Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Video: Amongst the Ancients in California

In need of two-minutes of pure bliss? Than this video ought to do the trick. It is a timelapse clip shot in the Sierra Mountains of California that give us some breathtaking views of that part of the world. Utterly spectacular, I'm sure you'll agree that this is a video that is worth watching beginning to end. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Among the Ancients - California Timelapse 4K from Michael Shainblum on Vimeo.

Video: The Best of Great Smoky Mountains National Park

We continue our salute to the National Park Service this week with another great video from America's National Parks. This time, we travel to the Great Smoky Mountains to explore the most visited park in the entire U.S. system. More than 10 million people visit this place every year, and after watching this video, you'll understand why. Wild, remote, and beautiful, and yet still accessible, this is truly a great adventure destination.

Gear Closet: Dog & Bone Locksmart Mini Bluetooth Smart Padlock

Keeping your possessions safe and secure while traveling can be a real challenge in this day and age. It seems no matter where you go, someone is looking to steal your stuff. That's why it is a good idea to carry a padlock with you when you hit the road, as it gives you the ability to secure your bags when they aren't in sight. But if you're like me, remember a combination to such a lock can sometimes be difficult, particularly if you don't use it often. And sure, you could always use a lock that requires a key instead. But, in the age of constantly evolving technology and increasingly smarter devices, there seems like there should be something better. Allow me to introduce you to the Locksmart Mini from Dog & Bone.

At first glance, the Locksmart Mini looks like most other padlocks you might come across. It has a thick, durable hardened steel shackle that connects to whatever it is you want to lock up, and its body feels durable and tough in your hand. The exterior is coated in a protective covering that also give is a unique, colorful look too. But upon further inspection, you'll start to notice a few things that separate this lock from others. For example, there is an LED light on the front, and no key hole whatsoever.

Yep, you read that right, this is a lock without a key or combination of any kind. Instead, the Locksmart connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and is controlled by an app (available for iOS and Android). That app allows you to unlock the device when you need access to your belongings, but also gives you the ability to control multiple locks or even share access with someone else from anywhere in the world. That means that even though you're away on a trip, you can still allow someone back home to unlock the Locksmart should the need arise.

Paring the lock with your smartphone takes just a few seconds, and couldn't be easier. The real power lies within the app that you must download and install on your mobile device. It is from there that you can name your locks and turn off and on certain features. The app also allows you to add other users, giving them full or temporary access to your Locksmart.

Gear Junkie Gives Us 10 Gear Trends to Watch for in 2017

It's hard to believe but 2016 is already starting to wind down. Sure, we're still in the midst of the dog days of summer here in the Northern Hemisphere, but the final days of August is in sight, and we're only a few short months from the end of the year. With that in mind, our friends over at Gear Junkie have peered into their crystal ball and looked into the future, giving us 10 gear trends to watch out for in 2017.

For anyone who attended the Summer Outdoor Retailer convention a few weeks back, most of these trends won't come as much of a surprise. Walking the halls of the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah, it was clear where the industry is headed. But, those same trends aren't quite as clear to the outside observer who wasn't lucky enough to see all of the major outdoor brands collected under one roof.

So what can we expect from our gear in 2017? I won't spoil the entire list, but there are certainly a few items that are worth mentioning. For instance, there is definitely a concerted effort in the outdoor industry to make our gear more "green." Companies are searching for ways to use recycled materials for instance, and they are changing the way they manufacture their products so that they use less water and have a decreased impact on the environment. We've seen a few efforts in this direction in the past, but it is really picking up steam now. Over the next few years, those efforts will not only increase dramatically, they'll also become much more common place.

Other trends that Gear Junkie says we should watch for include more sophisticated drones, boots that grip ice better, and performance apparel that will help keep us cooler. The other items on the list are equally intriguing, and definitely reflect the same things I saw at OR.

If you're a gear nerd like me, you'll probably find GJ's list very interesting. The industry is definitely moving forward with some new initiatives and we'll all get the opportunity to benefit from it.

