Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Video: Beautiful Scotland

Ever wonder what Scotland has to offer visitors? Then wonder no more. This short, three-minute clip serves as a lovely introduction to a country that has plenty of adventure to offer those who visit. This video was shot over seven months there, and is a fantastic argument for why we should all put it on our bucket lists. Great stuff!

Beautiful Scotland from John Duncan on Vimeo.

Video: One Extreme Athlete, Five Extreme Activities, One Hour

Only in New Zealand is it possible to cram five extreme activities into a single hour. In the video below, we watch as outdoor athlete Chuck Berry (I'm not making this up folks!) skydives out of a helicopter, lands on a mountain, then snowboards down to another helicopter, to catch a lift to a nearby trail, which he then descends on a mountain bike. Eventually he reaches a bridge with spans a a massive canyon, which is of course the perfect place to bungee jump. At the bottom of that jump, he boards a waiting jet boat, then flies down the canyon at break neck speed. It all looks like fun of course, even if I'd prefer to do it in a shorter timeframe so I can actually enjoy the activity.

Peak to Peak 2014 Expedition a Success!

Back in August, I posted a story about the Peak to Peak 2014 Expedition, an attempt by adventurers Grant "Axe" Rawlinson and Alan Silva to climb the highest mountains in the U.K. and France, while traveling between those two peaks completely under human power. I'm happy to report that they were successful in their endeavor, and had a heck of an adventure along the way.

The two men began the expedition by first climbing Ben Nevis, a 1344 meter (4409 ft) mountain located in Lochaber region of the Scottish Highlands. If you know anything about Ben Nevis, you probably know that there is a popular tourist trail that leads to the top. But Grant and Alan weren't planning on taking that route. Instead, they wanted to go off the beaten path, and scale the North Face of the mountain, which actually requires some technical rock climbing to complete. Unfortunately, a late start didn't allow them the time to go that intended climb however, so they elected on an alternate route known as the CMD arete. This wasn't as technical, but did involve quite a bit of rock scrambling instead.

After successfully reaching the highest point in the U.K., the two men climbed aboard their bikes the following day, and started to ride south. They peddled their way through the Scottish Highlands, past Glencoe Valley, into Glasgow, and eventually across the border into England itself. Their cycling journey continued through the Yorkshire Dales, in and out of quaint little English villages, and includes a fair share of stops at popular pubs along the way.

Eventually, the duo arrived in London, where the next phase of the journey would begin. They had to face the daunting task of crossing the English Channel, which they did by kayak, although there was a hitch. French regulations prohibit paddling across the channel, to Grant and Alan completed most of the journey under their own power, then boarded a support ship to take them across a French shipping channel so that they would be compliant with the rules and regulations. This was a 5-6 mile stretch of water, which prohibited them from making the entire journey under their own power. While it is okay to swim across the English Channel, the French don't want any unseemly paddlers coming to their shores.

Smart Gear for Travel from Outside Magazine

Outside magazine has yet another good list of gear for us today, this time presenting the smartest gear for travelers. The list includes some large, overarching categories, of items that all travelers should have with them when they hit the road, as well as their top pick for items in those categories. These items tend to be small, light, versatile, and vital for anyone making a trip – short or long.

Amongst the categories they address is the luggage that we carry. Outside rightly points out that wheeled carry-on bags sacrifice space in order to give travelers the convenience of those wheels. They recommend the Thule Crossover, a 40L pack that offers plenty of protection for all of your important gear. The Outside editors also recommend that you never leave home without a good pair of noise canceling headphones. In this case, they suggest the Bose QuietComfort 20's, which are small, comfortable, and work extremely well.

Other categories include a small tablet (they give the nod to the iPad Mini), a travel water bottle, comfortable and highly packable underwear from Icebreaker, comfortable travel shoes, compression socks, a neck pillow for use in flight, and a few other items.

All in all, this is not an incredibly comprehensive list, but it does suggest some fantastic items that are great for travelers. A  number of these items are things that I carry with me when I'm traveling somewhere, and I'd recommend to others as well. For instance, I can't imagine boarding a long flight these days, and not having my iPad with me. It's just such a versatile piece of gear, allowing you to watch movies, listen to music, play games, read books and magazines, and more. The fact that it doesn't weigh much at all, and has incredible battery life, is just a bonus.

