Photograph courtesy Jay Simpson
Photograph courtesy Jay Simpson
Birthplace: Idaho Falls, Idaho
Current City: San Francisco, California
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Defiantly, I always said "I want to work for National Geographic." I think it was after a career placement test recommended that I work in floral arranging that I completely ignored any contrary opinions.
How did you get started in your field of work?
My journey to this has come from years of working with photography, backpacking and being outdoors, studying anthropology, learning about storytelling, and (most importantly) traveling. In many ways we've lost our traditional forms of creating or celebrating moments of passage in our lives, and traveling is one of my favorite ways to journey into one's self.
Through my travels I have learned the lessons, met the people, and found the questions that continue to support and propel me forward.
What inspires you to dedicate your life to storytelling?
I've found myself dedicated to sharing stories that illuminate our connections to our environment, our neighbors, and our larger community around world because not only do I find the energy in these connections inspirational, but they are the foundation for creating the changes we need to see in the world.
What’s a normal day like for you?
When I'm not in the field, I'm typically found (with coffee) in front of my computer editing photos/multimedia, writing, or having Skype meetings at random hours to accommodate other time zones. I've lost the feeling of having an attachment to having my own bed or place to live, and have found normality in the adventure of cooking in other people's kitchens and going on early morning bicycle rides or early morning swims in the ocean.
My days in the field start at sunrise and quickly move to covering the ground required for the day. While on the Rim of Africa, a typical day meant carrying my 50-pound pack from nearly sun up to sun down, with only occasional breaks for food, water, or skinny-dips in swimming holes. While walking I had my DSLR holstered onto my backpack strap, an audio recorder strapped quick-draw style to my pack's belt, a point-and-shoot camera around my neck, and my iPhone easily retrievable in my pocket. It was overwhelming at times, but at other times satisfying through a required awareness of the present moment: to the natural sounds, tiny flowers, and vistas ahead.
What's been your favorite experience in the field? Most challenging?
My most cherished moment in the field has to be on day 46 of the Rim of Africa, when I found a footpath on the high ridge of a mountain. The modest, six-inch-wide, white-pebble-spotted trail came after a long day spent climbing (some parts literally) a slope with cold winds and cloud, bush so tall it consumed the landscape, and baboons near enough to cause concern. I kissed the trail and was overjoyed with the ecstasy of following a trail for the rest of the day.
My most challenging moment in the field was day 37, a day spent solo on the Rim of Africa.
The day came with a rough start: I hadn't slept well on a cot I had fashioned late the previous night, it having been assembled in the dark and made of felled trees and a figment of my imagination that it could be more comfortable than the rocky, 45-degree slope. After packing my backpack and dispersing the rotting wood of my cot, I spent most of my morning stumbling out of the Afromontane forest I had accidentally stumbled into the previous night. Afterward, the bush only grew taller, with thickets becoming dense enough to hide cliffsides inside their branches. I battled for hours between vegetation and rock to finally hit a footpath by midafternoon. A quick assessment of the weather [revealed] a strong storm coming in higher in the mountains, directly where I was headed. I ate a quick lunch, dressed in my waterproof gear, and climbed to the cloud and wind. Once the temperature dropped, wind kicked up, and rain/hail started to pelt me head-on. I decided to turn around. Utterly alone in the mountains I did not have it in me to face another night exposed to the elements and the will of the mountains. I cried. Then, as in a trance, I hiked hours back down the mountain (to where I made my lunch), set up camp, and slept.
The next morning, with the weather worse off, I walked out of the mountains to a nearby farm, only returning to the trail two days later.
What are your other passions?
Cycling/cycle touring, rock climbing, listening to records at slow speeds, cooking and wine, traveling without a map and asking for directions, and attempting to rope friends into planning adventures to far-off places.
Be an Explorer
National Geographic launches the Terra Watt prize, which will award grants to projects that expand energy access.
The Young Explorers Grants Program awards grants to scientists and explorers between the ages of 18 and 25.
The Global Exploration Fund establishes local support for research, conservation, and exploration projects in Northern Europe and China.
In Their Words
My journey to this has come from years of working with photography, backpacking and being outdoors, studying anthropology, learning about storytelling, and traveling.
Simpson is tracking the remarkable journey of an ordinary wolf in Oregon, traveling over 1,200 miles.
Young Explorer Jay Simpson walked over 400 miles in the mountains of South Africa to educate youth on conservation.
Follow Simpson's walk on the Rim of Africa, linking cutural practices to conservation.
Our Explorers in Action
Meet female explorers who have pushed the limits in adventure, science, and more.