Monday, March 06, 2017

Heading to the Southern Ocean

I've alluded to it in a couple of posts over the past week or so, but now's the time to announce that I'm heading out on another adventure. This time, I'll be traveling in the Southern Ocean, sailing from Argentina to The Falkland Islands and South Georgia, two places that I am very much looking forward to seeing. South Georgia in particular should be spectacular, not only for the scenery, but the historical elements with the Shackleton Expedition for instance.

While gone, I'll be working on assignment from Popular Mechanics and traveling with Lindblad Expeditions. While this will be wild, and sometimes turbulent, part of the world, I don't think anyone will be feeling too badly for me considering the amenities we'll have aboard the ship I'll be traveling on. Still, this will be an amazing adventure to a remote corner of the globe, and I'm looking forward to all of the opportunities it will afford me. I'm also looking forward to sharing stories of that journey with you when I get back home. Stay tuned, I'm sure there will be a lot to tell.

In the meantime, change is in the air, the winter climbing season is wrapping up, and the spring Himalaya climbing season is ahead. By the time I get back, quite a lot will have changed in the adventure and exploration landscape, and there will be plenty of news to share from this big, wonderful world of ours. It is going to be an exciting time to say the least.

I'll be back before you know it!

Video: This Amazing Video of a Viking Voyage is Made Entirely Out of Paper

The title of this post pretty much says it all. This incredible video tells the story of a wild Viking voyage, which is cool enough in and of itself. But, even more impressive is the fact that the entire clip is made from paper. You'll have to remind yourself of that throughout the short film, which is just a lot of fun from start to finish. Enjoy!

Iditarod 2017: The Race Resumes in Fairbanks Today

Over the weekend, the 2017 Iditarod got underway in Anchorage Alaska, with 74 mushers setting off following the ceremonial start. But, as I reported last week, the regular restart point at the Campbell Airstrip isn't suitable for use this year because of a lack of snow. So instead, the the sled drivers ant their dogs had to be relocated to Fairbanks, where they'll restart the race today.

This is the third time in Iditarod history that the restart point has been moved to Fairbanks, and once again it is due to poor snow conditions on the trail. While Alaska as a whole has seen plenty of snow this year, the area around Anchorage hasn't been getting the necessary dumps of fresh powder to allow the sleds to run efficiently. Up north in Fairbanks, things are much better however and when the race gets back underway today, the dogs will have plenty of snow to play in.

Since Saturday's start was just a ceremonial send-off, there are no rankings yet. As of this posting, it is still about two hours until the race officially gets going, but don't look for the true contenders to start to emerge for a few days. The race to Nome will cover 980 miles (1577 km), and it is as much a test of endurance as it is speed. For now, the veterans will be mostly content to lurk in the middle of the pack, waiting for the right time to truly get going. By Friday of this week we should have a better idea of where things stand, and who will be the teams to watch heading into the Yukon.

You can follow the entire race on the Iditarod website, which posts all kinds of updates on the standings. Keep in mind when you look at those rankings however that they tend to be a bit skewed  until everyone has taken their mandatory 8 hour and 24 hours breaks. Still, if you know what to look for, it is easy to see who is running well and has a good strategy.

"The Last Great Race" should be interesting to follow once again this year.

Winter Climbs 2017: Messner Visits Txikon in Base Camp on Everest

The winter climbing season continues unabated in the Himalaya and elsewhere. The days are now ticking away rapidly, and with just two weeks to go in the season, the climbers on Everest are beginning to eye the finish line with the hopes of making one last summit bid before spring actually arrives. Meanwhile, in Alaska, another expedition is about to truly get underway.

Alex Txikon and his team have been on Everest since early January now, and have had all attempts to summit the mountain turned back due to bad weather. The team has seen its share of bad luck as well, with a couple of members being sent home after suffering injuries. In fact, the entire squad was recalled to Kathmandu a few weeks back, but after spending eight days in the Nepali capital, they returned to Base Camp last week to begin preparing for another summit push once again. They spent most of that time rebuilding the route through the Khumbu Icefall, but did manage to climb up to Camp 1 before going back down to BC.