If you're planning any trips in the near future, this looks like a good list of items to choose from to make it a better experience all around. Just like in our outdoor pursuits, the right gear can make all of the difference.

Himalaya Fall 2014: Ueli Steck Joins Double8 Team on Shishapangma

While a host of new arrivals continue to get Base Camps across the Himalaya, a few teams have wrapped up their acclimatization rotations, and are about to launch their summit bids. A good weather window is projected for later this week, and it should allow some of the climbers to make a push for the top, although their remains some concerns about heavy snow and potential avalanches.

We'll start on Shishapangma, where the Double8 squad re-launched their attempt to summit Shishapangma yesterday, but ended up getting turned back once again. They're off to give it another go later today, with the hopes of reaching the summit tomorrow however, and this time they've recruited some world-class help to assist with the process. Ueli Steck, the Swiss Machine himself has joined the team, at least for their speed attempt on Shisha, and he will help lead them to the summit. Ueli will set out from ABC with  Benedikt Böhm, and they'll be joined by Sebastian Haag at Camp1, then and Andrea Zambaldi at C2.

Reportedly, the team is exhausted from their first attempt on the mountain last week, and hasn't recovered fully just yet. They are also feeling a bit under the weather, with all three members dealing with nasty coughs, and pulmonary issues. What that means for the future of the expedition remains unclear, as they have bigger plans beyond just a speed attempt on Shishapangma. As you may recall, they also intend to ski back down the mountain, then mountain bike 106 miles (170 km) to Base Camp on Cho Oyu, where they intend to make another speed climb to the summit of that 8000 meter peak. Whether or not they'll be physically able to achieve this goal remains to be seen.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Video: Across a Peninsula in 4K

Shot in Jutland in western Denmark, this video features an amazing set of timelapse images that were captured over a period of about seven months. It is two-and-a-half minutes of pure natural beauty that has to be seen to be believed. There are some truly fantastic landscapes on display here, both dramatic and breathtaking. I never cease to marvel at these wonderful timelapse clips. Truly great stuff.

Across a Peninsula 4K from Jonas Høholt on Vimeo.

Video: Above Sea Level (Climbing Mt. Kenya and Kilimanjaro)

Here's a fun and creative video that follows two climbers as they go up both Mt. Kenya and Kilimanjaro in Africa. The men carried a GoPro camera with them on their trek, and shot some funny video at various points along both mountains that captured their mood at each step of the climb. It is a not-so-serious look at scaling both peaks that is good for a few chuckles along the way.

Above sea level from Miguel Campos on Vimeo.

Video: Mammut Lights Up the Matterhorn to Celebrate 150 Years of Climbing

2015 will mark the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn, a mountain that is iconic both in physical profile, and stature in the mountaineering world. To celebrate this event, gear manufacturer Mammut created special tribute to the mountain, and the men and women who have climbed it. The video below, gives you a behind the scenes look at this project, and what it looked like when it was completed.

Himalaya Fall 2014: Teams on the Move

It was a fairly active weekend in the Himalaya, where the commercial teams continue to acclimatize in preparation for eventual summit bids. For the most part, things are going according to plan, and while we're still a couple of weeks away from the first major pushes of the season, each day brings the climbers closer to their goal.

We'll start on Makalu, where the British military team reached Base Camp yesterday at long last. It took them 8 days of trekking from the time they left Kathmandu, until they arrived in BC. Now, they are taking a few days to get settled before they'll move up the sloes to Camp 1, and begin their acclimatization process. Over the next few weeks, they'll establish several high camps while they let their bodies become accustomed to the altitude, before launching a tough, alpine-style push to the summit along the very difficult Southeast Ridge. This will be one of the more fascinating expeditions to watch this fall, and it should be interesting to see if they can pull of this big climb.

Over on Manaslu, the teams are starting to talk summit bids. According to the Altitude Junkies, the Sherpas fixed the ropes to just below Camp 4 on Friday, clearing the way for the teams to start planning for their final push. The weather will dictate exactly when that will happen, but if a good window comes in the next few days, we could see the climbers on the move shortly.

