Thursday, October 19, 2017

Nat Geo Presents the Most Epic Day Hikes in the World

There is nothing like backpacking through remote locations, spending days on the trail, and camping in the backcountry each night. But sometimes you don't have time to get away for an extend period of time, but still want to spend some time on a trail nonetheless. That's when a great day hike can come in handy, and if you're looking for some good ones to add to your bucket list, National Geographic is here to help.

Nat Geo has compiled a list of the best day hikes from around the world, with stunning options to choose from in Norway, New Zealand, Egypt, and beyond. On the list, ou'll find trails that will take you into the mountains, past glacially fed lakes, through deserts, and across some of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet. Best of all, each of the routes is only a single day's commitment, which means you'll be back in a warm hotel and enjoying a great meal by the end of the day. 

I'm not going to ruin the list, but I will reveal that the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in New Zealand earned a spot in line-up, as did the Mauna Kea Summit Trail in Hawaii. After that, you're just going to have to read the article to discover the rest of the routes for yourself. 

Check it out here

Ultrarunner Sets New Speed Record on John Muir Trail

A couple of weeks back I posted a story about ultrarunner Darcy Piceu setting a new speed record on the John Muir trail. She had managed to cover the 211-mile (339 km) route in a speed 3 days, 4 hours, and 12 minutes, lowering the mark from the previous record by a full 11 hours. But, it turns out that record didn't even stand for a month, as another endurance athlete has bested her time.

According to Gear Junkie, French ultrarunner Francois D’Haene, fresh off his win at the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, has now completed the John Muir Trail as well, and set an impressive new speed record in the process. D'Haene was able to run the entire route in an astounding 2 days, 19 hours, 26 minutes, lowering the bar dramatically for any challengers to follow.

To put this speed record into perspective, Gear Junkie notes that most hikers take somewhere between two to four weeks to hike the length of the JMT. D'Haene completed the trek with only six hours of total rest along the way. He did use some prototype gear from his sponsor Salomon along the way, including shoes and running clothes, that won't be available to consumers until next year.

This becomes just the latest speed record to be obtained by ultrarunners and fast-packers in recent months. In addition to Piceu's record a few weeks back, we've also seen new speed records on the Appalachian Trail and Kilimanjaro recently. Seeing these athletes push the boundaries of what is possible in the mountains is truly impressive. I can't wait to see how far and fast someone will go next.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Video: How to Paddle Straight Through an Island

Usually when I post a kayaking video it is of someone running utterly spectacular rapids or dropping off an insanely high waterfall. But this clip is completely different. It takes us to Umfin Island off the coast of Ireland, where we find intrepid paddler Iain Miller making his way toward shore, than paddling through a natural canal, until he reaches a sea cave at the heart of the island. Undaunted, the kayaker presses on, into the cave and under the island itself, proceeding with a headlamp to light the way. The passage is more than 300 meters in length, making it quite the undertaking to explore. Check out this amazing little expedition below.

Video: Cleaning Up the Pacific Crest Trail

Outdoor gear company Granite Gear has started to sponsor thru-hikers and charging them with the responsibility of helping clean up some of the most popular trails in the U.S. In this video, we join one of the members of the crew as he hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, soaking in those amazing environments, while helping to preserve them for future generations of backpackers to enjoy too. The clip is a good reminder of why we always strive to leave no trace, but thankfully there are men and women who are dedicated to keeping these places pristine.

Explore the Solar System with Google Maps

Google Maps has long been a popular way for explorers to view remote corners of the Earth prior to setting out on expeditions. But now, this handy tool has added 12 new places to explore, as Google has announced an expansion that spreads out into the solar system.
Amongst the new locations that are available to explore are Venus, Pluto, and a number of major moons spread out across our little corner of the Milky Way, including Europa, Ganymede, Rhea, and Mimas. Saturn's sixth largest satellite – Enceladus – is also part of the update, as is Titan, its largest moon.

