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Adventure Travel Via the Internet

There's travel, and then, there's extreme travel -- combining exotic destinations with challenging endeavors such as snowboarding in Nepal or horseback riding through the Sierra Madres. Adventure travel is becoming increasingly popular. This spring a record number of people are expected to climb Mt. Everest...even though Lonely Planet reports say that about one in ten people die in the attempt.

If you find odds like that disturbing, but you've got a courageous spirit, you might want to try a little cybertravel. Now, even the most reluctant traveler can experience all sorts of high risk escapades simply by logging on to a computer. The Savvy Traveler's Pippin Ross explores the growing trend of internet adventure travel.

Adventure Travel Via the Internet
by Pippin Ross

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Mountain Zone Announcer: "From your very own desktop if you want. We may not be able to hear you but we will at least be able to feel it in spirit. I'd like to introduce tonight's host..."

Mountainzone.com is a web site dedicated to every aspect of the mountains, climbing, hiking, biking and, in this instance, an interactive broadcast with Rob Deslauries and Scott Schmidt, skiers known for skiing extreme and treacherous terrain.

Trango Tower

Mountain Zone Announcer: "And please feel free to send in messages for Rob and Scott and we'll try to get to as many as possible during the broadcast."

Politely answering questions e-mailed to them during the broadcast, provides the immediacy and intimacy the Internet is famous for. Virtually speaking, the skiers are visiting your living room. Mountainzone.com was started four years ago by climber and writer Peter Potterfield to be a clearinghouse for mountain related information.

Potterfield: "We still post recreational information: where to hike, where to ski, reserve a condo in Aspen, but the primary traffic driver of Mountainzone.com are the big events, be they snowboarding, climbing or skiing, that we report as they happen via satellite telephone."

Combining a sophisticated one pound telephone with the Internet has been an explosive mix for mountainzone.com. Now, visitors to the website can track travelers on their adventures, seeing, hearing, and responding to daily audio and video reports and watching slide shows. Even when the transmissions are sketchy, as they often were during climber Alex Lowe's assault of Pakistan's great Trango Tower, the at-home viewer is constantly privy to blow-by-blow details from accomplished climbers like Lowe.

Lowe: "It's about three o'clock in the afternoon here on the 29th of July. It's like a midsummer's night dream here, we're on top of the ridge and it's one of the most beautiful views I've ever seen."

On average, mounainzone.com receives about 500,000 visits a month. The success of the San Francisco-based Web Company has spawned competitors. New from Seattle, Washington is www.quokka.com, which provides virtual coverage of traditional sports and extreme adventure. Quokka's executive producer, Michael Goff, says the joy, tension and disappointment viewers at home express through their e-mail has made him understand they're no less engaged in the adventures than the adventurers themselves.

Goff: "Because all of those other people who have those experiences vicariously are pretty much along for the ride and what I like best about it is that I don't think those vicarious experiences are any less valid."


Because adventure travel is often solitary and remote, being wired into an audience has taken some getting used to for world renowned climber Ed Veestus. At first, he resisted the idea of sharing his experiences with the world. Now he says he's delighted that his quest to summit the world's 14 highest peaks is being tracked on mountainzone.com.

Veestus: "Support is a good term because I can think 'Hey, back in the States I've got these friends and family and fans who are pulling for me and really happy with what I'm doing in the mountains.' Whether I get to the summit or not, I know people are following my adventures and fully supportive of the way I go out and climb these mountains and that's a tremendous feeling."

Adventurer Sedge Thompson is relying on quokka viewers to keep his spirits and courage afloat as he heads to Antarctica to spend a month surfing its giant and frigid waves. Reached by telephone en route, Thompson says for him and all those who'll join him via the Interne, the allure is the same as its always been for any explorer: the mystery of far off places and new lands.

Thompson: "For me, this trip isn't just about the surf, whether there is any or not, but it's also about seeing the environment. Encountering leopard seals, seeing these vast expanses of Southern Hemisphere skyscape, smelling the air and experiencing a very dry environment even though we're at sea."

The sights and sounds will be posted on quokka. Thompson's job will be to describe more intangible things, like scent and the severe seasickness he anticipates. Although they're considering interactive trips to more benign destinations, both quokka and mountainzone are hustling to expand their high-risk missions. Whatever it takes, they say, to satisfy all those adventurers who'd rather stay home.

I'm Pippin Ross for the Savvy Traveler.


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