Bold Souls: 12 Most Inspiring Adventurers Of All Time

Photo: Jimmy Chin (National Geographic)

Pushing yourself past your limits to have intimate conversations with Death while you’re untethered on a 5,000-foot mountain, exploring the uncharted depths of the ocean, or blasting off into space really puts life into perspective. A select few tremendous adventurers can do wonders with fear, leading them to accomplish feats we couldn’t even imagine executing while in the leading role of our wildest dreams. Needless to say, these individuals deserve all the praise they get for being the pinnacle of human courage and endurance.

The insane survivors, explorers, and daredevils we’ll be praising on this list are all heroes of life who were born with ice in their veins and eternal fire in their hearts. They are truly inspirational human beings who make the typical off-road backcountry weekend expedition look like child’s play. We should all strive to reach the level of courage and drive these adventurers demonstrate, as they are truly an inspiration for the ages. They remind us that fear is a challenge to discover yourself and stand up to the seemingly impossible. Of course, we may not achieve the level of greatness these adventurers have, but finding inspiration to face the fear beast and truly live is greatness in itself. These men are the most inspirational adventurers of all time and hopefully, they’ll encourage you to rip yourself away from your computer screen and chase a thrill, as life is long, but time is short.

Roald Amundsen

The Norwegian explorer was a prominent figure of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, as he was the first to navigate the Northwest Passage in 1906. Along the way, he got his Master’s degree in survival by learning how to persevere in the Arctic by interacting with the Inuit. What did he do after he navigated the Northwest Passage? He skied a whopping 400 miles to Eagle City in order to send off a telegraph to report his success like a champ. He also led the very first expedition to the South Pole in 1911 and even flew over the North Pole in 1926. The valiant adventurer disappeared in 1928 when he took part in a rescue mission for the Italia airship.

Birth Date: July 16, 1872
Occupation(s): Explorer
Quote: “How did I happen to become an explorer? It did not just happen, for my career has been a steady progress toward a definite goal since I was fifteen years of age.”

Jacque Cousteau

An inspirational soul, to say the least, Jacque Cousteau pioneered underwater base camps and filmed the depths of the ocean that were untouched during his time. He was the first person to use the Aqua Lung prototype, granting him the opportunity to discover the mysteries of the deep sea and allowing us to gain knowledge of the conditions and sea creatures of the blue waters. Cousteau even improved the Aqua Lung design, paving the way to open-circuit SCUBA technology used in modern diving equipment. The legendary adventurer is arguably the most famous undersea explorer and took on several missions including mine clearance and the first underwater archaeology operation utilizing autonomous diving. With a deep passion for the ocean and nature, his legacy continues to influence ocean explorers around the world.

Birth Date: June 11, 1910
Occupation(s): Oceanographer
Quote: “It takes generosity to discover the whole through others.”

Steve Fossett

When Steve Fossett was 12 years old, he conquered his first mountain climb, igniting his passion for adventure. Fossett went on to break 116 different world records, including being the first to circle the world solo in a balloon, first to fly a plane around the globe, and first to man a glider flight into the stratosphere. The sky was his cloud-filled playground, but he also took on adventures elsewhere. He climbed almost all of the Seven Summits peaks and took part in various cross country ski marathons all over the world. His record-breaking, daring feats are legendary and a true inspiration for anyone who dreams to take flight.

Birth Date: April 22, 1944
Occupation(s): Aviator, sailor, and businessman
Quote: “I pick projects according to how fascinating they are to me, and it has resulted in a broad reach.”

Yuri Gagarin

When space was just a distant mystery of endless uncharted darkness, Soviet Airforce Pilot Yuri Gagarin agreed to be rocketed into the stars in a rickety spacecraft. The intrepid pilot had to endure the adventure without taking any breaks in the Vostok 1 spacecraft, but it paid off because he became the first human to travel into space, as well as the first person to orbit the Earth. If that isn’t impressive or inspiring enough, his trip back home is just as insane. Gagarin had to stay conscious during the 8 Gs of deceleration and had to eject from the speeding vessel at an altitude of four miles. We imagine not too many things could put true fear into his heart after that trip and nothing could look as beautiful as the view he had amongst the stars.