On Cho Oyu, the Adventure Consultants have checked in with a regular progress report. The team is in the middle of another acclimatization rotation, and will spend tonight at Camp 2 before heading back down to BC. Sadly, two members of the team were forced to head home after experiencing some health issues. This is not uncommon on expeditions to the big mountains, but it is always a sad to hear that someone has to abandon their dream of climbing in the Himalaya.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Video: Beautiful Queenstown, New Zealand

Ever wonder why New Zealand is sometimes referred to as the "Adventure Capital of the World?" Then look no further than this beautiful short video shot in, and around Queenstown. It not only features some breathtaking landscapes, it also shows adventurous people doing some of our favorite activities, like mountain biking, kayaking, skiing, and more. The video is an excellent reminder that I still need to visit this amazing-looking country.


Video: BASE Jumper Completes 49 Jumps in 19 Days

BASE jumper and wingsuit pilot Ian McIntosh traveled to France and Switzerland recently, where he was able to complete an astounding 49 jumps in just 19 days. The video below captures some of the action, as well as some of the other hijinks that occurred along the way. The best shots from the jumps come near the end of the video, but it looks like the entire trip was amazing.

Archeologists Uncover "Huge" Structure in Israel that Predates the Pyramids

Archaeology fascinates me. I love the fact that we're still uncovering hidden things from our past, and learning about early civilizations. That's why this story caught my attention when I came across it yesterday. It seems that archaeologists working in Israel have unearthed a massive structure near the Sea of Galilee that is is believed to have been built sometime between 3050 BC and 2650 BC. That would make it older than the Great Pyramids in Egypt, and even Stonehenge in the U.K.

 The structure was previously mistaken for a defensive wall of some sort, although no settlement was known to have existed in that part of the country. It is immense in size, stretching for 150 metes (492 ft), and has a volume that is said to be roughly 14,000 cubic meters (500,000 cubic ft). It is believed to have been a standing monument of some type, although what it was used for remains a bit of a mystery. Researchers speculate that it was used as a landmark built to "mark possession or assert authority."

The crescent shaped structure may have been built by a local chieftain in the Mesopotamian civilization. Its shape could have held some significance within the lunar cycle, or  it could have also been a monument built to Sin, the culture's moon god. The closest settlement is a town called Bet Yerah, which translates to "House of the Moon God." It is just 29km (18 miles) away, which is about a days walk for ancient travelers. There is some speculation that the monument was built to mark the borders of the city's territory, and to potentially ward off would-be invaders.

The age of the structure was determined by dating fragments of pottery that were found at the site. The monument is so old, that it actually predates the Old Testament, and provides clues about life in the region that is often referred to as the "Cradle of Civilization." Researchers say the site would have required a massive amount of labor to build. They estimate that it would have taken between 35,000 and 50,000 days working days to construct the monument, which translates to a team of 200 people working for roughly five months straight just to achieve the lower end of that estimate. In an agrarian society dependent on food production, that would have been incredibly tough.

Reading a story like this one, it makes you wonder what else is out there, just waiting for us to stumble across it.

Himalaya Fall 2014: Double8 Team Back in BC, No Summit on Shishapangma Yet

I wanted to post a quick update from the Himalaya today on the Doube8 expedition. The team, which consists of Benedikt Böhm, Sebastian Haag, and Andrea Zambaldi, launched their bid to summit two 8000-meter peaks in seven days on Wednesday, and had hoped to have topped out on their first mountain – Shishapangma – yesterday. Unfortunately, the trio are back in Base Camp, and did not manage to summit as they had hoped. But the expedition is not done yet, and they'll be giving it another go in a few days.

According to an update posted on their website, the team ran into deep snow high on the mountain. Reportedly, the snow was several meters deep, making it exhausting to try to break trail and continue upwards. Additionally, they felt that there was a great deal of risk for avalanches as well, so they felt it was best to turn back. The men reached as high as 7700 meters (25,262 ft) before they made a ski descent to Advanced Base Camp. For the record, Shisha is 8013 meters (26,289 ft) in height, so they were closing in on the summit, but still had a good deal of work to do before they would have topped out.

