Explorer Mikael Strandberg

Am I a fake and cheat?

Woow, I have had such a response on the articles published about Ethical Exploration and Fakes and Cheats. I have received a lot of positive notes, but as usual, a whole bunch of really evil and aggressive abuse over my person. I guess that is a sign that this is an issue which needs to be discussed. The last time I had such an uproar was after writing this piece, about a need to debate what is exploration. I guess these articles belong to the same line of discussion, what is real exploration? Anyway, even if this means I will continue to receive a lot of upset comments, emails -by the way, always anonymous, so far not one, non-anonymous– of attacks on me as a failed human being and explorer, I just have to live with that.

This morning Hanna called me from the UK. She wants to write an article on the subject and wanted my opinions. One of the questions was, why do you want to open up an discussion about something nobody wants to talk about?

Answer: Well, just for that reason, to open up a discussion on the Ethics about Exploration. I think we within this line of work and/or lifestyle need some kind of a guideline to define a properly done Expedition or adventure. For example, ExWeb has done a great guideline to the issue of solo, unsupported polar trips. I think the business in general need these kinds of guidelines. this would help everyone involved, from the person doing it to supporters, media and sponsors. I am not doing it to hang anybody out, but have refered to issues mentioned on The Long Riders Guild website and ExplorersWeb. Some really unfortunate examples. BUT, I am not judging! I think every one is entitled to at least one major mistake, but of course, if it is repetitive, especially when trying to make oneself a real super human, than this should be known.

However, I think it is written in the genes, especially amongst testosterone driven male explorers, namely young ones at the beginning of the game, that one embellishes one self and ones adventures. I know I did! And I think that is something we humans have to live with. Explorers and adventurers overdoing reality a tiny bit. And, to a certain degree, it might well be the truth seen by this person. And history is full of examples of people being hanged out in shame. Like Frederick Cook, but with time, it turns out he and his claims might be right. So, if evidence isn´t really extremely clear, we should leave it at that. My opinion. Story telling is also important and we humans look at reality, individually, very different. and, most important, is to live, explore and enjoy! And spend less time debating like this…..

Hanna asked me another question, of importance:


Have you cheated or not told the whole truth, or embellished?

Answer: Yes I have. Especially when it comes to making myself look much better than I in reality am. For example, after the Siberian journey, I was often introduced as the guy who had done one of the coldest Expeditions in history. Which is kind of funny, if one understands that people have lived over 5000  years along the Kolyma River. And travelling up and down the river was their, and is, their daily life. When realizing, eventually, the stupidity of that claim, I immediately used that to take the mickey out of myself and present reality in my lectures, as for example in the lecture below.

And than, things tend to have their own life. I am in general an extremely sloppy and careless human at times and just go with the flow. Like 15 years ago I was part of a documentary where the producer said that I had cycled more kilometers than any other human being and touring cyclist, which is complete hogwash. But it has stayed there for years and even came up when I did this pilot for the Arabian Expedition, see You Tube clip of the pilot below. I took that first speaker away after the first mistake as I realized it was wrong, we did many try´s, but that was the speaker which got picked by the director when putting the film together. Because it was a flow which suited the pilot. And than it was to late to change it once the production had been done. Too costly. So I had to let it be. Unfortunately.

BUT, at that time I did those bicycle  trips,by the way, it was known that it was one guy called Ian Hibbel and me who had done more or less the same routes. Passed the Darien Gap and the Sahara with the bike for examples. But back in those days, we didn´t have the Internet. Only books or rumors. So it is just a few years back I heard about Heinz Stücke….the tools of discovery are different today!

AND, preparing for the same Expedition, initially I got caught up with the supported and unsupported issue. I was dumb enough to call the Arabian Passage unsupported, mainly to make it more attractive for the broad casting industry, because as I saw it than, we were not having anyone giving us backup. Except us buying food and acquiring water whilst passing through villages. Unsupported in my mind, at this stage. Dumb, I know. It was the legendary Shane Winser at the Royal Geographical Society who put me straight in mind, when she bluntly told me:

“How can u call it unsupported? there´s nothing which can be called unsupported today, if you bring for example a satellite phone, how can it than be called unsupported?”

She was right of course. As in so many other issues regarding Expeditions. She is an enormous source of knowledge and wisdom.

