Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ready to Go on a Global Scavenger Hunt?

Travelers looking for a unique adventure that will challenge them both physically and mentally will be interested to learn about the Global Scavenger Hunt, a competition that sends participants around the globe in a quest to be crowned the "World's Greatest Traveler."

The GSH pits 15 teams of two against one another in an event that is unlike any other. Competitors face unusual challenges, solve puzzles, and decipher clues, all while racing around the globe on a route that is revealed as the scavenger hunt is take place. They visit secret locations, immerse themselves in fascinating cultures, and try to stay one step ahead of the other teams, while circumnavigating the planet using their wits and skills.

The Global Scavenger Hunt is gearing up for its 11th edition in 2015, and is set to take place April 10 through May 2. It will begin and end somewhere in North America, but exactly where has yet to be revealed. The route around the planet promises to be an exciting one, although exactly what path it takes will only be released as the competition unfolds. Reportedly, there will be ten countries on the docket for next year's competition.

The event is a bit like the television show The Amazing Race, although I'm told that it doesn't rely so much on speed and agility, as it does thoughtful immersion in the cultures of the places the teams visit along the way.

Organizers for the GSH are now taking applications for next year's event, and it does come with a hefty entry fee. The two-person teams must pony up $25,000 to join in on the fun, although that does include all airfare, hotel rooms, 40% of the meals, and some sponsored gear.

The competition isn't just about racing around the world however. There are breaks in the competition that give travelers an opportunity to spend a half-day volunteering locally, and some of the proceeds go towards building schools in remote places. Each year of the GSH has been able to fund a co-ed school in a developing country, such as Kenya, Ecuador, and India.

While the entry fee is a bit pricey, this does look like a fun event. If you've got he time, and the funds,  this would certainly be the challenge of a lifetime. Find out more at GlobalScavengerHunt.com.

Himalaya Fall 2014: Summit Bid Underway on Makalu, New Rules for Trekking in Nepal

The fall climbing season in Nepal is rapidly coming to a close, and as such, teams are making final preparations for their summit bids, particularly on Makalu. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of that massive blizzard that claimed the lives of more than 40 people in the Himalaya last week, the Ministry of Tourism has announced new regulations designed to help keep trekkers safer in the mountains.

We'll start today on Makalu, where the British Tri-Service team has put a team of climbers in place high on the mountain with the hope of reaching the summit as early as tomorrow. Climbing along the very long, and difficult, Southeast Ridge the designated 4-man summit team has now reached Camp 4, where they are currently resting before setting off for the top tomorrow morning. The weather forecast indicates three good days ahead, and they hope to take advantage of that open window if possible. The team is reportedly in good spirits, and fine health, and expectations are riding high as they begin the final stages of the expedition. A support team is standing by to lend aid should the summiteers need it, but they are anticipating a good approach to the top of the mountain. Heavy snows may have created unstable conditions however, and break trail to the top could be exhausting and time consuming. Still, they are ready to proceed in alpine style above C4. Watch for more updates over the next few days.

There is still no word from the Madison Mountaineering team, which was also attempting Makalu along the Northwest side of the mountain. They launched a summit bid last Saturday, but have not posted any status updates since. There have been some rumors that indicate that they were turned back high on the mountain due to unstable conditions, but we have not received confirmation of that at this point.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Video: The Colors of Home in Timelapse

This video features some of the spectacular landscapes – both natural and manmade – in the Czech Republic caught in timelapse. It shows a little of everything, including mountains,. forests, waterfalls, and cityscapes, giving viewers a nice taste of what the country has to offer. The clip is also another great example how relaxing and tranquil a timelapse video can be. Enjoy.

Colors of home from EMproduction on Vimeo.

Video: A Tour of Norway From 10 Meters Off the Ground

What do you get when two friends speed-fly their way along the West Coast of Norway? This awesome video which features some great paragliding, along with some amazing views of the Norwegian landscapes. Truly a beautiful way to explore the countryside.

10m TOUR. from malachi templeton on Vimeo.

Video: Kayaking the Verzasca in Switzerland

Here's a fun little paddling video that features kayakers Sam Sutton and Sven Lämmler taking on the wild whitewater found on the narrow confines of the Verzasca River in Switzerland. It gives us a great view of this roller coaster ride through the Swiss mountains. The Verzasca is a mere 30 km (18.6 miles) in length, but it offers plenty of excitement for such a short river. Looks like a blast!

Verzasca from Sven Lämmler on Vimeo.

