Thursday, April 17, 2014

Video: The Green Mansions Of The Amazon

The Amazon is an amazing place that few of us ever get the opportunity to see. It is an incredibly diverse biosphere unlike any on our planet, and quite frankly it is an awe inspiring place that I've been fortunate enough to visit. The video below takes us on location to that visually striking place, offering up a glimpse of the Amazon from Colombia, Peru and Brazil.

GREEN MANSIONS from Gātha on Vimeo.

Video: Training For One Of The Hardest Races In The World - The Iditarod Trail Invitational

The Iditarod Trail Invitational is quite possibly the hardest race in the world. It features athletes who run, ski, and mountain bike along the same 1000-mile (1600 km) long trail that the famous sled dog race follows on its way from Anchorage to Nome. The IDI takes place in the dead of winter as well, which adds just another challenge to this tough ultra-endurance event. Many try to complete it each year, few succeed.

Just how do you train for such an event? Check out the video below, which comes our way via EpicTV, and marks the start of a new series entitled Sport & Survival.

Video: Escape - Why We Climb

Here's a beautiful and inspiring short film that I think you'll love. It's entitled Escape and it features a rock climber who shares his thoughts on why he loves to climb. It isn't for glory or recognition. It is to escape the trapping of daily life, and find some time to commune with nature. The cinematography on this 4+ minute video is stunning, and I'm sure there is a little something that we can all relate to here.

Escape from Nikolic Nikola on Vimeo.

National Geographic Presents 50 Tours Of A Lifetime For 2014

Earlier this week, National Geographic Traveler has released their annual selection of their Tours of a Lifetime, giving us 50 more amazing trips that we can take in our never-ending quest to explore the world. As in years past, the 2014 edition of this list offers some amazing tours, offered by some of the best adventure travel companies in the world, that anyone of us can book today. Provided we have enough money that is.

As usual, Nat Geo has broken down their selections by geographic categories. That means you'll find options for travel in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, Europe, North America, and the South Pacific and Oceania. This makes it incredibly easy to find new options for travel in a favorite region, or look for options for some place you've never been before. Each of the regions have a plethora of unique trips to choose from, offering up a wide range of choices that any world traveler will appreciate.

The editors of the magazine look for unique offerings that also align nicely with the organization's mission of immersing us in diverse cultures and delivering experiences that can't necessarily be found anywhere else. For instance, for those wanting to visit Africa, one of the suggestions is a trip to Namibia, offered by a company called Adventures in Africa, that sends you off to the Namib Desert to track endangered black rhinos and elephants that have adapted to living in that incredibly dry place. In Asia, there is an excursion from Wild Frontier Travel that takes you along the Trans-Himalaya Highway in India and another from Explore! that take travelers into Iraq (don't ask me why the Middle East falls under the Asia category). Have dreams of South America instead? How about going on a Jaguar safari in Brazil with Wild Planet Adventures?

There truly is something here for everyone, no matter what your style of travel or how you define "adventure." It is certainly fun to read this list and dream about all the possibilities. Of course, not all of them fall into the affordable category, at least not for most of us. Make no mistake, there are certainly some inexpensive trips to be had on this list, but others are quite expensive, putting them well out of there reach of the average traveler. Still, these suggestions are also a good launching point for hatching ideas for our own travels. While Nat Geo's specific suggestions may not always be friendly to our bank accounts, they do allow us to seek other options that are.

3000 Cups Of Tea: Revisiting The Greg Mortenson Story

It has been some time since we've had any kind of update on the Greg Mortenson story. You'll recall, he's the climber-turned-author-turned-humanitarian who wrote the book Three Cups of Tea, and then proceeded to use his platform to raise funds to build schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His organization, the Central Asian Institute (CAI) was viewed as a model for doing good in struggling countries.

But then, in 2011 Mortenson became the subject of a hard-hitting 60 Minutes piece that called into question the stories he wrote about in his books, how the money CAI was raising was being spent, and whether or not schools were being built at all. That followed on the heels of an article written by John Krakauer entitled Three Cups of Deceit, which further blasted Mortenson, essentially calling him a liar and a fraud. In a matter of a few months, Mortenson's world crumbled around him, and CAI's funding dropped dramatically. Civil lawsuits were raised against him, although most were quickly dismissed, and for his part Mortenson disappeared from the limelight, with not much more to be told.

That is, until now.