So, yes, I have done mistakes for sure.  But this is important, I have never ever told a lie about the travels I have done. The A to B thing. I haven´t said I have been somewhere where I haven´t, or climbed a peak I haven´t or done unsupported, alone when I haven´t. But, I have done the common human mistake of pretending to be some kind of a world champion. When I am reality am nothing but a sorry human full of errors and faults. A lot due to a very poor self confidence of course. But I stand for my CV.


When did this change?

Answer: I do think most of my Expeditions have been special and unique in many ways. But, that is the great thing with travelling. You learn, realize, grow as a human and get perspective of life. Three things have changed my view of life. Siberia, my partner of life Pamela and our daughter.Siberia, because it was my dream come true. And reality was better than the dream. Pamela, because as a human and an academic, she constantly questions, philosophizes and wants to know how everything works.  Tiring at times, but extremely developing! And Eva? Well, children are so genuine, truthful, free of any type of emotional corruption and you realize how important it is, when being a parent, to be truthful to yourself. You are the role model your child is copying. Tell you one thing though, Eva will have a much better self confidence than her father, and therefore won´t fall into the category of playing up ones own importance. Thank God she has a great mother!

However, I also have to add that certain media -as the tabloids- and unrealistic sponsors helps to over do things, they embellish that this is the greatest ever- and it easily sticks. With everyone involved. (I have to add, in my case, it hasn´t been like that, I have done that all by myself.) And, important, we are after all, mere human beings. Especially me.  And of course, the older you get, the more you understand. Which isn´t easy when you are young, full of life and try to set up a future for oneself. It is easy to make mistakes. And as far as I can see, the mistakes done in Exploration, have come from young people, beginning their journey through life.


  1. Mikael, you are on the right track here mate. I’m in it with you & will help all I can. It’s not to hang out to dry well meaning people who just make honest mistakes. When they have the errors pointed out they tend to change the claim. It’s about the fakes & cheaters who are well aware of what they are doing. So My names is on this as is yours. Like you I cannot claim to have never made a mistake – but – if I do & it is pointed out to me I make the required changes – willingly.
    Wouldn’t it be kinda nice if the ones who now challenge your position to stand up & be named? We can only live in hope. Cheers, Graeme Joy

  2. Thanks Graeme, much appreciated! I just want to add, that this time, I will only publish opinions, good and bad, only if there´s somebody willing to stand for it. If not, don´t bother. Life is about having the guts to stand for what you believe in. M

  3. Dear Mikael,
    Let me first express my surprise that a journalist would express the following question.

    “Why do you want to open up a discussion about something nobody wants to talk about? (ethical exploration)”

    The Long Riders’ Guild is currently leading a global campaign to enact “Sikunder’s Law, legislation designed to protect horses from the damaging techniques used by unlicensed, unregulated and unaccountable horse trainers.

    This campaign mirrors grave concerns previously expressed by academics, horse owners and legislators around the world. For example, the House of Commons has issued a report expressing the need to, “safeguard the health and welfare of animals and also protect them, and their owners, from those who offer potentially dangerous treatments without sufficient knowledge or training.”

    What, you may well be asking yourself, do horses and explorers have in common?

    The answer is that neither area of important human endeavor is known for its ethics.

    History is replete with stories of shady horse traders, cruel training methods and poisonous patent medicines, all of which made a horse’s life miserable. Nor has much of the modern equestrian history departed from those dubiuos roots, as all too often anything which makes money is either tolerated or encouraged in today’s “money talks first” horse world .

    The unfortunate thing about modern exploration is that it mirrors this make-a-buck mentality.

    What happens when the survival star of a reality television show is caught gobbling blueberry pancakes in a motel on the edge of the desert he’s supposedly hiking across? Nothing. What happens when another explorer ties his horses up, goes off to party at Mongolia’s Nadaam festival, and leaves the animals to be slowly eaten to death by insects? He’s banned from ever being a Member of the Long Riders’ Guild.

    The difference is clear.

    If ethical exploration doesn’t come before personal aggrandizement, national ambition, corporate greed and competitive mania, you witness ten year old children being bullied to the top of Everest, false accounts of mountain summits being fed to a gullible press, or horses being used like disposable commodities by second-rate travellers, keen to ink a book deal, etc.

    While ethical considerations are always a personal priority, there is another guilty party involved here. Namely the eager audience of television watchers who provide an audience for the fakes and cheats. In today’s world it is becoming all too common for people to “sofalize” their lives. Watching a reality television show which depicts B list celebrities eating bugs, then twittering or texting about it from the comfort of their sofas, is where far too many people now find themselves.