Polar Bears Force Halloween Celebration Indoors in Canadian Community

Halloween is suppose to be a fun, and slightly scary, holiday for kids of all ages. But one Canadian town is taking measures to ensure that it isn't too frightening this year, following an invasion of polar bears to the community. The Inuit village of Arviat has decided that it will hold its annual Halloween celebration indoors in order to avoid bumping into ursine visitors, which are said to be hanging out in record numbers this year.
Polar bears are not new to the tiny town of just 2000 inhabitants, located on the northernmost coast of Nunavut territory. The village sees numerous bears in the region in any given year. But this year, the population has increased dramatically, and they have been wandering into town with more frequency as a result.

With this in mind, the town council held a special meeting last week to discuss what they should do about Halloween. With 1200 kids in town, they didn't want to disappoint the young trick-or-treaters, so they came up with the idea of holding the holiday indoors at the local community hall. A shuttle bus will even pick up the children and safely deliver them to the festivities. This should greatly reduce the chances of a bear encounter, which could easily end in tragedy.

Animal experts say that shrinking ice caps in the arctic are reducing the size of the polar bear's natural habitat, and forcing them into a smaller area. That is the reason that Arviat, and other villages along the Arctic Ocean, are seeing more of the bears in their area. Warmer weather is causing the Hudson Bay to take longer to freeze this year as well, preventing then bears from making their annual pilgrimage back north. Once the bay has frozen over for the season, the animals will leave Arviat behind.

While some of the ghosts, ghouls, and zombies of Halloween can indeed be scary, I can think of few things that would be more terrifying than coming face-to-face with a hungry male polar bear weighing more than a thousand pounds (450 kg). This is a wise move on the part of villagers.

Antarctica 2014: Prep Teams at Union Glacier

The 2014 Antarctic season is still a couple of weeks away from getting started, but the prep work for the support teams on the frozen continent have already begun. ExWeb is reporting that ANI flew the first support team to Union Glacier last week, where they are now prepping for the arrival of the South Pole skiers, climbers heading to Mt. Vinson, and the various other expeditions that will be taking place in the weeks ahead.

ANI's advance team arrived at Union Glacier on October 17, where they promptly went to work preparing for the new season. That prep work includes setting up the permanent camp facilities there, which serve as a logistical base for everyone that comes and goes from the Antarctic on ANI flights. The team is also preparing the company's blue ice runway and ensuring that it is ready for the big Ilyushin-76 aircraft that serve as shuttles from Punta Arenas, Chile to the facilities on the frozen continent.

In order for this first ANI staff to get to Union Glacier, they must first charter a flight with Kenn Borek Air, who uses smaller, shorter ranged Twin Otter aircraft for flights throughout the Antarctic. Their flight path took them from Punta Arenas to the Rothera Research Station – a British scientific outpost located on Adelaide Island. From there, the flight hops over to Union Glacier to drop off personnel and supplies.

Over the next couple of weeks, the ANI team will stock the Union Glacier camp, and make it as comfortable as possible before the arrival of the first wave of South Pole skiers. Usually, those adventurers start arriving around the first of November, although the weather actually dictates when they can get to the camp, and start their expeditions. Most spend only a short time at UG, before they are flown out to Patriot Hills, the traditional starting point for a journey to 90ºS.

ExWeb also points out that there is one other base that supports Antarctic expeditions, although it isn't used quite as often as ANI's Union Glacier camp. It is located at the Russian science station Novolazarevskaya, with flights arriving out of Cape Town, South Africa. The first flight due for that camp is scheduled to take place on November 4, and is reportedly fully booked.

It looks like another busy Antarctic season is about to get underway. As usual, I'll be following the progress of the teams closely.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Video: The Isle of Skye in Scotland

The Isle of Skye is one of a number of islands that are part of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. Skye is a wild, mountainous place, with some amazing landscapes, some of which you'll get to see for yourself in the video below. The use of black and white imagery, and wonderfully atmospheric music, helps to set the scene. This looks like a beautiful place.

Skíð : 'Cloud Island' from Fourth Dimension on Vimeo.

Video: Kayaking Kerela, India

Earlier this year, kayakers Sam Sutton, Bradely Lauder, and Mire Kodada traveled to the remote Kerela region of India to explore opportunities to go kayaking in the largely unexplored and untouched part of that country. What they found was some of the best whitewater that they had ever seen, on rivers that few – if any – other paddlers had ever descended. The video below shares some of that adventure, with some amazing footage from this beautiful part of the world.

