Expedition News
August 2012 – Volume Nineteen, Number Eight

EXPEDITION NEWS, now in its 19th year, is the monthly review of significant expeditions, research projects and newsworthy adventures. It is distributed online to media representatives, corporate sponsors, educators, research librarians, explorers, environmentalists, and outdoor enthusiasts. This forum on exploration covers projects that stimulate, motivate and educate.


Dead Men Tell Tales – Searching for the Tomb of Genghis Khan

Explorers Club president Alan Nichols plans an expedition Sept. 19 thru Oct. 4 to search for the tomb of Genghis Khan (or more properly transliterated as Chinggis Qa'an), founder of the world’s largest empire in history and Mongolia’s most revered figure. The search for the tomb, the location of which is one of the greatest mysteries in the world, will take place within the Yinchuan area of China’s Ningxia Autonomous Region, the Liu Pan Mountains in China, the Ordos Desert in China, and the Yin Mountains in Inner Mongolia.

Scientists and adventurers have been searching for his burial site for almost 750 years. Qa’an was reportedly buried secretly in a solid silver casket with extraordinary jewels, weapons, artifacts and scores of warriors, slaves and horses. Nichols believes the tomb holds a treasure trove of history and wealth.

To avoid conflict with China authorities, who currently believe Qa’an was buried in Xinjiang, in the Altai Mountain, the official mission will be to track the last days of the emperor, focusing on sites that are recognized in The Secret History of the Mongols by Paul Kahn (Cheng & Tsui, 2005), and by scholars of events that happened in August 1227 when Qa’an died. Alan Nichols says events and places that are supported by history and can be located on the ground now include Yinchuan, the last capital city he conquered, the area where he died in the Liu Pan Mountains, the Ordos Desert, and the Yellow River that his cortege crossed on the way to Mongolia, and a huge Disneyland-like Genghis Khan Mausoleum in the Ordos Desert where, despite the name, the coffin contains no body, only headdresses and accessories.

Genghis Khan is believed to have been born in 1162 and by the time of his death his empire stretched from China to the Caspian Sea in south-central Russia. His grandson, Kublai Khan, the founder of the Yuan Dynasty, expanded Mongolian territories well into Russia and the Middle East, making it the largest contiguous land empire in history.

Nichols and his eight-person team plus drivers, translators and support staff, will hire camels or horses to gauge the distance that the funeral cart might have traveled through the Ordos to test the shaman requirements for prompt burial.

They will cross the Yellow River at the most logical point and investigate the legendary swamp where the funeral cortege cart was "irretrievably" stuck. They will visit the Buddhist temple with the alleged statue of Chinggis Qa'an, interview locals about legends passed down from previous generations, conduct a walking survey of the mountain, and climb the summit of the sacred granite mountain peak where Qa’an is believed to have died.

Nichols expects the expedition will be able to use underground testing equipment to confirm that the location is correct and in the long run, make sure the tomb is protected.

“Although non-Mongolians generally do not want his tomb to be found, we believe it is necessary to find it in order to protect it from looting and indiscriminate excavation,” Nichols said.

The $30,000 expedition is sponsored in part by the Sacred Mountain Foundation and The Ewald Foundation. (For more information: Alan Nichols, (+1) 212-628-8383,


Report from Salt Lake

Over 27,000 outdoor industry retailers, manufacturers, sales reps, media and explorers, adventurers, and adventure travelers made the trek to Salt Lake City this month for the bi-annual schwagfest known as the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show. It’s here that products destined for stores and catalogs in spring 2013 are first displayed for retailers to salivate over – or not.

The competition for the attention of store buyers is intense – just one swipe of a pen on an order form can make or break the dreams of hundreds of entrepreneurs and inventors.

The show is so large, it has expanded beyond the boundaries of the Salt Palace Convention Center into an adjacent pavilion tent crammed with new products.

There’s talk of moving the show beyond 2014, but the options for a trade show this large are limited to cities such as Anaheim, Chicago and Las Vegas – cities with a decidedly low ranking on the outdoor vibe scale. Denver is considered a more likely venue if organizers decide to move from Salt Lake.

Meanwhile, the OR Show is where trends are first identified and new footwear, apparel and gizmos first see light of day. It’s here that slacklining was introduced just a few years ago. Now the sport that involves essentially tightrope walking on climbing webbing, has spawned its own World Slackline Federation competition, complete with stadium seating in front of the Salt Palace.