Himalaya Fall 2016: Japanese Climber Nobukazu Kuriki Heading Back to Everest

We're in a bit of a lull in the mountaineering scene right now. Yes, Kilian Jornet is in Tibet and preparing for his speed record attempt on Everest, but for the most part this is the time of year when there is a brief pause between the summer climbing season in Pakistan and the fall climbing season in Nepal and Tibet. Most of the teams that are preparing for a Himalayan summit in the next few months are waiting for the monsoon to subside before heading to the mountains. Once that happens over the next few weeks, we'll begin to see climbers arriving in Kathmandu once again.

In recent years, the fall season in the Himalaya has mostly concentrated on 8000 meter peaks other than Everest. A lot of mountaineers use this time of the year to gain valuable experience ahead of an Everest attempt next spring, so you're more likely to see expeditions to Shishapangma, Cho Oyu, or even Ama Dablam. But, there are still some climbers who will focus on the world's highest peak, most notably Japanese Nobukazu Kuriki.

If that name sounds familiar it is because this fall Kuriki will be making his sixth attempt on Everest, once again looking to summit solo and without oxygen. He has tried this same feat in the past, and it hasn't always gone well for him. Back in 2012, the Japanese mountaineer ended up getting stranded high on the mountain and head to be rescued, but not before he suffered severe frostbite in his hands and feet. He ended up losing parts of nine fingers in the process.

That hasn't deterred him from attempting Everest however. He climbed on the South Side last year and made a valiant effort before ultimately having to call it quits. This year he'll have a go at the summit from the Tibetan side of the mountain, where he hasn't climbed before. It is unclear whey he decided to make the change, but it could have something to do with Nepal's recently discussed new restrictions, which ban solo climbers altogether.

Kuriki, who is a popular figure back home in Japan, has crowdfunded his latest expedition, easily surpassing his goals to get the money he needs for this climb. He'll now prepare to head back to the Himalaya this fall, most likely sometime in September. That's about when Jornet hopes to be wrapping up his speed attempt, so the two might not even be on the mountain at the same time.

As German adventure sports writer Stefan Nestler points out, there hasn't been a successful fall summit of Everest in nearly six years. That's when Eric Larsen topped out along with five Sherpas as part of the Save the Poles project. Lets hope Kilian and Nobu have more luck this year.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Video: Yosemite Ranger Meets the True Owners of the National Parks

As we edge closer to the 100th anniversary celebration of the National Park Service later this week, this video gives us a good reminder about what those parks are all about. The clip, which comes our way courtesy of NBC News, introduces us to the true owners of these parks – the American people themselves. The national parks have been called "America's Best Idea" and for good reason. Prior to the designation of the world's first national park – Yellowstone – the idea of setting aside lands for the greater good of the public was completely unknown. Now, there are thousands of national parks around the world, with more being created on a regular basis.

Video: Mountain Biking Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Jackson Hole, Wyoming is one of the truly great adventure destinations in the American west. Not only does it offer great skiing and snowboarding in the winter, there are plenty of trails to hike and ride during the rest of the year as well. In this video we travel to Jackson with pro mountain bikers Curtis Keene and Jared Graves where they discover some epic singletrack mixed in with the breathtaking scenery that this part of the country is so well known for. Enjoy the video, but be warned: You're probably going to want to ride these trails yourself.

Gear Closet: Altra Lone Peak 3.0 Hiking Shoes

A couple of weeks back I took a look at the new Altra Superior 2.0 trail running shoes, and found them to be an excellent choice for runners. At the time I mentioned that I was testing another pair of shoes from the company as well, and was eager to put them through their paces. Last week while visiting Quebec I had the opportunity to do just that, and ended up coming away just as impressed.

This time out I was testing the new Altra Lone Peak 3.0 NeoShell Mid, a hybrid shoe of sorts that blends the best elements of a trail runner with a lightweight hiker. It features Altra's proprietary Foot Shape technology that allows for more room in the toe box for a more natural fit, and its Abound materials that allow energy to return to the foot when walking. They also have a zero-drop sole that allows both the forefoot and heel to strike the ground at the same time, which encourages better form throughout the length of your run or hike.

