Blog Post

Kamchatka Project: Modern-Day Explorers

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Bryan Smith is leading a team of whitewater kayakers on a month-long expedition to Russia’s remote Kamchatka Peninsula. Funded by National Geographic's Expeditions Council, the team will be attempting several source-to-sea first descents of previously un-run rivers, plus working with a diverse team of scientists, NGOs, and locals to help show how important Kamchatka’s river ecosystems are for the long-term survival of wild salmon. Jay Gifford with the expedition team sent this dispatch.

After traveling around the world for almost half a week and moving through three international airports and 19 time zones, we finally step off the helicopter and quickly move away as the rotor begins to churn and fill the air with ash. In the near distance, the Karimski volcano sends a bellow of ash and smoke into the air.

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We have just been dropped in the headwaters of the Karimskaya River on the Kamchatka Peninsula, arguably the wildest place in Russia and possibly on Earth, where we will spend the next four or five days descending the Karimiskaya River from its source all the way to the North Pacific.

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Ahead of us lie days of unknown terrain, miles of un-run rapids, and that is all we are sure of. So of coarse the first thing we do is update our Twitter status using our satellite phone...

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... “landed at the put in. active volcano erupting every few minutes. heading to soak in the hotsprings before we get on the river.” Life is tough as a modern-day explorer.

In the past, explorers would set off into the unknown for weeks and return with epic stories of glory and mis-adventure to be shared weeks later via radio, or even months later if published in print. As those explorers departed, the transmission line would go dark and subsequently fade from the minds of those whom they had inspired with their quest.

As modern-day explorers, we have the tools—such as our Iridium satellite phone—to provide a constant line of contact and to update the world on our expedition’s progress, or to inform our followers instantly of our failures. “Just fell into a pile of bushes, and now my hand is blistered and burning. @Anyone have any ideas?” Social networks and other new platforms provide us the ability to reach out and discover that “@kamchatkaprjct sounds like you broke a Pushki plant. Should blister, but you will live.” In the age of the modern explorer, dark transmission lines are often forgotten and open communication can be critical to aiding with important decisions.

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Today, expectations have changed, and being a modern-day explorer means utilizing certain platforms to communicate, educate, and inspire those that will literally or physically follow our footsteps. But it also means “down days" become “media days,” which are packed with sending updates, dumping media cards, and charging batteries between drying gear. The introduction of satellite phones, aerial imagery, GPS, and platforms such as Facebook and Twitter allow us to connect and inspire others, which has been the goal of explorers for centuries. It is only through sharing such wild places that we have the opportunity to inspire future explorers and preserve such places for future generations. The spirit of exploration is the same, It is only that the tools have changed.

Keep exploring! - Jay

Follow Bryan Smith’s Kamchatka Project here on BlogWild, on the National Geographic Adventure Blog, on Outdoor Research's Verticulture site (with podcasts from the field), and on the Kokatat blog.

Photos courtesy Bryan Smith and Reel Water Productions

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