It has been a very long and difficult season to say the least, and Alex and company are probably more than ready to wrap up this challenge and head home. If they have been feeling dejected in any way, it hasn't come through in their dispatches however, and the Spaniard has always maintained an optimistic demeanor, even when things looked like they were at their worst. Still, today he received a major shot to his morale when legendary alpinist Reinhold Messner paid them a visit in Base Camp. Just judging from his dispatch it is clear how excited Alex was to meet his idol, and it may just be the shot in the arm he needed to finally get him up the mountain.

North Pole 2017: Still Waiting in Resolute Bay

Just a quick update from Resolute Bay in Canada today. That's where the two teams planning on skiing to the North Pole continue to wait for a good weather window to begin their journey. The three men (and one dog!) who collectively make up these expeditions have been in town for more than week now, and continue to wait patiently for the start of their adventures, each knowing that each passing day could make things just a bit more difficult.

Martin Murray, who will be traveling with a dog named Sky, hasn't updated his status since last week, at which time he had sorted and weighed his gear in preparation for departure. But, The Last Great March team of Sebastian Copeland and Mark George shared news of their status yesterday. With nothing to do but wait, the two men retrieved their sleds from the aircraft and made use of their time by pulling them around for two hours in preparation for what they'll encounter out on the ice. Those training sessions will help them to get prepared for the long grueling days they'll face once they are dropped off at their starting point – either on Cape Discovery or Ward Hunt Island, which hopefully will happen sometime soon. They are poised and ready to get on the plane once they are given the green light.

Unfortunately for both squads, each day that they delay is like a clock ticking away. The Arctic ice now melts at a much faster pace than it did in the past, which means that while it is now at its thickest point, it will also be unsteady and constantly breaking apart. That makes their journey all the harder and will have a significant impact on their eventual success or failure.

At this point, it is unclear when they'l be flown out to their drop off points. As is usual with these kinds of expeditions, Mother Nature sets the schedule. Everyone involved will be watching the weather closely, and as soon as they see an opportunity to depart, they'll go. That could come as early as today, or it could be another week. For now, they'll just have to play the waiting game.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Video: The Last Great Race - A Lieutenant Colonel's Iditarod Tale

U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Roger "Snowdog" Lee has been training for the 2017 Iditarod for the past three years. Tomorrow, he'll take to the starting line in Anchorage to being "The Last Great Race." His life-long dream will come true, but the real challenge is still ahead. Find out more about Lee and his Iditarod ambitions in this great video, which gives us an idea of what the mushers go through in preparing for the race and endure while out on the trail. Just 1000 miles to Nome!

Video: This is the Spacecraft that Will Take Passengers to the Moon Next Year

Easier this week it was announced that Space X would send two private citizens to the moon next year aboard its Dragon 2 space capsule. If you'd like to see what that vehicle looks like, the animated clip below gives you an idea. The two minute video was made back in 2014 when the Dragon 2 was first revealed. Since then, it has been used to shuttle supplies to the International Space Station, but the planned mission to orbit the moon in 2018 will be the first time it has been used beyond Earth's orbit. Not much is known about the mission just yet, so it will be interesting to learn not only who the private (paying) astronauts are, but when they will make the flight. And for the record, I'm still skeptical that this will happen next year, but I'm ready for commercial spaceflight to truly take off.

Himalaya Spring 2017: Blind Austrian Climber Returns to Everest

As I mentioned yesterday, the spring climbing season in the Himalaya is still a month away from truly getting started, but we're starting to see some interesting stories emerge ahead of the climbers arriving in Kathmandu. As usual, there will be a number of fascinating climbs to follow over the course of the two months that the season runs, not the least of which will be Andy Holzer's expedition to Everest, his third attempt in the last four years.

