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September 2011 Issue
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From the Editor

Mt Everest, where Frank Smythe offered cake to his companion, before realising he was alone. Photo: Shaun Barnett

The human mind is an amazing organ – it can be your best friend; or your worst enemy. Nowhere is that more starkly realised than in the outdoors and with the strange phenomenon known as ‘The Third Man’.

In times of extreme duress – where death more often than not seems the only possible outcome – adventurers have been known to feel the presence of another person: a third man accompanying them on their journey. It seems the third man is a bit like an imaginary friend – the creation of a mind struggling to cope with the grim reality its owner is facing.

This third man, as Shaun Barnett explains in his story on p32, corrals the spirit and inspires positive action in a seemingly hopeless situation.

Not all those who experience the third man are staring down the barrel of oblivion, but it is in extreme situations when he makes his presence felt. (The third man is not always a man, though for some reason of all the accounts that Barnett found, not one was by a woman.)

Most accounts of the third man phenomena are found in outdoor literature. The reason seems obvious – the simple nature of being in the outdoors is to put ourselves at risk: risk of exhaustion, risk of accident, risk of exposure, risk of losing one’s. We mitigate these risks as much as possible by doing trips that suit our fitness, taking appropriate gear and telling others our route intentions.

But sometimes things go wrong or we push ourselves a little too hard. It’s at times like that when you need your mind to be your best friend. Otherwise you better pray for a visit by the third man, whoever he or she might be.

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