Two filmmakers, Jennifer Jordan and Jeff Roads, are working on a documentary that delves back into the Greg Mortenson story. Their film is called 3000 Cups of Tea (see trailer below), and it is nearing completion. They say they have a very different side of the story to tell, and that their experience with CAI, and Mortenson's work, does not resemble what 60 Minutes reported. They have visited many of the schools that were the result of Greg's work, and they say that aside from a few that aren't up and running, most of them are serving the purpose that their founder intended.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Video: Kathmandu To The Summit Of Everest Via Google Earth - Updated!

Updated: Okay, so the original video I placed here was suddenly password protected. I guess they didn't want us to see what they were showing off. So, I've replaced it with a classic clip from Alan Arnette that gives us great insight into an Everest climb up the South Col Route. Enjoy!

As is tradition in the spring, we've been talking a lot about Mt. Everest lately, and I thought you might like to see what the climbers are up against in the weeks ahead. The video below is a simple animation captured in Google Earth, that leaps from Kathmandu to the airport in Lukla, then up the Khumbu Valley to Everest, before proceeding up the South Side route to the summit. It's brief – just one minute in length – but it does put some things in perspective.

Video: Scary POV Downhill Mountain Bike Video

For those of us who don't have the skills, or guts, to ride those really challenging downhill mountain bike courses, this video will have to suffice. Clearly shot while wearing a GoPro, or similar action camera, the clip gives us a point-of-view perspective of a rider as he zips down an incredibly narrow, and scary, course. It's only two minutes long, but it is enough to give you a sense of just how tough and demanding some of these competition courses actually are.

Video: TravelSmith Travel Tips #16 - Cultural Sensitivity

It's Wednesday, which means its time for more great travel tips from our friend Richard Bangs. This time, Richard has a story about a funny encounter he had in New Guinea while scouting locations for a BBC documentary, during which he came across one of the indigenous folks while in a remote region. That encounter taught him a thing or two about being sensitive to the culture of the place he is visiting, and he shares some of those lessons here.

Everest 2014: Into The Icefall

Communications from Everest Base Camp on the South Side continue to be sporadic, as cloud cover and snowfall limit access to satellites and keep solar panels from charging the comms equipment. Still, there have been a few reports from the mountain the past few days, where the teams are busy making themselves at home, and starting to acclimatize to the altitude. The first groups have even begun to make their way through the dreaded Khumbu Icefall, as they prepare for their first rotations in Camp 1 and Camp 2.

As I've mentioned previously, the Icefall is a treacherous section of the climb that sits just above Base Camp on the Nepali side of the mountain. It marks the spot where the Khumbu Glacier begins to calve, which makes it highly unstable. Each year, a special team of Sherpas called the Icefall Doctors build and maintain a route through the Icefall using ladders and ropes. That route will shift and change throughout the season, forcing them to rebuild the route over the course of the three months that it is in place.

Crossing the Icefall is one of the scariest and most dangerous sections of Everest. As a result, teams will try to minimize the number of times that they have to pass through it while on the mountain. IN recent years, that has meant starting their acclimatization on other nearby mountains, such as Lobuche and Pumori. But even that just delays the inevitable, and as I write this, the first teams are venturing into the Icefall to get themselves use to walking on, and climbing, the ladders while wearing their heavy mountaineering boots. It can be a tricky bit of work, but most will become accustomed to it in short order.

World Rogaining Championship Coming To South Dakota, Now Open To All Entrants

This summer, the Black Hills of South Dakota will play host to the 2014 World Rogaining Championship. During that event, the best navigators in the world will descend on what promises to be a tough, but beautiful and fun, course. The Black Hills will make for a stunning backdrop, for this event, which promises to test the skills of even the best rogainers on the planet.

The World Championships will take place on August 16-17 of this year, and will feature a 24-hour long, cross country navigation race, during which competitors will be charged with finding their way through a designated course, using nothing but a compass and map. Along the way, they'll earn points by locating checkpoints, which will be designated by orienteering flags. The object is to find as many of those checkpoints as possible in the allotted time allowed.

So far, there have been more than 400 competitors, from 23 different countries, who have signed up to compete in the event. Registration is still open, and the requirement for having past experience in a 24-hour regaining event has now been waived, opening up the competition to anyone who has the desire to join in on the fun.

Having spent some time in the region where this event will be held, I can promise you that this will be a fantastic event. I was part of the team that organized Primal Quest Badlands back in 2009, and some of that course is being incorporated here. It will be a fantastic setting – one that will probably catch some of the competitors by surprise by it's remote and wild nature. Additionally, our PQ course designer, Rick Emerson, is also organizing the 2014 Rogaining World Championship, and I know he'll deliver a fantastic event. The course will no doubt be tough, but fair, and will provide some unique challenges.

