Adventure veteran and mountaineer Jon Muir’s expeditions have spanned decades. Born and raised in Wollongong, Jon is a legend in the global adventure community, renowned for his inspirational, trailblazing philosophy which he applies to real life, tackling everyday obstacles with the same gusto and resilience as he brings to his expeditions.
From making the first Sherpa-less ascent of Everest in 1988 to his unsupported trek to the North Pole in 2000, to his 6000km ocean traverse by sea kayak, Jon is arguably one of the most experienced adventurers ever in Australian history.
He holds several world records, including for the first solo traverse on foot of Australia’s largest salt lakes. In 2001, Jon made history by becoming the first person to walk across Australia unassisted from Port Augusta to Burketown, without resupply or any external support. This epic expedition covered 2500km over 128 days. In 2007, he trekked a gruelling 1700km, unassisted, from the Spencer Gulf in South Australia to the ‘Point of Inaccessibility’ (the Geographic Centre of Australia).
He had successfully summitted Grand Jorasses, Changabang, Matterhorn and Piz Badile before his first attempt at Everest in 1984. Undeterred by his first unsuccessful attempt, Jon made his second attempt of Mount Everest from the South Pillar in 1987, before his successful summit in 1988, for which he set the record for climbing without the assistance of Sherpas.
Jon starred in the 2004 documentary-film Alone Across Australia, which has won more than 25 awards and has screened at over 60 international film festivals. Jon has also received numerous prestigious accolades, including 1989 Order of Australia for services to mountaineering and the 2003 Centenary Medal for contributions made to Australian society.
On 1st November 2017, the Australian Geographic Society hosted its annual awards ceremony at the Sofitel Wentworth Grand Ballroom in Sydney. The prestigious event acknowledges each year’s most remarkable Australians in the fields of adventure and conservation, and in 2017, Jon Muir was the winner of the Lifetime of Adventure Award.
Outer Edge Adventure magazine caught up with Jon recently with some questions about his win, his recent adventures and what’s in store for the future of Australia’s greatest adventurer.
What was your reaction to receiving the Lifetime of Adventure award?
“It’s a great honour,” says Jon, “I’ve often thought of it as, ‘The Boring Old Farts Award,’ and to be officially recognized as one goes well with the wrinkles and grey hair. I’m very chuffed!”.
Jon says he regularly gets out on adventures, both great and small. “Two weeks ago, I guided a few wild off-track walks in my backyard, the Grampians. It’s a wonderful wilderness to have to surround our home, and I love that it is largely untraveled. Very soon after you step off the walking track the sense of isolation and remoteness creeps up on you.”
“I was guiding a group of 18 to 24-year-old young men from Melbourne University with a focus on personal development, teamwork and leadership skills. It’s deeply satisfying to pass on my experiential knowledge from several decades of expeditions in extreme environments to young people” he says.
Jon’s life has been nothing but an adventure since a very young age, and he tells us that as a 14-year-old he watched a BBC documentary titled ‘Everest The Hard Way’, and it was the defining moment in his life that made him decide his life would be filled with adventure.
“It was the story of the first ascent of the south-west face by a British expedition after years of unsuccessful attempts. It was a defining moment. My course was set” said Jon.
Jon’s inspiration originates from many people throughout the entire sweep of human history. Regarding adventurers and explorers, he claims the Polynesians are the stand out for him.
“When you look at a globe from a certain angle, the Pacific Ocean virtually covers all of what you can see. Scattered through this vast ocean wilderness are tiny pinpricks of wildly dispersed habitable islands. To think that stone age people thousands of years ago, through a combination of skill, courage, boldness and vision colonised all of them is truly breathtaking.”
Of the modern explorers, Jon tells us he is particularly inspired by those with vision and who do something fresh and exciting. “I’m inspired by people doing something that hasn’t been done before. I’m inspired those who make the first ascent of a mountain nobody has ever heard of; those who break new ground in various fields of adventure.”
“My family’s experience of difficulty, danger, hardship, and triumph during the wars of the twentieth century also inspires me. Their stories help me to go further, to hang in there, to survive” says Jon.
“They also inspire me to make the most of the privilege, material wealth, and the peace and freedom that we enjoy at this moment in our history. These things are all to easily taken for granted. I’m also inspired by great leaders who have a long-term vision for the health of the life force of our planet.”
“Unfortunately, our politicians don’t fit this description. My dogs and other animals also set an example for me, of how to be present in the moment” he explains.