Andy is an Austrian mountaineer who happens to be blind. He has set a goal for himself to climb the seven summits, and has already knocked off six of those mountains, leaving just Everest yet to be climbed. He first traveled to the mountain back in 2014, when the collapse of a serac claimed the lives of 16 porters, abruptly ending that season before it ever got started. In 2015, Holzer returned to Everest, only to have the devastating earthquake that occurred that year bring an end to his efforts. After skipping 2016, he now plans to return again this year.

Recently, Holzer conducted an interview with Stefan Nestler, which as now been posted to his adventure sports blog. In that interview he talks about his return to the mountain, the reasons he's climbing from the North Side in Tibet, his training and preparation, and a lot more. He also talks about his relationship with Erik Weihenmayer, the only blind climber to summit Everest to date. The two have been friends for awhile now, but Andy's approach to the climb is a bit of a different one.

Everest always delivers such interesting stories and 2017 is already shaping up to be no different. I expect the mountain will be very crowded this year, with a record number of summits. Most of those men and women will go up and down the slopes with relative anonymity, But every once in awhile we get a really great, touching story. Hopefully we'll have a lot more to share in the days ahead.


The 2017 Iditarod Begins Tomorrow

One of my favorite events of the year gets underway tomorrow in Anchorage, Alaska. That's where the ceremonial start of this year's Iditarod sled dog race will get underway. This year there will be 73 mushers heading to the starting line with the intent of racing nearly 1000 miles (1609 km) to the finish line in Nome. The race is a test of determination and endurance not only for the men and women who enter, but their teams of sled dogs as well, with the route passing through remote sections of Alaska wilderness where conditions in March are often harsh.

For the third time in the race's history the course has been altered. A lack of snow in the Anchorage area this year has left the trail in a sorry state heading into the start of the race, which was the case back in 2003 and 2015 as well. So, after the teams have their ceremonial start tomorrow, they'll travel 350 miles (563 km) to the restart point in Fairbanks, where conditions are already predicted to be extremely cold, hovering around 0ºF/-17ºC on Monday when the race will resume. Usually the race restarts in Willow instead.

Fortunately, the rest of Alaska hasn't been without its fair share of snowfall. Moving north to Fairbanks will give the racers, and their dogs, a much better trail to run on. And, conditions have been colder this winter too, which bodes well for the race too. In recent years, warmer temperatures have often left the trail soft and wet, which is harder for the sleds to run on. That will likely make the 980 mile (1577 km) dash to Nome a bit easier and faster.

Normally when writing a post about the start of the Iditarod I would run through a list of mushers who are the leading contenders heading into the event. But, let's face it. After winning the race four of the last five years (only losing to his dad), Dallas Seavey is the clear favorite once again. At the age of 29, he's poised to rewrite all of the records in this race. His father Mitch will probably be amongst the leaders as well, and look for racers like Jeff King, Aliy Zirkle, and Hugh Neff to be in the mix too.

As usual, it will take a few days into the race to see who is running well and to watch the strategies play out. There will probably be a few surprises at the top of the leaderboard as things first unfold. But, by the midway point it will be obvious who the contenders will be. Once racers get through their mandatory 24 and 8 hour rest periods and start to turn for Nome. But at this point, that is a long way off, so for now, we'll just have to watch the ceremonial start and let things play out. It should be an interesting race once again.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Video: A Visit to Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is an amazing place. Despite its name, life actually abounds there if you know where to look. In this full-length documentary video, we travel to this spectacular destination and get a fist hand look of the landscapes that are found there. Best of all, if you're lucky enough to have a 4k monitor, you can see it in stunning ultra-HD resolutions. This is the next best thing to actually being there yourself. Of course, nothing actually tops going there, and after watching this, you'll know why. Grab a snack, pour yourself a drink, and get comfortable. You'll want to watch this from beginning to end.

