The rules of Adventure

Posted: Mar 21, 2005 05:00 am EST

In life, one of the hardest things is to finish. All too often, we do 95 percent of the job only to lose it all on a last, tiny bit.

The result of this is obvious in sports, in business, or at school: You either make the record/deal/exam - or you don't.

It's less obvious in adventure - but it's there: A storm omitting the last steps to the summit of Everest. An open water lead in the way of a crossing from land to the North Pole. A coral reef or negative drift obstructing proper landfall when rowing an ocean.

So how do you handle it? There are several options:

1. You cheat: You say that you did it anyway.

2. You mislead: You withhold crucial information.

3. You change your goal (afterwards): You say that you went only for yourself/the fun/the experience.

You can choose any of the above - and one more: You commit to nothing at all before you leave.

Blaming others

We see cheating all the time. When busted, people have different strategies.

Among the most popular; blaming the media or their own webmaster for "misunderstanding" the explorer. Funny thing is, that the guys are always "misunderstood" to their own advantage. Another popular statement is "I had to cheat to make the sponsors happy."


Then there are the cloudy messages. Take Ben Saunders for example:

"The next Sir Ranulph Fiennes," according to The Times and his website, Ben describes his journeys: "The youngest person ever to ski solo to the North Pole and holds the record for the longest solo Arctic journey by a Briton." As for last year, he writes:

"Four solo expeditions started on the same date; three heading for the North Pole and Ben aiming to make a complete crossing. Within the first 24 hours, the Finnish adventurer Dominick Arduin was missing presumed dead and Frederic Chamard-Boudet (France) had been rescued with severe frostbite. Ben used a specially designed drysuit to swim across areas of open water...Ben was the only solo expedition to reach the Pole, after the third, American Wave Vidmar, was evacuated on 23rd April."

It's pretty amazing, that this is a description of a man who never accomplished a full North Pole expedition. And as for last year, he fails to mention that Dominick and Frederic started out at a much more difficult point, while Ben took an airlift to better ice. And finally, that Wave Vidmar had to evacuate because his sponsor couldn't afford to pay up for an airlift from Canada - and moreover - contrary to Ben, Wave was actually unsupported during his entire trip!

The deal of fair game

While cheating and misleading will get you initial advantages (Ben has been invited to Buckingham Palace and done photo shoots for Nike), in the long run you'll lose out big time. (Not to mention what you have to look at each morning when brushing your teeth.)

So here is the deal:

1. Remember that the few last steps often are the most difficult ones. The guys who live through them deserve proper respect. If you choose to cheat, you will dilute true achievement and it won't be tolerated by the community.

2. It's fine to go only for the fun of it (the expedition Siberia guys are a good example of a great journey without "firsts" attached). If you do though, be very careful with your choice of words. Any "first", "fastest", "longest" will discredit your intention.

3. It's never wrong to fail. It comes down to how you treat your failure. Treating failure the right way is more empowering than success.

4. Aiming for a record without committing to it signals (and breeds) weakness.

The rules

So what are the rules? They are the same whether you go climbing, polar/desert crossing, sailing or ocean rowing. The rules are as follows:

1. A summit is a summit. 5 feet away is not the summit.

2. Land is land. 5 ft away from land, is not a full expedition/circumnavigation.

3. Solo/single-handed: No assistance; no contact with other people throughout entire expedition.

4. Unsupported: No physical assistance during expedition.

5. Firsts, records, distances, crossings - only valid when expeditions are complete and when compared to other expeditions in equal circumstances.

6. Your word: You are responsible for the content of your website and your statements to media and sponsors.

The right options

So what to do if you do fail? Well, there are many good examples of warriors who failed big time, and ate it. The champs either go back, or officially renounce the attempt.

In 1992, Richard Weber and Misha Malakhov were forced to abort an attempt after 105 days to ski to the North Pole and back. In 1995, they returned, and completed their journey, spending another 123 days pulling their gear behind them. (Contrary to several cheaters, upon arrival in Canada's Ward Hunt Island, Micha and Richard were not greeted by journalists or photographers. Instead they just went straight to bed.)

When Peter Bird was rowing to US from Russia he was 304 days at sea and still accepted 'incomplete row' because he ran out of food.

Fedor declined Argos a few months back, jeopardizing his safety in order to not compromise his unsupported, singlehanded status. In the end he had to stop for repairs, renounced the status but continues his sail to finish his circumnavigation.

Silvio Mondinelli is returning to Lhotse and Carlos Pauner will go and climb Broad Peak again - both to remove all doubts on their previous climbs of the mountains. Ed Viesturs already did the same on Broad peak.

When Tori Murden - the first women to row an ocean - left La Gomera she said 'I will row to land in Guadeloupe anything else is a failure."

All those explorers are treated with great respect by the community today.

Ongoing battles

In exploration history, there is of course the age old North Pole controversy between Peary and Cook - both later disqualified. (Tom Avery is currently out not to prove that Peary was right, but that his journey could had been done.)

Out at sea, Maud Fontenoy is rowing on the Pacific Ocean, only ten days from landfall. But it is not a row "across the Pacific'. It's a "mid Pacific" row, and only if Maud rows to land (an island). If she is towed the last bit, her row will be incomplete.

The rules are universal

Whether it's the rules of the Oceanrowers society, the Sailing Speed record website, Liz Hawley in Nepal, Piolet D'Or, ExplorersWeb or the law of nature itself - they are all the same: Land is land, summit is summit, and a cheater is useless.

If you want to be a champion, you must do it right and you must go all the way. And remember: Winning and losing is temporary - keeping it real is forever.

Korean Um Hong-Gil claimed to be the first Asian 14 8000ers summiteer before Young Seok-Park (currently heading for the North Pole - and the world's first "Grand Slam"), but many voices were raised doubting the value of his climbs on Lhotse and Shisha Pangma. Um climbed them both again (Lhotse in spring 2001, Shisha in fall 2001), but in the mean time, Seok-Park finished his own quest, grabbing the 'First Asian' title.

Young-Seok Park himself had many climbers doubting his summit on Lhotse. He had no summit pic. He repeated the climb in 2000, including a super- photo gallery from all the sections, summit included. Last 8000er for Mr. Park was K2, in summer 2001.

Lhotse is without a doubt the most controversial of the 14, 8000ers. There is an obvious foresummit some meters below the real summit. It is just some meters, but exposed.

Image of the Hammurabi law code, Babylonia, 1750-1700 BC, courtesy of

Image of the Hammurabi law code, Babylonia, 1750-1700 BC, courtesy of