Friday, October 31, 2014

Himalaya Fall 2014: Brits Depart Makalu Base Camp, First Ascent in the Indian Himalaya

As the fall climbing season in the Himalaya slowly grinds to a halt, we continue to receive a few updates from the mountains. At this point, there are only a matter of days left before the season begins to shift, but there are still a few bits of news to share.

First up, the British Tri-Services team posted a dispatch from Makalu indicating that they have now departed Base Camp on the Southeast Ridge, and are making their way back to Kathmandu. They report that poor weather continues to be the norm, with heavy snow, and rain, making it challenging to trek through the mountains once again. They are still a few days away from KTM, and the porters carrying their gear are a couple of days behind the climbers, but they expect that they should be on their way back to the U.K. by next week.

A few weeks back, the Slovenian team of Aleš Česen, Luka Lindič and Marko Prezelj became the first men to climb a new route on Hagshu, a 6657 meter (21,840 ft) peak in the Indian Himalaya. The team completed the climb in alpine style, first making the ascent of the North Face, then traversing the mountain to the main summit. While that was the main objective of the expedition, the trio first acclimatized on two other nearby peaks, making first ascents on both Lagan (5750 m/18,865 ft) and Hana's Men (6300 m/20,669 ft). It is safe to say that this was a successful expedition, considering they made first ascents on three peaks, and did all of them in light alpine style. Well done, and congratulations to the team.

Finally, there continues to be no word from Lhotse on the progress of the Korean Team. A few days back we received word that they were heading up to Camp 4, where they intended to stash gear in preparation for a summit push to come. Since then, there have been no updates, but presumably everything is going according to plan. The team has been on Lhotse for nearly two months now, and have faced bad weather and avalanches almost since the day they arrived. But time is running short now, and if they intend to make a summit bid, it will have to come soon. Hopefully we'll get an update over the weekend.

Various reports continue to indicate that the weather has been poor in the Himalaya once again. It has been a tough season there, and not an entirely successful one. Hopefully things will improve in the spring, when more teams head to the mountains, and Everest becomes a hive of activity.

More updates coming soon, as warranted.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Video: A Journey Through Iceland

With its compelling landscapes and wonderful scenery, Iceland continues to be a source of inspiration for travelers and filmmakers. Today, we have another video from that beautiful country, with yet more footage of all of the wonderful things it has to offer. This one was shot by a filmmaker who spent some time along the southern coast near Reykjavik. The results speak for themselves.

Iceland from Ugmonk on Vimeo.

Video: Wingsuit Flying in Reverse

Here's a novel approach to the wingsuit videos that we're use to seeing. It takes the standard footage, and runs it in reverse, which certainly makes for a different perspective. Watching the parachute actually go back into the bag, as the pilot floats back up the mountain, is kind of mesmerizing, and fun to watch.

Video: Our Conquest - Inspiration for Exploration

Here's an inspiring short video that uses clips from a variety of sources, overlaid with John F. Kennedy's famous speech on why we must go into space, to inspire exploration. Many of the clips are from the early days of the space program itself, but some even include images of George Mallory on Everest as well. It is a good reminder of the importance of exploration, even in this day and age.

Our Conquest from we are gods on Vimeo.

Himalaya Fall 2014: Final Numbers from Blizzard in Nepal are Sobering

It has been a little more than two weeks since the incredibly strong blizzard – spurred on by cyclone Hudhud in the Indian Ocean – hit Nepal, creating a tragic scene in the Himalaya as a result. Now that things have finally calmed down there, and mostly returned to normal, we're beginning to get a better understanding of the scope of what happened, and just how deadly the storm truly was.

According to official reports, 43 people lost their lives in the blizzard, most of whom were Nepali, although there were also casualties from Canada, Israel, India, Japan, Poland, and Slovakia as well. In the days that followed the storm, more than 70 helicopter flights were made, carrying  514 people out of the the mountains. This is, by far, the largest search and rescue operation ever conducted in Nepal, with evacuations on a massive scale. To make matters worse, there are still some Nepali's that are believed to be missing, which means the number of dead could still go up from here.

As mentioned previously, Nepal's government has vowed to make changes that will improve the safety of foreigners visiting the Himalaya. New regulations governing how trekkers travel in the mountains are expected to be announced before the start of the spring season in April, with the possible requirement of hiring a local guide, and carrying a GPS tracker, as part of the discussion. Officials have also indicated that they are seeking ways of improving weather forecasting, and more efficient means of sharing those forecasts to remote regions.