The three climbers, as well as Norbu Sherpa, are all said to be in good health and spirits. They are most assuredly disappointed by the result of their efforts, but they are now resting for another attempt. The dispatch on their website says that that second attempt will get underway "within the next few days," but the countdown time on the front page has been reset, and it would appear that they'll try again starting next Monday.

As you may recall, Böhm, Haag, and Zambaldi hope to first make a speed climb up Shishapangma, then descend back to BC on skis. From there, they intend to ride their mountain bikes 100 miles to reach Base Camp on Cho Oyu, their second 8000-meter peak. They will attempt another alpine-style climb up Cho Oyu, which tops out at 8201 meters (26,906 ft), before once again making a ski descent. It will be an incredibly tough week in the Himalaya, as they are already discovering.

The video below was posted to the team's YouTube Channel as I was prepping this post. It offers more insights.

Gear Closet: Olympia EX550 Headlamp

One of the most difficult categories to break into in the outdoor gear space has to be the headlamp segment. There are literally hundreds of different lamps to choose from, they all do very similar things, and they can range in price from just a few bucks, all the way up to hundreds of dollars. For any company looking to break through in that environment, they need to deliver a product that dependable, durable, and affordable. That's exactly what Olympia has done with their EX550 model, a headlamp that delivers fantastic performance in a tough, lightweight package.

The list of features for the EX550 is pretty much exactly what you'd want out of any good headlamp. It feature five settings on the light (low, medium, high, max and strobe), and on its brightest setting it is capable of putting out a stunning 550 lumens of light. At its lowest setting, that number drops to a still-ample 25 lumens, with a long burn time of over 60 hours. The headlamp is certified IPX-7 waterproof, which means it is can survive being submerged in up to 1 meter of water, and still continue working just fine. It has a rugged aluminum case that not only gives it a substantial feel in your hands, but also allows it to be used in the most demanding of environments without fear of it falling apart. The EX550's pivoting head rotates 180º up or down, allowing you to shine the light where you need it most, and when its switched off, a lock-out switch ensures that you don't accidentally burn out your batteries while the headlamp is in your backpack. All of this comes in a lightweight 5.4 ounce (153 grams) package that isn't bulk in any way.

I found the EX550 to be extremely comfortable to wear, even for extended periods of time. Olympia has generously included a soft, wide, and very comfortable head strap that not only holds the light firmly in place, but does so in a way that makes it easy to forget you're even wearing it. Some headlamps skimp on the headband, and as a result, you really don't enjoy wearing them for very long. That is not the case here though, as the entire package is designed to be worn for as long as you need it. The headband also expands enough to stretch over a helmet as well, which will be good news for climbers, mountain bikers, and adventure racers.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Video: Nature and the Aurora Borealis in Finland

Last week, the Earth experienced some of the most intense solar activity that we've seen in recent memory. Solar flares from our sun buffeted the planet, causing disruptions to radio signals, satellites, and other communications equipment. It also made for some of the most intense displays of the Northern Lights that we've seen in some time. There have been a number of good videos showing off this natural phenomenon making the rounds lately, and this is another one. Shot in Finland, it includes some fantastic images from the incredibly beautiful landscapes, as well as wonderful views of the Northern Lights.

Nature and Aurora Borealis in Finland timelapse // Henri Luoma Photography from Henri Luoma on Vimeo.

Video: Teaser for unReal - A New Mountain Biking Film

Our friends over at Teton Gravity Research have released a teaser video for a new mountain biking film called unReal that is scheduled to be released next summer. Judging from the clip below, it's going to be a long wait. The teaser starts off a bit slow, with some poor, down-trodden worker sitting in his cubical, but once breaks out, things get moving with some amazing looking clips of mountain bikers riding through some fantastic landscapes. It is just enough to really get you amped, so hopefully we'll see more soon.