Video: How Every Runner Feels Each Morning

Here's a video that most runners will be able to relate to. It's that resistance we all must overcome before we hit the road or trail where it feels so much better to just stay in bed or relaxed on the couch. Sometimes we need a bit of motivation to get out the door, although usually once that happens, it's all good. The clip captures that little voice inside all of our heads so very well, and urges us to fight that resistance. Get out there and run. You know you'll feel a lot better afterwards. This is motivation on those days when you just don't want to exercise.

Territory Run Co. - Fight the Resistance from Steven Mortinson on Vimeo.

Himalaya Spring 2017: Bill Burke Heading Back to his Namesake Mountain

Over the past couple of climbing seasons in the Himalaya, one of the mountains that we've watched closely has been Burke-Khang, an unclimbed 6942 meter (22,775 ft) peak located in the  Solukhumbu region of Nepal not far from Mt. Everest and Cho Oyu. The mountain is named after American climber Bill Burke, who has spent the past couple of years trying to complete the first ascent of the peak that bears his name. Those efforts have been stymied by bad weather, and in some cases bad luck, so far but, and after not being able to summit last year, it looked like it might be awhile before anyone would try again. But, it turns out that a new expedition is in the works, and Bill will once again be taking a crack at the mountain.

In a recent blog post on his website, Bill wrote "It's a Go!" regarding a new expedition to take place this spring. Apparently, the team of Sherpas that he works with on this climb have made a reconnaissance flight over Burke-Khang and have spotted a route that will take the team up the mountain more safely. Last year's attempt was blocked by a dangerous icefall, but in the months since they were last there, the seracs that made up the icefall have collapsed, clearing the way forward.

Bill says that there are still a few crevasses to traverse, but the snow is reportedly in good condition and the route up is much safer and more straightforward. There are a few sections of blue ice to climb, and the headwall on the way to the summit is described as "steep," but everyone is feeling much better about their chances heading into the 2017 season.

Burke left for Kathmandu on March 1 and should now be in Nepal and making plans for the start of the expedition. Hopefully, after two years of being denied the chance, he'll finally stand on top of his namesake mountain at long last.

We'll be following Bill's progress and adding a number of other expeditions to our line-up in the days ahead. The start of the season isn't as far off as it would seem at this point and things will start to get very interesting in just a few weeks time. Stay tuned.

Outside Names America's 10 Most Deadly National Parks

Have you ever wondered which of America's national parks is the most dangerous? After all, it seems like each year we see news stories about someone getting attacked by a bear or falling off a cliff face. The parks are incredibly beautiful places, but they are also nature in its purest form, and we all know that the wild can be completely unforgiving at times.

Outside magazine has published an article that ranks America's ten most deadly national parks. The rankings are based on the number of total deaths the parks have seen over the years. For instance, Grand Teton National Park makes the list because it has had 59 people die within its boundaries since it was established back in 1929. Four of those occurred in 2016 alone. Denali is also on the list with 62 deaths, although most of those have occurred on the mountain that the park shares it's name with.

Of course, I won't reveal all of the parks that made the cut, but I will say that it is a good mix of places that you would expect to see on the list and a few that you might not have anticipated. Amongst the usual suspects are a some that are bit further off the radar, including the top spot overall. It should be noted that Outside uses the term "national park" broadly here, as a few of the places on the list aren't officially designated as parks, but still fall under the jurisdiction of the Park Service.

The list was also generated purely by the sheer number of people who have died within a park, and doesn't take into account the number of years since that place was established nor the number of visitors. If a 100 people died in a park that has been around for 100 years, it seems less deadly than a park that may have had 100 people die in just 50 years for example. Similarly, if millions of visitors pass through a park's gates each year and a handful pass away while there, it isn't as dangerous of a place that has the same number of deaths but only gets a few thousand visitors for instance. Still, this does give you an idea of which parks are the most dangerous in the purest sense.