    Does such an audience care if the star really sleeps in a tent at night? Probably not. Why? Because the risk adversive world in which many of today’s children is being raised frowns on climbing trees, jumping in puddles, not to mention setting off to see how cold it is in Siberia in the winter. When courage is no longer a daily factor in most people’s lives, it’s easy for the fakes to con a guillable public.

    Where does this leave us? With the dawning of a long overdue debate on ethical exploration, I hope.

    While I can’t pretend to have the answers to that thorny dilemma, I can share one certainty. Any man who is follically challenged, but bravely poses next to his baby spouting that head of dark hair, has nothing to hide.

    CuChullaine O’Reilly FRGS

  4. I have often said, “If you could never tell anyone you did something, would you still do it?” That is my litmus test to be sure that I am doing something for the right reason and not for the notoriety. I believe that TRUE explorers would answer a resounding yes to this question. And this makes me wonder about the “business” of exploration.

    Is it necessary to be the first left handed, one legged, blind, Asian to climb Everest? Or is it enough for the soul of the person to stand on the top of the world? Those who are authentic in their hearts and minds are exploring for truly the right reasons.

    Michael, I believe you are one of the authentic ones and I wish there were more. It’s a discussion that shouldn’t even have to take place. It’s a sad state of the world when someone has to lie about their accomplishments.

    The world is full of people who are dream stealers because they are afraid to step out and live life. They prefer to spend their time bringing down those who grab every morsel of life. There will always be critics and cynics. Keep doing what YOU love with the PASSION in you and forget the naysayers.

    Interestingly, I got this today from Seth Godin of Tribes from his daily blog. Let me leave with his timely thoughts: Here is direct quote from Seth

    The market has no taste

    When it comes to art, to human work that changes people, the mass market is a fool. A dolt. Stupid.

    If you wait for the market to tell you that you’re great, you’ll merely end up wasting time. Or perhaps instead you will persuade yourself to ship the merely good, and settle for the tepid embrace of the uninvolved.

    Great work is always shunned at first.

    Would we (the market) benefit from more pandering by marketers churning out average stuff that gets a quick glance, or would we all be better off with passionate renegades on a mission to fulfill their vision?

  5. We are quick to label explorers as villains or heroes on the issues of claims. Few of us belong to either category in real life, so why — I wonder — do we feel the need to put explorers into one group or another? Your thoughtful account of your own travels – shortcomings and embellishments included – speaks to the need of seeing exploration and adventure for what it is: a human endeavor which shows us at our best and worst (and sometimes both at the same time). The most interesting travel accounts are one — like yours — that embrace the humanity of the journey and use it for critical self-reflection.

  6. Dear Mikael

    As you already know, I think, I am of the view that there are only two or three possibilities left for true exploration. These are sub-sea, interplanetary and internal. The first two are beyond most people’s means (there are exceptions: Elon Musk; Richard Branson for example). The last is perhaps not admissible as ‘exploartion’ in the sense you intend for this discussion – but of course everyone can and probably most do, explore within their own selves all their lives.

    Terrestrial exploration has been completed some time ago. There are a few small corners left where a human foot may never have trod but they are very few. Most of what passes for exploration today is journeys that challenge the traveller, but are not what I have always considered to be ‘real’ exploration, i.e. journeys with the aim of discovering new lands. This does not invalidate modern expeditions but it does give them a rather different character. They may well still be journeys of discovery, because the scientific component may well be new. Most, however, I would categorise as adventure, not exploration.

    As to cheating, that is surely entirely between a person and their conscience. If someone cheats to make money out of it, they are no different to any other sort of crook. That is not the same as painting oneself in the best possible light, which we all tend to do!

    The ethics change when animals are involved. Amundsen always expected to kill some of his dogs on his Southern Polar expedition. This was acceptable at that time, though Scott, to his credit, would not do that. Scott did, however, take horses and that was an experiment that failed and they had to be put down. When we travelled with a horse, horse always came first, which does not necesarily mean that life for horse was always as good as perhaps it should have been – for example when fodder became unobtainable, he was hungry. The same happened with regard to human food too, for a bit. The difference being that we chose to be there; horse did not have the choice. One’s duty is, however, to look after one’s animals as best one possibly can. CuChullaine’s post above is eloquent testimony to that.

