Modern Explorers Head Underground and onto the Ice to Map Uncharted Territory

Article excerpt

Modern explorers seek uncharted territory

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Under Mount Tucker in British Columbia's Glacier National Park, a sprawling system of uncharted caves offers a group of unlikely explorers a chance to venture into the unknown.

These are not the cartographers of yore. Today, the Cabots, Cartiers and de Champlains mapping the wilds of Canada have been replaced with adventurers of a more amateur sort, armed with time to kill and money to burn.

The nine-member expedition, which includes an accountant and teacher as well as scientists and cave guides, is planning to head into the network of caves in October.

The explorers are all volunteers and trips such as theirs are on the rise, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society says.

The Raspberry Rising trip -- named after the cave system's hidden entrance -- is one of several the Society says they have provided funding to this year through their expeditions program.

"The last probably two to four years, we're seeing more applications coming in, and we're seeing better applications coming in," says Michael Schmidt, an explorer based in North Saanich, B.C. and the co-chair of the expeditions program. A separate program funds scientific research.

The program has seen applicants double from 2011, according to John Geiger, the president of the RCGS.

That year, there were seven seriously considered applicants, he says. For the 2012 and 2013 programs, there were 14.

The RCGS grants range from $500 to $15,000 for expeditions. The grants go largely to experienced amateurs, for trips that straddle the line between field-work and adventure travel. The expeditions must combine education and outreach -- including social media campaigns -- with physical challenge and remote locales.

"Ten years ago somebody might have said, well look, the whole country's been explored, what else is there to do?" Schmidt says. "And you know we keep seeing people who are going out within our expeditions program, and they're kind of poking into places that either haven't been or have rarely been visited."

Modern explorers bring high-tech equipment underground and use satellite technology to tweet from ice-floes. Expeditions also consider First Nations' histories before claiming to have mapped or documented a mountain or island for the first time.

In Nunavut, a two-month expedition is currently underway to paddle across Baffin Island in kayaks the team built using traditional Inuit methods. The four-person team includes professional explorers, a doctor and a professional kayaker.

Last week, a McMaster PhD student named Adam Shoalts began a solo canoe expedition to northern Quebec and Ontario, where he says he will map several waterfalls he claims to have discovered last year. …