All of that said, it is a wonder that some of these parks haven't seen more deaths over the years. For instance, Yellowstone has been around since 1872, and over the course of its 145 years of existence, only 92 people have died within the park. Considering that nearly 6 million visitors now go there on an annual basis, that doesn't seem all that bad.

Update: It has been pointed out that the article says that the stats were taken for all parks from 2006 on, so my rant above is off base. That makes the article a fairer comparison for sure.

Find out which other parks earned the dubious distinction of "most deadly" here.

Winter Climbs 2017: Icefall Route Restored on Everest

Alex Txikon and his team of Sherpas continue to make progress on Everest as they attempt one more shot at the summit. The squad arrived back on the mountain earlier in the week, and have been working on restoring the route through the Khumbu Icefall ever since. Now, with that job done, they are turning their attention upward with the hope of making a final push to the top soon.

In all, it took three days to completely rebuild the path through the icefall. According to reports, more than 60% of the route was destroyed while Txikon and his crew were back in Kathmandu for eight days. Bad weather and shifting ice took its toll on the path, which is mostly made up of ropes and long aluminum ladders that are used to cross open crevasses.

With the icefall now tamed once again, the team is planning their next move. Yesterday was a rest day, but today they intend to get back on the move. They'll climb straight up to Camp 2 and 6400 meters (20,997 ft). Since the group should be fully acclimatized at this point, this could indicate that they are prepared to make a summit bid now, although it could simply be a recon mission to check the status of the camps prior to resting for a few days. That said, time is now of the essence. With just three weeks left in the winter season, and their endurance starting to be tested, we're closing in on a "now or never" situation. And of course, as always, it is the weather that will ultimately decide when they can have a go at the top again.

To get an idea of what it is like to work in the Khumbu Icefall, check out the video below. We'll have more updates as we learn more about Alex's plans moving forward.


Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Video: The First Repeat Ascent of Metanoia on the Eiger North Face

Jeff Lowe's Metanoia route on the Eiger North Face is considered one of the most impressive climbs of all time. Solo and without bolts, Lowe went straight up the Eiger, changing the way we viewed climbing forever. That was back in 1991, and since that time no one else has attempted to make that same climb. But back in December, a trio of very talented alpinists – Thomas Huber, Stephan Siegrist, and Roger Schaeli – were able to make a repeat of Lowe's groundbreaking route at long last. This video tells their story.

Video: Unbound with Alpinist Jordi Tosas

For more than 25 years, Jordi Tosas has been working as a mountaineering guide in the Alps and the Himalaya. Over that time, he has completed countless climbs and his love for outdoor adventure in all of its forms has continued to grow. A few years back, he was introduced to Kilian Jornet, the great mountain runner from Spain. That chance encounter has led Jordi to reexamine everything he knows about mountaineering and relearn and reinvent his approach to the mountains. In this video, we learn about Tosas and that process, which is continuing to evolve today.

Gear Closet: Mountain Hardwear Thundershadow Jacket

Good rain gear is essential for any outdoor adventure, particularly in the spring when frequent showers make it a challenge to get outside as often as we'd like. The right rain jacket can be a revelation however, allowing you to comfortably and easily enjoy your favorite activities no matter the weather. That's what I found in the new Thundershadow Jacket from Mountain Hardwear, a category-defining product that is a dramatic improvement over my previous rain jacket. 

Before I started writing this review, I stopped to think about the last time I wrote about a dedicated rain jacket. Looking through my notes, I saw that it was exactly seven years ago to the day that I posted a review of the Helium Jacket from Outdoor Research, which at the time was one of my favorite pieces of gear. But times have changed, and fabrics and materials have evolved dramatically over that period of time, providing better all around protection with greatly improved breathability, something that is key to any piece of waterproof gear. I still wear that Helium jacket on a regular basis, and it has accompanied me on trips all over the world. But, as my gear has improved over the years, I've noticed that it doesn't perform as well as I would like. 

