Magazine article Geographical

Editor's Letter

Magazine article Geographical

Editor's Letter

Article excerpt

A question that recurs frequently in expedition circles is "What is there left to explore?" The answer depends, of course, on your definition of `explore'. Explorers have always set great store by being first to discover new data, map new territory or enter new regions. Subsequent visitors are, by this definition, not explorers.

Although my passport describes me as a travel writer, I often find myself being introduced as an explorer. Yet only once in 32 years of leading expeditions have I been involved in a pioneering journey through virgin territory. In 1980, during the three-year Trans-globe Expedition, three of us reached the South Pole from the Kirwan Escarpment and became the first humans to cross a huge tract of Antarctica, mapping it for the first time. Only four years later, satellites rendered our map-making obsolete, but at the time we were genuine explorers by any definition.

To be first to achieve a particular geographical challenge seems to be a natural human urge. Mount Everest was first climbed by Hillary and Tensing in the 50s using oxygen and a small army of Sherpas. In the 1970s Reinhold Messner was first to reach the summit unsupported by oxygen or porters. After that came a plethora of secondary `firsts'. First Asian, first woman, first Asian British woman and so on. Then came the oldest and youngest people, the first blind or one-armed climbers. Doubtless, there will be the first cyclist, balloonist and donkey-borne ascents. But are such protagonists explorers? In their own minds and to their own definitions, undoubtedly. …

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