This being the "mid" version of the original Lone Peak shoe it comes with more ankle support built-in. This not only comes in handy when hiking demanding trails, it also gives the shoe a look that more resembles a hiking boot as well. Since I was using them more in that capacity rather than as trail runners, I appreciated the extra support, even on routes that weren't especially demanding.

When compared to other hiking shoes, the Lone Peak 3.0 Mid is extremely lightweight, tipping the scale at just 10 ounces (283 grams). That made them extremely easy to pack for my Canadian adventure, and helped to reduce fatigue when wearing them for extended periods of time, both on the trail and walking around town. In fact, I'd say that these shoes are more on par weight-wise with the trail running shoes I wear from other companies, rather than most hiking shoes. In other words, if you're in the market for a new pair of hikers and are looking to shave off some ounces, this just might be the shoe you've been looking for.

Is the Grand Canyon in Jeopardy?

Yesterday I posted a beautiful video of the Grand Canyon in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service later this week. Everyone knows that the national park is one of the most iconic outdoor destinations in the entire world, with some of the most amazing opportunities for adventure. But are we losing the Grand Canyon to commercial and industrial development? That is the question posed in a new article from National Geographic that reveals an uncertain future for one of the U.S.'s most famous landscapes.

In order to explore the threats to the Grand Canyon, journalists Kevin Fedarko and Pete McBride have spent the better part of the past year exploring its wonders. Starting last fall, the two men have trekked for more than 650 miles (1046 km) through remote wilderness to not only get to understand the Canyon better, but to discover how its fragile ecosystem has increasingly become under siege by outside interests.

Along the way, they talked with people living in and around the park as the two men learned about the potential for over development and the increased stress put on the Grand Canyon due to a larger number of tourists visiting. But most importantly, they discovered that mining operations just outside the park's borders could have a long-lasting, and incredibly devastating, impact on the park itself, creating a potentially dangerous environmental catastrophe. For example, uranium is one of the substances that is mined near the park that could have severe impact on its future. In fact, U.S. Geological Survey data says that 15 springs and five wells near the Grand Canyon already have levels of uranium that are considered unsafe to drink. This is mostly due to incidents from older mines in the area, but it underscores the problem none the less.

While the story is already quite eye-opening, Fedarko and McBride aren't quite done yet. They're continuing to explore the Grand Canyon even now, with plans to wrap up their investigative expedition sometime in October. The story is of course still unfolding, but the hope is that we're not too late in spreading the word about the threats to this incredibly popular national park. After all, it is a place that has been presumably preserved for future generations to enjoy as well, so why would we want to spoil it now? Hopefully that won't happen.

Indian Couple Who Faked Everest Summit Face 10-Year Ban

Remember that Indian couple who were accused of faking their summit of Everest this past spring? It appears that a decision will soon be made on their fate, and it seems they'll not only be stripped of their summit certificates but they're also facing a very long ban from climbing on Everest again.

If you're not familiar with the story, Dinesh and Tarkeshwari Rathod are a husband and wife team who also happen to be police officers back in India. The two claimed to have reach the summit of Everest this past spring, but holes were punched in their story when photos that purported to show them on top of the world's highest peak appeared doctored. It seemed as if they had used photoshop to put themselves on the summit when they hadn't even gotten close to the point. The situation got even murkier when the Nepali guide service that they hired for the expedition certified their summit without any real evidence that they had topped out. Later, when the story received more scrutiny, government ministers in Nepal were forced to retract their summit certificates, and launch an investigation into the proceedings.

Last week, The Himalayan Times reported that a high-level committee looking into the situation has recommended at least a ten-year ban be placed on the couple. That means that for the next decade they would not be able to climb in Nepal at all. The investigation confirmed that the Rathods had made false claims about their expedition and had submitted doctored photos of their climb when applying for the certificates.