Titan also happens to be the final resting place of Cassini, the NASA probe that mapped Saturn and it's moons for years, but burned up in its upper atmosphere last month. Google Maps users can now travel Cassini's route to that place, and even peer through its thick clouds to examine the methane lakes that dot the planetoid's surface.

To view these new additions to Maps, simply switch to the "satellite" view and zoom all the way out from planet Earth. From there, you'll be presented with a menu of the other planets and moons that you can choose form. Click on the one you want to visit, and off you'll go.

Start your exploration by clicking here.

The Temple of King Ramses II Has Been Found in Egypt

The Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities has announced another major archaeological find, this time in the desert to the southwest of Cairo. It was there, near a town called Abusir, that a joint Egyptian-Czech team found the remains of the Temple of Ramses II, dating back to the 13th century BC.

The temple is located not far from the step pyramid of Saqqara and is said to be roughly 167 feet in length and 105 feet wide. It is in a serious state of disrepair, and isn't quite as impressive as some of the other famous monuments located throughout the country, but it is still of significant historical and cultural value. Rameses II is considered the greatest of all the Egyptian pharaohs, reigning for more than 66 years and leading several military conquests of neighboring states while sitting on the throne. When he perished, he was buried in the Valley of the Kings, but his body now sits on display in the Cairo Museum.

In its heyday, the temple was likely a beautiful structure on par with some of the most impressive buildings that the Egyptians ever created. Archaeologists have uncovered mud brick foundations that served as the pylons for a massive gateway, as well as a large forecourt that was filled with a hall of pillars, some of which still have blue painting on them. Beyond the forecourt, a staircase led to a sanctuary, which was also found. Inside the sanctuary where three parallel staircases leading up to an area used to worship the sun god Ra, who was the principle deity of the era.

This marks only the latest archaeological find in Egypt, which continues to unearth new and interesting ancient sites on a regular basis. The amount of history that is preserved there is staggering, and a find like the Temple of Ramses II is only proof that there is much more yet to be discovered.

Read more about this story here.

Would You Pay $95,000 to Climb Everest in Just 4 Weeks?

Over the past few years, Adrian Ballinger's Alpenglow team has set down the ground work for what has become known as "flash" expeditions to Everest and other big peaks. These climbs take a fraction of the time that more traditional expeditions require, but cost considerably more as a result. Now, another outfitter is getting into the fast-climb game, and they've set an unprecedented price level too.

Alan Arnette has all the details on the new Furtenbach Adventures Everest Expedition, which promises to get climbers to the summit in just four weeks time, and offer them unlimited oxygen along the way, all for the low, low price of just $95,000. Yep, you read that right. In an era where more Nepali companies are leading teams to the mountain at a discounted price, this new experience from Furtenbach will set you back nearly $100k.

So how do they do it? Both Alpenglow and Furtenbach get their clients set up with a proper fitness program to prepare for the climbs, but more importantly they use oxygen tents prior to departing for the Himalaya to start the acclimatization process long before the mountaineers step foot on Everest. As a result, they arrive in Nepal and Tibet much better prepared for the altitude, cutting down on the number of trips up and down the mountain and even the trek to Base Camp.

Alpenglow has had good success with this strategy in recent years, so it only seems natural that someone else would emulate it. In contrast to the 4 week climb offered by Ballinger, now Furtenbach Adventures, most people looking to summit Everest spend about two months in the Himalaya. The pitch here is that time is money, and that these expeditions save their clients as much as four weeks away from home. They also pitch these trips as being safer, since they don't spend nearly as much time climbing to high camps to acclimatize.

Alan goes into more detail on these types of expeditions, sharing his thoughts throughout the article. He also interviews Lukas Furtenbach about this new venture as well, with the German offering his thoughts on the science behind the use of oxygen tents, how it helps his clients to prepare, and much more.

