Richard Wiese is a highly respected outdoorsmen and explorer. In 2002, he became the youngest president in the Explorers Club Clubs hundred-year history. The fabled society’s members have included Teddy Roosevelt, Neil Armstrong, Charles Lindberg, Bob Ballard, Jane Goodall, and Sir Edmund Hillary. He has hosted many nationally seen television shows, most recently Exploration with Richard Wiese. He has just completed filming a special series in Ethiopia with the BBC and Discovery called Hell on Earth about the hottest place on Earth.
Wiese has worked in the Yucatan jungle of Mexico putting satellite collars on jaguars; climbed and sampled the most geologically unique volcano in the world, Tanzania’s Oldonyo Lengai; and has been a member of two expeditions to Antarctica to core glaciers for the purpose of climatological studies. Expedition member of the 2004 Yeronisos Island Expedition, an archaeological dig in Cyprus to find the birth temple of Caesarion son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar and in 2005 led an expedition to bio-prospect for extremophiles and new life forms in Mount Kilimanjaro’s crater, resulting in the discovery of 29 new life forms. He also trekked down the deepest canyon in the world and was involved in the first microbial survey of Central Park in NYC resulting in the discovery of 202 new and unique life forms.
Question: Who are you?
Richard Wiese: My name is Richard Weise and I’m an explorer.
Question: Is there any place left to explore?
Richard Wiese: I actually think we’re in a golden era of exploration. With the advent of DNA, you know, we’re suddenly finding a lot more, you know, in terms of archeology. With satellite imagery, we’re finding more dinosaur bones than we ever thought, you know, possible. So I think the game has changed. This [last phase is] associated with the outdoors or with exploration but the research is going on. And, in fact, probably the research is more relevant to the overall human population than it was before. You know, before it was sticking a flag and saying, okay, we’ve conquered Everest. But now it’s a microbiologist looking at a microbe that lives at altitude and, you know, using the properties that protect it from ultraviolet light, and saying, okay, I can apply this to house paint or car paint so it doesn’t fade. So I think it’s a very exciting period.
Question: How has technology changed exploration?
Wiese: I think technology has changed a lot of what we do because during the time of Shackleton, every one of these guys had to go through just a very long, drawn-out apprenticeship. I mean, they really knew the outdoors. And now with technology, you know, we have phones that work on Everest or out on the North Pole. You have clothing that’s better. You have communications that are better. I mean, just, you know, the ability to look at weather. So, for example, when you go on in an Abercrombie and Kent adventure trip, you know, you have a safety net around you that earlier explorers may not have had. And I think, you know, from a [person], I’m sort of a gadget guy. In one hand, I sort of like, you know, be able to light a fire without matches type things. But, you know, I have to admit, I really enjoy some of the new gadgets that are coming out from cameras to personal locators.
Question: What are some of the most exciting technologies?
Richard Wiese: Well, one of my favorite gadgets, and think I think it’s born out of that Mount Hood accident that happened about a year and a half ago where people are trying to use their cellphone to be located and there’s a company called SPOT and it’s a satellite personal tracker. And what this does be on sending out emergency signal of where you are. It has a neat little feature that says, “I’m okay.” And what you do is you determine who is on your “I’m okay” list. And, for example, I have my wife on it and it sends her a text message with my coordinates and it also sends her a Google map on the e-mail, so she could see exactly where I am. So I could be on Kilimanjaro or the North Pole or any of these things, and I’m just keeping her where I am. It doesn’t mean an expensive phone call. And, you know, I know even business travelers are using technology like this. So I think this is something kind of neat. Obviously, staying healthy on a trip is very important. And water-borne diseases are one of the biggest problems. And so, I use a product called the SteriPEN and this is really a spin-off from NASA technology. This probe actually emits ultraviolet light. I put it in water for about a minute, minute and a half, it depends whether it’s a liter or two liters and it kills almost all the microbes. And it has gotten to a point where if I’m in a hotel, say, in India and I don’t feel like calling room service for bottled water ‘cause I don’t feel like getting dressed and then, you know, I just go out of the tap, you know, put this in and it purifies the water. And knock on wood, I’ve been, you know, to Africa in the last 2 years at least a dozen times, in South America, and I’ve never gotten sick. So that’s something neat.
Question: Don’t explorers just need constellations to find their way?
Richard Wiese: There’s a great product called the Celestron SkyScout. And what this SkyScout does, it’s a star implanted finder or spotter is that if I see a star constellation that, you know, I’m unfamiliar, I point it up, press this button and it will tell me what I’m looking at. It has, you know, a GPS inside of it. Where if I’m looking for a star, say, I want to find Mars, I press the [button], punch in Mars, and there’s a little arrow that will direct me until I hit it and then it’ll blink that I found it. So even though I use to look at stars with my father, you know, I just found that there’s just a whole level of astronomy now that, you know, I wouldn’t have known, and it’s very hard to have those books when you’re outside and stuff like that, so this is a neat product.
Recorded on: 10/9/2008