Why Adventurer Sam Cossman Walked Into a Volcano

Although 33-year-old Sam Coss­man is no stranger to adven­ture, his lat­est trip has def­i­nite­ly reached new heights. Or new depths, maybe, con­sid­er­ing Cossman—an inde­pen­dent explor­er and filmmaker—just came back from Van­u­atu, where he descend­ed 1,200 feet into Marum Crater—one of the world’s most active vol­ca­noes and a place so inac­ces­si­ble that it has had less human vis­i­tors than the moon!

We talked to Coss­man about what it’s like to be an “entre­pre­neur adven­tur­er” and why he does what he does.


The Clymb: How did you get start­ed in the world of adven­ture film­mak­ing? Was this some­thing that always inter­est­ed you or was it a nat­ur­al evo­lu­tion from some­thing else?

Sam Coss­man: I guess you could say it was an evo­lu­tion of sorts in that it start­ed first with the adven­tures them­selves and then grew into a desire to share them. My pas­sion for pur­pose-dri­ven adven­ture has long been embed­ded in my DNA, but until rel­a­tive­ly recent­ly it’s been extracur­ric­u­lar. Unearthing the world’s most extra­or­di­nary places in pur­suit of knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence is what I’ve always done when no one else was pay­ing atten­tion. But it was­n’t until a few years ago after return­ing from a phil­an­thropic trip to Haiti, that I was inspired to incor­po­rate my life’s pas­sion more seam­less­ly into my occupation.

By build­ing an adven­ture tourism mar­ket­place, I had hoped to cre­ate a des­ti­na­tion web­site for find­ing unique expe­ri­ences. It was­n’t until after that start­up failed that I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to embark on one of the adven­tures that had been in devel­op­ment for many years pri­or. By the time I had the chance to go, it was pure­ly with intent to sat­is­fy my own curios­i­ty. The unex­pect­ed pub­lic­i­ty that came as a result of the video I cre­at­ed helped me real­ize both the unspo­ken val­ue soci­ety still places on gen­uine explo­ration as well as the pow­er­ful abil­i­ty to reach glob­al audi­ences through media.

The Clymb: If you had to choose a sin­gle trip/adventure you’ve had as the most mem­o­rable (for good or bad rea­sons), which would it be? What was the trip all about and what made it memorable?

SC: After col­lege, I had a burn­ing desire to see the world. I worked dou­ble shift for six months and final­ly saved up enough to trav­el on shoe­string for a year and half. Solo trav­el­ing to over 40 coun­tries on near­ly every con­ti­nent was huge­ly trans­for­ma­tion­al and pro­vid­ed an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly unique per­spec­tive of how oth­ers lived. After hitch hik­ing across the con­tent of Africa, sum­mit­ing peaks in the Himalayas, and ulti­mate­ly becom­ing a cit­i­zen of the world, I devel­oped a keen sense of grat­i­tude and social respon­si­bil­i­ty. I lat­er built and co-found a school for dis­as­ter strick­en chil­dren in Haiti.

 

The Clymb: You recent­ly made a trip to Van­u­atu to explore Marum Crater. Can you tell us what prompt­ed this trip and why you decid­ed to explore the area? What kind of research did you con­duct there?

SC: The world’s less­er known places have always intrigued me. As Neil DeGrass Tyson so elo­quent­ly puts it, there’s some­thing “intel­lec­tu­al­ly seduc­tive” about doing some­thing that’s nev­er been done or explor­ing the unknown. Less peo­ple had descend­ed into the depths of Marum Crater than have vis­it­ed the sur­face of the moon, so the unan­swered ques­tions are ulti­mate­ly what drove my desire to go here.

I first ven­tured to this exot­ic loca­tion in August 2014 with a small team of explor­ers and film­mak­ers and pro­duced a short video of my jour­ney that acci­den­tal­ly went viral. It was at that time that I real­ized the oppor­tu­ni­ty to merge my pas­sions for explo­ration and my knowl­edge of tech­nol­o­gy to learn more about this fas­ci­nat­ing place.

