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He’s visited every corner of the Earth. Now he wants to try a very different challenge

After decades of traveling and mountaineering, Ward could claim another world first – the Ultimate Explorer’s Grand Slam, which involves reaching the highest peak on every continent, and visiting both the North and South Poles in addition to visiting every country.
Courtesy Johnny Ward via CNN Newsource
After decades of traveling and mountaineering, Ward could claim another world first – the Ultimate Explorer’s Grand Slam, which involves reaching the highest peak on every continent, and visiting both the North and South Poles in addition to visiting every country.

By Richard Collett, CNN

(CNN) — Standing on the South Pole at the start of the year with the wind whipping across the Antarctic, travel blogger Johnny Ward felt a surge of relief.

Just a week before, in early January 2024, he’d struggled through snow and ice to summit the Vinson Massif, Antarctica’s highest peak.

Years before, in 2017, he’d become the first Irish person to visit every country in the world.

Now, after decades of traveling and mountaineering, Ward could claim another world first – the Ultimate Explorer’s Grand Slam, which involves reaching the highest peak on every continent, and visiting both the North and South Poles in addition to visiting every country.

Life goal

“I feel relieved,” Ward told CNN Travel as he slowly made his way back to his home in Thailand after conquering the Vinson Massif (4,892 meters high,) and then setting foot on the South Pole.

“But also I’m aware I’m a normal guy, not a world-class athlete, so I guess it was more about resilience and determination more than any ability.”

Ward had previously dedicated a decade of his life, between 2007 and 2017, to visiting every country in the world (Ward’s count includes all 193 UN-recognized nations, plus the Vatican, the Palestinian territories, Taiwan and Kosovo).

The incredible journey saw him hitchhike a ride on a container ship from Oman to Socotra in Yemen, travel overland from Cairo to Cape Town and travel from South Korea to Australia by bus and boat.

“I always wanted to be free. And originally I thought the freest you can be is to visit every country,” he said.

“Once I got close to 100 countries, I set the goal of being the first Irish person to visit every country, and at that stage one of the youngest to complete it.”

But once he’d managed to visit every country in the world, Ward says he went into a tail-spin.

“It had been a huge life goal, over a decade of my life, and then when I finished that I was a bit lost,” he said.

“I started eating badly, drinking too much, putting on weight and I ignored my business.”

Ward decided that the best way to overcome this was to challenge himself again.

He began running ultramarathons and climbing mountains, and soon found that with extreme purpose and direction, he was back to loving life again.

“So then I just ran with it,” he explained. “I figure if you’re going to run, run the hardest race in the world. And if you’re going to climb mountains, set your sights on Everest.”

Already one of the estimated 250 people or so who’ve visited every country in the world, Ward set his sights on another incredible achievement, The Explorer’s Grand Slam.

To complete this challenge, adventurers must visit both the North and South Poles and climb the highest summit on all seven continents – including Mount Everest, Mount Denali and Mount Kilimanjaro – a feat which only around 70 people are thought to have ever completed.

Costly challenge

When Ward realized that he could perhaps become the first person in the world to both visit every country in the world, and complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam, he didn’t hesitate, spending seven years mountaineering towards his goal.

“To be the first?” said Ward, after completing what he’s now calling The Ultimate Explorers Grand Slam.

“Crazy. I’m going to start a website for it now to help others, and hopefully, I won’t be the only one for long.”

According to Ward, the most difficult aspect of these challenges wasn’t necessarily the logistics, training or fitness, but having the money to take them on.

Visiting every country in the world was expensive enough on its own, but climbing Mount Everest cost Ward $77,000, and that was just one of seven peaks he was required to summit.

Once this was paid for, he still had to spend large sums on visiting the North and South Pole.

Ward has been able to fund his travels through his entrepreneurship. The life he has today is something he never would have imagined as a child.

Born in Galway, Ireland, told CNN Travel how domestic issues forced him, his mom and sister to change their names and flee to Northern Ireland – part of the UK – where he would grow up, while his father was in prison.

“We spent the next 10 or so years on welfare,” Ward said. “I always remember school friends going to Spain, or Florida, on holiday and being so jealous.

“Maybe that’s what lit the travel spark for me, and as soon as I finished university, I took a flight less than 12 hours later. A little hungover, I landed in New York and I never lived in the UK or Ireland again.”

To pay for his travels, he taught English in Thailand and South Korea, worked in Australia and even signed up for medical research.

Along the way, he launched One Step 4 Ward, a hugely successful travel blog, which has turned him into a millionaire.

“I’m not sure what I’ve done is particularly important per se,” Ward said frankly.

‘Epic club’

“But I do think it’s a nice message that coming from a background like mine, people like me can do pretty cool things with their life too.

“You don’t need a wealthy family or the right schooling. Anyone can achieve their dreams.”

Calling Ward driven would be an understatement — he casually decided to run an Antarctic Marathon while he was waiting for the weather to clear for his journey to the South Pole.

He’s now hoping that he doesn’t fall into bad habits again after completing the latest of his bucket list challenges.

As the travel community becomes more competitive – the youngest person to visit every country in the world was just 21 when they did so – challenges like this have not only become more difficult, but more extravagant and more expensive.

So where will Ward go next, for example? Space? The bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point of the ocean? Or does he do every country in the world all over again?

“Good question. In a social media era, everyone is looking for something, however obscure,” Ward told CNN Travel.

“I hope the Ultimate Explorer’s Grand Slam is something other people can join me in though. It would be a pretty epic club.”

For now, Ward is putting all his efforts into helping others to achieve their travel goals, launching a series of endurance events to get people out of their comfort zones.

The first is a three-day, 150-kilometer ultra marathon in the Sahara Desert, which is taking place in December 2024.

He also has a more typical challenge on his list.

“I recently turned 40. I want to have kids, so that’s a big plan for sure,” said Ward of his future plans.

“From an adventure perspective, I really, really, really want to show ‘normal’ people just how much benefits they can get from wild experiences.

“All good things come after suffering, and I want to share that with people. So that’s the next plan.”

The-CNN-Wire
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