Exploring her backyard in Concord, Massachusetts, as a child, Lorie Karnath recognized a love for nature early on. This ever-increasing adoration has led her to discoveries in exotic locations (Myanmar and remote northern China to name two) and ultimately the prestigious position of president of the Explorers Club—an international and multidisciplinary organization committed to preserving the human instinct of exploration alongside the advancement of scientific field research.
In January, Karnath was reelected to her second consecutive term as president of the Explorers Club. She is only the second woman president of the historically male-dominated professional society.
Karnath’s travel training and experience began early in her childhood. Karnath’s surroundings were constantly changing between her family’s Concord home and European cities. By her college years she was regularly shuttling between the United States, France, and Belgium. Karnath currently splits her time between Berlin and the Ulster County hamlet of West Park.
Her membership in the Explorers Club began in 1989. Karnath now finds her name alongside explorers such as Neil Armstrong, Jane Goodall, and Robert Peary. Historically, Explorers Club members are credited for being the first to the North and South Poles, first to the summit of Mount Everest, first to the Marianas Trench, and first to the surface of the moon. As per the group’s tradition, an Explorers Club flag was placed on the moon in 1969 by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.
Karnath plans for her second tenure as Explorers Club president include reinforcing the organization’s 1904 ideologies as well as researching uninhabited parts of our planet and the possibility of field research on others.
You spent a lot of time moving when you were growing up. Did that instill a penchant for exploration?
I knew from a very early age that I wanted to travel. After you’ve checked all the normal tourist destinations off your list you want to go farther and farther. Some of the most amazing places on the Earth aren’t easy to get to—oftentimes it’s fairly arduous to get to these spots. Because not everyone can go to these places, part of the reason I became an explorer was to bring back knowledge and share it.
How did your travels lead you to the Hudson Valley?
I’ve always loved nature and I’m also very involved in the arts. I’d been reading a lot about the Hudson Valley River School [of painting] and just wanted to see the area and started looking up here. I was living in New York City at the time and I just fell in love with the area. When this house became available, my father and I purchased it as sort of a father/daughter project. It needed a lot of restoration and we’ve been working on it—it’s just a beautiful old Arts and Crafts house. The more time I spend here, the more I love it.
What does being the second woman president of the Explorers Club mean to you?
The Explorers Club has been around 106 years and it’s been an institution to foster science, field research, and discovery. Those are things that have been very important to me throughout my lifetime, so it just seems like the normal course of things. I think it says a lot for the Explorers Club that when I was elected, the fact that I was a women wasn’t—in my opinion at least—a huge consideration. So it shows that the Explorers Club and exploration have come to the point where gender doesn’t have to be a real factor. I mean, if you look at what’s going on around the world, there are as many women as men working in different areas of field research and conservation and all those things.
What ideals or goals of the Explorers Club do you hold in the highest regard and what do you hope to change or improve upon?
As president I focus around five words: explore, discover, share, preserve, sustain. So we do our exploration, we discover things. To me one of the most important things is sharing our discoveries, because you shouldn’t keep these for yourself. The point of going there and finding things and learning about things is to share with a network of people who can then help you, with their knowledge base, to preserve what it is you might have discovered. "Sustain" is the most important part—that we sustain what it is that we’re preserving so it’s there for future generations and possibly forever. I think everything we do can revolve around those words.
I want the Explorers Club to be increasingly relevant in all aspects of discovery and I want us to continue our role through our members’ work—to be a productive force in not only maintaining our planet as it should be and fostering care of this planet, but beyond our planet. Looking into space—that’s one of the most exciting areas of exploration at the moment.
Any possible plans of action for pursuing field research in space?
We have a number of astronauts as members and our flag has already been to the moon. We have people involved in everything from the study of the atmosphere to the study of Mars and beyond, as well as space logistics. I think that we’re going to see more and more as this becomes an area where we’re going to be traveling. As I believe Stephen Hawking said, “Man should not confine himself to terrestrial matters.”
What are some of your most vivid or exciting memories of exploration or connecting with nature?
There are times when you go on these expeditions and you think: This is really arduous. You might be covered with leeches and it’s hot and you’re sweaty and you’re thinking: Why do I do this? Then there are certain moments when you absolutely know why you do this. When I first landed in Antarctica, I got out of the airplane and immediately I was frozen cold, but before I even realized that, what I saw was the most amazing sight: Everything looked like glittering diamonds—from the air to the hills to the ice below me—it was just sparkling and so awe-inspiring that I knew in that second, this is why I do it.
- Photo by Jennifer May