Among the 1,200 exhibitors are an impossible number of water bottle companies, sunscreen manufacturers, footwear makers, a new category of bracelet-like survival straps, head-mounted HD video cameras, portable power products, new water-repellant down, and seemingly dozens of companies making accessories to protect the i-gadgets that explorers, travelers and adventurers are increasingly taking on the long and winding road.

Here’s a quick review of the people and products that make this a favorite event for those in the exploration field.

  • Life and Death on Everest 2012 – Climbers, guides and journalists came together to discuss the challenges of climbing an overcrowded mountain and Everest’s perception in mainstream media. The general consensus was that Everest will always hold a fascination among the media and general public because of its status as world’s tallest, although a move is underway to prequalify climbers to first prove they have the necessary skills before attempting the summit.

    “The press feeds on disaster,” believes climber Conrad Anker, “It’s Halloween. People are dying up there. Meanwhile, we continue to climb and enjoy being there,” although he later admitted that Everest has lost its cache among the climbing community.

    Journalist Mark Jenkins stated that guiding has made climbing Everest safer, “but the experience has been diminished.” He particularly bemoaned the quantity of human excrement on the mountain, suggesting that Sherpa need to be paid more to help clean it up.

    Outside magazine senior editor Grayson Schaffer commented on the increased use of communications technology. “The barriers to getting information out are so low, if anything happens, news gets out in a few minutes, but sometimes preliminary information isn’t accurate.”

    Jenkins said the “notion that Everest is a vicious place is false. That’s not always the case. Type A climbers are guilty of ‘pilot error.’” He added that there are instances of highly motivated clients getting into fistfights with Sherpa who argue against continuing to the summit. “The attitude is, ‘I paid for this trip and I’m going to keep going. You can’t stop me.’”

    Added Anker, a three-time Everest summiteer, “The desire to go to Everest is not going away. It will continue to appeal to people who are not necessarily climbers, but are trophy hunters.”

    Said mountaineer Melissa Arnot, “It would be incredibly arrogant for me to say ‘let’s limit access to Everest now that I’ve been there.’ The Everest climbing community is trying to figure out how to operate within boundaries.”

  • Beyond 127 Hours – One could hear the proverbial pin drop as an SRO crowd of over 1,000 trade show attendees spent a sometimes emotional, often humorous Conservation Alliance breakfast with Aron Ralston, the adventurer who inadvertently gained fame when he hiked into a remote area of Utah's canyon country, and accidentally dislodged a boulder that crushed and pinned his right hand.

    Ralston's account of his experience, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, was adapted into 127 Hours, a motion picture starring James Franco. After six days of entrapment alone, he amputated his arm with a cheap multi-tool knife and hiked to a miraculous rescue.

    Once Ralston realized his dire predicament – his right arm was crushed down to the bone – he relates, “With every beat of my heart it was an intense throbbing pain. Timmy is in the well and Lassie’s nowhere around.”

    What do you do, he wondered, when you’re out of options and you’re standing in your grave? He said the theme from the Hitchcock movie Psycho was going through his head as he severed his arm, first with a dull knife, then by shearing the bones in his arm clear off. “Snap!” He says the pain was like “sticking a fork in an electric outlet.”

    Shortly afterwards, “I stepped out of my grave and into my life again,” he said.

    “It wasn’t drinking urine that got me through, it was the love of my family – my spirit that kept me going.

    “I had no hard feelings against the boulder that trapped me. There was gratitude. It showed me what was important.”

    A moment of comic relief followed when Ralston showed an image of himself dressed as the pirate Captain Hook. “What’s the good of prosthetics if you can’t make a good costume out of them?”

    With new prosthetic arms that he designed, Ralston completed solo winter ascents of Colorado's 59 Fourteeners, skied from the summit of Denali, and led a raft trip through the Grand Canyon. Today, Ralston is a strong advocate for wilderness protection, donating his time to organizations working to protect the landscapes that he knows well.

    What’s New? – Drool-worthy products that caught our attention:

    We’ll make room for everything in our garage, except maybe for the log. We think that one will take some time to catch on.

