I’m standing on a desolate beach on the Isle of Lewis. The sea is steely grey. My feet are freezing on the sand and the wind is so strong I have to shout to be heard by my training partner Max, standing just a meter away.
The sea quickly finds you out if you haven’t done your training. Train in miserable conditions; it will save you on the day.
The Outer Hebrides is beautiful, but its conditions are often appalling, which is just what I need right now. The water temperature has hovered between 6°C and 7°C – any colder than that and it’s difficult to stay in for protracted periods. That part will come in just under two weeks, when I head down to Antarctica.TRAINING CAMP
I wish I’d done this kind of training camp for all my polar swims – not just because of the conditions, but because of the people.
With me is a bunch of tough, super-motivated men and women. We had 66 applicants for the position of training partner, and I chose Max Holloway, a marine physicist, swimmer and runner, who had worked in the Arctic and Antarctic. I knew he would understand cold. And I was sure he would have the kind of can-do attitude needed to dive into an icy loch early in the morning.
On any given day, alongside Max and me, Colin and Stacey, were a handful of enthusiastic local swimmers brave enough to meet the elements full on. I couldn’t be more grateful to all of them.SUPRA-GLACIAL ANTARCTICA
In two weeks time I will attempt to swim 1km across a supra-glacial lake in East Antarctica. It will be the most challenging swim of my life. It’s the coldest place on Earth.
But scientists from the University of Durham have now discovered over 65,000 lakes on the surface of the ice sheet in East Antarctica. This coincides with significant melting of the sea ice around Antarctica.
No one has ever swum across one of these lakes before. They can empty out rather suddenly. Timing will be everything.I’m doing this to demonstrate the rapid changes that are taking place in Antarctica, just as the world is burning, from Australia to Siberia.
I am calling for the urgent establishment of a network of Marine Protected Areas around Antarctica.
KICKING THE CAN DOWN THE ROAD
It seems fitting that I started my training in Scotland. I’ll be back at the end of the year for COP26 – the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
COP25 in Madrid was a bitter disappointment. Once again, world leaders kicked the can down the road, this time towards Glasgow.
But postponing decisive action is not an option any more. The stakes are now too high.
LEWIS PUGH is an endurance swimmer and the UN Patron of the Oceans
[Pics via Calum Maclean]