Thursday, 22 October 2009

Shane McKonkey and ski-Baseing

Last Sunday's
Observer Sport Monthly featured an in depth piece on Shane McConkey, the world's greatest extreme athlete who died in a ski-Baseing stunt in March (can now be read here). The sport, a combination of snow and Base jumping involves skiing or snowboarding off a cliff and then, hopefully, parachuting to safety. Despite having made over 800 succesful Base jumps, McKonkey's luck ran out when he had problems releasing his skis, thus hindering the opening of his parachute. By the time he finally managed to sort himself out it was too late.

Would such an article have made it into
Those Who Dared?

When choosing the material for the book I aimed to include many of the 'firsts' - the first to reach the Poles, cross deserts, climb the highest mountains etc. However, with the success of the1953 British Everest expedition it could be argued that the golden age of exploration finally came to an end. The post-war era has been more about research based expeditions as well as trying to improve and better exploits that had gone before. Articles from the last 60 years are more about harder routes up mountains, making the fastest crossings of the great oceans or surfing the biggest waves - although it could be argued the Captain Webb was already doing this kind of thing with the the
first cross-channel swim in 1875.

There are also crazy tales such as
Goran Kropp's epic journey in 1996 when the adventurer rode his bike from Sweden to Mount Everest, climbed the mountain, and then cycled back home.

But there is always the nagging question as to whether such journeys are true exploration or simply exercises in pushing the limits of human endurance. Many would say that McKonkey's exploits fall into the latter, but I'm swayed by something the man himself said in an interview shortly before he died: "This is exploration for us." As the Observer article concludes, McKonkey and his friends "were exploring parts of mountains that had never before been skied, but they were also pursuing that oldest, most tantalising, and most dangerous dream of all: the dream of human flight."

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