Video: John of the Forest

Here's a wonderful short film that has some good messages for all of us. It features a man named John who is a retired organic farmer that lives in New South Wales, Australia on Mount Warning. His land is covered in dense, beautiful forest that looks like a spectacular place to call home. John shares his philosophy of connecting with nature, and the importance of recognizing that we are all part of the environment, with the need to work towards protecting it. The short video is thoughtful with its narration and imagery.

John of the Forest from PALATE on Vimeo.

Fears of Ebola Crushing Africa's Safari Tourism Industry

A month ago I wrote an article about why now is a good time to go to Africa. When I wrote that piece, Ebola was making headlines, and fear over the deadly virus was just beginning to set in with the general public. I argued then – and continue to do so now – that a downturn in travel to Africa was coming, and that opportunistic travelers could take advantage of the fear and ignorance over the disease to book a once in a lifetime journey at a fraction of the normal cost.

Since then, the bottom has fallen out in the safari tourism industry, with bookings dropping off to almost nothing. Countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, and Botswana are all seeing their economies damaged by fear over Ebola, even though they are thousands of miles away from the countries that have suffered the epidemic. In fact, there are European nations that are closer to West Africa, where the virus is most prevalent, than the countries that I've named above.

New reports indicate that safari operators are seeing a 20-70% drop off in new bookings for the rest of this year, and into 2015. This is an alarming number for many countries in Africa, who had seen tourism rise dramatically in recent years. In fact, 2014 was poised to have the best travel numbers of all time, as more people planned holidays on safari. But now, fear over Ebola has put the breaks on the tourism economy, most due to a misunderstanding of the geography of Africa.

Make no mistake, Ebola is a dangerous virus, and those traveling to West Africa should take caution, particularly if they are visiting Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. But the disease has not spread to other parts of the continent, and thus travelers are safe from coming in contact with someone who is infected. Still, there is a misperception that Africa is just one big place, and that all of it is rampant with Ebola. As a result, the entire continent is being lumped together, with dire consequences for the economy there.

Himalaya Fall 2014: Nepal Ends Search For Missing Trekkers, Summit Bids Begin on Makalu

It was another busy weekend in the Himalaya, but sadly for all the wrong reasons. Search and rescue teams spend the past couple of days sweeping through the mountains in search of missing trekkers who were caught out in that horrific blizzard that struck Nepal last week. The weather has improved considerably since then, but a number of people are still missing, and feared dead, in what has become the worst tragedy in the history of the Himalaya.

Efforts to locate missing trekkers and locals were continuing today, even though the SAR teams have started to scale back their efforts. All told, more than 40 people lost their lives in the storm, while 600 had to be rescued. Most of those were in the Annapurna region, where the storm seemed to hit the hardest.

Over the weekend, the popular Annapurna Circuit was shut down, while rescue efforts were conducted. When it was finally opened again, new trekkers, just setting out on their hike, ran into trouble as well, and had to be evacuated. This prompted officials to shutdown the trail once again, in order to keep others from becoming stranded.

As recently as today, ongoing avalanches have hampered efforts to locate those who are still missing. Despite those challenges however, a search team located the body of a missing Israeli traveler, which brought the death toll to 40, with others still to be found.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Video: Guilin and Yangshuo in China Captured by Drone

This video is brought to us by filmmaker Patrice Gaucher, who took his DJI Phantom drone with him to Guilin and Yangshuo, two UNESCO World Heritage sites located in China. As usual, the ariel photography captured by the drone is pretty spectacular, offering an amazing view of these beautiful landscapes.

DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ in Guilin and Yangshuo (UNESCO World Heritage Sites in China) from Patrice Gaucher on Vimeo.

Video: Adrenaline Filmmaking

A few days back, I posted a great little video that shared the secrets of how photographers capture those fantastic climbing photos that we often see. Today, I have another cool video that focuses on "adrenaline filmmaking," or the art of making adventure films in remote places. It is nearly a half-hour in length, and follows National Geographic filmmaker Bryan Smith as he offers insight into his craft. If you've ever wanted to make your own adventure films, there will be something interesting to discover in this video.

Video: No Sleep Till Bakewell - A Climbing Endurance Challenge

This short film is sure to provide some inspiration on a Friday. It is the first of a series of videos with the theme of "Never Give Up," that is sponsored by Casio's G-Shock watches. In this clip, climbers Tom Randall and Pete Whittaker attempt to 125 individual claims, and run 23 miles, nonstop over a 24 hour period. This is a challenge that they set for themselves a number of years ago, and only recently went for it. Pretty compelling stuff.