With that in mind, I was eager to see how far good rain gear has come since I wrote that review. So when I was offered a Thudershadow Jacket to test, I jumped at the chance. It has been fairly rainy where I live recently, which has provided plenty of opportunity to put the new jacket through its paces. What I discovered was that I could indeed have a rain jacket that provided a protective layer from moisture on the outside, while still allowing the moisture underneath to escape as well. 

Everest 2017: Looking Back Before We Look Forward

The 2017 spring climbing season on Everest is about a month from getting underway at this point. The first teams will begin arriving in Kathmandu around the end of March, with more streaming into Nepal – and eventually Tibet – in the early days of April. For most, it will be a two-month long adventure, during which they will be attempting to reach the summit of the highest mountain on the planet. Right now, those climbers are putting the final touches on their preparation, organizing their gear, and starting to look ahead to the challenges to come. But, before we also look ahead to the season that is now fast approaching, it might be appropriate to first look back at seasons past.

Our friend Alan Arnette has been covering Everest for 15 years, and is now gearing up for the 2017 season as well. Over the past decade and a half, he has offered some of the best insights and commentary on the evolving climbing scene, which has undergone a lot of change since he penned his first blog. To start his coverage this year, Alan has written an excellent post in which he looks back at each of the seasons from 2010 through 2016.

If you follow Everest closely, you probably already know that some of those years were amongst the most unusual and tumultuous ever. For instance, 2013 was when the now infamous brawl took place on the Lhotse Face between a group of Sherpas and a team of prominent European climbers. At the time, that incident shocked the mountaineering community and sparked debates about who was wrong and who was right. The following two seasons, 2014 and 2015, were marred by tragedy with significant loss of life both years. Those seasons also ended abruptly, with climbers and Sherpas leaving the mountain.

To wrap up this blog post and set the scene for the season ahead, Alan has also posted his thoughts on what he thinks 2017 will be like. He predicts a record number of summits, but also expects disorganization on both the North and South Sides of the mountain. There will be more new operators guiding clients on Everest this year, many of whom will be inexperienced. Additionally, more climbers are also flocking to the Himalaya as prices for climbing continue to drop. That inexperience could show through as well.

The article, which you can read in full here, is a good introduction to the current climate on Everest. It also sets the stage nicely for what is to come. In a few short weeks, I'll begin my regular Everest coverage as well, and as usual it promises to be another interesting year.

North Pole 2017: Teams in Resolute Bay and Awaiting Start

March is here, which means the 2017 Arctic expedition season is now ready to commence. The two teams preparing to ski to the North Pole have arrived in Resolute Bay, Canada and are now putting the final touches on their preparation while they await word on when they can fly out to their starting points, either on Cape Discovery or Ward Hunt Island. That could come at any time now.

The Last Great March team of Sebastian Copeland and Mark George arrived in Resolute this past weekend, but not without a bit of drama first. While they were en route, their 800 pounds (362 kg) of gear was to be flown to their destination aboard the Twin Otters aircraft that will eventually take them out to the ice. But, as Sebastian and Mark were preparing to take off, they received a text message from their pilot – Dave Mathieson – telling them that the gear weighed too much and that he would have to take some off. Nothing to be done at that point, they simply had to proceed on, while a couple of bags of clothing and all of the team's food was left behind.That gear was later driven to their starting point and arrived just fine, but for a time it caused some concern as to where everything was at.

Over the past few days, Sebastian and Mark have been sorting their gear and loading up their sleds while they wait for word on when they'll fly. At this point, that could come at any moment so they are now prepared to go with the pilot reports that conditions are right. Until that time, they wait and enjoy a few last days with some relative luxuries before they begin the very large challenge ahead.

