Friday, June 14, 2024


KILKEEL man Johnny Ward has told the Mourne
Observer of his pride at becoming the first person to
complete the Ultimate Explorers Grand Slam.
The Ultimate Explorers Grand Slam consists of travelling to the 197
countries in the world plus all the observer states and land masses
(Somaliland and Somalia, Greenland etc). It also includes climbing the
seven summits, and the highest mountain on every continent, plus the
two secondary ambiguous mountains (Mont Blanc, and Mount
Kosciusko). And finally, reaching the North and South Poles.
He achieved the feat on Sunday (January 14) when he reached the South Pole.
The Mourne Observer got in touch with
Johnny to ask him how he felt about achieving his
“Proud of course, but also a huge feeling of
relief,” he said.
“I put so much pressure on myself, that I’ve
been carrying a lot of anxiety about failing my big
goals, so it’s nice to be able to sit back with it all
being done now.”
Johnny left Ireland in 2006, to teach English in
Thailand and Korea before deciding to make
travelling and blogging his life.
The 40-year-old completed his challenge to
visit every country in the world in 2017. Then he
took on an adventure to reach the seven
summits. That took him five years.
He has also rowed across the Atlantic.
He is evangelical about travelling and blogging
and sees exploring as a chance to challenge
himself and live his best life.
But the chance to complete the Ultimate
Explorers Grand Slam was a huge goal.
On his blog he explains that 250 people in
history have visited every country in the world,
while 73 people in history have climbed all seven
summits and reached both the North and South
Pole. But no one has completed both, until now.
He explained that making that final journey to
the South Pole was an emotional one.
“You know, it was kind of like my ‘every country
in the world’ trip, where my second last country
to visit was Yemen, with the last being Norway.
Yemen was so hard: a four-day cargo ship then
smuggling my way into Yemen. Then when I got
to Norway, I could just celebrate.
“This was similar. Having done Everest eight
months ago, Vinson (Mount Vinson is the highest
peak in Antarctica) wasn’t so bad. Cold of course,
but manageable.
“And the South Pole was then just a nice way to
end. So I could enjoy it to be honest, it was a nice
feeling to have closure without the risk of
Johnny signed up to his Antarctica expeditions
solo but was placed with people when he got
“I was with other hard core adventurers. My
Mount Vinson group were amazing, Jess, Felipe,
Vincente, Oscar, Marius, Anne, Ruchika;
suffering together builds some great bonds.
“South Pole was a wealthier, more serious (and
older!) demographic, so that’s why I spent my
free day running a marathon in Antarctica.”
As he is a blogger, he keeps the world updated
on each of his travels through social media and
on his blog platform – onestep4ward.
He said that takes a lot of his time.
“I don’t do any PR or marketing to be honest. I
just whack the stuff up on my blog, my Instagram
etc, and people can take it or leave it.
“I have a lot of people trying to get me to do
YouTube, get a PR company but it feels a bit
weird, so I’ve never done any of that.
“I’m still writing these responses stuck in
Antarctica as our flight out of here is delayed due
to arctic winds, so I haven’t had a chance to
celebrate properly with my loved ones yet.
“Although, a low key dinner and a couple of
bottles of wine at home is all I want to be honest.”
So what is next for Johnny?
“I’m starting four big yearly events. I want to
get other normal people to do epic stuff, so they
can see what they’re capable of and how
transformative these kind of experiences can be.
‘It’s starting with a new 150km ultra-marathon,
Mauritania this December, so if anyone wants to
join, email me (’
South Down MLA Diane Forsythe praised
Johnny’s “incredible achievement”.
In a Facebook post, the DUP Assembly
member and former Kilkeel High School student,
added: ‘It is amazing to see a former classmate
excel on a worldwide scale, we are all extremely
‘It is truly inspiring for our young people in
Kilkeel as well as across the Province to see what
can be achieved when they dream big and
‘Proud of how Johnny has always stayed true
to his roots and shared his story. Amazing to have
achieved this, congratulations again!’
South Down MLA Patrick Brown said he was
also delighted to hear of Johnny’s achievement.
‘On behalf of the Alliance Party in South Down,
I wish to record my congratulations to Johnny
Ward, originally from Kilkeel, who has made
history as the first person in history to complete
the Ultimate Explorers Grand Slam,’ he stated.
“This makes Johnny not just the most welltravelled Irishman but perhaps the most welltravelled person ever, and he is a great
inspiration to all of us with a love and passion for
“I myself have followed his blog for years and
was delighted to see Johnny complete this
immense challenge.
“Our Mournes DEA councillor Jill Truesdale
will be raising this at the next full council
meeting and I believe it is right that Johnny is
recognised by the Chair of Council for his
incredible achievement,” the local Assembly
member concluded.

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