G-SHOCK Presents - No Sleep Till Bakewell from casio electronics on Vimeo.

ExWeb Interviews Steve Jones of Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions

With the 2014 Antarctic season quickly approaching, it will soon be time to ramp up coverage of the men and women who will be skiing to the South Pole this year, or exploring some other little known region of Antarctica. Ahead of the start of that busy period on the frozen continent, ExWeb has posted an interesting interview with Steve Jones, one of the main points of contact for expeditions at Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE) about the rules and regulations for traveling at the bottom of the world.

In the interview, Jones addresses a number of topics, including the use of drones in the Antarctic, the requirements for carrying not one, but two, satellite phones, and why other replacement devices won't always suffice. He also talks about the challenges that skiers face on their way to the South Pole, as their gear breaks down and deteriorates over time – something that hasn't changed in a hundred years, when the first expeditions to the Pole were finally completed.

Jones, who is a veteran Base Camp manager and guide in the Antarctica, also offers some good tips for those considering an expedition to the world's coldest, windiest, driest, and highest desert. He stresses the importance of planning, working closely with ALE, and the challenges of adapting to fluid situations as things inevitably go wrong. Steve also offers tips on getting funded, and how ALE can provide advice and even gear for those who need it.

Finally, the ALE point man also talks about the company's new trip to Mt. Sidley, the tallest volcano in Antarctica. This was the point of another story earlier int he week, and you can find out more about it here.

As the fall climbing season in the Himalaya comes to an end, the focus of the adventure world will turn to Antarctica once again. It will be interesting to see how many people will be embarking on expeditions to the South Pole this year, and if there will be any unique, unusual stories to tell.

Himalaya Fall 2014: More Trekkers Rescued, Search Continues For Those Missing

I wanted to post an update on the ongoing crisis in Nepal, where dozens of trekkers are still missing, even as search and rescue operations are being conducted. The weather has improved across the Himalaya, allowing SAR teams to reach some of the areas that have been cut off for the past few days, and as a result more trekkers are being airlifted from the mountains. Sadly, the number of deaths attributed to this unexpected, and incredibly powerful, blizzard continues to rise as well, with officials saying that at least 29 people have now lost their lives as a result of the bad weather.

Earlier today, search teams were able to reach the Thorung La pass on the Annapurna circuit, where they were able to locate 40 trekkers, and evacuate them to safety. The pass was at the center of the storm, and as a result, many of the deaths have occurred near there. According to some reports, a number of the deaths occurred because the hikers caught in the pass tried to descend and escape the blizzard, with some freezing to death as a result.

Officials from the Ministry of Tourism say that the death toll will likely continue to mount, as there are still a lot of trekking routes to be checked, and heavy snow still hinders the search. Yesterday alone, more than 200 trekkers were rescued, and they suspect that there are still more waiting to be found. Operations will continue through the weekend in the hopes of rescuing more stranded backpackers, and recovering bodies.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Video: America's Great Spaces in Timelapse

At just over five minutes in length, this video gives us an incredible timelapse tour of some of the best outdoor spaces in the entire U.S. The photography is brilliant, and the landscapes are breathtaking. This is a clip you want to enjoy without distractions, as it is a healthy reminder of why we love nature so much. Enjoy.

Video: The Beauty of Wingsuit Flying

This video is simply entitled Life, which conveys a lot of meaning when mixed with the images that delivers. It features some fantastic shots of wingsuit pilots and BASE jumpers doing what they love, with some spectacular settings for backdrops. It is a wonderful short film with some amazing footage of these pilots gracefully carving through the air at incredible speeds. The feeling of freedom that comes along with these activities must be amazing.

Life from FlyLikeBrick on Vimeo.

National Geographic Pinpoints Location, Size of Everest Avalanche

The spring climbing season on Everest is far behind us at this point, and most climbers have already started looking ahead to 2015. But the shadow of this past season will loom over the mountain for years to come, and continue to be discussed in mountaineering circles for even longer. With that in mind, over the past several months, National Geographic has been using satellite photography to examine the mountain in an attempt to pinpoint the exact location of the avalanche that claimed the lives of 16 Sherpas. That research has not only discovered exactly where the ice serac was located on the mountain, but has allowed Nat Geo to estimate its size as well.

The report on the avalanche was published yesterday on National Geographic's website. It includes a "before and after" satellite photo of Everest, with the first image taken on April 7, and the second on April 26. The avalanche occurred on April 18. The location of the large serac is outlined in yellow on both images, and is clearly missing in the second photo, which gives us a sense of the scale of the avalanche as well.

