Explorers

Photo: Conservationist Mike Fay in a redwood forest

Photograph by Lindsey Holm

Major Fields of Study

Adventure

In 2000 the Expeditions Council made possible Jean-François Pernette's exploration of the unknown caves and karst formations of Chile's Ultima Esperanza region. Pernette and his multinational team confirmed the extraordinary speleological potential of this region by mapping 30 technically challenging caves. You can't ask for more adventure than in chasing a tornado, as electronics engineer Tim Samaras and a team including photographer Carsten Peter did over the course of two summers. It was all part of their attempt to place "turtles" (probes that can measure a tornado's wind speed, direction, barometric pressure, humidity, and temperature) directly in the path of a funnel. Surviving violent storms and bridging treacherous crevasses, Børge Ousland and Thomas Ulrich traversed Southern Patagonia's Ice Field, one of the largest expanses of ice on Earth. Grantee Jon Bowermaster's adventures have taken him sea kayaking to such diverse locations as the heart of Alaska's Aleutian Islands, the coast of Vietnam, the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia, and South America's Altiplano—a massive, elevated flatland spanning portions of Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia.
The EC has also supported:

  • Jenny Daltry's survey of Siamese crocodiles in the Cardamom Mountains
  • Roman Dial's rain forest canopy treks in Australia and Borneo
  • Mark Synnott's arduous month-long jungle adventure collecting plants and animals from the sheer rock face of the Guyana tepuis
  • Lance Milbrand's sojourn as the only human on Clipperton atoll, among thousands of bright orange crabs and millions of seabirds

Culture
Nilda Callanaupa, master weaver and director of the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, headed a project highlighting the use of traditional Andean textiles in the festivities and rituals in remote communities of the Cusco region of Peru. The goal of this project was to document the production, use, and significance of textiles created for indigenous Quechua Indian festivals before these Inca-based traditions become lost or corrupted. The EC also funded the work of adventure photographer Nevada Wier, who led a team of six people hiking and rafting the length of the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia, from the headwaters at Lake Tana to the Sudanese border—a journey of some 500 miles (800 kilometers). During the month-long journey, the team encountered many people who live along the banks of the river and were offered unparalleled insight into their way of life. Karin Muller's 3,000-mile (4,800-kilometer) journey along South America's Royal Inca Highway included a wild ride in a traditional reed boat she made herself. For Muller, a frequent and popular guide on National Geographic-sponsored trips, traveling is all about making meaningful connections with the local communities she passes through.

Mountains/Volcanoes
Carsten Peter led a team of volcanologists and alpinists in exploring and photographing the explosive peaks and steam-pocked glaciers of Kamchatka, a Russian land of more than a hundred volcanoes. One project yielding impressive finds was Johan Reinhard's expedition to excavate Inca ruins on the summits of three Andean volcanoes above 18,000 feet (5,500 meters). He discovered three remarkably preserved mummies on Argentina's Mount Llullaillaco, the world's highest archaeological site. In 2001 Peter Frost led a team of archaeologists high atop Cerro Victoria in the Vilcabamba region of the Peruvian Andes to map and study the ruins of a large settlement that shows evidence of Inca occupation. German adventure photographer Carsten Peter and his team of explorers and scientists made a difficult journey through the dense jungle of Vanuatu, an island in the South Pacific to study and document two active volcanoes. The team spent two weeks surrounded by turbulent magma lakes, poisonous gases, and violent storms. Luckily their treacherous, thousand-foot (300-meter) rappels into the active volcano craters resulted in an interesting study and unique photographic coverage. The EC also helped fund:

  • Todd Skinner's free climb of the main face of the 3,600-foot (1,100-meter) granite tower of Ulamertorsuaq in Greenland
  • Brad Washburn's Mount Everest snow-depth expeditions
  • Ed Viesturs's quest to climb 14 of the world's 8,000-meter (26,000-foot) peaks

Natural History and Conservation
Wildlife Conservation Society biologist J. Michael Fay's 15-month walk through more than 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) of pristine central African forest—called the African Megatransect—was directly supported by an EC grant. The primary goals of the expedition were to study the correlation between large-mammal abundance and human influence across the central African rain forests of Congo and Gabon as well as to evaluate other environmental and conservation issues. As a direct result of the powerful media coverage of the Megatransect, 13 national parks have been created in Gabon—an unprecedented achievement in conservation on the African continent. Another EC expedition located the remote birthing ground of the endangered chiru, also known as the Tibetan antelope. During a demanding 30-day trek, mountaineer and team leader Rick Ridgeway, climber Conrad Anker, wilderness photographer Galen Rowell, and videographer Jimmy Chin followed a herd of female chiru through Tibet's northern Chang Tang Plateau. Photographs and footage of the never before documented site were used to help wildlife biologists persuade authorities to expand protected areas to include the chiru birthing ground. In 2001 British explorer John Hare followed the path of Hanns Vischer. Vischer was an early explorer whose epic 1906 camel journey across the then unmapped Sahara made him one of the foremost explorers of his day. Using camels and armed with Vischer's maps and notes, Hare traveled nearly 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) and recorded the changes that have taken place in the last hundred years to the people in northern Nigeria, Niger, and Libya. As founder of the Wild Camel Protection Foundation, Hare also sought to raise international awareness of the critically endangered wild Bactrian camel. A 1999 EC grant given to John Hare took him to Nanhu, an unexplored area of China's Gashun Gobi, to investigate and survey the Bactrian camels in that remote desert valley.

Underwater Exploration
George Bass—the recipient of the U.S. National Medal of Science in 2002 in recognition of his research in the field of underwater archaeology—received two grants from the Expeditions Council. In 2000 Bass and his team from the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (INA) initiated a long-term survey of important ancient shipwrecks along the Turkish coast. One discovery—the only sixth-century B.C. wreck known in the eastern Mediterranean—is now under excavation. More recently, Bass appointed classical archaeologist Faith Hentschel to continue his underwater survey work off the coast of Turkey using the INA submersible Carolyn. Other notable grantees include:

  • Wesley "Rocky" Strong's white shark behavior study off the coast of South Africa
  • Mike Heithaus's investigation of tiger sharks in Western Australia's Shark Bay
  • Marine biologist Nancy Black's killer whale research off the coast of California

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