All of these suggestions sound like good ones, but the problem is that we've heard this kind of rhetoric out of Nepal before. There have been announcements in the past stating that trekkers would be required to hire local guides, but those rules have not been enforced, and many travelers still hike the Himalaya independently. There is little indication that things will be different this time, in part because Nepal's track record has been so spotty over the years.

Has the Mystery of Amelia Earhart's Disappearance Been Solved?

The disappearance of Amelia Earhart somewhere over the Pacific Ocean back in 1937 created one of the most compelling and enduring mysteries of the 20th century. The pioneering aviator, along with her navigator Fred Noonan, were attempting to fly around the world at the equator when they vanished while searching for a fuel stop on Howland Island. What became of them has been open to speculation for more than 77 years. Now, with the help of a piece of scrap metal, researchers believe they have solved that mystery at last.

Yesterday, The International Group of Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) reported that they had successfully linked a piece of scrap metal discovered on the island of Nikumaroro with Earhart's plane. The piece of metal in question is 19 inches wide (48.2 cm) and 23 inches (58.4 cm) long, and was installed on her aircraft on a layover in Miami. It was part of a modification to the Lockheed Electra aircraft that would have allowed the pilot to be able to look out her window more easily so that she could navigate by the stars at night.

According to the TIGHAR report, the piece of metal was originally found on Nikumaroro, an island in the Republic of Kiribati, back in 1991. Researchers claim that by studying the part, they have determined that it not only matches the size and shape of the one added to Earhart's plane, but it made up of the same type of metal, fits consistently with shape of the Electra, and has the same unique rivet pattern as the infield modification. Those variables virtually ensure that it is a part from the missing aircraft.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Video: Accelerated Moments - Timelapse Landscapes From the American Southwest and Beyond

Shot over a two-year period throughout Arizona, Utah, California, and Hawaii, this video captures beautiful scenery in spectacular timelapse fashion. Locations include Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Mt. Whitney, and Monument Valley, just to name a few. The imagery is transfixing, with some fantastic shots of some of the most visually stunning landscapes found anywhere in North America.

Accelerated Moments (Timelapse) from Sean Goebel on Vimeo.

Video: Mountain Biking in the Caucasus Mountain Range

Our friends at EpicTV have brought us another great mountain biking video, as this time we head to the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia to take on some fantastic looking trails with Tito Tomasi. The ride crosses through small mountain villages, and over some spectacular passes, giving us a glimpse of a part of the world that few outsides ever venture into. The video is a great case for how mountain biking can be an amazing way to explore remote regions of the planet. This looks like it would be a lot of fun.

Video: Sean Disney & Vaughan de La Harpe Talk Mountaineering Adventures at FEAT Jo'burg

A few weeks back, the annual FEAT event took place in Johannesburg, South Africa. FEAT stands for Fascinating Expedition & Adventure Talks, and it is features a number of very interesting men and women who have just seven minutes to share a tale from their adventures. In the video below, climbing partners Sean Disney and Vaughan de la Harpe take to the FEAT stage to introduce some of the interesting people that they have met on their expeditions to climb the Seven Summits, most notably Everest. Their seven-minute presentation is particularly humorous, as they introduce us to a number of unique individuals that they have encountered along the way. There are definitely more than a few laughs to be had over the course of their talk.

2014 Antarctic Season Set To Begin

As the fall climbing season begins to wind down in the Himalaya, the attention of the exploration and adventure community will soon turn away from the mountains in a decidedly more southern direction. The 2014 Antarctic season is about to get underway, and at the moment it looks like it is going to be a relatively quiet one.

Starting each November, the austral summer opens a window for travel in the Antarctic, with hardcore adventurers making the long, arduous journey to the South Pole on foot, or attempting to climb Mt. Vinson, the highest peak on the continent. Those expeditions are incredibly demanding endeavors, and they often make for high drama for those of us who follow the proceedings closely. In recent years, there have even been a few ground breaking expeditions that have managed to not only ski to the Pole, but also make the return journey back to their starting point on the coast. For many, Antarctica remains one of the last truly unexplored places on the planet, and while logistically it is easier to get to the frozen continent these days, it still remains a harsh and unforgiving place.

As I write this, teams of explorers, scientists, researchers and adventurers are preparing to head to the Antarctic. Some will be staying at permanent research stations, which will be ramping up their staff as the new season gets underway. Others are preparing to visit more remote locations, as they go in search of new challenges in a place that continues to have an undeniable appeal to explorers, even a century after the first teams reached the South Pole.