Birth Date: March 8, 1934
Occupation(s): Pilot
Quote: “Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty, not destroy it!”

Dale A. Gardner

Selected to be a NASA Astronaut Candidate in 1978, Dale A. Gardner served on two space missions. While being hurled into space on a rocket where no one can hear you scream is quite an accomplishment on its own, Gardner did something exceptionally adventurous to catch our attention. In 1984, he was part of the first salvage mission in space where he intercepted the Westar satellite untethered, armed only with his nitrogen gas-powered pack called the manned maneuvering unit. He propelled himself 320 feet from the space shuttle to get to the satellite, which was a stunning display of skill and courage. As a cherry on top for a job well done, he posed next to the satellite for a historic photograph holding up a “For Sale” sign with Earth hanging in the background. Commander Gardner spent 337 hours in space and made an impressive 225 orbits around our planet.

Birth Date: November 8, 1948
Occupation(s): Naval flight officer
Quote: “Joe, I assume you’re comfortable there” (said to 130-lb Dr. Joseph Allen holding onto the 1,200-pound satellite)

Hugh Glass

We’ve all watched Leonardo DiCaprio’s tremendous Oscar-winning performance as Hugh Glass in The Revenant, but the actual man was a gritty adventurer who deserves an unshared spotlight. American frontiersman and hunter Hugh Glass endured a grizzly bear attack and was left for dead after his party concluded he could not survive his wounds. Glass woke up to a broken leg, festering injuries, and deep gashes on his back that exposed his ribs. Mustering up every ounce of strength he had left, Glass let maggots eat his dead flesh to prevent gangrene, set his own broken leg, donned a bear hide, and started crawling toward the American settlement of Fort Kiowa, which was an insane 200 miles away. Glass made it to the Cheyenne River and built a makeshift raft to make it to Fort Kiowa, surviving on a mix of roots and wild berries. The six-week adventure for survival was an incredible feat to say the very least. So, the next time you’re running a 26.2-mile full marathon and you get a cramp, think of Hugh Glass’ journey and it won’t seem so exhausting.

Birth Date: 1783
Occupation(s): Hunter and explorer
Quote: “The savages are greatly treacherous. We traded with them as friends but after a great storm of rain and thunder they came at us before light and many were hurt.”

Bear Grylls

Although he’s most popular for his TV series Man vs. Wild, which is probably scripted and planned to some degree — blame television production insurance — Bear Grylls is the real deal. Grylls served in the British Army reserves with 21 SAS as a trooper, where he trained for desert and winter warfare, climbing, unarmed combat, and parachuting. Cool under immense pressure, he survived skydive mission when his parachute ripped at 16,000 feet. He became one of the youngest people to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, doing so at 23 years of age, flew a powered paraglider 29,000 feet high in the Himalayas, and led a five-member squad in an unassisted crossing of the North Atlantic Ocean. We’d gladly have him on our squad for any expedition into Mother Nature’s unknown.

Birth Date: June 7, 1974
Occupation(s): Chief scout, adventurer, television presenter, and author
Quote: “I am not fearless. I get scared plenty. But I have also learned how to channel that emotion to sharpen me.”

Edmund Hillary

A veteran of the Royal New Zealand Air Force where he served as a navigator in World War II, Edmund Hillary was born to be an adventurer. He became one of the first two climbers to reach the perilous summit of Mt. Everest and also reached both the North and South Poles. Hillary ascended up 10 other peaks in the Himalayas and even led an expedition to search for the infamous abominable snowman. No, there was no sign of Yetis anywhere during the journey, but the fact that he was willing and ready to track down a monstrous creature speaks volumes about his courage.

