Johan Ernst Nilson is currently in the Himalayas, climbing the two recently opened – and as yet unconquered – peaks named after Sir Edmund Hillary (7,681m) and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay (7,916m).
Johan Ernst Nilson is currently in the Himalayas, climbing the two recently opened – and as yet unconquered – peaks named after Sir Edmund Hillary (7,681m) and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay (7,916m).


The journey of an explorer

Swedish explorer Johan Ernst Nilson has made 40 expeditions and traveled in 146 -countries, including the seven summits of the world and a journey from the North Pole to the South Pole. This is his journey.

Johan Ernst is a frequent flyer and Diamond member.I’m not an adventurer, I’m an explorer. Exploration is not a geographical journey; it’s an inner discovery of your true potential.

I’ve slept 3,000 nights in tents, forests, research stations, and under bridges. That’s eight and a half years.

When I was 15, I was tired of not being good at anything at school. I was wondering if greatness was for other people. Then I saw Elton John play the piano on TV, and decided to learn to play the piano. Three years later, I received 500 francs, along with room and board, to play the piano at a hotel in Cannes.

I went on my first expedition on a bet. I told a friend I could ride a bike from Sweden to the Sahara, and he said I couldn’t. I then chose to follow up on the bet, and that became my life.

Don’t be afraid of change. Whatever you want to be in a year from now is up to you.

I’m not just an explorer. Not only a photographer. Not just a musician, or a pilot, and that may annoy some people because they can’t pigeonhole me. People tell me there are better climbers than me, and they’re right. I’m probably one of the most experienced polar explorers in the world, but I’m not the greatest polar explorer in the world. I just do things. I am versatile, though.

When I rode my bike to Africa, I had no sponsors, no demands on me. It didn’t matter if it took me 52 or 67 days. These days, I blog and people comment on what I do, so that’s changed for me.

Every expedition is different, whether I’m climbing Mount Everest or kayaking to Africa. In the beginning, I was motivated by the need to prove something, but I don’t have to prove anything to anybody anymore. I know that I can do anything that I put my mind to.

I have a long list of things I want to do. For example, I want to ride a horse through Mongolia, and had even bought the horses, but I had to postpone.

 ‘I want to visit every single country in the world before I turn 50. I still have all the “stans” on my list, North -Korea, some of the island states, and a dozen African countries’

As long as I keep trying, I haven’t failed. I’ve turned back from mountains, but that’s not failing. It’s just another thing I learn, more experience. You have to be able to turn around and try again. I’m just in the process of succeeding.

I have never tried coffee, or smoked or taken drugs.

I do everything with full focus. Whatever I do, it’s the only thing on my mind at that moment. If I watch a movie, that’s all I do, I’m not playing Candy Crush at the same time.

Before a new project, I first visualize myself at the goal. I saw myself at the top of Everest, and then worked my way backwards to see what I needed to do to get there.

I have three passports. One with my old visas, one to travel to the US, and one to travel elsewhere. It just makes life easier at the American border if my passport doesn’t have stamps from North Korea.

What’s it like to be standing on top of the world? What can I say? It’s mind-blowing.

Here’s my Wall Philosophy: I ask people if they think I can walk through a brick wall, and they tell me I can’t. But just because I don’t know how to do it, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. We have a lot of things around us now that would have seemed impossible a hundred years ago.

I fell in love with the Himalayas in 1997. I had said I’d never climb Everest, but I was with [the late Swedish mountaineer] Göran Kropp there. I fell in love with sherpas, buddhism, and Nepal, so I had to get back.

Being alone can be a relief after the chaos before the start. I did 24 interviews in three days before the last expedition in Russia. So when I got to the North Pole, I was happy to be there alone with my audiobooks.

On the first day of my bike ride to Africa, I only got to Södertälje, 35km south of Stockholm, where I put up a tent and slept for two days. I was -exhausted by the hassle before the actual trip.  

Text: Risto Pakarinen

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