There are two locations that offer access to Antarctica – Cape Town, South Africa and Punta Arenas, Chile. Both are used by adventurers heading to the bottom of the world, although Punta Arenas sees more traffic, in part because of Adventure Network International's (ANI) ability to provide the logistics necessary to get people on and off the continent, and support them in their expeditions. ANI maintains a camp located at Union Glacier, which serves as base of operations in the Antarctic for many private expeditions. That camp is reportedly just about ready to go, as the team has been stocking it withs supplies, and preparing the blue-ice runway that will begin welcoming flights as early as next week.

The first Antarctic adventurers are scheduled to head out on November 4, weather permitting. The past few years, the weather has delayed the start of the season, and it could happen again this year as well. The first few weeks of November can be a bit tumultuous, but South Pole skiers like to hit the ice as early as possible, as every day counts when you're skiing for hundreds of miles across a frozen desert.

In the days ahead, we will be following the action in Antarctica closely. As in years past, I'll do my best to share progress reports and updates from the field. There may not be as many expeditions heading south this year, but there will still be plenty of adventures to share. Stay tuned for more soon.

Himalaya Fall 2014: Korean Lhotse Team Prepares For Summit Push

While only one team remains on an 8000-meter peak in the Himalaya this fall, the season isn't quite over yet. The Korean squad on Lhotse continues to battle poor weather, and unstable conditions, in an attempt to reach the summit on that mountain. The clock is ticking however, and after nearly two months in the Himalaya, time is starting to run out. With that in mind, the team is in the final stages of their preparation, with the hopes of summit bid to come.

Information on the team's current status has been hard to come by in recent days, but according to ExWeb, the Korean climbers set off up the mountain once again today with the hopes of establishing Camp 4 at 8200 meters (26,902 ft). This will be their final camp on the mountain, and will serve as their launching pad for the summit. It is unclear whether or not they'll attempt to go straight to the top, or will instead descend back to Base Camp, and wait for a proper weather window.

Considering the length of time they have been on the mountain (they arrived in the first week of September), and the patience that they have shown thus far, it seems likely that they will wait for the proper window to allow themselves the best opportunity of topping out. That said, temperatures have begun to drop across the region, and Lhotse has reportedly gotten much colder following the recent blizzard brought on by cyclone Hudhud.

Avalanches remain a concern as well, as they have all season long. The team has already faced several significant slides, and have been extremely careful in their approach so far. They could find even more unstable snow as they move up above C4.

Meanwhile, Canadian climbers Jason Kruk and Ian Welsted are still in the Himalaya as well, and attempting to summit Nuptse, the 7861 meter (25,791 ft) peak located in the Khumbu Valley, not far from Everest itself. A few days back, Kruk posted to his Facebook page that they duo were taking one last crack at the summit along the South Face before they pack up camp and head home. If everything is going according to plan, they should top out sometime over the next few days, but we'll have to wait for a new dispatch to report on their success.

The fall climbing season is nearly over, and in a few days, I'm sure we'll be wrapping up the last of these reports. It has been a strange autumn in the Himalaya to say the least, but there were some good success stories, most notably on Manaslu and Cho Oyu. Hopefully we'll have a few more summits to add to the list by this weekend. Stay tuned.

Update: In other Himalayan news, climbers Mick Fowler and Paul Ramadan have completed a new route along the Northeast Face of Hagshu, a 6515 meter (21,374 ft) peak in the Indian Himalaya. The mountain had been previously climbed back in 1989, but despite several attempts, has remained unclimbed ever since. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Video: A Journey on the Trans-Siberian Express

The Trans-Siberian Railway is one of the most classic train journeys in the entire world, covering 9289 km (5771 miles) between Moscow and far-eastern Russia, with branches reaching all the way to Beijing. The video below charts filmmaker Stanislas Giroux's three-week long odyssey on the railway, as he passed through Russia, Mongolia, and China. It is three minutes of amazing footage from a three-week long journey that is unlike any other. Truly a fantastic way to see that part of the world.

Seat 22 — Trans-Siberian Odyssey from Stanislas Giroux on Vimeo.

Video: Descent into Marum Crater on Vanuatu

This short-film follows a team of adventure photographers/explorers as they descend into the Marum Crater, located on Ambrym Island in Vanuatu, to become the first men to stand at the edge of the lava lake that fills the bottom of that location. It is quite an adventure, which eventually puts them face to face with one of the most destructive forces on our planet. This is amazing footage, all captured on the new GoPro Hero4 Black, with some of it used in the promo video that launched that new camera.