The research presented in the article comes our way courtesy of National Geographic's senior editor and cartographer Martin Gamache, who says that the surface area of the ice block prior to collapse was roughly the size of an NBA basketball court, and it towered more than 113 feet (34.4 meters) in height. He estimates that it weighed approximately 31.5 million pounds (14.3 million kilograms), which gives you an idea of the amount of force that hit the climbers on the mountain that day in April.

Exactly what caused the collapse remained a mystery, but Gamache chalks it up to gravity. He says that is the force that is generally the cause of these kinds of accidents. There has been some speculation that climate change may have played a role as well, with warmer temperatures possibly allowing large chunks of ice to become unstable over time.

The results of Camache's study coincide with the release of the November issue of National Geographic Magazine, which contains a number of stories revolving around the Everest tragedy. Amongst them is "Sorrow on the Mountain," which recounts the events of that day in detail. Another article takes an in-depth look at Sherpa culture, and what drives those strong men and women to live and thrive in the harsh Himalayan environments. The issue is on newsstands now and available to download in electronic format as well.

This is more fascinating coverage of what is undoubtedly the adventure story of 2014.

Training for the Mountains with RMI Guide Seth Waterfall

Preparation for a big climb on any mountain goes a long way towards determining the level of success that can be achieved. If you don't put int he work ahead of time, chances are you'll suffer mightily when your expedition begins. Recently, the Eddie Bauer blog caught up with RMI guide Seth Waterfall to get some tips on preparing for a climb. As you would probably expect from a three-time Everest summiteer, he had some good insights to offer.

To get things started, Seth says he defines "mountain training" as having a specific goal in mind. Rather than just going to the gym, or hitting a trail, for regular workouts, you instead know what your objective is, and begin tailoring your workouts towards achieving that goal. He says that while the gym is a good place to train, he prefers actually being outside, and on a mountain where the practical aspects of the training come into play.

Seth goes on to discuss such topics as his layering system for mountain training, what footwear he prefers while training, and the three things that he focuses on most while preparing for a climb. Those three things include building a strong base, working on power training, and the importance of getting rest to help the body recover.

This is all good information from a man who makes his living in the mountains. In addition to climbing Everest three times, Seth has summited Rainier 137 times, and guided climbers up that mountain, as well as Kilimanjaro and Denali. Hs resume even includes ski descents of Denali and Mt. Waddington as well.

If you're looking for a few basic tips to help provide direction and focus to your mountain training, this short article is worth a look.

Himalaya Fall 2014: Avalanche Claims Lives of Climbers on Dhaulagiri, Death Toll Amongst Trekkers Rises

The bad news out of Nepal continues today, with more reports of avalanches claiming the lives of both trekkers and climbers there. The forecast has called for improving weather conditions across the region, but unstable snows are making some of the trekking routes dangerous, not to mention the upper slopes of many of the mountains. The unexpectedly bad weather has hit the country hard, and as a result, the death toll continues to rise.

Yesterday, I reported that 17 trekkers had perished in two separate avalanches near Annapurna and in the Manang district. Today, we get word that that number has climbed to 26 foreign visitors, and may be as high as 32, with more than 100 people still missing. The situation is very fluid at the moment, with dozens of trekkers stranded throughout the region. Some are believed to be suffering from frostbite and dehydration, as they wait for rescue, or for conditions to improve enough that they can proceed to a village where they can receive aid.

The incredibly bad weather is the result of cyclone Hudhud coming ashore in India, and creating unusual conditions in the Himalaya as a result. Heavy snow and and rains have fallen over Nepal for the past several days, creating conditions that don't typically occur during the fall trekking and climbing season. Normally, autumn is the best time of the year to go hiking in Nepal, but this year it has become a dangerous nightmare for many travelers.

In addition to the numerous trekkers who have been killed, or stranded, we've also received word that an avalanche has claimed the lives of several climbers on Dhaulagiri as well. The 8167 meter (26,795 ft) peak is the 7th highest mountain in the world, and was the target of a team of Slovak climbers this fall. Two members of that team – Jan Matlák and Vladimir Švancár –  along with three Nepali guides, were killed in an avalanche that swept through Base Camp yesterday. The team had established Camp 1 and 2 on the mountain, and were waiting for the storm to pass before they attempted a summit push.  As you would expect, the expedition is now over, and the eight remaining members of the team have been evacuated back to Kathmandu.