Meanwhile, Michael Murray and his canine companion Sky are also in Resolute and awaiting their start. He has all of his gear measured and weighed, and is ready to go at this point too. With everything loaded up, his sled now weighs in at 124 kg (272 pounds), including 25 kg (55 pounds) of dog food. That's enough to get him through the first 22 days of the journey, at which time he'll receive a resupply out on the ice. The expedition to the Pole is expected to take somewhere between 50-60 days to complete, so that resupply will have to be enough to get him through the final stages.

As the teams set out, they'll face some rough conditions. It has been an extremely warm year in the Arctic, which means that pack ice will be thin and there will likely be large open leads of water to cross. On top of that, the shifting of the season towards spring often brings poor weather conditions, with massive storms a real possibility. Remember, no one has completed this journey since 2014, so it will be extremely interesting to watch these two expeditions unfold. Hopefully, they'll get underway soon.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Video: Welcome to New Zealand - Home of Middle Earth

Shot by filmmaker Awhile Suhas as he traveled 15,000 km (9320 miles) throughout New Zealand, this short video takes us on a stunning road trip to see some of that country's most spectacular landscapes. You'll see everything from snowcapped mountains to windswept beaches, with pretty much every other type of terrain imaginable in between. If you didn't want to visit this amazing place before, you're likely to want to book a trip now.

New Zealand, the home of Middle Earth from Akhil Suhas on Vimeo.

Video: Hunting a Fox with an Eagle in Mongolia

Last week I shared a fantastic short documentary about the struggle that the eagle hunters of Mongolia face living in a modern world. Today, we have a short clip that shows just how these men (and sometimes women!) actually hunt using those bird's of prey. With a GoPro camera strapped to an eagle, we get a bird's eye view as she goes in search of a fox. If you've ever wondered how an eagle can capture such an animal, look no further than this clip, which features some spectacular views of eastern Mongolia as well.

Gear Closet: Osprey Duro 6 Hydration Pack

Trail runners listen up! There's a great new pack you're going to want to check out, and probably add to your arsenal. The new Duro 6 hydration pack from Osprey delivers the level of quality and thoughtful design that you expect from that company, with a few nice additions that you're definitely going to love out on the trail.

The Duro 6 is just one part of Osprey's new line of hydration products, which also include the Duro 15 and Duro 1.5 packs, the Duro Solo belt, and Duro Hand bottle holder. The ladies version of the packs go under the name Dyna instead, but offer very similar features, just with a more female-friendly design. These packs are designed to be lightweight, comfortable to wear, and offer plenty of storage options for everything from a short training run to a an all-day race.

While Osprey's long heritage of creating excellent backpacks can be easily seen in the Duro 6, one of the first things you notice is that it also includes a design that is closer to a vest-style hydration pack, which have become increasingly popular amongst trail runners in recent years. I personally have come to really appreciate this type of pack as it keeps the bag from jostling around too much while I run, and yet doesn't impede motion in anyway either. Plus, the Duro hugs the body nicely and is so comfortable to wear, that you almost forget that you have it on. That's not something I can say about some of the other running packs I've tested over the years.

Despite it's relatively small size – just 6-liters of carrying capacity – the Duro 6 has plenty of room in its main compartment for carrying an extra jacket, wallet, keys, and a few other spare items for out on the trail. Better yet, the harness itself has a number of well placed, zippered pockets for carrying snacks, gels, and even your smartphone, while larger harness pockets provide room for water bottles too. As if that wasn't enough, there is a larger stuff pocket on the back and two stretch mesh pockets on the sides as well. In short, there are a surprising number of places to carry all of the gear and food you'll need out on your run.

Space X is Sending Two (Rich) People to the Moon Next Year

The promise of true commercial space travel has been just out of reach and over the next horizon for a number of years now. Every time it seems like we're getting close to making it happen, unforeseen delays, technical hurdles, and outright disasters force us to move the launch of the second space age back by months or years. But, if Space X founder Elon Musk is to be believed, his company is going to send two wealthy passengers around the moon next year.