Short­ly there­after, I orches­trat­ed anoth­er expe­di­tion this time, spon­sored by Kenu.com. We were cap­tur­ing nev­er before seen footage of this remote loca­tion and using the aer­i­al images and pho­togram­me­try soft­ware to take pre­cise mea­sure­ments of the crater. By track­ing change over time and col­lect­ing this data, we are work­ing with vol­ca­nol­o­gists from around the world to inform com­pu­ta­tion­al mod­els that help pre­dict future eruptions.

We also were tak­ing sam­ples from one of the most extreme and inac­ces­si­ble places on earth and study­ing the amount of time it takes for life to col­o­nize new­ly formed earth. This could help us under­stand how live forms in oth­er extreme parts of the plan­et and beyond.

HL6-Lifestyle-Image-3-R0-1024x683The Clymb: What spe­cial tools/techniques did you use to cap­ture footage? How big of a role does tech­nol­o­gy play in your trips now? And how have drones change the way adven­ture research/travel is recorded/researched?

SC: We used DJI phan­tom drones, Sensum’s bio­met­ric sen­sors or wear­able tech­nol­o­gy which lever­ages lie detec­tor tech­nol­o­gy to mea­sure bio­met­ric data and visu­al­ize emo­tion­al respons­es to a giv­en expe­ri­ence. We also used a cus­tom build prox­im­i­ty heat suit designed to with­stand the extreme heat from the lava in close proximity.

Drones are game chang­ing tech for many indus­tries includ­ing explo­ration. The drones served as our eye in the sky help­ing us nav­i­gate and iden­ti­fy poten­tial dan­gers. Most impor­tant­ly, the aer­i­al imagery we cap­tured have since been con­vert­ed into the first of its kind 3D mod­el which not only allowed us to mea­sure the lava lake for the first time, but to dig­i­tize the entire area and essen­tial­ly make it uni­ver­sal­ly acces­si­ble to any­one with a Wi-Fi connection.

The vol­cano can now be explored in vir­tu­al real­i­ty or using a 2D com­put­er mon­i­tor enabling the first of its kind remote field research and pro­vid­ing unprece­dent­ed edu­ca­tion­al tools for next gen­er­a­tion class­rooms. While some jour­nal­ists have stat­ed that the “age of dis­cov­ery” died in the 17th cen­tu­ry, my belief is that a dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion has re-ignit­ed a more con­tem­po­rary era of explo­rata­tion. This time, once that ben­e­fits from the ubiq­ui­ty of the inter­net and access to inex­pen­sive yet inno­v­a­tive technology.

I’m very excit­ed to work with oth­er mod­ern day explor­ers to help build this move­ment, to iden­ti­fy new explorato­ry and sci­en­tif­ic tech­no­log­i­cal appli­ca­tions capa­ble of fur­ther­ing our under­stand­ing of the plan­et, and dri­ving pos­i­tive change in the world through more immer­sive dig­i­tal storytelling.

The Clymb: What’s next? Where are you going or what project is in the works?

SC: I’m cur­rent­ly devel­op­ing an entire series of next expe­di­tions, many of which are con­tin­gent upon sea­son­al­i­ty, resources, and tech­ni­cal fea­si­bil­i­ty, so the order in which they occur is still unknown but suf­fice it to say they are all incred­i­bly var­ied and equal­ly cap­ti­vat­ing. I will be jour­ney­ing to the depths of the oceans, to out­er space, and every­thing in between.

A project that I’m par­tic­u­lar­ly excit­ed to vis­it is to a place known as Crys­tal Cave in Mex­i­co, which is home to a geode the size of a foot­ball field with the largest crys­tals on the plan­et. It’s as beau­ti­ful as it is dead­ly, but a place unlike any oth­er on Earth.