Davos WEF
Davos WEF

Record-breaking explorer Mike Horn has this advice for embracing failure

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Key Points
  • Mike Horn has attempted to climb to the summit of K2 three times. 
  • He was the first man to do the longest crossing of Antarctica alone in just 57 days.
Mike Horn
Yvan Zedda/ ALeA/ Getty Images

Extreme adventurer Mike Horn says embracing failure is a learning process that makes life "broader" and helps break mental boundaries.

Horn was sharing the lessons he'd learned as an explorer in a talk at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week.

The South African adventurer has attempted to climb to the summit of K2, the second highest mountain in the world at 8,611 meters (m) high which is located on the China-Pakistan border, three times.

Recalling his most recent attempt to scale the mountain last year and the decision to turn back at an altitude of 8,200m amid dangerous weather conditions, Horn said he didn't mind failing on his goal.

Above an altitude of 7,500m was the "death zone," he explained, where hikers could only last 22-26 hours on the 7% oxygen available.

Horn pointed out that reaching the K2 summit was only half the battle, as hikers still had to make back below the death zone within that short window, which was where many fell into danger.

In strong winds, Horn said he realized that he therefore could make it to the summit but he "would never come back." This proved to be a possibly life-saving decision, as the hikers that continued their climb along the same route were hit with an avalanche, which killed two people in the group.

"When you're so close to your goals and objectives in life, it's very hard to fail because success is so close and breaking boundaries for me is that fine line between failure and success," he said.

In 2019, Horn completed an expedition through the North Pole, which saw him finish his circumnavigation of the world via both poles.

"You sail your boat up into the unknown, knowing that you might never come back but what is quite amazing is that's where I feel alive, that's where my life has a purpose," Horn said.

Finding this purpose made "all the impossible" disappear, which is how the explorer said he managed to push beyond his own comfort zone.

"The moment an idea fascinates you, the moment you get excited about something, the impossible no longer exists," he added. "The moment you don't want to do something, that's when the impossible becomes bigger than the will to actually achieve."

Horn was the first man to do the longest crossing of Antarctica, a distance of 5,100km, alone in just 57 days. He is also known for circling the globe around the equator without motorized transport.

He said these achievements demonstrated how "we all have that capability of going beyond what we think we're capable of doing."

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