    The very nature of modern long distance and ‘adventure’ travel frequently entails commercial sponsorship and this of itself adds a not always welcome pressure to deliver ‘results’. In the case of, e.g. Breitling Orbiter, there are no difficulties arising from that. It was a straightforward but very expensive technical endeavour, brilliantly accomplished. When it comes to yet another trudge to Zongoquissilstan, driving a team of 100 Chihuahuas – 100 more than the previous outfit managed! – backed by Red Kola, Wundawatch, Vibrovest and Muffleboots, the pressure to ‘achieve’ and ‘deliver’ may become very great.

    I believe that it absolutely should be enough for one’s soul to achieve what you set out to do, or know that you gave it your very best shot. If as a result you are rewarded by getting a book published and lecturing to dozens of village social clubs, that’s fine. If you are one of the few who do make quite a bit of money then that’s fine too. But I don’t believe that it should ever be the intention you have before you set out.

  7. I just had an email from Tom at ExWeb regarding how to use modern technique to show proof of one´s Expedition:

    We recommend using trackers such as SPOT or Solara that can’t be tampered with and give very exact positions and time stamps. Pictures and Video is also a great help but the pictures need to verify the person as well as obvious geographic features.

  8. It’s a sick world that needs proof of an expedition.
    1. How many people go on real expeditions? Having a start and finish line sounds more like sports to me.
    2. How is it to live with yourself if you lie about where you have been and how fast you did it.
    3. How many care where people have been and how fast they did it? Probably only a very limited group of specially interested people, explorers and explorer groupies at RGS and Explorer Club. Most people do not care or understand the meaning of firsts, unsupported, unaided, geographic or magnetic. For them Bear Grylls is the big hero and we are just nerds.

    Let us at least be honest nerds

  9. The dialogue on your blog, concerning the need and definition of ethicial exploration, is certainly overdue, encouraging and useful. However, as you correctly pointed out, the Long Riders’ Guild and Explorers’ Web appear to be leading a fledgling global effort to set an ethical example, and when needed, to expose the false claims of fakes and cheats.

    What is striking about those efforts, small as they are, is that they have been organized by these two tiny “rebel” outfits, all the while there continues to be a deafening silence on this subject from the two organizations which have traditionally been viewed as the leaders of the exploration world, namely the Royal Geographical Society in England and the the Explorers’ Club in America.

    Both organizations are quick to chase us for yearly dues. They offer lectures. But where’s the leadership? Where’s the outrage? Where’s the line drawn in the sand?

    Basha O´Reilly

  10. Wow – sent you an email then read this. Brilliant piece. Absolutely spot on. As for needing ‘closure ‘ – I agree, but only in the sense that there needs to be a consensus along the lines Mikael is suggesting. There is nothing wrong with making an honest, and/or lazy mistake. I have done it – most of us have. In my case, I have had to battle sometimes with media who want to present me as something I am not. In one particular case I was utterly mortified with the description of me being some kind of modern amazon, when the reality – as Mikael admits, and we all know – is in all of our cases, so much less.

    What is entirely not okay is allowing the obfuscation to continue, and the myths to perpetuate. We are travellers. Journeyers. Adventurers. We are NOT explorers, and in most cases, our firsts are only so by minor demarcation.

    In the words of Michael Asher, a man I admire immensely and whose respect I fear I lost due to one such misunderstanding: “Adventure belongs to all of us”.

    In the post exploration age, it is a sentiment I applaud.

    Well done yet again, Mikael.

  11. One thing, Mikael: your friend Shane has a point and I understand it. I’ve known cases of mountaineers falling into crevasses and surviving because they carried a satellite phone. But what use is such a gadget in a situation of urgency in the desert or in Siberia? The cavalry would never make it in time. That is what I understand as ‘unsupported’. If it’s not instant, then it cannot be called support, can it?