    New York’s Space Shuttle Needs to Open the Kimono

    Ok, we understand why New York would agree to accept a prototype 1976 space shuttle that never flew in space. And we understand NASA’s terms of the agreement with the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum is that the craft needs to be displayed indoors. But we were underwhelmed by the display in the newly-built Space Shuttle Pavilion.

    Visitors could walk 10 feet beneath the Enterprise, but the historic artifact was closed up tight. No view of the cockpit, no view of the cargo hold. It was like viewing a museum from the outside. Still, it was interesting to see a six-min. history of space exploration narrated by Leonard “Spock” Nimoy, and hear from two shuttle astronauts, Mario Runco, Jr. (551 hours in space), and Ellen S. Baker (686 hours)

    Baker told an audience of mostly youngsters during July 18 opening day ceremonies, “All you girls here have a lot of opportunities. When I was growing up I never dreamed of being an astronaut because girls weren’t astronauts back then.”

    Runco, who admitted people say he looks like Nimoy (he does indeed), added, “I was inspired by old Flash Gordon movies, thinking, ‘I want to do that.’”

    Polar Guides Band Together

    A group of polar guides including Victor Boyarsky, Matty McNair, Borge Ousland, and Richard Weber, have founded an association dedicated to the development and preservation of world-class professional guiding in polar ice environments. Polar guides typically, but not exclusively, operate on the Arctic Ocean/North Pole, in Antarctica/South Pole and in Greenland, and are able to manage and lead all aspects of an extended polar expedition.

    The primary purpose of the International Polar Guides Association is to regulate the quality of polar guiding through its Polar Guide endorsement program.

    The new IPGA website offers resources to both endorsed and aspiring polar guides, and to those intending to engage the services of a polar guide. A skills and practices manual, planning resources and a directory of endorsed guides will contribute to the uniformity and transparency of polar guiding across the globe, say IPGA organizers.

    With the introduction of IPGA, users of the polar regions – adventurers, tourists, scientists, logistics operators, government organizations, production companies – now have a standardized benchmark to assist in their engagement of polar guides.

                           (For more information)

    Nominees Sought for Explorers Medal

    The entire exploration community is invited to nominate candidates for The Explorers Club’s highest award – the Explorers Club Medal. The Club is seeking potential medal recipients who are explorers and field scientists making “extraordinary contributions directly in the field of exploration, scientific research, or to the welfare of humanity.”

    The 2011 recipient was Wade Davis. Some previous medalists have been: Robert Peary, Roald Amundsen, James Doolittle, Neil Armstrong, Lowell Thomas, Roger Tory Peterson, Bradford Washburn, Jane Goodall, The Piccard Family and Sylvia Earle. The deadline for nominations is Sept. 10, 2012. Nominees do not have to be members. For more information:, 212 628 8383.

                           (See a list of previous awardees)


    “We know more about the moon than we do about our ocean, which sustains all life on this planet.”

    Dr. Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and One World One Ocean science advisor who led the first all-women team to the Tektite undersea habitat in 1970.

    Dr. Earle adds, “Only by making undersea exploration and research an international priority can we learn what we need to know about the ocean to protect it and protect ourselves.”

    Her latest project last month was called Mission Aquarius, conducted in partnership with MacGillivray Freeman Films and its One World One Ocean campaign. Known as “America’s Inner Space Station,” Aquarius is the world’s only remaining undersea laboratory, located 3.5 miles offshore in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It has supported 114 missions since 1993 and is the scene of a number of critical scientific discoveries.

    In fact, scientists estimate that 10 days of research conducted using saturation diving at Aquarius would take approximately six months to one year if using only conventional one- to two-hour dives from a boat.

                           (For more information about Mission Aquarius)


    If Only Shackleton Had Kickstarter – The First Crowd-Funded Underwater Expedition

    Sir Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922), the British polar explorer, wasn’t the Shackleton we know today when he started out, hat in hand, pitching sponsors. It would take years before he became the legendary explorer that businesses still study for his leadership style.

    We were reminded of his fund-raising skills when word came that Kickstarter, the world's largest funding platform for creative projects, was being used by Hawkes Ocean Technologies to fund the DeepFlight Hydrobatics Expedition, an underwater research project focused on validating the flight characteristics of the Super Falcon Submersible.

    This is reportedly the first crowd-funded underwater research expedition, making ocean exploration accessible to anyone with a computer and a spirit for adventure. The company is looking to raise $45,000 by Aug. 30 to fund the week-long expedition, scheduled for early October in Lake Tahoe.

