The New Role of the Explorer

2013-07-08-DemondLearning.jpg(Photo courtesy of Chris Kassar)

In decades past, the role of the explorer, the adventurer, was pretty clear-cut: go to empty spots on the map and fill them in. If you were from Europe, the empty spots you sought would look different than if you were from the Americas, or Africa, or Asia. Each nationality, tribesman, or missionary, would set forth into the world with his or her own set of prejudices and view points. Everyone had different goals for what they wished to see, to conquer, to climb, or proselytize. The goal however, was simple and constant across the centuries: go where no one has gone before.

As our maps began to fill up, the goal shifted from finding new places to finding new ways up, around, down, or through the old map squares. Today we laud the oldest and the youngest up the highest mountains or tackling known objectives with novel or new techniques like stand up padding down the Nile, climbing faster, with less equipment, or walking across big, high open spaces in the world. There are also still empty spots on the map for different cultures and plenty new challenges left for the taking, but these should no longer be the driving force of exploration.

Now that we have seen what is out there, we need to make sure the world's people can go and see it for themselves. How we democratize adventure and exploration should be the challenge of our current pioneers, and there are those, like Sean O'Neill, Rue Mapp, Expedition Denali, and countless others like The North Face Ambassadors Ryan Hudson and Juan Martinez, who have started this process of breaking past old boundaries to adventure and have been doing it for years.

However, if the wild and untamed places the adventurer seeks are to stay even remotely wild and untamed, we have to encourage our children and our neighbors to fall in love with these same places and peaks, near and far. And this means ALL our neighbors, black, white, Latino, Asian, immigrant, Native, fourth generation, suburban, urban, rural, able bodied and other than able bodied.

No longer can we keep hidden emerald lakes for the elite and the initiated, all the world should be getting outside, should be exploring, should be laughing and drinking in the amazing world around us. Certainly, there are challenges in this approach that the wild places become trampled and over run, no longer wild. But what is the alternative?

The alternative, if we don't act now, is that in a generation or two no one knows about the specialness of a hidden canyon or the significance of a remote Alpine lake and we forget that we are not separate as a species from the wild. The alternative is that in not seeing these places, they are bulldozed; paved, drilled, filled in and covered in ticky tack houses, strip malls, and data centers.

We will have to be careful as we bring new people out with us into the wild to protect streams and flora and fauna to keep the wild pristine and I'm not arguing for removing necessary management plans. But, we will have to bring people outside if we want to keep an outside worth going to. Rather than only going where no man or woman has gone before, make sure you take a man or a woman who has not been there before with you and all our lives will be enriched because of it.