  12. I do not really understand this issue. Fake or not fake? With all respect: Who the fuck cares? In Strandbergs case, I know that he went to both Kolyma and to Ambartjik, with his own body as engine. I do not admire him for that, that is just something you do for yourself. I admire him for being the PERSON he is. Exploration is something that some of us do because we NEED to, in our own lives. Compare with the viking era: Many went abroad, eastwards, westwards, north, south. Without maps or guarantees. Bringing home new knowledge (always) and riches (sometimes). Most people still remaining at home, maintaining the “home place”. We need both types of people!!!! Some of us will always need to explore. Some of us do it to the extreme, like Strandberg and Amundsen and Kropp and Scott. Some of us are lazier, like myself and two zillion other “Mr. Average”. Some of us does not have any exploration urge at all, like many swedes. They are fully satisfied with watching (silly) tv programmes, having missionary position sex once every second month with a woman/man they stopped loving ages ago (when they are drunk), reading “Da Vinci code” and listening to either country and western (tha US) or Christer Sjögren (Sweden). ALL OF US ENJOY LIFE!!!!!

  13. Dear Mikael,

    I would like to add to what you have already said concerning truth and exploration. I expect many if not most explorers embellish stories from time to time or else the media may decide to exaggerate events on their behalf. I have often heard it said “never let the truth get in the way of a good story” and that holds particularly so for exploration.

    I can understand that it must be frustrating for young people starting out in exploration. They have something to prove to themselves and to the world at large but most places have now been discovered and explored. What really gets my goat however is the number of so called Polar explorers, climbers, adventurers and the like whose claim to fame is to repeat something already achieved but by a different method or by taking a more arduous route. So what? Surely if that’s what they want to do then fine but don’t make such a big song and dance about it and dumb-down what has already been achieved in the process.

    Another thing that often irritates me is the current belief that exploration has to have a scientific content to be credible. Why? Scientists are scientists and explorers are explorers and some are both, but not all. Mankind has been exploring this earth and the heavens long before scientific theory was ever evolved.

    Perhaps we have all allowed exploration to lose its way and have surrendered it to media control, the manipulative minds of advertising men or scientific critique by geographical academics. “Become a famous explorer and appear in “Hello” magazine”. “Buy one of our expensive watches and join an elite band of brothers and sisters in exploration”. Is that what exploration has been reduced to? media hype and wishful thinking?

    Perhaps by defining what exploration is not, it may actually help us define what it is. The truth will however ultimately prevail.

    Barry Moss

  14. I would like to briefly address the views of David Grant and Barry Moss as to the notion of the so called ‘true exploration’ (David Grant – “I am of the view that there are only two or three possibilities left for true exploration. These are sub-sea, interplanetary and internal”; Barry Moss – “What really gets my goat however is the number of so called Polar explorers, climbers, adventurers and the like whose claim to fame is to repeat something already achieved but by a different method or by taking a more arduous route. So what?”) and invite them to see that a journey into the ‘known’ can nevertheless be nothing short than a ‘true exploration’ and in many cases much more important than the ‘first’ ‘true’ exploration:

    Apples fell from the trees long before Newton was born but then came Newton, took another look and saw in the falling apple something that no one else has seen before. Now where would we all be had Newton decided to pass on the ‘known’ falling apples and focus his attention say on the ‘new frontiers’ of deep sea exploration, space or the lost city of Atlantis? The fact the someone made his way to the North Pole or the top of the Everest does not mean that all that can be explored about going there has been explored. Not to mention the fact that the world is always changing and what was discovered or explored yesterday, was yesterday’s world. Not the present one. Today is a new gift. That’s why we call it present. There is wonderful merit and potential in one’s decision to explore the ‘known’ desert of Mongolia or hop on a camel and ride all the way from the east to the west as Mikael palnned. Even if the the year is 2010. One of the ‘7 wonders’ of exploration is the possible discovery of new doors in what we initially considered as the ‘known’. Especially when the ‘known’ is yesterday’s known.

  15. I accept everything said in the previous comment, however, I think that it has missed my point. What I said was that I have no problem with people following in or repeating the steps of others, but so often I see so much hype and froth about such attempts. You’ve only got to pick up the Metro on the London underground to see that nearly every day someone is trying to get self publicity out of something that has already been done before. It’s a bit like climate change, we’re all aware it’s happening but continuous media hype, claim and counter claim is making the population at large weary and somewhat confused concerning the potential consequences of global warming. Exploration is likewise being undermined by adventurous and extreme travel pursuits.

    Whilst each repeated endeavour is important to the person doing it, one has to ask whether it makes any real significance or contribution to exploration or is it just some personal or self-indulgent physical, mental and adventurous challenge?

