These days, though, we're inclined to think of adventurers as historical sepia-tinted figures and that the days of discovery are long gone - after all where in the world hasn't just been found, but also photographed by satellite and analysed by computer?
Yet just when we think there is nothing new come revelations this month that a whole array of species, unknown to the outside world, has been found by scientists in New Guinea.
The spirit of adventure hasn't died with the dawn of the 21st century. Latter-day Shackletons still travel to the Poles, sail across oceans and climb treacherous mountains. Nowadays its about conquering personal goals and raising money for charity, as these three modern-day Edinburgh adventurers prove.
Craig Mathieson, 36, a father-of-three from Bo'ness, is an accountant turned polar explorer
"I'm not an emotional person but I was on my knees on the ice crying my eyes out." Antarctic explorer Craig Mathieson is talking candidly about his first sighting of the South Pole. After two months skiing uphill for around 12 hours a day pulling 200lb of gear on a sledge in temperatures as low as -70C and enduring appalling whiteouts, realising his childhood dream was overwhelming.
"There is an actual pole at the South Pole and I was 11.5 miles away when I first saw a tiny dot on the horizon and knew that that was it. It was fantastic. Three days before I got to the Pole a tendon in my knee snapped, but I wasn't going to let it stop me. It was a bit uncomfortable. I was still skiing but I was on morphine.
"However the day I got there I stopped taking the painkillers because I wanted to take everything in clearly. Getting there was worth every single footstep, every day of training. It has stuck with me ever since."
Craig's boyhood dream became reality after he mentioned it during a leadership exercise put on by his employer, Ernst and Young. Colleague and fellow accountant Fiona Taylor was also inspired to become his expedition partner and the pair embarked on a gruelling training regime.
The trek, named the Scot 100, eventually began in October 2004 - a century after a historic expedition led by William Speirs Bruce, Edinburgh's "unknown" explorer, who Craig views as "truly the greatest polar explorer of all time".
But just four days after joining around half a dozen other adventurers from around the world on their epic adventure, Fiona had to give up after hypothermia and frostbite set in.
Craig was devastated but carried on. By week three he was so hungry he tried eating his toothpaste. He also missed his three young children and wife Michele desperately - but was able to e-mail, text or call every few days using a solar-powered palm-top computer and satellite phone.
But nothing ever made him consider abandoning his quest. "Not for one second did I think about giving up. I had wanted to do this since I was 12. It was a privilege to be there, no matter how hard it was." Back in Edinburgh, Craig has returned to his old job, but says he is more explorer than accountant now, and he is planning future expeditions.
At the moment he is giving talks about his experiences, the first at Channings Hotel next week, which has just launched new suites in tribute to another of his heroes, Sir Ernest Shackleton, who once lived in the building where the hotel is now situated.
Leven Brown, 33, from Restalrig, is a stockbroker turned Atlantic rower
After spending more than five months at sea in an epic attempt to row across the Atlantic single-handed Leven finally arrived at his destination last month. He successfully navigated almost 5000 miles of ocean from the Spanish city of Cadiz to Port of Spain in Trinidad - fulfilling a childhood dream and raising tens of thousands of pounds for charity.
He had to sell his car and his house in Montgomery Street to help fund the expedition, which began last August, and throughout the gruelling, solitary journey, his boat Atlantic Wholff had to endure rough seas, high winds and passing tankers as it progressed across the vast ocean.
For Leven, who flew back home to Edinburgh last week, it was a chance to follow in the footsteps of his ancestor Christopher Columbus. But while the famous explorer had three ships and 90 men at his disposal during the 15th century voyage, Leven had to rely on his own skills and experience - rowing for between 12 and 18 hours every day, consuming around 7000 calories to sustain his daily exertions and losing three stone in weight.
"I could only see 15 metres when I was in the troughs of waves at times," he says, recalling one particularly fierce storm in the Caribbean. "I had walls of water all round me and the spume of the waves made it difficult to breath. At times the boat was really slow in the water and it felt like I was rowing in a bowl of porridge. It got pretty wild out there.
"But I've always wanted to take on a challenge of this magnitude. It was one of the most physically and psychologically challenging events of my life."
During the epic voyage, Leven experienced a string of disasters that threatened to scupper his attempt altogether.
However, when he arrived in Port of Spain on January 27 he was treated to a hero's welcome by friends and family who had jetted out to witness the event.
Fiona Lindsay, 34, of Montgomery Street, physiotherapist turned Everest Marathon runner
Amateur long-distance runner Fiona Lindsay left her Edinburgh home last November to take on the Everest Marathon. The 26-mile route is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the highest and hardest race in the world, pitting competitors against sub-zero temperatures and altitude sickness as they run at more than 5000 metres above sea level over snow and ice-covered rough mountain terrain.
Runners may stagger and almost collapse because of the change in air pressure as they struggle not to slip down the mountain on ice and rubble. But none of that put off clinical physiotherapist Fiona who completed the race in style, coming in 53rd out of the 73 competitors from around the world who finished.
Speaking just ahead of her adventure, Fiona said: "I don't know why I am doing it, everybody keeps asking me that. But it is something I have wanted to do for years. This will be a massive personal challenge because of the altitude, but I love Nepal very dearly, it is a special place for me."
Like many modern-day adventurers, she was also motivated by a desire to raise money for charity, aiming to net at least 5000 for causes including the Greyhound Awareness League.
To take part in the marathon Fiona had to spend more than two weeks climbing to Mount Everest's base camp, staying in tents in very basic conditions to acclimatise to the harsh conditions, before setting off on the race.
Her background in endurance events helped her. She was part of the first female team to complete the Artemis Great Kindrochit Quadrathlon in Perthshire in 2004 during which she swam across Loch Tay, ran 15 miles over mountains, canoed for seven miles and cycled 34 miles around the loch. She has also trekked in Nepal and Tibet and up Mount Kilimanjaro.
Capital's fearless citizens have long blazed a trail
HENRY MORTON STANLEY was born a Welshman and became a naturalised American, but after his famous journey to Africa to find the Scottish explorer David Livingstone, he was made a citizen of Edinburgh in 1890.
Fearless botanist George Forrest, from Loanhead, had a series of real-life death-defying expeditions into China to collect seeds at the turn of the 20th century. The former gold prospector, who escaped a massacre of 17 of his Western colleagues by Tibetan monks - during which two poisoned arrows lodged in his hat - brought at least 30,000 seeds and plants to Britain.
In 1904, polar explorer Ernest Shackleton was named Secretary of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and moved to 14 South Learmouth Gardens, where he stayed with his wife until 1910.
In 1965, Myrtle Simpson became the first woman to ski across the Greenland ice cap when she accompanied her pathologist husband Hugh who wanted to test the body's reaction to stress. She collected flower samples for the Royal Botanic Garden.
Margaret Speedie, a 52-year-old mother-of-two from Bathgate, took part in explorer Robert Swan's Mission Antarctica expedition in 1998, helping to assess the amount of man-made junk in the area.
Edinburgh University's Professor David Rankin searched the mountains of the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces in China to collect plant, soil, rock and water samples in 2002.
2003 saw the centenary of William Speirs Bruce's epic voyage on the all-Scottish Scotia to the Antarctic. Before that he had been a ship's surgeon on a journey to the Falkland Islands, which resulted in one of the first ever studies of Antarctica.