Adventure: The World of Goran Kropp

This is part of a magazine feature story about Swedish adventurer Goran Kropp. The piece first appeared in National Geographic Adventure. 

The World According to Kropp
By Brad Wetzler

He cycled 7,000 miles [11,265 kilometers] to Everest, summitted, then biked home. Now, once he knocks off the North Pole, he plans to sail from Sweden to Antarctica, drag a sled to the South Pole, then turn around and retrace his route. Meet Göran Kropp, a true lunatic for adventure.

If Göran Kropp were living a thousand years ago, his headwear of choice would be a Viking helmet, fashioned of wood and adorned with bull horns.

He might be prowling the coastline for things to plunder, or banging on the table with a frothy mug of mead. But Kropp has both feet planted firmly in the 21st century, in the thick wealds of southern Sweden. So instead, he’s wearing a baseball cap, gunning the gas on his 2000 Opel, and chattering away on his cell phone.

It’s 10 a.m. on a sparkling June morning, and Kropp is piloting the car north across the Øresund Bridge, a mammoth steel structure that connects the Danish city of Copenhagen to the southern tip of Sweden.

The sun is peeling back shaggy blankets of morning fog to reveal the calm, cobalt-blue water of the Baltic Sea. Inside the car, things are a little more chaotic. Instead of watching the road, Kropp is conducting business as if he were at his desk: schmoozing, scheming, joking.

He’s also fiddling with the stereo knobs, scarfing a melting chocolate bar, and, to my dismay, using his knees to steer, making occasional faces as if his expression alone could save us from careering over the guardrail.

At one point, he covers the phone’s mouthpiece and glances over at me. “You’ll notice I eat a lot of chocolate,” he says. “You need a belly to store extra power and energy when you’re out on an expedition.”

He grabs a fistful of midsection. “I see all these rock climbers trying to be as skinny as they can, and I think, If they should ever go to Everest, they will cry. But with this”—again, the belly—“with this you will not cry.”

The remark pleases him. “Ja-ha-ha!” he bellows. I laugh, too—after all, at six three [1.9 meters] and 220 pounds [82 kilograms], Kropp is capable of twisting my arm off at the socket and tossing it out the passenger window.

I reassure myself that he’s too gentle—and too caught up in his high-speed multitasking—for that. Since hitting the highway, Kropp has chatted up sponsors, both confirmed and potential, about his plans to make a second unaided attempt to ski from Russia to the North Pole.

He has blabbed with his auto mechanic, who, at the moment, is pounding the dents out of the silver Ferrari that Kropp recently smashed in an impromptu road race against an Audi.

He has talked with his mother and his father; with Paul, his faithful business partner; with various mountain biking buddies; and with his sailing coach.

It is a busy time to be Göran (pronounce it “you’re on”) Kropp. Kropp— “the Crazy Swede,” as he is often called—earned a place in the pantheon of great, driven adventurers six years ago with his 1996 Everest expedition, a masochistic yearlong odyssey in which he pedaled a bicycle loaded with 285 pounds [106 kilograms] of food and equipment some 7,000 miles [11,265 kilometers], from Stockholm to the Khumbu Region of northern Nepal; climbed 29,035 feet [8,850 meters] to the top of the world without the aid of porters, supplemental oxygen, or prefixed ropes; then biked home. 

Thus primed with killer material and buoyed by the international attention that his quixotic journey garnered, Kropp quickly built a lucrative business, traveling the globe presenting manic slide shows and lectures at up to [U.S.] $3,500 a pop.

And Kropp, who’s 36, insists that Everest was just the appetizer.

Before he “retires” to take up race-car driving full-time, he says, he plans to complete what he calls the Triple Crown of Adventure: Having bagged Everest, he’ll now go for the North Pole and the South Pole—in singular Kropp style.

In 2000, his first attempt to ski 1,250 miles [2,012 kilometers] round-trip from the remote Russian island of Mys Arkticheskiy to the North Pole ended in a rescue after 30 days, with Kropp suffering severe frostbite to his fingers; he’s now planning his second try.

But that venture will be nothing compared with what he says will come next. Once he has successfully tackled the North Pole, he plans to sail solo from Sweden to McMurdo Sound, Antarctica; ski a thousand miles [1,609 kilometers] in -70°F [-57°C] temperatures to the South Pole; then turn around and ski and sail his way home.

Informed outsiders peg his chances at somewhere between zero and zilch—in part because he’s just now learning to sail.

Crazy Swede, indeed.