Video: Extreme Unicyclist Races Truck Down A Mountain

So here's something you don't see everyday. An extreme unicyclist – thats a mountain biker with just one wheel – racing a truck to the bottom of the mountain. I've said it before, and I'll say it a gain, I have a hard enough time on these trails with two wheels. I'm certainly not going to try it with just one. Still, it's a fun video to watch, even if I do think the rider is nuts!

Nat Geo Expedition Goes Peak Bagging in Myanmar

Myanmar isn't exactly a country that leaps to mind when you think about major mountaineering expeditions, but the country is starting to become a hotbed for adventure, in part because it has allowed limited access to outsiders for some time. Now, a team of climbers sponsored by National Geographic and The North Face, has traveled to the Southeast Asian country to not only climb several peaks, but to also chart their true heights in an effort to determine the highest mountain in the region.

The team is made up of an all-star cast of adventurers, including expedition leader Hilaree O'Neill, photographer Cory Richards, adventure filmmaker Renan Ozturk, writer Mark Jenkins, climber Emily Harrington, and video assistant Taylor Rees. The group is in Myanmar now, and has released its first dispatch to the Nat Geo Adventure Blog. Over the next seven weeks, they will continue to share updates from the field, as they travel to parts of the country that have only recently opened up to westerners.

In the weeks to come, the group will focus on climbing to the top of Hkakabo Razi, a remote peak that is roughly 5800 meters (19,140 feet) in height. They'll carry with them a specially calibrated GPS system, that will allow them to take precise measurements of the altitude of the mountain. The hope is that they'll be able to summit, and determine where the peak falls in relation to its height as compared to other mountains in Southeast Asia. If they have time, the team will also attempt to summit Gamlang Razi nearby.

Just getting to these mountains will be quite an adventure. According to the Nat Geo description of the expedition, the team will travel by plane, train, bus, and motorbike, just to reach the start of a trail that will take them on a 300 mile (482 km) round-trip trek through dense jungle, where they can set up Base Camp for their operation. It will be an incredibly demanding journey just to get to their starting point ahead of the start of the climb.

To give you a sense of what they are experiencing, upon setting out on the trail, they immediately encountered a white-lipped pit viper, one of the most venomous snakes in the entire world. A bite from this snake can deliver enough venom to kill a person in just one hour. When you are days away from assistance, that is an incredibly scary animal to come across. Fortunately, the team is carrying anti-venom with them, but I'm sure they would prefer to not have to use it.

Stay tuned to the Nat Geo Adventure Blog for more updates in the days to come.

It's Happening! Primal Quest Returns in 2015, Registration Opens Saturday!

There has been a lot of rumors circulating over the past few months about the possible return of Primal Quest, one of the biggest events ever in the sport of adventure racing. After disappearing from the AR landscape for more than five year, it seemed the possibility of PQ's resurrection were quite dim. But not only will the race be back in 2015, registration for the event opens on Saturday.

When the news first broke about Primal Quest's return back in June, there was a lot of speculation about who was behind the race, and whether or not it was actually going to happen. That was an understandable reaction at the time, as we've been teased more than once about a potential new Primal Quest race. Yesterday, I exchanged emails with Maria Burton, the new CEO of PQ, and she assures me that the event is moving ahead, and that there is a lot of excitement and momentum behind it.

At this point, we know that PQ will return to its original format, which pits coed teams of four against one another in standard adventure racing disciplines, such as trail running, mountain biking, and paddling. The event will take place August 22-29, 2015 in the Lake Tahoe area. We're promised a 7-day, non-stop race, covering more than 400 miles (643 km) through the wilderness of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Race management is hoping to attract as many as 40 teams from around the world to compete.

As a fan of adventure racing, its great to see Primal Quest finally returning next year. But it should be pointed out, that while Maria has ties to the original event, this isn't the same team that brought you the previous PQ's. In fact, she tells me she is still putting her team together, but that the staff will be ramping up in the weeks ahead in preparation for the race next summer. The goal is to create an event that is the spiritual successor to past Primal Quests, with the hopes of creating a sustainable race that will be with us for years to come.

Hopefully we'll learn a lot more about this new incarnation of Primal Quest in the days ahead. But for now, teams interested in racing in the event should start making their plans. That includes registering for the race on Saturday.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Video: A Journey Through Iceland

Join two friends, Kerrin and Gaston, as they set off for adventures in Iceland. This video captures their journey across the beautiful landscapes of that country, and gives us a sense that we're along for the ride. The short film is yet another example of why Iceland is one of the best adventure destinations on the entire planet.

