THE EXPLORERS CLUB
The ultimate adventure society
The Explorers Club at the summit of Mount Everest
Counting more than 3,000 travelhungry pioneers as members, including Sir Edmund Hillary and the crew from Apollo 11, The Explorers Club is the ultimate adventure society. Its members were the first to both North and South Poles, to Everest’s summit, and to the ocean’s deepest depths, but there’s still so much more to do
t’s not often you nd yourself sitting in front of a replace framed by two, six-foot tall elephant tusks. As far as we know, there’s only one room in the entire world where said elephant tusks would be the fth or sixth most impressive item in plain view. The sitting area of the Members’ Lounge in the Explorers Club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side includes model sled dogs whittled during Admiral Richard Byrd’s second expedition to the Antarctic, the hatch from the Explorer (one of the only ships to survive the bombing of Pearl Harbour), an ancient table donated by the Prince of Portugal, and a celestial navigation tool used by Arctic explorer Captain Robert Bartlett. Venture deeper into the Tudor mansion that the organisation calls home and you’ll nd the only four-tusked elephant skull, a taxidermied sperm whale penis, the table where Teddy Roosevelt planned the Panama Canal (it’s a very sturdy piece of furniture), and many other treasures from some of the greatest adventures in mankind’s history.
In 1 04, author and war correspondent Henry Collins Walsh called together the rst meeting of the group that would incorporate a year later as the Explorers Club. At the time, the bravest and boldest were still four years from reaching the North Pole and six out from the South Pole, and many of the world’s explorers were focused on venturing to the Arctic and Antarctica. As the club’s membership grew, however, it would come to include Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first people to summit Mount Everest, as well as Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard, the duo that reached the deepest depths of the ocean. Buzz Aldrin and the members of Apollo 11 brought the club’s trademark red, white and blue expedition ag to the moon in 1 .
Today the Explorers Club boasts 3,000 members across 30 chapters worldwide, people “who have contributed in broad terms to the cause of exploration and who evidence a sustained interest in some eld of scienti c exploration and the furtherance of scienti c knowledge of the world.” They hold a yearly dinner at the Waldorf Hotel in New York. The 2014 event featured speeches from Tesla and Space X’s Elon Musk and brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who recently applied for membership, attended as well.
Will Roseman oversees the organisation as executive director. The snappily dressed former bush pilot in the Congo gives tours of the 70th street mansion with the enthusiasm of someone who spends his days in the coolest clubhouse, because he pretty much does. He counters the notion that the Explorers Club is an outdated institution. “ ess than ve per cent of the ocean has been explored,” he says in his of ce decorated with framed canvas squares from some of the earliest planes. “Within America, there
“We have more people going out on expeditions than we ever have. Just last year, our members discovered eight or nine new animals”
are an infinite number of things to discover. Years ago, the patent of ce said there will be nothing left to invent. But there are always things to invent. There are always things to explore. We have more people going out on expeditions than we ever have. Just last year, our members discovered eight or nine new animals.”
He’s not wrong. Consider the tragic example of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. A et disappeared and none of the world’s high-tech sensors, satellite imagery, or mapping data could nd the enormous object that suddenly seemed very small indeed when compared to the scope of the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. We might be able to go to Google Earth and spot ourselves on the terrace of the Explorers Club – surrounded by columns first erected at a French monastery in 1380, mind you – but much of the world remains a mystery.
In recent years, the Explorers Club and its members have refocused on their conservation efforts. While the trophy room includes a lion, a leopard, and a cheetah shot by Roosevelt, Roseman is quick to point out that those were different times and many of the specimens were killed for scienti c purposes (we’ll give the 2 th American president a pass). The coral reefs are dying at an alarming rate, and the marine biologists and other ocean scientists are working to raise awareness and make an impact. Two members developed a plane that can y for 24 hours on solar power alone. The organi-
Technology has changed exploration in ways that were unimaginable
sation is a non-profit and Roseman says it gives away more than 1 0,000 (Dhs 0,000) a year to fund exploration and research efforts. Most of the money goes to help students complete their projects, another generation in love with the idea of going where no man or woman has gone before.
This aspiration represents the most vital function of the Explorers Club. It’s a place that in a very small but very real way keeps alive the dreams and the spirit of adventure that has gotten humanity so far. Exploration isn’t just climbing the tallest peak or descending to the deepest ocean trench. It’s making the scientific discoveries that fuel the next generation. It’s Elon Musk attempting to launch reusable rockets with Space X. It’s also Musk reinventing the battery industry and possibly the car one as well with Tesla. We’ll have manned commercial space ights in the near future and are likely go to Mars not too long after that with the help of an Explorers Club member who is developing an engine that will get us to the Red Planet in 3 days. Humanity keeps pushing. It’s what we know how to do, even as times change.
“On the other side of the house, we have a radio room,” Roseman says. “Twenty years ago, it was populated 24 hours a day because there were ham radio operators and that’s the only way we would keep in touch with people in the eld. Now, people have a GPS or a sat phone. Technology has changed exploration in ways that were unimaginable. Just the way the Astrolab did for Vasco Nunez de Balboa or Vasco de Gama or Juan Ponce de Leon.”
After an hour in the Explorers Club, it was time to go. We walked down multiple ights of stairs, past the stuffed polar bear on one landing that roared at the ick of a light switch, and into the lobby where a group of people waited to meet with Roseman, no doubt ready to plot the next great adventure. He took his leave and I walked towards the door that would lead me back into the wild ungle of Manhattan. I turned around to take one last look at the inside of the club. The receptionist smiled and waved goodbye. She was wearing a leopard print skirt.
Exploration isn’t just climbing the tallest peak or descending to the deepest ocean trench
Dr. Andreas Rechnitzer and Jacques Piccard
Colonel John Hunt, Tenzing Norgay and