Every adventurer hits hurdles at some point in their life, something that makes everything more difficult than the day before. Like many of us, Jon says the biggest hurdles he has had to cross in his lifetime of adventure have been people.
“In various ways, people have presented bigger challenges to me than the natural environment ever has; and I’ve had some pretty extreme things thrown at me by the natural environment!”
“To start with, early on in my adventure career there were the ‘Naysayers,’ the people who told me I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t climb this or that mountain, I couldn’t follow my dreams”
“How does somebody else know what you can or can’t do, when you might not even know yourself what you’re capable of?” he asks. “Most likely you do have a better sense of what is possible for you. Still, it can take an enormous amount of effort to deflect other’s negativity and stay true to yourself.”
“I slowly realised through overcoming the challenges that I was told were impossible, that when others told me I couldn’t do something, what they were really saying was that they couldn’t do it – they were just thoughtlessly projecting their own fears and negativity onto me.”
For Jon, these were biggest hurdles to overcome, and by successfully breaking through them it made him even more resilient and committed to following his own vision.
“It inspired me to spend large amounts of time in wild places, and it inspired me to explore myself through the incredible natural world and it’s inherent, enlivening challenges,” he says.
Jon told us of his favourite place to travel, and unsurprisingly, he says it is his home in the forest in the Grampians. “I’m always very excited when at the end of any expedition I start to head homeward. I’m still in the wild to an extent when I’m at home; I hunt, grow and gather my food, I harvest water and energy from the environment immediately around me, however, I guess the sun is the somewhat distant exception to this”.
As adventurers, we all have goals, and we all have a ‘greatest moment to date’. Jon is no exception and tells us that his greatest moment is without question, the one that he is experiencing right now.
“Life is but a series of moments, and whilst I love to reminisce on the past and plan ahead for the future, these abstractions pall into insignificance in relation to the immediacy and reality of the moment I’m currently in. Part of the reason why my present moment is so enlivening is that I am usually experiencing reality directly, with all my senses rather than absorbed vicariously in the virtual reality of social mediocre or through any sort of devolution device. I make sure I take the time to delve deeply into all that I do rather than skim the surface of the shallows”.
Jon’s future, although quite full of adventure, yet completely simplistic is one that inspires, no matter what he is doing. From climbing mountains to his daily routine, there is something remarkable about Jon in every aspect. He told us that for him to do everything he hasn’t yet accomplished that he still wants to would take 10,000 lifetimes. When asked about what is next on his schedule, he replied simply with this.
“What’s next for me? There’s a lot on my plate that I’m steadily working through. Suzy is talking about raiding a beehive this afternoon, so I may be required to swing into helping to extract honey from the combs this evening.”
I’ve got another clucky hen about to hatch out her chicks, so I’ll have to adjust a few things in the nursery soon to ensure their survival and so contribute to the expansion of the Chicken Empire. I’m keen to get the main potato crop in the ground over the next couple of weeks.”
“We grow many dozens of different food plants at Inanna but the ones I value the most are the bulk staples that have a long shelf life,” he says. “A good crop of spuds will keep us supplied throughout the whole year. Life doesn’t get much more grounding than this.”
On a bigger scale, Jon says he also has a few leadership/motivational talks to give soon and some wilderness guiding, both of which get him out and about. “They are always challenging and extraordinarily rewarding,” he says. “I’m doing some work on our beautiful wooden trailerable yacht, Mystique, as we are planning a voyage around the top of Australia from Cairns to Broome this winter. We are changing the rig slightly, so I want to take the boat on a shakedown cruise on the Gippsland Lakes before committing to the challenges of Australia’s northern coasts.”
“I’ve also been dabbling in a little rock climbing for the first time in many years and I’m seriously considering putting my crampons back on. These last few days I’ve also been feeling somewhat nostalgic for the desert. People have been suggesting for well over a decade now that I write an autobiography, but the idea of sitting on my backside and writing 10s of 1000’s of words has never appealed, but who knows? Can you write by voice recognition whilst planting potatoes?” he asks.
Jon is undoubtedly one of the most experienced adventurers in Australian history and has some simple advice for anyone who is inspired by his feats.
“Don’t lose sight of the fact that adventure should be fun,” he says. “Don’t become obsessed with equipment. Throw your devolution device over the cliff, get off social mediocre and embrace reality directly.”
“Use your imagination, throw the guidebook away, go to a mountain nobody has ever heard of, don’t get caught up in the nonsense and hype that can surround any form of activity. To stay alive, get in touch with your intuition; listen to it; act on it! Follow your heart, tune in to it, believe it!”