Polish ice swimmer endures 150 miles of the Yukon River

Leszek Naziemiec is an avid ice swimmer.

But even in the midst of summer, the 48-year-old from the northwest Poland village of Kołczewo couldn’t resist a trip through the north Alaska wilderness.

Naziemiec, who calls ice swimming his “life commitment and love,” swam from Eagle to Circle on the Yukon River last week, a trip that was over 150 miles and took him four and a half days to complete.

Naziemiec was headed back to Poland on Wednesday, but he said via email the swim offered a rare opportunity.

“(I did it because of) a sense of adventure and contact with untouched nature,” he said. “I needed to show that I’m strong enough to swim the mighty Yukon.”

He said even though the rivers in Poland are swimmable, the country’s urban rivers especially are more polluted and he wanted to bring more ecological awareness to the country.

He said he’s constantly looking at maps, trying to determine his next adventure. Northern swims can be difficult to find and access for a number of reasons, he said. The Yukon “mesmerized” him.


“People swim big rivers but not northern rivers,” he said.

Temps were fairly moderate on his trip, but Naziemiec is used to chilly swims. In 2017, he swam a polar ice mile in sub-40-degree Arctic water in Svalbard, Norway. In 2018, he swam a kilometer in the inaugural Antarctic Ice Swimming. To qualify as an ice swim, the water conditions must be below 5 degrees Celsius, or about 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

Still, he called his adventure on the Yukon his “greatest swim.”

He swam about 37 miles each of the first three days, going 12 hours with small breaks to eat, before dialing it back a bit over the final two days.

Others have attempted adventure swims on the Yukon. In 2016, a Canadian man navigated the entire river with a small riverboard. But that was much more gear that was used by Naziemiec, who had only swim trunks and a cap.

[This Canadian just swam by riverboard nearly 2,000 miles down the Yukon River]

He didn’t do it alone. Adrian Uciński acted as his lifeguard but wasn’t pressed into action. He also had a documentary crew along with him — composed of Tomasz Woźniczka and Michał Żuberek. Photographer Piotr Sadurski rounded out the group that accompanied the swimmer.

Naziemiec said if he is able to return, he’d like to spend a winter in Fort Yukon. The most memorable part of his trip was the grandiosity of the state.

“Such a scale,” he said. “In Europe, everything is much smaller.”

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.