Ice Cold: Man Swims at North Pole

Lewis Gordon Pugh swam at the North Pole to bring focus to the environment.

ByABC News via logo

July 17, 2007 — -- He may have been diving into some of the coldest water on Earth, but Lewis Gordon Pugh had global warming on his mind.

The 37-year-old British explorer completed the coldest swim ever Sunday at the North Pole. His goal? To draw attention to global warming by taking a dip in the 29 degree sea, which until recently was covered in thick ice.

"It really is absolutely freezing cold water," Pugh said before his record-breaking swim.

The daredevil dive wasn't Pugh's first dip into icy waters for a cause. He has swum all over the world to draw attention to climate change, including five oceans and even the Thames in London.

His ability to withstand the freezing temperatures comes from years of intense training in Norway, including swimming in pools filled with ice.

"It's a really frightening place, the North Pole," Pugh said during an appearance on "Good Morning America" Tuesday. "It's just so surreal to stand on the white ice creaking and groaning beneath me, and I looked down into the water and my first immediate reaction was I could barely breathe. The water was minus 1.8 degrees centigrade. Then the burning sensation on my fingers and toes was huge. It was immense."

Pugh said he has developed a unique ability to spontaneously heat up his body by means of intense concentration, helped along by a little rap music. He can cause his heart rate and pulse to increase without moving a muscle. It would take an ordinary person about 340 minutes of vigorous exercise to achieve such a level of heat.

"For anybody else to jump in the water, so many reflexes are taken into account that most people wouldn't survive," said Dr. Robert Schoene of U.C. San Diego.

Pugh said he spent 18 minutes and 50 seconds in the water -- an exercise that required much mental preparation.

"I try to get my mind very focused on the job at hand just before I enter the water," he said. "I have to get into the water with a little attitude and aggression. It's no good going to the water's edge and looking into the dark, black ocean and thinking of the problems."

On top of freezing temperatures, Pugh said the swim posed an additional danger: polar bears.

"I had a number of Russian guards to protect me from the polar bears," he said. "If I had got into trouble in the water, there was a diver who would have jumped in and tried to rescue me."

After completing the swim, Pugh said he showered for 45 minutes to warm up.

"My core body temperature had dropped by two degrees," he said. "I immediately got onto the ship and took a hot shower. I spent 45 minutes in a scalding hot shower. It was absolutely wonderful to get out of the water and relax again. Even today, when I feel my fingers and toes, they're still buzzing a bit from the cold."

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