    Let’s face it, exploration is often exclusive. If it was that easy then everyone would call themselves explorers rather than adventurous travellers or extreme sports participants. Burke and Speke travelled the Nile as explorers. The vast majority who travel it today are tourists.

    This is my personal opinion. I don’t want to get in a debate on this so this will be my last word on the subject.


  16. Hello all of you – I’d like to share a story that struck me and has to do with the topic discussed. Last week someone told me that he met a German guy in Mauritania, on a scooter. His only luggage was a bottle of water, which he held between his legs. The young man had left his house in Germany a few months earlier and while he was driving his scooter, he decided to keep going. No plan, no aim. The sirens sang and he followed their call. Every day he asks himself 1 question: continue or go home? If the sirens haven”t stopped calling he might be in Cape town by now.
    All this to say that my eyes lit up when I heard this story. This guy does not make headlines | twitter | push limits | discover new species. But he does follow his inner voice, although he has no idea why. And he doesn’t need to go public. The journey is what counts, not applaus. Sooooo refreshing!

  17. It is a point of view. I don’t agree with it. I don’t disagree that there may be new things to discover, new species even, but I still maintain there is nowhere undiscovered on the terrestrial globe and, in the sense that I have always understood it, there is nowhere left to explore. You can no longer set off on any journey to an unknown (in the sense of undiscovered by anyone) destination. As I said, this does not invalidate anyone’s journey, provided they do not advertise it as anything other than it is. It can still be exciting, adventurous, risky – fatal, even. But once something has been done, it has been done. End of story.

    I especially disagree with this: “… a journey into the ‘known’ can nevertheless be nothing short than a ‘true exploration’ and in many cases much more important than the ‘first’ ‘true’ exploration.” It is different, certainly and in scientific terms might very well be more valuable. For example, Amundsen was first to the South Pole. Scott was second but in scientific terms and even though he himself perished, his expedition was immensely more valuable. Nansen was first to cross Greenland but the 1952-54 British North Greenland Expedition was by far the more productive in terms of scientific work.

    I would not dispute that there are new things to be discovered about places. I just would not call it exploration.

    Hope that helps, Mikael!

    All the best,


  18. I very much liked Arita’s note which reminded me of Rob Thomson wonderful words (Rob traveled the world on his skateboard):

    “Anyone could do it. But travelling by human power is not a holiday. It is a rite of passage that humbles and awes a person, leaving them no longer able to live in blissful ignorance of the outside world. All it takes is plenty of time, perseverance, and a willingness to experience the world in all its unadulterated rawness, beauty, and messy humanity…. Do it. Forget what you think you know about yourself, your culture, and your world. Forget what you think you know about travel. Forget what you think you know about your own physical limitations. Dream your dream. Plan your steps. And then do it. You will learn more about yourself than you thought knowable, you will discover more about humanity than you deigned probable, and you will create memories that will move you every time you revisit them.”

  19. JR – Thanks for Rob Thomson’s words. Last weeked I spoke to young people at Explore, the annual weekend RGS organizes and where experts meet students & others who prepare an expedition or fieldwork trip. The point I stressed was that there’s a tendency to cover up expeditions and journeys with nobal aims. Either to attract sponsors or to give the expediton a sexy or good feel. But most first timers GO without knowing why they want to follow the Amazon river or reach the North Pole, or cross the biggest desert. It’s an inner drive, and it’s quite a normal thing to do – that is why there are so many legends, myths, fairy tales about the Journey of the Hero (Joseph Campbell). Young people want to test their strength, find out who they are, and what their place in he world is. Those journeys are directed towards your inner world, about WHO am I and WHAT is my place in the world, see Tomson’s words. And when you have learned more about yourself, your motives, your prejudices and opinions, your place in the world, you are better equiped for another type of expedition, journeys of discovery directed towards the outside world, characterized by WHY & HOW. So, coming back to the issue of Fakes and Cheats > ethics are important. I wouldn’t want to start a witch hunt, but propose we look to ourselves before we embark on an expedition. And after a bit of introspection answer the following Q: what is my main drive or motive for this journey?

