Imagine traversing across untracked wilderness without any assistance, resupplies, pre-laid supplies or vehicle support. Instead you must entirely rely on your own energy and whatever you can gather from the natural environment. Now, imagine doing that for 128 days. To add to the stakes, you would have to travel through several drought-stricken areas of Australia that make finding water and bush tucker a grim challenge.
Becoming the first person to walk unsupported across Australia is one of the many extraordinary expeditions that has earned Jon Muir his well-deserved reputation as one of Australia’s most resilient, audacious and versatile adventurers.
Documented in the 2004 film Alone Across Australia, Jon describes his gruelling yet epic journey as one in which each day was harder than his solo summit of Mt Everest.
Jon’s irrepressible thrill for adventure shaped an illustrious career, during which he trekked to both poles without huskies or mechanised support, kayaked across a sea span of 5000km, pioneered a new route to the South Pole and set a record when he summitted the south side of Mount Everest solo – just to name a few amazing achievements.
More recently, Jon and his wife Suzan Muir travelled 120km across South Australia’s Lake Eyre by kayak in 2011, accomplishing the first human powered traverse of the wet lake in 24 hours.
While he boldly welcomes a challenge that pushes the boundaries of human exploration to its limit, Jon says that some of the best times he’s had over his last four decades of exploration have been guiding small groups in remote places and sharing his passion for untracked wilderness with others.
We had a chat with Jon to ask him what inspires him and why leading a self-sufficient lifestyle is so important to him.
You’ve undertaken some of the most extreme expeditions ever undertaken; has fear ever been an issue?
I have a deep understanding of my psyche and my own fears through years of facing extreme and often dangerous challenges. I know my fear in a very real way. This doesn’t necessarily make it easy; despite my understanding, I still must deal with it.
My 52-day solo sea kayak journey in the tropical north of Australia was one of my most fearful expeditions, but it’s one of my major accomplishments. I was continually having to confront my deepest fears for hours on end, day after day.
Many of your Australian expeditions have earned you awards including: The Order of Australia, the Centenary Medal for contributions made to Australian society, and the Australian Geographic Society Lifetime of Adventure Award. Are there corners of the country you’re yet to explore?
I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of what’s out there in Australia. I’d need 10,000 lifetimes (at least) to satisfy my curiosity regarding this remarkable continent and its wild places.
What sparked your passion for trailblazing?
Playing in the wilderness as a child instilled a passion for the rich diversity and beauty of the natural world.
When I was 10, I had the opportunity to regularly crew on a sailing dinghy and this sparked the first of many visions for big journeys.
Travelling overseas with my family at a young age opened my eyes to the wondrous potential of a life on planet Earth. The clincher came when I was 14 and saw the television documentary, Everest the Hard Way. I was spell bound and decided then and there to become a professional mountain climber.
How do you assess and manage the risks involved in an unsupported expedition?
Risk is a complex subject and a constant focus of all my expeditions – regardless of whether I’m travelling solo and unsupported, or with a group. I’m continually analysing the risk, as it changes with my movement, how my partner is travelling, and as the terrain and conditions change.
There’s a constant need to fluidly evaluate and adapt to these changes. A lot of mental energy is taken up with staying alive. This is not just a theoretical exercise – your life, and those of your team members, is often what is at stake. This is heightened to the nth degree when you are alone and unsupported.
Who is your source of inspiration?
Early explorers and their expeditions fuelled my imagination from a young age, and of the adventurers and explorers, the Polynesians are the stand-out for me.
Of the modern explorers, I’m particularly inspired by those with vision and who do something that hasn’t been done before. Those who make the first ascent of a mountain nobody has ever heard of; those who break new ground in various fields of adventure.
Can you recall a ‘close call’ moment that you can’t forget?
It was on October 10, 1981 when I was rock climbing at Arapiles in Victoria when I cheated death.
Impact with a rock left me with broken ribs, punctured lungs, breathless and without a pulse. I was dead for three earth minutes.
As clichéd as it may sound, I remember seeing a bright, celestial light before I regained consciousness. It was then that I truly appreciated and valued my time on earth and became even more committed to pursuing my passion whilst taking nothing for granted.
You have such a long list of achievements in exploration and mountaineering; which expedition is most memorable to you?
It’s really difficult for me to single out one expedition; their diversity makes them hard to compare. One of the highlights of my mountaineering days was a climb that, to me, is far more interesting and challenging than Everest – my solo traverse of the Kedanarth Peaks.
I made this first ascent climbing solo which involved ascending three mountains, via a 9-kilometre ridge – most of which is at an altitude of 7000m. One of the challenges of a multi peak traverse is the extraordinary level of commitment it requires. If bad weather forces a retreat during such a climb, the descent is in completely unknown terrain, quite possibly with zero visibility. This is exactly what happened during my first attempt on this climb. I returned three weeks later and completed the traverse in a non-stop 41-hour epic.
Where did your commitment to self-sufficient living emerge?
Adventure and life in the wild have influenced my thinking and my life choices.
The simplicity and rawness of a lifetime surrounded by the rich diversity of wild ecosystems has impacted enormously on my sense of self and how I live my life.
The radically different and extreme environments through which I have journeyed, and the people that I have met on the periphery of those environments, have all played a part in shaping me towards taking direct personal responsibility for the most important needs in my day-to-day existence. These needs are: water, food, energy and shelter.
What does sustainable living involve?
Sustainable living involves a lot of joy, dirt, love, worms, health, sunshine, rain and wind, physical movement, the freshest and tastiest organic produce and the pleasure of experiencing yourself as part of an ecosystem.
It also involves thinking outside the square in fresh and creative ways when taking personal responsibility for the solution to our everyday needs. I am constantly working towards a lighter footprint in my life on this planet.
You now live “off-the-grid,” offering farm-stays in Victoria. What made you decide to do this?
We offer sustainability farm-stays, in partnership with World Expeditions at our home in the forest, surrounded by the Grampians National Park. In our own small way, we’re attempting to contribute to a healthier world. I see an increasing disconnect both at a practical and spiritual level from the nature which ultimately sustains us. I feel this is leading humanity down an evolutionary blind alley.
My decades of adventures in the wild and my time in the vegetable garden and orchard have given me an unusual and valuable skill set that I feel is worth sharing. I want to continue to inspire and to share the hands-on experience of planet-friendly food and energy systems.
Jon Muir will be touring across Australia in November 2018 for a special talk where he’ll share stories from his lifetime of adventure and his off-the-grid lifestyle. Book your tickets for ‘Off the Grid: A Night with Jon Muir’ now.