The irony, of course, is that once travelers reach the most untrammeled spots, they're not untrammeled any more. In fact, you could argue that the luxury-adventure trend effectively torpedoes the whole idea of wilderness. Is a place wild if you go there and find a hovering helicopter full of day-trippers sipping champagne?
Witness the saga of British explorer David Hempleman-Adams, who endured howling 55-below blizzards, braved shifting ice, and survived multiple plunges into the frigid ocean during his 1998 attempt to reach the North Pole. In eight weeks, he and his expedition partner, Rune Gjeldnes, trekked 600 miles; though his fingertips and toes suffered from frostnip and he nearly ran out of food, he and Gjeldnes reached the pole. Standing amid the anonymous pile of ice blocks at 90 degrees north, they made a toast with brandy and smoked celebratory cigars.
A few hours later they were startled by the sound of a descending Russian Mi-8 helicopter. They emerged from their tent to watch 10 warmly bundled visitors climb from the aircraft onto the ice. "They were tourists," Hempleman-Adams says. "They stayed five minutes, gave me a candy bar, and left." At first, Hempleman-Adams says, he was bothered by the spectacle of people taking the easy route to the pole (they had cruised in on Quark Expeditions' icebreaker and then flown to the pole from the ship).
"I thought, you know, it should be harder to get there than just flying in," he says. But with time, he came to see that he had much in common with the adventure travelers. "They had the same love of the Arctic and the same wonderment about it that I did," he says. "It's simply that I was more fortunate to be able to do it my way. After I came to terms with that, I had the ultimate respect for them. Because they didn't have to do anything dangerous. They could have gone to Miami and sat on a beach."
Jeff Wise is a T+L contributing editor.