  20. David Grant: I’d like to comment on your remark concerning true exploration and discovery. Just two weeks ago I had an interesting discussion about this with archaeologist Krzysztof Pluskota. In the late 90-ies we traveled with our 3 camels in the Red Sea Hills of Sudan. A remote and mountainous area in between the Red Sea and the Nile. I went there to search for old goldmines – which I found – but we also found something much more interesting. Thousands of petroglyphs of cows and prehistoric people in a hidden valley, where we also found 3 altars and bones. Krzysztof immedeately recognized the importance of the site: it had served as a place of worship. The valley was enclosed by rock walls (womb) and opposite the narrow entry arose a monolith, a rock in the shape of a fallus. This year the Polish Academy of Science sends 4 people (Krzysztof among them) to the site to make a detailed survey. Took awhile, but here’s the point I want to make: I labeled our find as a rediscovery – because we weren’t the first to see those magnificently carved cows. The Beja nomads in the Red Sea Hills knew those petroglyphs. But Krzysztof pointed out that discovery does not necessarely mean that you have to be the first to put your flag somewhere in order to claim Discovery . Discovery is also: realize the value or the meaning of what you see, and share this knowledge with the others.
    Would appreciate other peoples thoughts on this.

  21. Another great note Arita. Please see the following link re the famed explorers Burton and Speke:


    You’ll find there the following paragraph:

    “Burton and Speke arrive in December 1856 in Zanzibar, where they spend six months planning their journey into the interior of Africa. In June 1857 they are ready to set off from the coast at Bagamoyo. At first they are able to follow the well-trodden routes of Arab merchants which bring them by November to Tabora, the long-established hub of east African trading routes.

    Here they are told of three great lakes in the region. To the south is Lake Nyasa (in western terms discovered in the following year by Livingstone, now back in Africa from England). To the west is Lake Tanganyika and to the north Lake Victoria, both about to be discovered by Burton and Speke.

    It is a strange concept that Europeans should be described as discovering geographical features on which the local population are well able to provide them with information. Yet the first description of such places by outsiders does have a real significance.

    Travellers returning from remote places to the developed world contribute news of them for the first time to a global pool of ever-developing knowledge. The detailed maps which we now take for granted, and which in the 19th century had many uncharted blank spaces, depend entirely on such second-hand ‘discoveries’ and on subsequent visits by other explorers to fill in the details.”

  22. Rediscovery or what sound like wonderful petroglyphs. But I would still say this was not exploration as I understand the word.

  23. Great story – what a journey – thanks for introducing these Polish guys to us. High time to broaden our horizon. If you leave it up to the Anglo Saxons you’d think exploration was an exclusive British affair.

  24. I have made a couple of journeys taking pony drawn vehicles into the heart of our cities. First driving from Brecon to Birmingham, only 200 miles, but travelling, solo by pony drawn vehicle, in a modern society is an adventure, and taking a pony into inner city areas explores cultures remarkably cheaply. Obama was befriended by Iraquis, Yemenis, Jamaicans, irish, Afghans, all of whom wanted to describe how they worked with ponies. My second trip was from Exeter to Hyde Park in London, to see if I could take a wheelchair enabled, pony drawn vehicle that far, and drive it round Hyde Park, from the wheelchair on my own.
    Again I met some amazing people, and I learned loads, and discovered that you can pitch tent, and corral your pony within an hour’s walk of Hyde Park. I got no publicity, I got no sponsorship, I didn’t get out of the UK, yet I was exploring, and I made discoveries.
    But I fit none of the categories of “normal” exploration. So doesn’t that almost define exploration, that you can’t categorise or quantify it, because you only know you have explored when you realise what you have learned.
    And if that sentence doesn’t get me into Pseuds Corner, nothing will

  25. In your talk you mention a man from Siberia Pavel who hunted after gulag prisoners killing 50 hundred of them. You mention that he is one of the best human beings you have ever met. I read all of the comments on this page and to my surprise nobody found anything wrong in this statement. Someone who killed people for profit, who contributed to one of the biggest tragedies of the XX century? Please clarify this for me. I wish I never saw this video. I find your statements very disturbing.