Is this the future of mountaineering? Only time will tell. But, that future is starting look more fragmented with the rich client paying exorbitant fees to reach the summit, while an increasing number of climbers choose the "budget" route instead.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Video: Denali National Park in 4K

Denali National Park is a beautiful place at any time of the year, but in the fall it is especially dramatic. This video takes us to the park to experience some of its wonders for ourselves. Shot in 4K, this clip is as stunning as you would expect.

DENALI 4K from Taylor Gray on Vimeo.

Video: How to Choose a Stand-Up Paddleboard

I have to admit, I was one of those people who thought that stand-up paddleboarding would be just a fad that would fade away fairly quickly. Now, years later the sport continues to grow, drawing more people in all of the time. If you've already tried paddleboarding, and now find yourself ready to invest in a board, this video is for you. It comes our way courtesy of REI and shares some tips for picking out just the right one to fit your needs.

ALE Sets 2017-2018 Antarctic Flight Schedule

We're still a few weeks away from the official start of the 2017-2018 Antarctic ski and mountaineering season, with explorers and climbers now putting the final touches on their preparation and gear packing. But prior to the start of that season, Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE) has revealed its flight schedule, which offers some insights on the season ahead.

Right now, the first flight out to Antarctica is scheduled to take place on November 3. That flight will carry the staff, crew, and supplies to prepare the Union Glacier camp for the season ahead. The camp serves as ALE's base of operations on the frozen continent and it is the launching point for many of the expeditions heading to the South Pole, Mount Vinson, or other locations in the Antarctic. 

The next flight will take place on November 15 and will presumably deliver the first skiers to the ice. The big Ilyushin IL-76 Russian aircraft that handles the heavy lifting from Punta Arenas, Chile to Union Glacier is listed as full for that trip, as the expedition teams load up their gear and supplies for the long journey ahead. Traditionally, the first few ALE flights are dedicated to South Pole skiers and their own logistical needs, with mountaineers headed for Vinson arriving later. 

The rest of the schedule includes flights every few days throughout November, December, and January. The final flight off the continent is set to take place on January 30, removing the final cargo and staff from the Union Glacier camp. The last flight for clients is currently set for January 26. 

Of course, all of these dates are subject to change depending on the weather. Over the past few years we've seen flights cancelled and rescheduled regularly as conditions on Antarctica shift dramatically. This is especially true in the early part of the season when the weather is still stabilizing. We've also seen a few teams racing against the clock to catch that final flight out as well, and we're likely to see some similar drama this year. 

As usual, we'll be following the Antarctic expedition season closely. There will no doubt be plenty of good stories to tell amongst the teams going south this year. 

Outside Presents the 2018 Winter Gear Buyer's Guide

Looking for some new gear to see you through the coming winter? If so, then you're in luck, as Outside magazine has just released its 2018 Winter Buyer's Guide online, giving us plenty of insight into the best new equipment to keep us warm and safe in the cold months ahead.

The guide itself is broken up into individual sections that cover layers, ski and snowboards, fitness, and essentials, which covers things like packs, helmets, and other snow-sport specific gear. Each of those sections is further broken down into subcategories, with things like the best jackets and the best base and midlayers found under the layers heading, while the best running shoes and cold weather workout gear is found under fitness.

All told, there are literally dozens of gear items to sift through on the list, including suggestions for the perfect skis, snowboards, and snowshoes, as well as goggles, helmets, and camera equipment too. You'll find the best choices for gloves, the top picks for winter camping gear, and even the best winter fat bikes. In other words, everything you need to survive and thrive in winter weather.

If you're in need of some gear for your cold weather adventures, check out the Outside 2018 Winter Buyer's Guide now.

How to Train for Expedition Style Climbing

Getting your body prepared for the challenges it will face in the mountains is the key to success on just about any major climbing expedition. And while acclimatization is a big part of what you'll do while on the mountain itself, the battle for the summit is often actually won or lost at home before you ever even depart. That's when you'll be working on your overall fitness and training for the long, arduous task of relentlessly moving uphill.

