Fakes and cheats

“I had to lie because I had too much pressure from media and my sponsors!”

Lately there´s been a lot of movement in the media of adventurers who will do anything to gain fame.Lie and cheat about what they claim to have done. In this new world of Big Brother, where you can become famous for doing nothing, of course, even the adventure business is teeming with people who will claim anything for fame. Not that it is anything new to the genre, one of the most famous cheats, if it is true, because you never know this, is Frederick Cook. He claims to be the first to reach the North pole and the first to climb Mount McKinley (Denali). My great Russian friend, Dmitry Shparo says he could well have been. He has done research lately on the subject, something which as always, when it is Russian, goes un-noticed by the west.

I just want to touch the subject of the sponsors and media. I have during 25 years of professional adventuring dealt with a lot of sponsors and media, I have never, ever felt that pressure. Either they, the cheats and liers, have chosen the wrong sponsors or media, or they´re just moving the blame to anyone except themselves. I just want to say, people do mistakes, I know that if any, and if they take what ever punishment and get on with life, and get to be better human beings, let them. But one should than not blame others. However, I see that all of these unfortunate modern cheaters, they have all worked together with agents and PR companies, and I think that could well be the problem. People who are just not involved in the business and want to make it is big and profitable as possible for both themselves and their client. I wish all explorers could do the PR work themselves without involving people who have no idea about what it means doing adventurers. That said, I have worked with a PR-company myself, but the bloke who ran it, was into adventure himself. And did a great job. He also became a personal friend. Than of course, you have these adventurers who are really good at marketing and using PR-agents and who get a lot of fame for nothing. They could work at any farmers market on earth and become successful.

Than again, there are those explorers who have done amazing things, and just doesn´t have the marketing skills, they should use help. But take their time to find the right ones, who fits their image that they want to sell to the world. The best solution though, is for the explorer to do his own PR.work. Who better than her or him knows everything about the subject?

I also am a firm believer that most humans want to make themselves look much better than reality. I am definitely one of those who have done these mistakes, but this will not happen again. With age, I know who I am. A human full of mistakes.


  1. You make a lot of good points Mikael. As for the PR the natural way of doing it is almost always to do it on your own the first couple of years, because you don’t have the budgets anyway. But thats a good approach as you get an understanding of how media works. So when you end up hiring a PR professional, make sure he knows your “trade”: Rules, environment, challenges, records, media relations, competitors, nature and most of all make him understand how you would like to work.
    The best PR agents don’t only know when it’s time to push information through the right channels, but also knows when you should back down. There are at least one example from the K2 disaster that no one should try to repeat.
    Correct information is also essential. It shouldn’t be necessary to make a point of it, but in Explorersweb.com we often see examples of how explorers try to oversell their achievements. It’s not necessarily always outright lies, but often they hold back facts about what others have done before them, add a few meters to a climb, a few degrees to a sailing record, not mentioning dates that would keep them outside official record etc.
    The good thing about Internet and social media is that lies in all forms usually get exposed rather quickly. Wikipedia is a good example: it’s a user generated encyclopedia and all good PR agents makes sure that their explorers CV is up to date. But some PR agents try to cheat with incorrect information, and then some even have the nerve to serve the information they have put on Wikipedia as a reference towards journalists. All statements that include “Wikipedia says so…” should always be triple checked – and corrected on Wikipedia.
    The bottom line in all PR work, as in life itself, is stick to the truth. In these transparent times you will sooner or later be caught if you are lying. And if you make a mistake: Apologize, learn and try to move on.

  2. As you say in your piece, it is human to embellish upon our accomplishments, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously. But the explorer has the added burden of expectation. There are people who are anticipating great things: sponsors, fans, PR people, and the general public. I was reading your post about the fear of failure – how hard it struck you in Siberia – and it reminded me of Robert Peary’s own experiences in the Arctic. He traveled north year after year hoping to reach the North Pole and he carried with him not only his own dreams but the dreams of his party, ships crew, family, patrons, fans, donors, and the press. In the end, I think Peary’s embellishments to his record (I don’t think that he or Cook reached 90 N) were the result of this fear – an inability to face the disappointment of people back home – rather than narcissism or delusions of grandeur (although he had some of those too). You deserve credit for writing about these feelings openly – its the kind of travel writing I like best.