  26. Dear Zbigniew! First of all, I am sorry if I have offended you in any way. I know I have quite a lot of readers who either by themselves or through relatives/friends/familys have experienced the evilness of the Gulags. Secondly, regarding to your statement, I guess you are referring to the TED X talk? I am kind of surprised you say Pavel was a paid killer. If you listen carefully, what I am saying is this:

    The Soviets learned from the Cossacks to take the best and most important people in every village as hostages for their own evil use. If you listen carefully I say that Pavel, an Even, was in exactly this position. They took his whole family, his wife, his children, his parents…all relatives as hostage…and if he didn´t do what they told him to do, they would execute all of them. What would you have done? Of course he carries this extremely heavy burden around. Every single relative and family member was still executed. My point by telling this is that one should never, ever judge others if you don´t know what they have gone through to do such a terrible thing. And, it is as a question to all of us, what would we have done in his position? I honestly don´t know until I would be in the same situation. And having a daughter and a wife I love over everything, I would do anything to have them stay alive. Calling him a payed hand of the Soviets is therefore, in my opinion, awfully wrong. He is a victim of the Soviet Gulag system as much as everybody else who had their lives ruined.

    Thirdly, when it comes to the Gulags and survivors, if you for example read Varlam Sharlamov´s book Kolyma Tales, there´s of course many reason why the rest of the world know so little about the terrible Gulags and their survivors. One little reason is that the survivors had to do so many terrible things to survive, so many just didn´t want to talk about their Gulag time. Pavel never told me the story himself. Somebody else did.

    Once again, sorry if my story offended you. I hope this has clarified a bit of this disturbing issue, Zbigniew.


  27. Hi Jeb, Yes, i have heard about it, seen the 60 minutes and prefers to highlight all the good he has done. And I´d like to add this editorial/opinion written by Tina at ExWeb which i keep high in value http://www.explorersweb.com/opinion/news.php?id=20095 and it seems Greg Mortensen has defended himself at http://www.bozemandailychronicle.com/news/article_4d3125cc-67d7-11e0-b861-001cc4c002e0.html So at the end of the day, it is probably the old stuff showing its ugly face, as quick as things start going well, there´s jealous people devoting their time to bring you down. On top of that, I don´t have any other opinions on the subject. M

  28. I was referred to by a person i respect greatly as the “Ethical Explorer” This person actually previously worked at The Explorers Club so they have some experience in this. I hope this term is not an oxymoron. when you are doing the right thing, you know you are doing the right thing!

  29. Dear Readers, On and off I get veiled attacks or comments regarding this issue above, please, you have to understand, you have to publish your correct name and address when commenting. We don´t do anonymous comments. Please stand for your comment. Thanx, Mikael

  30. Dear Reader! I am receiving quite a few emails right now from people with very bitter comments on individuals or organisations, THIS IS NOT the forum for these comments and will therefore not be published. M

  31. Hi Mikael,

    indeed, this is a very interesting subject and I feel intrigued to comment on it too.

    Two things: “unsupported status” and “exploration”.

    This “unsupported” thing – to be more precise the definition of it, is going on

    in my mind for quite a while now. It is easy and tempting to label one’s actions “unsupported” and I think it is valid to do so if one does not have a support team following or a chase vehicle assisting in case of trouble or by dropping supplies.

    Looking at it closely in a way how people these days critize or question expedition stati, the question is, where to draw the line. If I go on a solo bike expedition, is it “unsupported”, because I am by myself?

    Or is rather supported because of friendly people who randomly invite me for dinner, give me water, host me? For somebody manufactured my bike, made my gear, stocked up the shelves in the supermarkets where I resupply, grows the food I eat, and has built the roads I travel on. Do sponsors support me, if I’ve got any? Of course they do!

    To cut a long story short: I believe it is communication issue. If one claims to do something “unsupported” one should communicate it clearly how the project’s “unsupported status” is defined. For instance by defining a set of rules.

    As for exploration:
    true and sadly, there are hardly any white spots left on the global map except perhaps deep sea- and speleo exploration, I think.

    But apart from the ever-increasing touristification of the world’s easier accessible places and territories, exploration vastly takes and always took part on a personal, individual level.

    Firstly, a journey for exploration is always an inner journey, an inner exploration too.

    Secondly, it doesn’t really matter how many people have been to a certain place or done a certain thing before, because if I haven’t been there or done it , it surely is a white spot on my personal map!

    It does help though knowing that somebody has been there/done it before, and therefore the possibility of it. Having achieved something extraordinary whether a world first or not also inspires others in many ways.

    To me, this true mission of the modern day explorer: to inspire people and show them methods how to lead a more meaningful life. Not necessarily by telling people how to become an adventurer too, but to accomplish things by setting goals, gaining greater self confidence, making decisions, taking risks etc. etc.

    Providing “nutrition” for the spirit. Because what the world needs is inspriation and people who take action instead of just talking.

    Best wishes,

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