If you think you've got good compass skills, and are looking for a challenge this summer, then check out this event. It is essentially an adventure race on foot, with the toughest element – navigation – brought to the forefront. I think its going to be a really great competition, and I know the folks in South Dakota will welcome the competitors warmly.

Find out more by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Video: Discovering Adventure On The Colorado River In The Grand Canyon

Defining adventure is a very personal thing. What make up an adventure for me, may be very different from what is an adventure for you. This short film follows a group of kayakers as they paddle the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, while also seeking to define what "adventure" means to each of them. It is a compelling little documentary that will leave you thinking about the topic, and pondering exactly "Why We Go."

Why We Go from Brett Mayer on Vimeo.

Video: Drone Captures Epic Footage Of Mountain Biking In New Zealand

Adventure filmmakers continue to put drones, and other technology, to good use in their craft. Case in point, this beautiful looking mountain bike film that was shot in New Zealand and features, some amazing footage that was captured using a personal drone. It is fantastic to look at, and a great example of what these types of tools can do. Oh yeah, and New Zealand looks amazing as well, but that mostly goes without saying.

Video: An Introduction To The BattleFrog Obstacle Course Race

I've mentioned once before that I've taken on a new gig as the media director for a new obstacle course race series called BattleFrog. Over the past few years, OCR events have become increasingly popular, with some really challenging events now taking place all across the U.S., Europe, and other parts of the world. We're getting ready to launch BattleFrog in Atlanta at the end of May, and for a little sneak peek at what the event will be like, check out the video below.

North Pole 2014: Bad Weather And Negative Drift

While any expedition to the North Pole is fraught with challenges, the past few days have been especially trying for the teams heading to the top of the world. Bad weather kept them tent bound for longer than they would have liked, and that resulted in negative drift pushing them in the wrong direction. It can be frustrating to run the polar treadmill, but sometimes that is the task at hand. Still, they are picking up speed and making solid progress. The question now is whether or not there is enough time still on the clock for them to complete their journeys.

A few days back, Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters were praying for some wind to help harden the newly fallen snow. The fresh powder was making it hard for them to pick up speed, and they found themselves working very hard to gain traction. The winds arrived with a vengeance however, blowing in at around 45 mph (72 km/h). At that speed, it is tough to just stand up on skis, let alone push forward. At one point, they covered just 100 meters in an hour of travel, which should give you an indication of just how trying the conditions actually were. Things have improved somewhat since then, and Ryan and Eric have managed to hit their best distance yet, covering 11.5 nautical miles (21.3 km).

Unfortunately, negative drift has begun to impact the expedition, due in no small part to the winds. One night while they slept in their tent, they drifted 5 miles (8 km) to the north-northeast, which is not the direction they want to be moving. They'll have to make up that distance on their way to the Pole, and I'm sure they are happy that they weren't drifting south. For those who don't know about negative drift, it is the phenomenon in which polar ice, floating on the Arctic Ocean, moves due to currents and the wind. Generally it is away from the North Pole, which can cause explorers to lose ground while they rest. It is not uncommon for instance, for skiers to cover 10 miles in a day, only to lose 3 or 4 miles while sleeping at night. The further north they travel, the more stable the ice gets however, so hopefully it'll be non-factor in the days ahead.

New Trail Running World Record Set On South Africa's Table Mountain

For such a relatively small country, South Africa has more than its fair-share of exceptionally endurance athletes, adventurers, and explorers. Case in point, it was just a few weeks ago that I wrote about a new record setting run on the Drakensberg Grand Traverse that was set by ultra-runners Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel. Turns out they aren't the only South Africans to set new records these past few weeks, as trail runner Andre 'AJ' Calitz recently put in an impressive performance on Table Mountain, the iconic landmark that overlooks Cape Town.

On Saturday, April 5, Calitz ran up and down the 1085 meter (3558 ft) tall flat-topped mountain an unbelievable 14.5 times in 12 hours. That gave him a vertical gain over that period of 10,257 meters (33,651 ft). That's the equivalent of running up Everest, plus an additional 1409 meters (4622 ft), over the course of half a day.

The trail, which is a demanding climb up a tough trail, features more than 800 double-sized steps over a 700 meter (2296 ft) stretch, which added a unique element to the run. AJ indicated that the uneven steps caused more issues, rather than actually helping him. Still, he managed an ascent every 35 minutes. The climb typically takes hikers anywhere from 1-2 hours to complete.

