Proudly SA: Madswimmers break Lewis Pugh’s Mount Everest high swim record

Inspiration comes from interesting sources. The incredible feats of Cape Town endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh has inspired a group of fellow South Africans to attempt similar challenges. While 46 year old Pugh, a maritime lawyer, attacks new frontiers to highlight the way mankind is harming the oceans, a group of South Africans who rally under the banner of push their limits to raise money for children’s charities. Earlier this month they successfully broke Pugh’s altitude-related record by swimming the highest lake in the world, Ojos del Salado in Chile, risking hypothermia and altitude sickness. The Madswimmers have raised over $420 000 for various children’s charities. Pugh says: “I am delighted for them. Records are there to be broken. They’ve raised a huge amount of money for deserving charities. Huge congrats to the Madswimmers! Swimming at altitude is very challenging. You have to swim slowly to handle the lack of oxygen, but if you go too slowly you’ll get hypothermia very quickly. It’s a dangerous combination.” To be fair to Pugh, although the altitude part of the record has been broken, in terms of overcoming extreme conditions, he remains the world champion – his swim on a glacial lake in Mount Everest took 23 minutes while the Madswimmers did theirs in five. – Alec Hogg

By Wim Pretorius, News24

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

Lewis Pugh
Lewis Pugh

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.