From traversing across Australia and peregrinating to both poles, to climbing Everest like it’s a routine part of a succinct fitness schedule – Jon Muir is one wilderness dweller who has pushed the limits in many of the world’s most unforgiving and relentless environments. A man truly rich in personal experience, Muir has continuously shown a fierce determination to accomplish never-before-attempted geographic expeditions and duly stands at the peak of progressive environmental reconnaissance and exploration. As a recipient of the Order of Australia for mountaineering and the Centenary medal for contributions made to Australian society, he has surely earnt his reputation as the most widely experienced adventurer in Australian history. And he continues to carve out increasingly audacious explorational limits. His expeditions are doubtlessly not for the faint-hearted or those prone to spurious speculation.
Jon and Australian desert sunset © Jon Muir Collection
After watching a documentary about Mt Everest at the age of 14, Muir determined that he wanted to become a professional mountaineer and thus began a career–spanning over 30 years– as an avid adventurer. He meticulously covered Australian and New Zealand peaks before moving on to the Changabang Mountain in the Himalayas and Everest, becoming, in the process, the first person ever to complete a Sherpa-less ascent of Everest from the south and pioneering a new route. However, as Jon felt that his capacity as a mountaineer had been reached, he changed courses: “After numerous new routes in the Himalayas, the French Alps and New Zealand, I felt I had fully explored my potential with high altitude climbing. My attention turned to long unsupported traverses of the Australian continent, the North Pole and the South Pole.” So, returning to his homeland with it’s iconic Australian bush, and refuscent, hot, iron sands, Jon learnt that all his achievements thus far were merely stepping-stones to his most challenging accomplishments yet.
Australia’s red centre has always held a mysterious attraction. With its evocation of the themes of survival, endeavour and toil antithesized against its reputation as a source of capacious nourishment and national identity, it is no wonder that Jon was drawn back to this great, romantic land to continue in his adventurous ways: “Australia is an ancient landscape – its interior has a mesmerizing dream-like quality of great purity and raw beauty.” The film Alone Across Australia (2004) documents Jon attempting the first unsupported crossing of Australia–a 1600 Mile, 128 day odyssey from coast to coast which he describes as being harder then his summit days on Everest on a daily basis: “Travelling across Australia on foot and unsupported was incomparably more challenging than any of the high altitude climbing that I experienced… I was pushing boundaries both personally and within the arena of modern adventure. There were no records of anyone ever walking across Australia unsupported- so that unknown quality was immensely attractive.” Not only did he have to become inextricably familiar with the often unpredictable and harsh ways of the Aussie wilderness, but he had to evolve into a compendium of territorial information, relying only on what he could carry and the land to support himself: “I read up on a lot of bush tucker books and made shorter journeys practising finding, identifying and eating those foods. I fished by trawling a line behind my kayak, gathered beach and bush fruits and shot a pig or two”. Although he says “finding water… and losing my expedition partner Seraphine [his pup] to dingo bait” proved to be the most testing aspects.
Jon, Australian Desert Traverse © Jon Muir Collection
As a passionate believer in following your instincts, Muir has had time to reflect on how it is that he’s managed to survive such harsh terrains, predation by a slew of savage animals (crocodiles, polar bears, wild dogs to name a few) as well as a couple of mountain storms for good measure: “During my climbing days I developed the intuition, mental perseverance and acceptance of hardship which were necessary to complete the long unsupported treks… Meticulous research, building up skills and knowledge through increasingly difficult adventures and knowing when to turn back have also contributed to my survival. Perhaps listening to that quiet inner voice of intuition and acting on it has been the most useful tool in my survival box. You’ve got to enjoy the journey too. If you get distracted or overly motivated by the end result and ignore the process you can put the survival of yourself and your teammates at risk. Your mental attitude and motivation is everything really.“ Jon even found himself plunging through the ice into the Arctic Ocean in 2002 whilst on a trip to the North Pole where he “had just four minutes to get out or freeze to death”. Fortunately, his partner came to his aid and his instincts kicked in, in order for him to conduct what he calls “the funky walrus manoeuvre” and scramble out.
Self Portrait, March to geographic center of Australia, 2007 © Jon Muir Collection
It is this quirky and motivating charm, mixed with his innate ability to tell such remarkable stories that has made Jon equally renowned for his extraordinary pubic speaking skills. With his inspirational and wise words combined with his wacky and obscure nature, Jon hopes to encourage in his audiences “a passion for the natural world and spending time in it and listening to and following your own heart’s dream over the cacophony of voices that tell you it can’t be done.” Muir is also an ardent conservationist and concerned with finding more sustainable ways to interact with the environment, “Grow your own food, swap it with your neighbours. Repair your tools and clothing. Forget about maintaining a superficial image – it wastes too many valuable resources. Consider the impact that the human population is having on the planet. Listen to the grandmothers of this world.”
Now, after a plethora of journeys and so many exceptional accomplishments under his belt, one would not appear daft for asking: what more could this bearded adventurer possible strive for? Yet it seems that Muir is only limited by his own imagination as he prepares to set off with his wife Suzy for a four-month trip around Australia’s Kimberly Coast in a home-made 8-metre yacht. And “After that? Well, I’ve still got a really, really long list, but I reckon first of all I will be planting more potatoes and pumpkins!”
Art & Culture Featured – Written by Stephanie Cardy