By: Mia David
On September 5th, 2022, National Geographic released the documentary series ‘The Edge of the Unknown.’ It was filmed and produced by photographer, filmmaker, and mountain athlete Jimmy Chin.
The series consists of 10 episodes that each follow athletes doing extreme sports. From snowboarders and skiers to rock climbers and kayakers, Jimmy Chin tells the stories of athletes risking their lives for their sport.
The athletes tell stories of times they were forced to question whether risking their life is worth the reward.
Angel Collinson is one of the best skiers in the world, male or female, and in episode 2, she makes her way up to Alaska to ski down some of the most unique and challenging terrains in the world. While making her way down the line, Angel stumbles and falls 1000 ft down to the bottom of the mountain.
Angel is shaken to her core. It was a rude awakening that forced her to reflect on her career; the hours she spent on the slopes and the childhood she had lost to the sport.
After that, it was simple for her. She walked away from skiing ultimately, much to the shock of her family and friends. She didn’t feel the risk and sacrifice were worth the title she earned and the rewards she got.
Not everybody feels this way after facing the extreme danger of the Alaskan mountains. In episode 5, Travis Rice says, “There are so many little mini breakthroughs. I, to this day, continue to chase that feeling that gives me a sense of living.”
Travis gets caught in a deadly avalanche and somehow makes it out with no serious injuries. Although Travis almost lost his life that day, he is quick to get back on the slopes with the support of those around him.
In Travis’ case, it raises the question of whether or not someone should give up something that could take their life if that means losing the one thing that makes them feel alive.
One last example is Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbuic, who kayak in rivers in Central Africa with their mentor and friend Henri Coetzee. Throughout the journey, they face the threat of crocodiles and hippos. One day, on the river, Henri’s kayak is flipped, and a crocodile drags him under the water; Ben and Chris have to quickly paddle away because there is no hope for saving him.
These athletes continue to experience different life-threatening events and have to pause and reflect on their choices. For some, it’s simply lowering the stakes or walking away; for others, they jump right back into the game.
For those who don’t spend their days climbing mountains, it’s hard to understand how you could get back to the sport after a terrible accident. Chin describes it like this, “In the adventure world, there is a certain understanding that we choose to do what we do and we do it intentionally.”
Chin has an episode discussing his life-threatening adventure where he should have died but miraculously made it out alive. However, like others, he can’t resist the thrill and adventure he finds in the mountains. He says in episode 8, “It’s really impossible to describe the insatiable calling of the big mountains.”
For people like Travis, Ben, Chris, and other athletes in the series, the call to adventure is unlike anything else. Whether it’s mountains, rivers, or the ocean, it’s impossible not to return to the one place you feel alive.
This idea of the risk worth the reward could be debated for a long time. We can pull in different aspects like the level of risk, family and loved ones, and the health of individual people. We must also consider the love, passion, and freedom said person feels towards these sports.
You can watch this series on Disney+.