Often heard, but little thought about.
Are we as a species a “been there, done that” lot?
Are there any true adventures left?
This thought was generated by reading an article in BBC News:
What adventures are actually left?
The British explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes’s latest adventure is to lead the first winter crossing of Antarctica. But are there many meaningful challenges left for intrepid explorers?
Sir Ranulph Fiennes has already earned plaudits for crossing Antarctica unaided, discovering the Lost City of Ubar and taking a hovercraft up the Nile.
But genuine firsts in exploration are getting hard to find. The world’s greatest peaks have all been climbed.
The earth has been circumnavigated many times by plane, foot, bicycle and balloon, among other means of conveyance. Many of the major rivers, lakes and seas have been swum or canoed.
There are few genuine unknowns. Satellite navigation technology allows mankind to see almost every river, copse and hill.
Machines can do the lifting and keep adventurers connected. Fiennes will be followed by two bulldozers dragging industrial sledges carrying supplies and living quarters.
But once upon a time warriors like Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan led their forces thousands of miles overland across unknown topography, while fighting off rival armies. Great navigators – Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus, Captain Cook – “discovered” new continents.
In the late 19th Century a ragbag of missionaries, gentlemen explorers and speculators began the scramble for Africa with little knowledge of what awaited them.
Exploration today is a dying art. The new feats are often about endurance as much as discovery. Firsts are ever more specialist and technically defined – first successful scuba dive at the north pole (Michael Wolff), first person to jetpack across the English Channel (Yves Rossy), oldest woman to climb Everest (Tamae Watanabe).
So is there anything left to do? Something combining that potent mix of danger, novelty and a clearly defined natural barrier to overcome.
Gangkhar Puensum, in Bhutan, is said to be the highest unclimbed mountain standing at 7,570m. In fact, it’s illegal to climb it.
Dave Pickford, editor of Climb magazine, explains that “political challenges are often bigger challenges than the physical ones”.
Mountaineering in Bhutan is extremely restricted, apparently due to a combination of environmental concerns and respect for local spiritual beliefs. Some Bhutanese consider the mountain peaks to be the sacred homes of protective spirits or deities.
We’ve been there and done that.
There is only deep sea exploration left, and the cost of that is so prohibitive that much will remain unexplored… unless someone suspects there is oil to be had.
In light of this revelation, it’s no wonder we have Play Station and X-Box type entertainment.
Am I an explorer?
I, at the age of 40, uprooted my roots and set foot in South America. While I have rarely left the true tourist trail, I have gone off on my tangent occasionally.
I have walked for hours through jungles, on paths and off them. I have stumbled across little clearings where there has been a village, stayed for lunch and gone home again. One such ramble ended up with me staying in the jungle for three months. Not deep deep in the jungle, but a respectable 15 hour hike from Pilcopata with nine rivers to cross. The peace and solitude were wonderful. I had a small wooden house, the door lock was a piece of string around a nail. A further 45 minutes walk was a village that supplied me with food, so I ate ‘jungle.’ It was the chief of the village who invited me, San Martin, a man older than myself at the time whose proudest possession was a yellow logging safety helmet that he wore rather like one would wear a bowler hat. The house was his. Every ten days or so, I would make the trek into Pilcopata, stay a couple of days and trek back.
So there is adventure left, I have found it. That is just one of many little stories that I have of South America. My adventure didn’t involve a high mountain, didn’t involve a trek over vast wastelands of ice, it was just a simple walk in the jungle. Could that be considered ‘potent’? Try walking in the jungle at night with no real trail just the moonlight, creating shadows and jungle noises, it gives one perspective on their place in the world.
Adventure and exploring is all around us, it is not dying, it is just in the eyes of the beholder.