Video: Wingsuit Flying in Brévent, France

Brévent is a mountain near Chamonix in in France that has become one of the top destinations for wingsuit pilots looking to test their skills. It is popular in part because it is easy to access, but also because it gives wingsuiters multiple routes to explore. The video below is a good introduction to the place, and features some great shots of the pilots doing their thing.

Jens Voigt Rides Off Into the Sunset by Attempting to Break Cycling's Hour Record

With the end of the 2014 pro cycling season nearly upon us, one of the sport's most beloved stars is about to say goodbye. But just as he was throughout his career, Jens Voigt will not be going out quietly. Tonight in Switzerland, he will take to the track in an attempt to set a new "hour record" for the  sport that has defined his life for the better part of three decades.

The hour record is basically a cyclist attempting to see just how far he can ride in a single hour. It is set on a track, with a lone rider facing off against the clock. The current record is 30.9 miles (49.7 km), and if he is going to break that mark, the man who so famously told his legs to "shut up," will ask them do just that one more time.

While riding on a track is easier and more protected than out on the road, racing the clock will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination. In order to have a crack at the record, Voigt will need to push himself to the limit, cranking out a consistent 370 watts, while ignoring the pain and fatigue in his legs – something he has done consistently throughout his career as well.

Once he takes to the track, the hour will certainly be a lonely one. Jens is not allowed an earpiece to give him updates on his progress, although a coach can stand alongside the track to offer encouragement. It will be just him, lost in his thoughts, along with a custom made playlist of songs on his iPod to keep him moving along. That list includes tunes from Metallica, AC/DC, and Black Sabbath, amongst others.

This is a fitting way for Voigt to step away from cycling, and his many fans will certainly be cheering him on. His training has been reportedly very good, and he feels that he has a legitimate chance at setting a new record. How long that record might stand remains a mystery however, as both Bradley Wiggins and Fabian Cancellara have also talked about going for the hour record. Both of those men excel at individual time trials, and possess skill sets that would allow them to do well in the hour record chase.

After this attempt is done tonight, Jens says he is finished with cycling. He has given the sport everything he could, and now it's time to step aside. He will be missed by his many fans, that much is certain.

Update: And he's done it! Jens has broken the hour record for cycling. When I originally wrote this piece, he hadn't yet launched his attempt, but now it is over. The new record is 51.115 km, or 31.76 miles. That translates into 205 laps around the track. Well done and congratulations. The legs can scream all they want now.

National Geographic Announces "Expedition Granted" Finalists

Way back in June, I posted about National Geographic's Expedition Granted, a program that asked us – the general public – to submit our best ideas for adventurous projects that we've always dreamed of accomplishing. The goal was to find a worth project that pushed exploration in new directions. Applicants were asked to submit a short two-minute video explaining their expedition, and upload it to the Nat Geo website. This submissions have been collected throughout the summer, and now a team of judges has selected their finalists, and are asking us to vote for our favorites.

You can checkout all the finalists on the Expedition Granted website. They include all kinds of interesting projects, such as a plan to make a documentary about how climate change is creating massive floods in Bhutan, an attempt to end rhino poaching in Africa, and an examination of the health of the reef systems near some of the top surfing destinations in the world. The submissions were extremely varied, with ideas in a wide variety of fields including oceanography, medicine, education, technology, and more.

From here, Nat Geo is asking us to help select the winner. Between now, and September 29, we can all visit the Expedition Granted website to vote for our selection for the most deserving project. On September 30, the winner will be announced, and awarded the $50,000 prize to help fund the expedition.

The website has a leaderboard of which projects are currently getting the most votes, and as of this writing, it is a submission by a photo journalist named Josh Garcia to examine the most unique bioluminescent creatures on our planet. This includes things like blue squid, giant fireflies, glowing termite mounds, and so on. Josh's video is quite entertaining, so it is easy to see why he is out in front at this stage.

But there is still plenty of time for everyone to cast their votes, with more than ten days left until the winner is decided. So, drop on by the website, take a look at the different projects, and help decide who will get the funds to launch their adventure.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Video: Twofold Nature - Timelapse From Abruzzo, Italy

This incredibly beautiful timelapse video was shot in Abruzzo, Italy over a period of about a year. It took more than 50,000 photos to put it together, but the result – as you can see for yourself – are spectacular.

