Thrills of the ordinary adventurer

'Adventuring can be for the ordinary person with ordinary qualities, such as I regard myself," said Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb to the summit of Mount Everest.

'Adventuring can be for the ordinary person with ordinary qualities, such as I regard myself," said Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb to the summit of Mount Everest.

But with the likes of entrepreneur Richard Branson and film director James Cameron using their vast fortunes to fund their own daring explorations, you could be forgiven for thinking that grand adventure is now the sole preserve of an elite group of high-rollers.

Certainly, the headlines these days are hogged by folk who are very different to the "ordinary" Hillary, who worked as a humble beekeeper at home in New Zealand.

But while the financial barriers to grand exploration are more easily overcome by the likes of Branson, high outdoor adventure is certainly not exclusive to the billionaire club. Few have proven this better than two young Australians, James Castrission and Justin Jones.

The pair has kayaked unsupported across the Tasman Sea, and are two of only three people to have walked from the edge of Antarctica to the South Pole and back. Lacking a multibillion-dollar business empire behind them, Castrission and Jones have had to find different ways to fund their adventures. And such has been their success in managing the commercial side, they have made a business of it and now work as full-time adventurers.

With the Tasman crossing and the walk to the South Pole costing about $500,000 each, Castrission and Jones had to pay as much attention to fundraising as they did the actual preparation for the trip. It was important when approaching businesses to seek sponsorship that each expedition was pitched as a value proposition.

"Our approach was to deliver a tangible return on investment to every single sponsor," Castrission says. "We learned very quickly that every single sponsor is looking for different things of value from each expedition.

"In both our expeditions, some of our sponsors were interested in having their branding on the kayak or the sled. Other companies were not interested in any branding whatsoever, they just wanted us to undertake initiatives with their staff, such as taking them out for adventurous activities, or performing keynote speeches. Getting their logo on TV didn't mean anything to them."

While this meticulous approach isn't required by the likes of Branson and Cameron, Castrission believes cynicism about the commercialisation of grand adventure ignores some important facts, particularly in relation to the heroic age of exploration.

He argues their feats weren't solely about the planting of flags on top of far-off peaks in the name of king and country and that an entrepreneurial spirit among these men was alive and well.

"When you dig into the biographies of Antarctic explorers Captain Scott, Roald Amundsen and Douglas Mawson, a huge part of what they did was the funding side: lectures, media deals and other exclusivities. It is incredible that that was happening a hundred years ago," Castrission says.

In fact, it has only recently been revealed why, upon sailing into Hobart after beating Robert Scott in the race to the South Pole, Amundsen engaged in mysterious behaviour - including disguising himself as a common sailor when coming ashore.

Norwegian researchers discovered last year that this was a bid to keep his extraordinary feat a secret to protect a number of exclusive media deals he had negotiated with newspapers in London, Paris, Berlin and Oslo.

While many forms of adventure are more accessible and affordable than they were 100 or even 50 years ago - one need only look at the growing numbers of people climbing Mount Everest - dealing with the severe isolation experienced in wilderness areas is something that has remained largely unchanged.

For Scott Smalley, a Melbourne-based lawyer, curiosity about such isolation was a major factor in his decision to trek solo for 11 days through Alaska's Wrangell-St Elias National Park. It is so remote that it contains mountain peaks that haven't been named.

"Part of it was me testing myself, seeing if I could do it," he says. "Part of it was sheer curiosity ... I wanted that feeling of getting away from such a constructed environment where everything is built for convenience. I wanted to feel what it was like to part of the food chain again, to be part of nature."

And through an experience that included getting lost and having a black bear approach him, Smalley certainly felt the extreme vulnerability that comes in the wilderness on your own.

"You feel exposed a lot, because if something happens there's nobody there. But I loved that about it as well."

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