A Journey Through Iceland from Humanity on Vimeo.

Video: Bear Encounters in the Tongass National Forest

Located in Alaska, the Tongass National Forest is a vast wilderness that spreads out across more than 17 million acres. It is a wild, untamed, and temperate rain forest that is home to numerous species of wild animals, including the majestic brown bear. Those creatures lured filmmaker Ben Hamilton to the forest, where he captured some amazing footage of the bears in their natural habitat. The video below, which comes our way courtesy of National Geographic, shares some of those encounters, and as you can probably imagine, they were pretty amazing.

Video: Mountains of Dreams

This video doesn't bring us some intricate story, or clips of insane outdoor athletes doing "extreme" things. Instead, it delivers some spectacular footage of amazing mountains from all over the planet. The scenery is enhanced with dramatic music, which helps to set the mood, but really, it is the alpine settings depicted in these beautiful shots that are the true star of the show. If you love mountains as much as I do, you won't want to miss this one. It is 4+ minutes of pure bliss.

Mountains of Dreams from Watching Eye Productions on Vimeo.

Gear Closet: adidas Terrex Swift R Mid Women's Hiking Boot

The search for the perfect hiking boot can be a daunting proposition at times. When we're plunking down our hard-earned cash, we of course want boots that are comfortable, provides plenty of support, and fit our feet properly. They should also be durable enough to survive many adventures in the backcountry, and it doesn't hurt if they look good too. For us men, the challenge of finding something that meets all of those qualifications can require a great deal of patience, even though we tend to be less concerned with what we put on our feet. Imagine how difficult it can be to find the right hiking show for a woman, many of whom put far more thought into their footwear than we ever will.

Recently, my better-half has had the chance to test out the Terrex Swift R Mid women's hiking boot from adidas, a company that is more well known for its basketball, soccer, and running shoes. But over the past few years, adidas has quietly built a great collection of outdoor gear, some of which is incredibly innovative, and delivers a high level of performance.

The designers at adidas have taken their extensive knowledge of sports and athletics, and brought some of that sensibility to the outdoor gear market as well. As a result, their hiking boots and apparel tend to be lightweight, performance focused, and incredibly well built. I have met with reps from adidas several times over the past few years while attending the summer Outdoor Retailer show, and each time I've come away very impressed with what they have in the pipeline. In fact, I've wanted to get my hands on a pair of their Terrex hiking boots for some time, but jumped at the chance for them to outfit my fiancé instead. She has been in need of a good pair of hiking boots for some time, and was struggling to find something that fit her needs. Fortunately, adidas had something that provided the fit she was looking for, as well as comfort that rivaled the sneakers that they are so well known for.

High-Altitude Skydiver Breaks Felix Baumgartner's Record for Highest Freefall

Remember Felix Baumgartner? He's the man who made that epic skydive from the edge of space a few years back, captivating the Internet in the process. At the time, he set a new record for the highest freefall skydive, jumping from a height of 127,852 feet (38,969 meters). Last Friday, October 24, a little over two years after Felix set that amazing record, it was broken with little fan-fare by an exec from Google named Dr. Alan Eustace.

Much like Baumgartner, Eustace used a small capsule, carried aloft by high-altitude balloons, to reach his exit altitude. He lifted off from an abandoned airstrip near Roswell, New Mexico and spent two hours climbing to a height of 135,890 feet (41,419 meters), at which point he stepped out of sealed capsule, and plummeted back to Earth. It took him just 15 minutes to touch back down, as he reached speeds of 822 mph (1322 km/h) on the descent.

Eustace's jump bested Baumgartner's in total height by more than 7000 feet (2133 meters). But perhaps the most remarkable element of the project is that Eustace kept it a secret from just about everyone, and didn't create a media circus around this jump. In fact, it wasn't until after he completed the skydive that news broke of the new record. He even reportedly self-funded the endeavor, even turning down money from Google to complete the project on his own.

The Google exec did work with a company called Paragon Space Development Corp, which designed his specially made space suit, and helped with the logistics of the balloon, and the flight. The high-altitude skydive had been planned for more than three years, which means Eustace started his project after Baumgartner had announced his intentions, but it still took two years to beat Felix's record.

The video below highlights some portions of the jump. While not as flashy as Bumgarner's videos, which were part of a full-on multi-media blitz sponsored by Red Bull, the clips give you a good understanding of what Eustace went through on his ride up, and fall back down. Amazing stuff.