By HUNTER BISHOP
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A record-shattering family of world-class adventurers has stopped in Hilo to make their way up to summit of Mauna Kea on Saturday.
The Swiss couple and their four young children have navigated more than 60,000 nautical miles and climbed the highest peaks on five continents, and now they have only peaks on two more continents to conquer.
The seven-continent, seven-seas family expedition, powered only by human and naturally sustainable energy, is the first of its kind ever undertaken, said Dario Schwoerer, who shares the vessel with his wife, Sabine, and their four children.
After scaling Mauna Kea, they’ll sail for Alaska where they’ll climb Denali, spend the winter, then tackle the Northwest Passage to the Atlantic Ocean.
That will be the only the first half of their quest to “figure-eight” the continents of North and South America. They’ll take the Panama Canal back to the Pacific, then south around Cape Horn to the Atlantic again, back through the canal and up the western coast of the North American continent.
The Schwoerers started their odyssey in Switzerland in 2000, climbing the highest peak in each department, or state, in their native country. All four of their children were born since then along the way — two in Patagonia, one in Darwin, Australia, and the fourth in Singapore. Their youngest will have 20,000 nautical miles under her belt by the time she turns 2 on Saturday.
On Tuesday, they sailed into Hilo’s Radio Bay from Panama after 50 straight days at sea with Salina, 7, Andri, 6, Noe, 3, and Alegra, still 1, and a pair of TOPtoTOP volunteers, Jacqui Hocking of Australia and Meret Tucker of Great Britain.
TOPtoTOP is the nonprofit organization they founded to focus on the global risks of climate change, and connect people to nature and sport based on sustainability. Dario’s blog entries from the expedition are posted at http://expedition.toptotop.org/.
Their expedition is supported primarily by Swiss Army knife makers Victorinox and SGS, an international inspection, testing and certification services company headquartered in Geneva. The Schwoerers also perform ocean research and test sailing equipment for other sponsors, including the International Pacific Research Center in Honolulu, which commissioned them to survey ocean debris.
Of course a trip like this can be filled with harrowing adventures. In 2005, they attempted to climb the highest peak in Antarctica, but couldn’t get there due to the volume of packed ice in the sea. After turning back, their vessel hit a floating container and was seriously damaged. They made it to Patagonia, but there were no boat repair facilities that could get them back under sail. They were stuck for 18 months before they could get the materials and equipment needed to make their craft seaworthy again.
When Salina was born in Patagonia, Dario said he cut the umbilical cord with a Swiss Army knife. When that story reached the Swiss ambassador, the ambassador told his friend, who owns Victorinox, maker of the iconic, multipurpose tool, and they got their first major sponsor. The vessel’s sails sport a giant image of a Swiss Army knife.
The single-masted, aluminum-hulled 50-foot sloop is “a fast-sailing vessel,” he said, powered almost entirely by sustainable energy — wind and solar. Named the “Pachamama,” the Inca word for Mother Earth — the sloop has 11 solar panels that provide 750 watts of electricity and two wind turbines that provide another 750 watts.
Dario, 44, said it’s the first time a vessel has circumvented the Americas this way.
“It’s only possible due to global warming,” he said. “Before, it wasn’t possible. It was ice.”
Now there’s a two-week window when Northwest Passage thaws just enough to make it through. But just in case, he’s equipped the vessel with large fuel containers that can keep the vessel’s passengers warm and lighted until the next spring thaw if it does get trapped in the ice.
So far they’ve conquered Mont Blanc in Europe, Aconcagua in South America, Mount Kosciuszko in Australia, Mount Everest in Asia, and Kilimanjaro in Africa. They’re on their way to climb Alaska’s Denali Peak, and they plan to stop back in Antarctica for another crack at Mount Vinson, which would make their journey complete. They’ve also scaled Ecuador’s Chimborazzo, the highest peak measured from the center of the Earth, which along with Everest, and Friday’s trek to the summit of Mauna Kea, would give them a trifecta of Earth’s tallest peaks.
They diverted from their figure-eight course around the Americas to make the Hawaii Island stop specifically to tackle Mauna Kea. Early Saturday morning, they’ll bicycle to the summit.
“We’re really keen to climb Mauna Kea,” he said. “It’s been a long-time dream.
Hilo is the first U.S. port they’ve visited in their journeys. Dario said he knew they were in the right place when a rainbow greeted them in the Hilo harbor, a friendly George Valdez at Customs and Immigration greeted them with a smile and helpful advice. Valdez even called to alert the newspaper of their arrival.
Dario eagerly seeks school groups to speak to at each port along the way.
“Our goal is to inspire the children not to give up, and to get a good relationship with nature. Then it’s logical they will also protect the environment.” The Schwoerers promised one another at the outset that they they would not quit on any aspect of their odyssey until they tried 20 times to get over the hurdle. They haven’t reached the 20th try yet. “Our purpose is to do something good,” he said.
Dario also asking for help from the community so that they can accomplish their goal of the entire family making it to the summit. They only had room on the sloop for two mountain bikes and the children’s trollies had to be left behind. Anyone who could provide trollies or pull-carts for the bicycles so the Schwoerers can pull the kids along on the climb, can contact Dario at 990-7152. And if someone could drive an escort vehicle for them on Saturday, they would appreciate that as well. Cyclists also are welcome to ride with them.
They expect that their journey will end in 2017 after 18 years of ocean adventures.
More information is available at www.toptotop.org.
Email Hunter Bishop at firstname.lastname@example.org.