Twofold Nature - Abruzzo Sublime and Beautiful from Alessandro Petrini on Vimeo.

Video: Double8 Expedition Begins Final Preparation on Shishapangma

Earlier today I posted an update on the progress of teams in the Himalaya, including the Double8 squad who hope to summit two 8000-meter peaks in a seven day period, mountain biking and trail running between the two mountains. They are currently on Shishapangma, and preparing for their first summit push, releasing this video to give us an update on their progress. The clip features some fantastic looks at the mountain, where they have been climbing and skiing for awhile now. It also has a guest star in the form of none other than Ueli Steck, who is on Shisha to climb with his wife. According to the video, the Double8 team is just about ready to go, although they may spend one more night at Camp 3 before they launch their challenge.

Video: Powering the Reel Rock Tour with Goal Zero

Keeping your electronic gear powered up while you're in the field is always a challenge, especially if you're shooting some of the fantastic adventure films that we've seen in recent years. Fortunately, solar power has come a long way, and is now a viable option for any expedition. Goal Zero is one of the companies that has led the way in this category, and the video below gives you an idea of what their products are capable of. While this is a promo video of sorts, it also features some amazing shots of some of our favorite outdoor athletes in the field as they are being filmed for the upcoming Reel Rock Tour. It also gives us a glimpse of how these filmmakers work in the field. Very interesting stuff all around.

Himalaya Fall 2014: Ueli on Shishapangma, Double8 Expedition Set To Begin

The fall 2014 Himalayan climbing season is now in full swing, with most teams either already in Base Camp, or well on their way. For many, the acclimatization process has begun, and the first steps towards reaching the summit have been taken. But there remains a lot of work to be done, and autumn hasn't even officially arrived just yet.

We'll start today on Shishapangma, where Swiss climbing legend Ueli Steck has checked in. Ueli has returned to a peak that he has already climbed in record time (10.5 hours!) to give it another go, this time climbing with his wife Nicole. As usual,  Ueli's dispatches are short, and to the point, so few details have been shared on their progress so far. I'm sure we'll get more updates in the days ahead, and something tells me this won't be another speed attempt this season.

75-year old Carlos Soria is on Shishapangma as well, and earlier today his team completed its Puj ceremony. That means the they are free to begin climbing the mountain, and will probably begin their first rotation up to Camp 1 tomorrow as well. Carlos is going for his 12th 8000-meter peak, which is an impressive accomplishment at any age.

The countdown on the Double8 expedition website says the team is expected to launch their speed attempt on Shishapangma tomorrow. According to their latest dispatch, the team of  Benedikt BöhmSebastian Haag, and Andrea Zambaldi have been above 7000 meters on three occasions, and have spent the night in Camp 3. That means that they are acclimatized and ready to go for the summit, provided the weather cooperates. They report that there is lots of snow high on the mountain, which has made for slow, exhausting progress. But, if everything goes as planned, they'll launch their speed attempt tomorrow. If successful, they'll then descend back to BC, and mountain bike and trail run to Cho Oyu, which they also hope to summit in a fast and light style. The ultimate goal? Two 8000-meter peaks in just seven days.

Outside TV Shares Video From the 2013 Brawl on Everest

One of the biggest stories in mountaineering over the past few years has been the brawl that ensued in 2013 when a team of European climbers got into a heated exchange with Sherpas that were fixing ropes above Camp 2 on the South Side. The fact that the European team included high-profile climbers Ueli Steck and Simone Moro, as well as Jonathan Griffith, only served to make the story a bigger one. Now, Outside Television has released exclusive video from the incident, giving us a glimpse of just how scary the scene on Everest actually was.

The clip, which you'll find below, includes some of the principle people that witnessed the clash, including Ueli, Simone, and Melissa Arnot, who found herself in the middle of the conflict. Each shares their thoughts on what transpired that day, while actual video from the fight rolls. The reactions that we see remain disturbing even now, a year and a half after they transpired. It is still surprising that no one got seriously hurt, but this is a reminder of just how delicate the relationship between commercial climbers and the Sherpa teams can be.