low, and attempt the world’s lowest-altitude swim in the Jordan River, at about 446m below sea level.

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