Birth Date: July 20, 1919
Occupation(s): Mountaineer
Quote: “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”

Alex Honnold

Born in Sacramento, California, Alex Honnold wasn’t a naturally gifted rock climber, yet he never gave up because he loved the activity. He dropped out of the University of California, Berkley and started to climb at different spots in California, such as Joshua Tree, living out of a minivan. In 2007, he entered the spotlight in bold fashion, free-soloing Yosemite’s Astroman and Rostrum in a single day, matching Peter Croft’s legendary feat accomplished in 1987. But what he’s best known for is being the first and only person to free-solo Yosemite’s 3,000-foot El Capitan Wall without the use of ropes or safety gear. His adventure was documented in the film Free Solo, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature this year.

Birth Date: August 17, 1985
Occupation(s): Professional rock climber
Quote: “I’ve done a lot of thinking about fear. For me the crucial question is not how to climb without fear — that’s impossible — but how to deal with it when it creeps into your nerve endings.”

Mike Horn

Where do we start with this guy? The Swiss explorer first bathed in the spotlight in 2001 by dominating a one-year and six-month solo escapade around the equator without any motorized assistance. From 2002 to 2004, Horn went around the Arctic Circle by himself in an expedition dubbed “Arktos,” completing the harrowing journey, once again, without motorized transport — spending time with the locals who bravely adapted to the harsh winter environment. His greatest feat is his completion of the longest ever unsupported solo trip from north to south Antartica, using just skis and kites to complete the journey in 57 days. Horn responded to the call of the wild when he was 24 years old, escaping the comfort of his sports science occupation to make a career out of going on adventures. The man gave away his possessions and moved to Switzerland to begin the life he wanted to live like a true champ.

Birth Date: July 16, 1966
Occupation(s): Professional explorer and adventurer
Quote: “If you worry, you die. If you don’t worry, you also die. So why worry?”

Charles A. Lindbergh

A man of many hats, Charles A. Lindbergh was most famous for being an intrepid aviator. He first gained recognition at just 25 years old when he won the prestigious Orteig Prize for making a nonstop flight from Roosevelt Field in Long Island, New York to Paris, France. The pilot was also the first person to accomplish a nonstop solo flight across the massive Atlantic Ocean where he had to stay up for 55 hours without sleep. The iconic aviator was nicknamed “The Lone Eagle” and worked as a daredevil stunt pilot for good measure. Although he faced many dangerous obstacles as a stunt pilot, his closest brushes with death came during his service in the U.S. Army.

Birth Date: February 4, 1902
Occupation(s): Aviator, military officer, and explorer
Quote: “It is the greatest shot of adrenaline to be doing what you have wanted to do so badly. You almost feel like you could fly without the plane.”

Aron Ralston

Aron Ralston is a mountaineer who dominated Colorado’s “fourteeners” — 59 peaks over 14,000 feet altitude — during the winter by himself, which is an accomplishment that hadn’t been recorded until he tackled it. However, what he’s most famous for is surviving a canyoneering accident in Utah where he got his arm pinned by an 800-pound chockstone. He spent five days trying to free his arm, but after being sapped of energy, he decided to amputate his trapped arm and had to do so with a dull pocket knife. After he escaped Death, Ralston still had to ripple down a 65-foot sheer cliff to get to safety. Ralston is living proof that the power of the human spirit can defeat the direst situation.

Birth Date: October 27, 1975
Occupation(s): Mountaineer and mechanical engineer
Quote: “But rather than be bound and defeated by our insignificance, we are bold because we exercise our will anyway, despite the ephemeral and delicate presence we have in this desert, on this planet, in this universe”

20 Natural Wonders To See Before You Die

After checking out our list of best adventurers, you probably have the urge to go on one of your own. Check out our list of the best natural wonders in the world to see before you die for some adventure inspiration.