    It’s a far cry from Shackleton’s day. Among explorers, he was the only one who openly promoted his expeditions as a commercial venture, according to Roland Huntford's book entitled, Shackleton (Atheneum, 1986)

    Funding would result, Shackleton was sure, from telling the story in books, lectures, newspapers and cinematographs (movies) To raise money, he lured investors with the promise of another Klondike – a source of minerals and precious stones.

    By granting advertising rights, he received a free motorcar to reach the South Pole, despite the fact that the automobile was notoriously unreliable even in the best of conditions.

    He auctioned off news and picture rights to London newspapers, even earning money by writing jokes for a Fleet Street publication. He turned his expedition ship, the Nimrod, into a floating museum and charged admission, according to Huntford.

    Special postage stamps were sold with a cancellation mark from the Antarctic. A handsome, charismatic speaker, he went on a 20,000-mile lecture tour reading poetry and recounting his exploits using fragile glass lantern slides and a film, the first shot in Antarctica.

    An Antarctic mountain was named after London Daily Express journalist and Punch humorist Sir Henry Lucy to curry favorable publicity. Shackleton was also believed to be the first polar explorer to produce a phonograph record. Not surprisingly, he landed a book deal, wrote about his previous expedition, and was no doubt thrilled when it was published in nine languages.

    Hawkes Ocean Technologies expects its DeepFlight winged submersibles will open the oceans for a new era of ocean adventure and exploration, and is already bringing people on underwater flight excursions through its flight school and corporate retreat programs, as well as selling its submersibles to private owners, including venture capitalist Tom Perkins and entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson.

    To see DeepFlight’s crowd-sourced funding effort, go to Kickstarter. At press time, $2,465 had been raised from 23 backers.


    Vandalized Dinosaur Skeleton Discovered in Alberta

    When members of the St. Louis chapter of The Explorers Club purchased a trip to Alberta with paleontologist Phil Bell, they expected fascinating dinosaur excavations. Instead, they came face to face with a paleontologist's worst nightmare: the destruction of a once-perfect dinosaur skeleton.

    On July 15, paleontologist Phil Bell and a team from the University of Alberta discovered a complete fossilized skeleton of a hadrosaur, a plant-eating dinosaur that once roamed the Grande Prairie region of Alberta.

    After the discovery, Bell said he ran out of time to complete the excavation. He covered the bones in plastic, wrapped them in burlap and reburied them to protect them, planning to return the following week. He said this is a standard practice for preserving fossils, according to St. Louis Beacon writer Josie Butler.

    The following Thursday, when Bell returned to the site, the skeleton had been completely destroyed.

    Bell said the site had been completely exhumed. The plaster jacket had been torn off and the bones were destroyed and scattered down the hill. It was evident to Bell that the vandals had spent a lot of time at the site. It looked as though someone took sledgehammers to it. Bell said this shows a complete lack of respect for the natural world. Read the story in the St. Louis Beacon.

    Ferrigno Rift, Antarctica “Grand Canyon,” Discovered Beneath Ice

    A dramatic gash in the surface of the Earth that could rival the majesty of the Grand Canyon has been discovered secreted beneath Antarctica's vast, featureless ice sheet, according to Andrea Mustain of

    Dubbed the Ferrigno Rift for the glacier that fills it, the chasm's steep walls plunge nearly a mile down (1.5 kilometers) at its deepest. It is roughly 6 miles (10 km) across and at least 62 miles (100 km) long, possibly far longer if it extends into the sea.

    The rift was discovered during a grueling 1,500-mi. trek that, save for a few modern conveniences, hearkened back to the days of early Antarctic exploration. And it came as a total surprise, according to the man who first sensed that something incredible was literally underfoot, hidden by more than a half-mile of ice.

    Robert Bingham, a glaciologist at the University of Aberdeen, along with field assistant Chris Griffiths, had embarked on a nine-week trip during the 2009-2010 field season to survey the Ferrigno Glacier, a region humans had visited only once before, 50 years earlier. Over the last decade, satellites have revealed the glacier is the site of the most dramatic ice loss in its West Antarctica neighborhood, a fringe of coastline just west of the Antarctic Peninsula — the narrow finger of land that points toward South America.

