Well, so you have sailed to explore the seas, and you seem to be lucky!

You have found an island. It's massive, 32 000 km^2. You really can't imagine what riches such a massive island could contain. Problem is, there's a cliff. Not a cliffhanger, real 50 metres of cliff, almost all around the island standing in your way. There's a part of the island where the cliff might be possibly lower, but there are sharp rocks and treacherous shallows in the way.

The closest civilization is around 300 km, and that's just a small island, which is lying far from commonly used sea routes itself and was only settled about 70 years ago. As for the closest frequently used port, you have to sail for 700 km.

Will this be enough to stop you from exploring the island?

I am trying to make it so that this island remains isolated from exploration and contact from 15th century European level civilization. Problem is, the island is huge. We're talking about 1/3 of the size of Iceland here after all. After some thinking, I decided 50 m cliff surrounding most of the island except for the part where there are there are the most treacherous waters might be enough to force the explorers away. Is that the case? Or is this completely wrong approach to my problem?

Also, to specify, the island's population is (or at least was until very recently) intentionally not leaving to explore.


Here is the map of the island.

  • $\begingroup$ "was only settled about 70 years ago" - how? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Nov 13, 2019 at 23:28
  • $\begingroup$ Some settler/refugees came to that mini-island, and settled there, during quasi-collonial conquest of a nearby continent that started around 150 years ago. Let me just say that the conquest wasn't as sucessful as in real history America, because lack of drastic tech advantage. It has been somewhat successful, and a single state/country worth of land was conquered and settled. $\endgroup$ Nov 13, 2019 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ As for this island, it was settled 800 years ago, via aerial means. It was used as haven of defeated/destroyed advanced civilization, where children were sent. $\endgroup$ Nov 13, 2019 at 23:55
  • $\begingroup$ I assume your contemporary explorers totally lack "aerial means"? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Nov 13, 2019 at 23:58
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, they don't havy anything that flies. $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2019 at 0:02

4 Answers 4


There are better walls than stone

This sounds like a job for the kamikaze. The original kamikaze was reputed to be divine wind which crash the invading Mongol fleet in 1281 when they attempted to invade Japan. Harsh currents and wind conditions helped keep Japan cut off from the rest of the world. Now, Japan did regularly trade with China, but the theory here is plausible - if this island is out of the way and they have powerful and dangerous current, alongside frequent typhoons, even the most courageous and foolhardy of explorers would think twice about venturing near the island.

  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, that seems to be far better solution, I guess. $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2019 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ The southern tip of South America has bad weather, powerful storms, and strong currents. Did that stop people? $\endgroup$ Nov 14, 2019 at 1:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison Not from discovering it. But then again, you had to sail past it to get to the other side of South America, so it was necessary. That's why I advised putting this island out of the way. $\endgroup$
    – Halfthawed
    Nov 14, 2019 at 1:56


Several reasons come to mind immediately.

  1. First, airships are obviously a thing. Airships brought the settlers to the island from an advanced civilisation. Airships can thus bring later explorers to the same island.
  2. Rope was well known to the seafarers of the 15th century. Rope is very handy for climbing cliffs. And there's no way the natives can effectively defend the whole 800km circumference of their fortress.
  3. Given time and wherewithal, climbing will be replaced by a pulley or steps can be carved into the rock.
  4. Any merest hint of a City of Gold or an ancient temple full of treasure will have explorers camping out on the waters surrounding the island in no time.
  5. It also won't be too long before every trading power in the region begins to see the potential of a (nearly!) impregnable fortress island.

It will just be a matter of time before outsiders scale the walls, tunnel through the walls or fly over the walls.

Thank you, please try again!


This situation won't force explorers away. Nothing can force explorers away; people made it to the South Pole and the top of Mount Everest. As long as there are rumors of treasure or undiscovered corners of the globe, someone will go after them. You can try killing them for awhile, but that will tend to bring more people. Opening up a new civilization to trade - trade that you control - is its own kind of treasure, after all.

It won't stop colonizers either, but it will discourage them. A natural harbor is a tremendous asset to a budding settlement, and if there are other, more hospitable islands nearby, anyone looking to set up shop is very likely to pick one of them rather than have a go at digging into that forbidding cliff. It can be done, but if there are better sites nearby then why bother?

But this comes with a time limit, because over the course of centuries there will always be more people looking to set up colonies than there are good spots for them to set up colonies in. Too, the other colonies will be better-established and able to serve as bases for delving further into the unknown. The frontier inevitably feels closer to civilization over time. Someday, someone will look at that island and say "well, we don't have any better options, and I think we can make a go of it".

Think of it like the western United States. At first, settlements tended to stick to desirable areas - the west coast, the Gulf of Mexico, areas along rivers, etc. But over time those weren't sufficient, and towns, cities, states developed further away from optimal conditions.

So it will be here. At first, no one will risk Terrifying Death Island when there's Tropical Paradise Island a few hundred leagues away. But eventually, as towns pop up all across the sea, trade lanes and national boundaries are filled in, and pioneers yearn to expand, they'll set their sights there anyway. And the natives who saw this gradual encroachment will have no choice but to deal with the consequences.


The short answer is probably no.

People are capable of solo climbing, by hand with no ropes or equipment, mountains nearly 1000 meters in height. This practice is called free solo climbing.

If the explorers have rock-climbing equipment then it would make this task even easier.

The only requirement to begin exploring is for someone to scale the mountain while carrying something like a rope ladder. After they get to the top, they can drop it down to allow for others to climb up.

The cliffs would definitely be a hindrance for exploration at the beginning, due to the height making it difficult to transport supplies, but people will have no problems gaining access to the island proper.

Eventually, if the island itself is found to have many riches, colonizing it outright wouldn't be an issue either. It is possible to carve steps into the cliff itself, something that Alexander the Great did, carving stairs into a mountain just to flank the enemy with his army


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