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Jon Muir honoured with Australian Geographic Society Lifetime of Adventure award

Jon Muir stands looking off-camera with a tree behind him.
Wollongong-born adventurer Jon Muir has won Australian Geographic Society's highest honour.

ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale

Wollongong-born adventurer Jon Muir has climbed Mount Everest, kayaked oceans, trekked the North Pole and walked across Australia unassisted.

He holds numerous world records for his extreme adventures, and today he has been recognised with a Lifetime of Adventure award by the Australian Geographic Society — its highest accolade.

Jon Muir's achievements:

  • First unassisted ascent of Mount Everest
  • 6,000km ocean traverse by sea kayak
  • First solo traverse on foot of Australia's largest salt lakes
  • First unassisted solo traverse across Australia from Port Augusta to Burketown.
  • Unassisted 1,700km trek from Spencer Gulf in SA to the centre of Australia
  • Starred in 2004 documentary Alone Across Australia
  • 1989 Order of Australia for services to mountaineering

The Lifetime of Adventure award recognises not only Australians who have excelled in their chosen field, but have given back to the nation by inspiring other Australians.

"Get out and have a go at things because that's where the interest in life lies, in extending yourself.

"It's okay if you can't do it, but the important thing is to put your boots on and get out there. Otherwise you start wearing a groove that becomes a rut."

It is a message that will inspire anyone, regardless of what they do in life.

For Mr Muir, it has always been about pushing his body to its limits.

A close-up photo of Jon Muir with a dark grey background.
Everest is "a total horror show", "boring" and "overrated" says Mr Muir.

ABC Illawarra: Justin Huntsdale

Everest "a boring mountain"

Jon Muir got a taste for adventure while sailing with his neighbour on Lake Illawarra, but it was after seeing a documentary on Mount Everest at 14 years of age that he decided he would become a professional rock climber.

He started climbing the many cliff faces of the Illawarra's iconic escarpment, left school at 16 and started conquering the mountains of New Zealand.

In 1988 he became the first person to climb Mount Everest without a Sherpa, then worked as a guide on the world's highest mountain.

After his time working there he became disillusioned with Everest and set his sights elsewhere.

"I made the mistake of returning to Everest in the 90s as a commercial guide and the nature of the mountain, and who came to climb it, had changed," he said.

"I got to know the Sherpas much better through that process. They're treated as second rate citizens by those employing them.

Mount Everest rises above the other peaks around it
Mount Everest, or Sagarmatha, the highest peak in the world with an altitude of 8,848 metres.

Reuters

He also described Everest as a "boring" and "overrated" mountain that holds little interest for the world's most hardcore mountaineers.

For Mr Muir, a real challenge was walking north across Australia from Port Augusta in South Australia to Burketown in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Surviving solo in Australian deserts

After completing numerous gruelling hikes, Mr Muir was looking for something to take him to his limit.

Jon Muir walks in the outback with zinc on his face, carrying a backpack.
Jon Muir has spent months at a time traversing the outback.

Shark Island Productions: Ian Darling

"I took the challenge to walk across Australia unsupported and not following tracks, not being resupplied or having beasts carry my supplies.

"There I found my greatest challenges, the challenges out there are massive.

"The country is largely flat, but when you're carrying your stuff it is far from it. You're up and down all the time."

He said even the maps indicating the location of waterholes would often lead to nothing.

Everything hinges on water out there — how much to carry and where it is going to come from next.

Adventuring a mental game

There is a lot made of the physical condition needed to conquer extreme climbs or incredibly long walks, but Mr Muir has seen fit men fail consistently where women or older men succeed.

"People get obsessed with the physicality, but I believe the mental approach is the most important in life, in general — whatever endeavour you choose to undertake," he said.

That is especially evident when you are in the Australian outback with no one around, dwindling food and water and the sun boring down on you.

"When you're on the brink of survival, nothing is monotonous," he said.

"When you could die any day from a mistake you make, you have to stay on top of your mind."