Explorers with dash win cash Sponsorship: Some companies reward the spirit of adventure -- with grants.

January 11, 1998|By Pat Joseph | Pat Joseph,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In a world full of weekend warriors armed with hand-held Global Positioning Systems, cell phones, digital altimeter watches and other Space Age accouterments, the notion of earthbound exploration may seem outdated.

But don't tell that to the corporations that annually award cash grants to those seeking to push the limits of outdoor achievement. The world may be mapped from pole to pole and the ocean floors charted, but the spirit of exploration is still being promoted by the companies that have helped make outdoor pursuits popular.

"Our goal is to find and foster the next generation of explorers," says John Alderman, Outside Adventure Grants director at Outside magazine. Each year, the publication sponsors a group of young explorers, ages 12 to 17, who submit the best proposal for exploring a remote region of North America. The application process is key to the spirit of the project, he says, because "It forces the kids to approach the trip more thoughtfully than they otherwise might."

Last year's recipients, a group of four from Astoria, Ore., at the mouth of the Columbia River, titled their proposal "Home to Headwaters," a fitting name for a trip that would take them into British Columbia's Selkirk Range, a remote section of the Columbia watershed. The group failed to reach the stated goal of summiting 11,950-foot Mount Sir Sanfordby the rarely ventured Palmer Creek approach. But that seems to team member Dan Solmon, 17, largely beside the point.

"There was a lot leading up to the summit attempt," he said. "A lot of time was spent learning the skills necessary to make a competent bid for the summit. And those are skills I'll carry with me into the future."

Young adventurers are not the only ones receiving sponsorship, however. Several grant programs are open to other dedicated explorers -- be they sailors, climbers or trekkers -- of any age. The Malden Mills Polartec Performance Challenge, for instance, is described as "a grassroots adventure fund" annually awarded to as many as 15 groups around the world and totaling upward of $75,000. The Mugs Stump Award, jointly sponsored by Black Diamond Inc., Patagonia Ltd., W. L. Gore and Associates Inc., and Climbing magazine, is aimed at climbing expeditions that set out to meet "an outstanding challenge -- a first ascent, significant repeat or first alpine-style ascent."

Perhaps best-known among this breed of corporate sponsorship the Shipton/Tilman Grant, named after explorers Eric Shipton and W. H. Tilman, famous for their Himalayan exploits of the '30s and '40s and other adventures that took them around the globe. The grant is funded by W. L. Gore and Associates Inc., the people who changed the nature of foul-weather gear forever with the invention of waterproof/breathable Gore-Tex fabric.

Heavily predicated on the style and ethics of exploration pioneered by its namesakes (Shipton and Tilman were famous for traveling in small teams as opposed to the more ponderous military-style operations typical of their day), the grant is open to "small, unencumbered teams of friends with bold and imaginative goals, who plan to accomplish them in a self-propelled, environmentally sound, and cost-effective manner."

This year's recipients include two expeditions to Borneo; a solo canoe trip from New York to Nome, Alaska; and an attempt on the as-yet-unclimbed 22,420-foot Mount Gya on the Indo-Tibetan border. First awarded in 1991, the $30,000 grant is divided among as many as five teams. Last year, Ronald Canter and his team received $5,000 from Gore for a canoe journey into the Maya Mountains of Belize in search of ruins not seen in more than a century.

Canter says his team investigated a number of sponsorship options in planning for the expedition, including National Geographic and Rolex, before being awarded the Shipton/Tilman grant.

"We had tried unsuccessfully to secure a grant for a different trip years before," says Canter, "so we went self-funded."

According to John Watson of the Mugs Stump Award, this is typical of the expeditions that apply for funding. "In most cases, these teams are going anyway," he says, "and the judges are looking for that kind of commitment. We're just helping them achieve what they're already determined to do."

In the case of all these grants, the sponsors are careful to stress the spirit of adventure and exploration over mere accomplishment. It is a sentiment perfectly captured by the participants in the Home to Headwaters Expedition. The young explorers began their winning proposal with a simple Tibetan saying: " 'A journey well traveled is better than any destination.' Researching and writing this proposal," they continued, "is the beginning of our journey."

For more information

See the monthly Expedition News. Highlights from the journal are published online at www.microship.com/ExpeditionNews/. Subscriptions are available for $36 a year. Contact blumassool.com or call 203-656-3300 for a sample issue.

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