That is the very subject of another insightful blog post from the team at Mountain Trip, the same group that brought us the article on knowing whether or not you're ready for Everest that I posted last week. This time out, we take a look at how to physically train for climbing big mountains, like Denali, Everest, or even that 14er you've been eyeing. No matter which peak is on your bucket list, the goal is to successfully reach the top, and having the right level of fitness will not only improve those chances of success, but limit the level of suffering you experience along the way.

Mountain Trip has partnered with a company called Uphill Athlete to create a training program for its clients. That program is designed to maximize their chances of success by offering a comprehensive plan built to prepare them physically for an expedition. It consists of four distinct phases that build in intensity before easing off prior to the start of the climb. Those phases, as described in the article, are as follows:
  • Transition: Lower volume and re-introduction into training. The amount of time you spend pounding trails and hitting the weights will vary depending on your current fitness and familiarity with working towards a big objective.
  • Base: The most important and longest phase! Here you will slowly and deliberately build the endurance that will get you to the top.
  • Specific: During this phase, you’ll work on movements and strength pertinent to your goal, and more importantly, get into the mountains as much as possible.
  • Taper: Allowing your body much needed rest to rebound to peak fitness.
The article goes into more detail on the focus and preparation work in each of the stages and how they benefit the climber. Obviously this is just a starting point of course, but it does give you an idea of what Mountain Trip stresses to its clients. The program clearly works however, as the company has had a lot of success on its expeditions over the years. 

Read more here

Monday, October 16, 2017

Video: Take a Stunning Journey Through the Wild Ontario Backcountry

Canada is filled with spectacular wilderness settings and you'll get a chance to experience several of them in this wonderful video. It takes us into the backcountry in Ontario, where canoeing, camping, and backpacking are the best ways to explore. Along the way, we'll spot amazing wildlife, wonderful landscapes, and much more. If you're in need of an escape to someplace wild and untamed today, this should do the trick.

Video: A POV Mountain Bike Ride Through South Tyrol

Italy's South Tyrol region is well known for being one of the more spectacular mountain settings in all of Europe, after all this is the home of Reinhold Messner. In this video, we jump on a mountain bike with pro rider Tom Oehler, who takes us for a spin through this spectacular setting. Using his trusty GoPro camera, it is almost like we're riding along with him. Almost.

Gear Closet: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Camper SV Sleeping Pad Review

Everyone knows that a good sleeping bag is key to getting a good night's rest in the backcountry, but not everyone acknowledges the role that a sleeping pad plays as well. Without a proper sleeping pad in your arsenal of gear, you end up camped on the rough ground, which can be extremely uncomfortable in the best of conditions but downright awful when it is wet and cold. Thankfully, there are plenty of great options to choose from when it comes to selecting a sleeping pad to take with you on your adventures and recently I've had the chance to test out the NeoAir Camper SV from Therm-a-Rest, which is a comfortable option for use on the trail.

Now, before we delve too deeply into the Camper SV, lets get one thing out of the way immediately. This sleeping pad is not for the light and fast crowd. If you're someone who counts every ounce, you'll be better suited using one of Therm-a-Rest's ultralight options instead. This model tips the scales at a beefy 2 pounds, 5 ounces, making it a hefty inclusion in your pack.

On the other hand, the Camper SV delivers plenty of comfort and durability, which makes it a great choice for anyone who favors a bit of luxury over going as light as possible. The pad doesn't pack down as small as others that I've used, but it makes up for it in providing plenty of support and warmth. Therm-a-Rest says that it has an R-value of 2.2, which puts it squarely in the three-season camping area in terms of performance.

The NeoAir Camper has been in the Therm-a-Rest line-up for awhile, but the SV adds the company's Speed Valve technology to the mix. This allows campers to inflate the pad much more efficiently and quickly using the Bernoulli effect. To do this, you simply blow air into a large opening located at the top end of the pad and it begins to inflate quickly and efficiently. At least in theory anyway. It took me some practice to get the process ironed out, and I'd recommend inflating the Camper SV a few times using the standard air valves first. This seems to help iron out some of the stiffness in the pad when its new, making it easy to inflate using the Speed Valve.