In a press conference held yesterday, Musk announced that in 2018 an unnamed duo will take a trip around the moon aboard Space X's existing – although likely modified – spacecraft. The pair, who have reportedly paid a "substantial deposit," will lift off from Earth aboard a Falcon heavy rocket, and will make the voyage to the moon in a Dragon 2 capsule. The flight will carry them around our satellite, where they will slingshot around the moon before returning home. The entire voyage is expected to take about a week and will follow a similar flight path as the Apollo missions from the late 1960's and early 70's. The Dragon capsule is also used to deliver cargo and crew to the International Space Station as well.

We'll likely learn the identities of these private citizens turned astronauts later this year, as Space X says it will conduct healthy and fitness evaluations of the two individuals, who will also undergo some training before being sent into space. If the mission continues to go ahead as planned, the team will no doubt become celebrities of a sort, as millions of people around the world follow their adventure. Considering that it has been more than 45 years since the last visit to the moon, many people alive today can't even remember what it was like for NASA to send crews out to place on a semi-regular basis.

This flight will also be a test bed for Space X, which has made it clear that it has ambitions of flying paying customers to Mars at some point. The company has been one of the pioneers of commercial space travel, but so far it has mostly focused on delivering satellites into orbit and resupplying the ISS. Its reusable Falcon rocket has been a marvel of modern technology however, particularly as budget cut-backs have forced NASA to delay its plans for manned missions and look for more affordable options for research in space.

If the mission does take place next year as planned, it will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida from launching pad 39A. That's the same pad that the Apollo missions took off from as well. It should certainly be interesting to see this story develop further, and I know my interest is definitely piqued.

Also, where do I sign up?

Winter Climbs 2017: Work Continues on Everest, Lonnie Dupre Launches Winter Ascent in Alaska

Now that the end of February is upon us, there are roughly three weeks left in the winter season, and climbers looking to complete an ascent during the coldest months of the year can hear the clock ticking. But, three weeks is plenty of time, and a lot can be accomplished over that period.

On Everest, Alex Txikon and his team have now completed a second day of work on the Khumbu Icefall. Alex and company have been working to restore the route through the icefall, which was disrupted while they spent eight days in Kathmandu. Yesterday, they worked at 5800 meters (19,028 ft), and seemed very pleased with their progress. Soon, they'll have regained access to the rest of the mountain, and will be watching the forecast for opportunities to launch a summit bid.

Meanwhile, Lonnie Dupre is back in Alaska and preparing to begin another winter expedition of his own. You may recall that he originally had planned to climb Mt. Hunter solo this year but was beaten back by the incredibly tough conditions that he found there. Now, he's launched an attempt to summit the 3825 meter (12,552 ft) Mt. Carpe instead, and this time he's not going it alone.

Carpe sits near Denali, the highest mountain in North America and a place that Lonnie is very familar with. In 2015 he made a solo summit of that peak during the winter, become the first to top out alone in the month of January. This time out, Dupre will be joined by Pascale Marceau, a Canadian climber with lots of experience climbing in the Canadian Rockies, where the duo have been training for the past two months.

The expedition is expected to begin on Thursday of this week, and will proceed as the weather permits. Lonnie and Pascale are expecting brutal temperatures, high winds, and possibly heavy snow while they attempt their winter summit. But before they can ever begin to climb, they must first fly into the town of Kantishna, located at the end of the Denali Park Road, then ski to the Muldrow Glacier via Wonder Lake, Turtle Hill, and McGonagall Pass. That's the same route taken by the team that completed the first ascent of Carpe back in 1913.

It goes without saying that I'll be keeping an eye on both of these expeditions as they develop over the next few days. I'll be leaving town for awhile starting next Tuesday, so I may not be able to update the final status on either of the teams, but hopefully we'll have an idea of their progress before that happens.