The video below will give you an idea of what this trail is like, and how challenging it must have been to run up and down it, not just once, but 14+ times. That's a pretty impressive feat of endurance. Well done Andre!

Thanks to Lisa for sharing this as always!


Monday, April 14, 2014

Video: This Is Iceland!

More beautiful timelapse images from Iceland. What more do I have to say? The country is simply one of the most breathtaking places on the planet, and these videos continue to hammer that point home. The Northern Lights look particularly lovely in this clip. Enjoy!

This Is Iceland from O Z Z O Photography on Vimeo.

Video: Kayaking A Drainage Ditch In British Columbia

This 5-minute paddling video features some great footage of Ryan Lucas, and his crew, as they kayak some impressive whitewater in British Columbia, Canada. But perhaps the best, and scariest, clip is when they zip down a wild looking drainage ditch. Don't try this stuff at home kids!

Explorer Mike Horn Climbing Makalu, Before Going Pole-To-Pole

South African explorer Mike Horn has a busy schedule planned for 2014. He is currently in Nepal, where he, and his climbing partner Fred Roux, are preparing to take on the fifth highest peak in the world, Makalu, which stands 8463 meters (27,766 ft) in height. They'll attempt that climb in alpine style, without the use of supplemental oxygen or Sherpa support. While that sounds ambitious enough, it is only the tip of the iceberg for Mike's adventurous plans later in the year.

In September, Mike will launch what he has dubbed as his Pole2Pole 360º expedition. Setting out from Gibraltar, he'll set sail south aboard his boat Pangaea for Cape Town. After that, he'll cross the Southern Ocean to Antarctica, which he'll then traverse on skis. When he has completed that epic undertaking, he'll return to his ship and start sailing north until he reaches the Arctic. Once that leg of the journey is done, he'll then don his skis once again as he heads for the North Pole. But even then, he won't quite be finished, as Mike intends to head back south on foot and kayak, crossing Greenland along the way, before sailing back to his starting point in Gibraltar.

As with many of Mike's past expeditions, the 110-foot Pangaea  will serve as a mobile base station. While he is busy traversing the Antarctic and Arctic on foot, the ship will be sailing with all speed to his extraction points. The ship will carry a crew of as many as 30 people, who will be helping to document the journey and share Mike's adventure with the world.

Horn, who has a history of long, extended journeys, feels that this will be one of the greater expeditions of the 21st century, and it is difficult to argue against him. As we all know by now, a journey to the North Pole on foot is one of the greatest challenges in the world of adventure at the moment, and a traverse of the Antarctic remains incredibly difficult as well. It will be quite interesting to follow along with Mike on this excursion, which promises to be as challenging as anything he – or anyone else – has ever done.

Watch for more updates in the weeks ahead. And thanks to ExWeb for the tip!

Everest 2014: Puja Ceremonies, Base Camp Arrivals and the Beginning Of The Climb

As expected, it was a busy weekend in the Himalayas, where most of the early teams have now arrived in Everest Base Camp on the South Side, or are en route to Chinese Base Camp on the North Side. After spending a couple of days getting settled in, most are now resting, acclimatizing, and going through a series of skills checks before they start their first forays up the mountain, where the weather reportedly remains cold and heavy snows have fallen.

One of the most important steps before anyone begins their climb on Everest is to take part in a Puja ceremony. During the Puja, a Buddhist monk blesses the climbers, and their gear, while asking for permission from the mountain for them to climb its slopes. The Puja is especially significant to the Sherpas, who generally won't go above Base Camp without first receiving the blessing. While it is conducted in all seriousness, and is marks the true start of the climb, the Puja is also a good opportunity for the climbers to get to know their teammates better, and celebrate ahead of the start of the serious work.

Over the past few days, a number of teams have completed their Puja ceremony and are now prepping for their first rotation up to Camp 1, or have left BC to acclimatize on one of the lesser peaks in the region, such as Lobuche. That's where the IMG team is at right now, and they hope to summit today, before heading back to Everest. Similarly, the Peak Freaks squad will be headed off to Island Peak for their acclimatization climb. After which, these climbers will venture into the Khumbu Icefall for the first time.

Video: Snowboarding With Handheld Jet Engines

A snowboard + handheld jet engines = pure craziness. It also equals a fairly entertaining video to start the week.

