Challenge

"To adventure in the natural environment is consciously to take up a challenge that will demand the best of our capabilities - physically, mentally and emotionally. It is a state of mind that will initially accept unpleasant feelings of fear, uncertainty and discomfort,…because we instinctively know that, if we are successful, these will be counterbalanced by opposite feelings of exhilaration and joy. This journey with a degree of uncertainty in the ‘University of the Wilderness’ may be of any length in terms of distance or time; in any dimension - above, on or below ground or water. It may be climbing up a ten foot slab covered with large holds, or the biggest and steepest rock face in the world. It may be canoeing down the easiest or hardest rapids in the world, or the shortest or longest river. It may be sailing on a lake or across an ocean." (Mortlock 1984, p. 21)

Why do people want to undertake adventurous outdoor activities? There is, of course, no simple, universal answer to the question, because people are all different and structure their lives to have very private experiences and to achieve very personal goals. However, the search for adventure and enjoyable company along the way seems to be a common motivation.

Mortlock (1984) argues that the quest for adventure is a universal, innate characteristic of humanity. If this is the case, then an increasingly urbanised lifestyle, with its emphasis on comfort, security and ease, will fail to provide deep satisfaction. A reaction to this will often be a search for alternative avenues to find challenge and adventure.

A group of young beginner bushwalkers may undertake a delightful walk with beautiful views and endless interest in the natural history of the area, but what really brings them to life is a scramble up a moderately steep rock slab that looks precariously short of good footholds. The excitement and satisfaction that sparkles through the group after that scramble is vividly obvious. For all the world they have climbed Mt Everest.

That same sparkle can take longer to build. A long haul up a spur on a warm day or a series of awkward river crossings will produce intense concentration for a period. Then, when it is time to look back or look out at the view, a positive charge surges through everyone: ‘We knew we could do it!’ Mortlock (p. 21) calls these ‘peak experiences, associated with feelings almost indescribable and beyond those common to normal and routine living’, and attributes great personal and social benefits to them.