  3. I just wanted to pop across a message to say I love reading your blogs. Really good read, especially about the ethics of being an adventurer and your family.

    I feel that I am very much just starting out, its good to read from someone who has spent many years on expeditions. Really helps to keep motivated.

    I’ve learnt a lot when I was trying to establish myself a few years ago, I wanted to do the Polar Grand Slam, both poles and greenland. I had little experience but thought in doing something big and bold would get the sponsors. As time has gone by I’ve learnt an important lesson, I love just being on expedition and I love sharing my experiences within schools. Getting the media attention is not what its cracked up to be, every adventurer and explorer needs to have a long hard think about why they wish to go down the path of establishing themselves.

    Your right, hold to your beliefs, do not sell yourself out or lie about your projects or make them sound more challenging then they are. Be truthful to yourself.

    I was lucky enough to get to the Geo North Pole earlier this year. I fell in love with being on sea ice but didn’t really like the idea of “save the poles” (title of the project). I’m not sure statements like that is for me, but I enjoyed the whole experience and teamed up with two great guys. Ever expedition your learn something more about yourself. One thing is for sure it will not be my last NP.

    I want to look back in 25 years, tell stories to my family and smile at my memories.

    Life is a journey after all.

    Keep the blogs coming Mikael and thank you.


  4. Mikael, great article! It’s about time adventurer/expeditioners stood up & talked about this stuff. An article you & your blog readers might find interesting on the web ‘The Man Who Invented Himself’. Just put the title in google & you’ll find it. Also I agree EXWeb is a great site which is doing very well at trying to keep things accurate. I think there are two more areas worth thinking about re faking it.

    1. Using professional guides & either not disclosing it or disclosing it on the website but never in media interviews ‘because they didn’t ask me!!’ Think specifically of Greenland, South Pole & North Pole. Using a professional guide makes a huge difference. The participants then become a fee paying client on a professionally guided adventure. Thus the skill level of the participants is often nowhere near the skill required to mount and deliver your own expedition.
    (this is not like Paula Constant who walked with camels halfway across the Sahara & mostly used a variety of local nomads as guides – you have to so you can find the waterholes because they are mostly not marked on the map – & she was always open about it)

    2. Making claims for awards given to indivuduals or expeditions which are not correct. These are often sufficiently obscure so people & media can often not research the validity.

    Graeme Joy

  5. Brilliant article, Mikael. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and could not agree more. In Australia recently we have had a couple of examples of blatant misrepresentation in adventure, and it really is appalling to note the total lack of scrutiny by the media to claims that are unsubstantiated. One wonders what the reaction would be if a politician dared make such over-exaggerated claims to the media and was caught out. I do wonder at times why there is such a lack of interest by the media – to simply report without scrutiny seems neglectful at best, and downright irresponsible at worst.

    I also loved the comment by Anthony. It resonated with me, and makes me wonder if he, along with several other subscribers to this blog, are ushering in a new age of adventure – where it really is about the journey rather than big testicle goals, outcomes, and slogans? It rings more honestly with me, I don’t mind saying.

    I admire you for continuing to engage in contentious issues, and for providing such a readable blog. Good luck with everything Mikael, and I wish you well.

    Best wishes
    Paula Constant.

  6. I recieved this today, very interesting from a reader:

    Dear Mikael,

    Here is an additional thought for your readers.

    The well known on line website Museum of Hoaxes maintains the
    beginnings of a strong collection of “Travel and Exploration

    Here’s the link –

    The drawback is that the most recent entry is for 1971.

    Because the topic of hoaxes is so massive, the webmaster is hard
    pressed to keep up on any one topic.

    Why not encourage your readers to add new evidence of more recent
    travel and exploration hoaxes to this valuable on line resource

    This would not only provide the media and public with a list of
    updated travel hoaxes, it would also put the fear of God into
    travel liars.

  7. Mikael,

    Nice article. Just starting off in this “business”, I have faced various pressures myself – finding sponsors, etc. – but have never even considered lying. I’ve also been lucky to have amazing and ethical sponsors. What frustrates me, however, is when the media takes liberties with their writings to improve the story from their standpoint.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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