Nat Geo Presents the Creepiest Adventures on Earth

With October now more than half over, we're starting to inch closer to Halloween, a holiday that always evokes images of ghosts, goblins, and any number of other terrifying creatures. To help get us in the mood, National Geographic has shared a list of the creepiest adventures on Earth, taking us to remote places where strange things just might go bump in the night.

The list is an extensive one, providing readers with 29 unique and scary adventures. Amongst the options that Nat Geo offers are exploring limestone caverns in Mexico that are filled with bats, visiting a national park in Bolivia that is overrun with termites, and visiting a series of caves that are filled with bones in Mali. Other eerie destinations include a hike through Germany's Reinhardswald Mountains where many ancient fairy tales are believed to have taken place and exploring Joshua Tree National Park after dark.

As you would expect from National Geographic, each of the items on the list includes a great photo to help set the stage. Unfortunately, not all of the entires on this slideshow do a great job of telling you exactly why this place is creepy enough to deserve a mention here. This seems to be a reoccurring theme on the Nat Geo website in recent months, with articles that lure you in with nice images an intriguing headlines, but don't always deliver the goods in terms of substance. Still, with a little research, it becomes clear why many of the entities on the "creepy list" belong there.

Check out the entire story here.

All-Female Rowing Team Set to Take on the Atlantic in 2018

A team of female rowers is gearing up to take on a big challenge in 2018 as they not only set out to cross the Atlantic but also explore the impact of plastic pollution on our planet's oceans. The ladies will take part in the Talisker Whiskey Challenge, which is set to begin late next year.

The team of rowers consists of three women (Jess, Caroline, and Suze) who live in London and have been busy training for this endeavor for weeks. The trio call their expedition the Status Row, and while they are taking part in a race across the Atlantic, their ambitions are much higher than simply going from the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain to Antigua in the Caribbean, covering some 3000 miles (4825 km) in the process.

According to the Status Row website, more than 8 million tons of plastic goes into the ocean every year. That equates to 6340 plastic bottles each and ever second. Those plastics are often eaten by fish, which are also making their way back into our diet as well. It is a horrible situation that is not only killing off marine life at an alarming rate, but is having an impact on the foot supply for millions of people around the globe too.

To help fight this problem the three ladies are hoping to raise £100,000 ($131,300) for the Marine Conservation Society, a nonprofit in the U.K. that is leading the charge to protect the oceans, our shores, and the wildlife that lives in from this thread. The message is a simple one, refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle.

You can find out more about their plans on the Status Row website, where you'll also find a countdown clock to the start of the race, as well as a disturbing ticker that shows the amount of plastic dumped into the ocean since you first started viewing the page. It is a sobering reminder that this is a significant threat to our planet and we need to act soon to protect our oceans.

Find out more here.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Video: Highlining the Total Solar Eclipse

It has been nearly two months since the total solar eclipse hit North America, and we're still receiving some impressive videos and photos from that day. This one follows Alex Mason, one of the best slackliners in the world, as he travels to Jackson Hole to walk an epic line during the totality of the eclipse. The video serves not only to show off this event, but as a profile of Mason himself, who at the age of 20 has already won a world championship for his sport.

Video: Moose vs. Wolf in the Backcountry of Ontario, Canada

This video was captured purely by chance when a filmmaker took his drone out to shoot some aerial   footage of the backcountry in Ontario, Canada. When he came across a lone moose wading in a river, he decided to include her in the video. But not long after that, a wolf appeared on the scene and the two creatures faced off in a showdown that is likely all too common in the wild. The result is a fascinating to watch.