Snowboarding with Jet Engines - Jamie Barrow from Jamie Barrow on Vimeo.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Video: Kayaking California

California has a reputation for being one of the best kayaking destinations in the world, and rightfully so. It's diverse landscapes and granite bedrock in the Sierra Nevada range make for an excellent paddling playground. Recently, a team kayaker took on the East Kaweah and South Silver Rivers, and filmed their California adventure for us all to share. The result is a great looking kayaking film that will get you excited to see more of what the state has to offer.

Lance Armstrong Is Naming Names

It has been awhile since we've heard anything new about Lance Armstrong, and the doping scandal that brought dow the 7-time Tour de France champion. But earlier this week, some details of Armstrong's deposition from a lawsuit that was brought against him from an insurance company seeking repayment for bonuses paid out during his TdF winning streak were revealed. In that testimony, which took place back in November, Lance revealed the names of those who supplied him with performance enhancing drugs, or at least knew about their use.

Most of the names will probably come as no surprise to cycling fans. For instance, Armstrong says that team director Johan Bruyneel "participated in or assisted with" the use of PEDs for him and the rest of the squad. This is the first time that Bruyneel has been named outright by Lance, who says that  the Johan knew about the use of drugs through "conversations and other acts" throughout their time together.

The report also points the finger at those who were involved with administering Armstrong's blood transfusions, which aided in increasing oxygen levels in his blood for better performance. Four names came up as part of that conversation. They include trainer Pepe Marti, Dr. Pedro Celaya, Dr. Luis del Moral, and the infamous Dr. Michele Ferrari, who was part of a large program for doling out performance enhancing drugs to athletes on a massive scale.

Others who were singled out for delivering PED's to the cyclist include team soigneur Emma O'Reilly, as well as bike mechanics Julien de Vriese and Philippe Maire. It was also revealed in the testimony that team manager Mark Gorski and Armstrong's personal coach Chris Carmichael knew about his use of performance enhancing drugs as far back as 1995.

Video: Climbers Discover Massive Cave System In Colombia

Here's an interesting video that I came across over at the Adventure Journal. It tells the tale of Gabriel Rubiano Groot and a team of climbers and slackliners, who have discovered an massive new cave system hidden in the Colombian mountains. The problem is, the cave is located near the town of Florián, which has long been part of the drug trade. It's a fascinating story that makes you wonder what other hidden gems are out there, just waiting to be found.

Justification for Wanderlust: Gabo's Story from Where?Next on Vimeo.

North Pole 2014: Greenland Circumnav Underway, Tough Conditions Continue Up North

Explorers in the Arctic continue to face very difficult conditions, even as the season stretches on. Those traveling on foot to the North Pole still face what in my opinion is the toughest challenge in the world of adventure today. And while those teams have now been out on the ice for a month, other Arctic expeditions are just getting underway, including a ski journey that began at the North Pole, and an epic attempt to circumnavigate Greenland by kite-ski.

We'll begin with those heading north today. Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters have truly hit the part of the expedition that could best be described as "the grind." Each day is a real challenge, and they're never quite sure what is going to come next. Pressure ridges continue to cause delays, and rough is nags them, even 28 days into the expedition. Even though they are exhausted from their journey, they continue to pick up speed. Yesterday was their best day yet, covering 9.73 nautical miles (18 km), which must have felt good after days of struggle. They are still 353 miles (568 km) from the Pole however, and have now gone through half of their supplies. That is an awful lot of ground to cover before they are done, and while they have improved their speed in recent days, they'll now have to average roughly 13 miles (21 km) per day to reach 90ºN before they run out of food and fuel. That is going to be a tall order, but both men seem as determined as ever to finish what they've started.

Meanwhile, Japanese solo-skier Yasu Ogita is pressing forward as well, although the stress of the expedition has worn on him some. His home team tells ExWeb that he is doing fine physically, but is disappointed with the distances that he has been able to cover on a regular basis. Yasu continues to lug his kayak with him over the ice, although he has found few open leads where he has needed to use it. He has been considering abandoning the kayak for a number of days now, but has elected to keep it with him – at least for now. Yasu has been out on the ice the longest of anyone so far this season, having departed from Cape Discovery a full week ahead of Eric and Ryan. He has crossed the 85th degree, but continues to struggle for progress.

FlightNetwork Travel Stories

As I've noted in the past, one of the websites that I contribute more mainstream travel stories to is the "Lets Roll" Blog over at FlightNetwork.com. On that site we offer travel tips, suggestions on where to go, and news of interest from the travel industry. Here is a sample of some of the things that have appeared there in recent days.