It's commonly assumed that it's all been done: Everest, the Poles, circumnavigations, unknown lands – tick, all been done. Where's genuinely left to explore, apart from contrived records? First person to ride backwards on a bike to the North Pole anyone?
Well think again. We catch up with some of today's top explorers to hear where those blank spots exist. And as Will Gadd says, they may be in your mind: “Heading off to find a new continent centuries ago is the same mental game as heading off to see if you can climb a new face. It's the unknown, the, 'what if I try this, or go there?'”
“There are many places in the world left to explore. We know more about space than we do about the underwater regions of our planet,” says Jill Heinerth. The underwater explorer, who was recently recognised by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society for her work, says underwater caves represent the 'ultimate challenge'.
“Cave diving has been characterized as the world’s most dangerous sport, as well as the edgy frontier of earthbound scientific exploration and discovery.”
Heinerth recently dived inside a giant Antarctic iceberg (below). “The polar regions are still a frontier – they have only been explored for little more than a century,” she adds.
“On Earth there's not much left in terms of true geographic exploration,” says exploratory climber Will Gadd. “But there's one great exception: caves. As far as I know this is the only true geographic exploration left in the world.”
Unlike oceans and the world's surface, it's inpenetrable to GPS or sonar imaging.
“There is no Google Earth map – you have no idea where you are or where you are going. I think I'm going to do more caving in the future, it's truly the last frontier of geographic exploration!”
Flying the skies
His beard isn't going grey yet, but Tom de Dorlodot is well on his way to becoming the most interesting man in the world. He's paraglided in places most of us only dream of going. However, he's still got his eye on a few more. “I dream of bivouac flights in the Andes, especially in the Cordillera Blanca in Peru. I'm also attracted by flying the Tian Shan region in China, the Great Altai in Mongolia, the mountains of Afghanistan or even the kingdom of Bhutan!”
Of course, while those are the places he dreams about, he's got some pretty cool actual plans, too. “There are also great options and new fresh lines in Europe, I'm thinking of the Apennines in Italy or the Velebit mountains in Croatia. That's why we are going there soon with my friend Paul Guschlbauer!”
Steve Fisher, the South African-born whitewater pro, has hucked himself over waterfalls and navigated the world's biggest rapids. But rather than feeling like he's done it all, his sentiment is the exact opposite. “There are a lot of untapped areas! To do the new stuff you now need to go further and work harder! With that said, there is often stuff right under your nose: Next month I am attempting to do the headwaters of the Hudson River, in the state of New York in the USA. The put-in is only six miles from the nearest road, but nobody has done it!”
Of course, he'd also be happy to go back to his home continent: “Africa is very untapped because of lack of infrastructure and geo-political issues – but I'd like to explore rivers in Angola. Good fishing on the coast there too!”
BASE jump exits
Whether it's flying under the Aguille du Midi bridge or between buildings in Brazil, wingsuit pilot Jokke Sommer has flown quite a few places. But when we asked where he wanted to fly next, he didn't hesitate with his answer. “I'd love to find some new exits in Patagonia,” he says. While the rocky spires and tall cliffs of South America's southernmost mountain range have been well explored by climbers, high winds and stormy weather have kept it off the BASE jump radar, as jumpable days are rare. But given time, it will happen – and Jokke hopes to be the one to do it.