    The two-man team set out aboard snowmobiles, dragging radar equipment behind them to measure the topography of the rock beneath the windswept ice, in a region notorious for atrocious weather. Braced for arduous, yet uneventful fieldwork, the surprise came right away, Mustain reports.

    The drop was so sudden and so deep that Bingham drove back and forth across the area two or three more times to check the data, and saw the same pattern. "We got the sense that there was something really exciting under there," he told "It was one of the most exciting science missions I've ever had."

    The Ferrigno Rift's "existence profoundly affects ice loss," Bingham and co-authors from the British Antarctic Survey wrote in a paper published in Nature last month. The rift is providing a channel for warm ocean water to creep toward the interior of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, gnawing away at the Ferrigno Glacier from below.

    Together, these two factors could be speeding the glacier's march to the sea, and the overall effects could have implications for the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is responsible for 10 percent of global sea level rise that is currently occurring. (Read the entire story)


    By John Huston and Tyler Fish (Octane Press, 2011)
    Reviewed by Robert F. Wells

    Enter a snow-encrusted tent with clothing dripping a full day's worth of soggy sweat through a hole in the floor.  I suppose if John Huston and Tyler Fish knew that President Obama would use the word Forward as his campaign slogan in 2012, they probably would have chosen another title for their ambitious book – Roald Amundsen and Fram aside. But who knew back in 2009 as two experienced Outward Bound junkies set off to attempt one mission:  To accomplish the first American unsupported expedition to the North Pole. Today, Forward is their story.

    First, for most explorers, it's easy to understand what drives people to do challenging things. Granted, others have hoofed it to the North Pole. But it took a few nutty Norwegians to come up with the notion of a "first for Americans.” 

    The spark kindled the itch. And off Huston and Fish went. Exhaustive planning grounded everything before any physical exhaustion overtook the two. 

    Imagine skiing for hours on end for nearly two months battling temperatures sending needles below minus 40 degrees F. ... cramming over 7,000 calories into your body each day – gustatory delights that would make normal people gag... yanking on and off dry suits to ford gaping "leads" of slush, while dragging pulks stuffed with all the necessities of life. Point North. Battle endless jumbles of ice boulders blocking any sense of optimism. Watch GPS readings erase northerly progress while surface ice floes continually coursed southward. No one said this would be easy, and Huston and Fish knew it.

    In any extreme venture like this, exhilaration devolves into introspective routines that draw participants into a dance towards despair. Your life finds a way to flash before you.  Through the voids, acute understanding of your very being comes into focus. Then it's over. Flash bulbs and champagne corks pop. Then nothing.  Some make it out the back door. Others don't. Verdict?  I'll leave this up to you.  

    Forward is truly a beautiful book – completing the circle of a rather extraordinary expedition into a variety of unknowns. Its authors have laced it with terrific photos documenting every aspect of the expedition. It's written in a breezy style – where each author takes turns addressing particular aspects of experiences in easily digestible snippets. "Fueling the Body." "Tools of the Trade." "Clothing..." "Sea Ice..."  "Navigation." "Mind Works." 

    Readers are encouraged to snuggle up near an open fire, wrap a warm blanket around themselves and press on through the night. It's a fun ride – although you're certainly not apt to burn up many calories flipping each page. And you can easily avoid frostbite if only you'll keep throwing logs on the fire.  

    Robert Wells, a member of The Explorers Club since 1991, is a resident of South Londonderry, Vt., and a retired executive of the Young & Rubicam ad agency. Wells is the director of a steel band (see and in 1989, at the age of 45, traveled south by road bike from Canada to Long Island Sound in a single 350-mile, 19-hr., 28-min. push.


    Arctic Circle Transformed into Ghostly World

    It’s one of those “triple H” days here along the Connecticut coastline – hazy, hot and humid. So you’ll excuse us if we take a break looking at photographer Niccolo Bonfadini’s ghostly images of trees buried under a foot of snow in the Arctic Circle. In what appears to be the set of a science fiction movie, snow and frost become so thick the entire landscape is transformed into an otherworldly planet. See if you agree


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    If you have a project that is bigger than yourself – a trip with a purpose – learn how it's possible to generate cash or in-kind (gear) support.

    Written by EN editor Jeff Blumenfeld, it is based upon three decades helping sponsors select the right exploration projects to support.

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