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.
The 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.