Video: Meet Polar Explorer Vincent Colliard and the IceLegacy Project

Our planet is undergoing some serious changes at the moment in regards to climate. Whether or not man is having an impact on that is subject to debate depending on who you speak with. To help understand that impact further, French polar explorer Vincent Colliard had joined forces with Norwegian legend Børge Ousland to form the IceLegacy Project. The duo intend to ski across 20 largest glaciers in the world to take samples of the ice and record how far those glaciers have retreated. Their efforts are not just about helping us understand the Earth a bit better, but are also a tremendous adventure too. In this video, we get to know Colliard a bit better and see him in action ni the field as he skis, treks, and packrafts to remote regions of the world.

Impact Initiative: Vincent Colliard from Mountain Hardwear on Vimeo.

Did an Unusually Warm Summer Impact the Historic Race to the South Pole?

New research published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society reveals that an unusually warm summer in the Antarctic back in 1911-1912 may have played a major role in deciding the fate of two teams of explorers. The study took a look at historic records for weather in the Antarctic starting in 1905 and moving forward to the present, with researchers considering the impact of that weather on expeditions to the Antarctic for the first time.

In 1911, Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen was locked in a fierce battle with his British rival Robert Falcon Scott to see who would become the first person to reach the South Pole, a place at that time that has remained far out of reach. Ultimately, Amundsen would win that race, arriving at 90ºS on December 14. Scott would also reach the Pole, but he didn't arrive until 34 days later.

But after their respective dashes to the Pole, the story takes a very different term for these two explorers. Amundsen returned to the coast, boarded his waiting ship, and sailed back to Europe a hero. Meanwhile, the weather took a turn for the worse and Scott and his men ended up perishing on their march back to the Antarctic coast.

At the turn of the 20th century, it was unusual for high pressure weather fronts to reach the Antarctic. Instead, low pressure systems were common, creating westerly winds that keep the continent cooler. As the ozone layer above Antarctica has thinned in recent years, those fronts have become even more common. But back in 1911, a high pressure system moved onto the continent, creating ideal conditions for both Amundsen and Scott. This was the weather window they needed to safely reach the South Pole at long last.

Unfortunately, the weather pattern didn't last, but because he had a head start, Amundsen was able to get to the Pole and back before the conditions on the frozen continent deteriorated completely. Scott wasn't so lucky, and as a result he and his men were left stranded as the Antarctic cold and storms returned with a fury.

Obviously there are a lot of other variables that played a role in these fateful expeditions. Amundsen and Scott were two very different men with very different leadership roles. But, it seems that the weather was a big part of both the success and failure of the two expeditions as well.

Read more about this topic here.

Are You Ready to Climb Everest?

By virtue of being the highest mountain on the planet, Everest has always been viewed by many climbers as the pinnacle of mountaineering. Over the past 20 years, commercialization of the mountain has made it more accessible than ever before, to the point that hundreds make the attempt each year from both the North and South. But not all of those climbers are truly prepared for what they'll face once they get to Nepal or Tibet.

So how do you know if you're ready for Everest? That's the exact question posed by an article by Bill Allen at Mountain Trip is one of those companies that leads teams to Everest each year, and Allen has himself summited the mountain on three separate occasions. In the blog post, he not only takes a look at the requirements a perspective climber should have to take on the world's tallest peak, but blows some holes in the myths that surround such an expedition too.

In terms of experience, Allen says that they expect their clients to have climbed both Aconcagua and Denali at the bare minimum. In other words, 8000-meter experience isn't necessarily a necessity, but it is helpful. He also talks about the level of fitness requires for the climb, as well as whether or not an expedition to Everest is even right for certain individual people. As he notes, it is a long climb that lasts nearly two months. That's a long time to be away from home and not everyone adapts to that situation well.

Apparently this article is the first of several that will be written to help prepare those considering an attempt on Everest. At the end of the post Bill indicates that his next story will help climbers decide which route they should take. He'll also look at the dynamic of different sized teams, whether or not to climb with western guides or Nepali guides, and more.

You can read his current article here and we'll keep an eye out for others down the line.