Furthermore, the committee also recommended delisting the climbing Sherpas that were with the Indian couple from the climbing record as well. They were working with the company called Makalu Adventure Treks at the time, and are considering action against another member of the team who had backed up the Rathods' claims. It doesn't appear that there will be any actions taken against the government liaison officer who may or may not have been in Base Camp during the time of the expedition either, but it is possible that any member of the expedition could also receive a minimum of a five-year ban.

The couple has stayed mum on all of these proceedings since the news broke, but it seems likely they were hoping to add an Everest summit to their resume to potentially increase their fortunes back in India, a country with a proud climbing tradition. An Everest summit there is seen as quite an accomplishment, which can lead to fame, money, and increased social standing. Now however, they instead face deep shame from their actions.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Video: Remote Iceland as Seen by a Drone

Take a drone's eye view of remote Iceland in this video, which gives us stunning views of the landscapes that are found there. You'll catch a glimpse of everything from rugged coastlines, snowcapped peaks, and lush forests, with just about everything in between. You'll discover a place that is epic in scale and is calling out to be explored. After watching the 2+ minute clip you'll begin to understand why Iceland holds such an allure with travelers.

Video: The Best of the Grand Canyon

This week, the U.S. National Park Service will celebrate its 100th birthday in grand fashion, with all kinds of special events taking place across the country. For those of us who love the parks, this is a major milestone in their history, and one well worth commemorating. The video below comes our way courtesy of National Geographic and shares the very best vistas and landscapes from one of the most iconic parks in the entire system – The Grand Canyon. It is a good reminder of just how special these places truly are, and why having protected public lands is such an important thing. Consider that this week as we all appreciate the NPS just a bit more.

Gear Closet: The Zus Ruggedized Charging Cable is a Fantastic Travel Accessory

These days when we travel we always carry a host of gadgets with us. In fact, depending on the trip I'm taking, I often have a wide variety of devices that I need to keep charged while on the go. Those include a smartphone, tablet, and at various times a rechargeable headlamp, smartwatch, water purifier, headphones, and more. In order to keep all of those items from becoming nothing more than dead weight, you'll also need to carry charging cables, most of which are not designed for use in the back country or withstand the rigors that are often placed on them when traveling. But fortunately, there are some options on the market that are built to survive, even in remote environments, making the ruggedized charging cable a must have for outdoor adventurers.

One such cable is the ZUS from Nonda. Encased in an outer shell of tough nylon braiding over a thin PVC tube, and made up of protected aramid fibers, this cable was built from the ground up to survive darn near anything. In fact, the ZUS was tested in the lab and survived being bent more than 15,000 times without suffering damage. But if that wasn't enough to convince you, it is also backed by a lifetime guarantee.

Available in standard micro-USB, USB-C, and Apple Lightning versions, the ZUS cable definitely feels more substantial in your hands than most other charging cables I've used, especially those that come directly from a device manufacturer. There is a clearly defined resistance in the cable that you can feel as you use it that simply provides a sense that even though you're twisting it about, it isn't doing any kind of damage to the cable itself.

Speaking of twisting it about, the ZUS has also been built to be tangle free, which is something I appreciate when traveling. The materials used to create this cable also prevent it from wrapping up around itself, which means you can pull it out of your pack and plug it into your device and charging solution within a matter of seconds. If you're carrying multiple cables with you, this feature is even more handy, and the ZUS doesn't end up wrapping itself around them. And since it comes with its own built-in Velcro tie, it is extremely easy to keep it organized too.

Outside Gives Us the Best New Gear for Under $50

The 2016 Summer Outdoor Retailer show may be long over at this point, but there are still things to be said about what we saw there. Case in point, Outside magazine has posted a story that reveals their picks for the best pieces of gear for under $50, a price point that isn't necessarily all that common when it comes to the gear we use on our adventures.

So what made Outside's list? As you can imagine, they selected some unique items that are affordable, but also highly functional. For instance, Stanley showed off a new product designed to help keep your coffee warmer for longer, while Hydroflask revealed a Growler that can keep your craft brew drinks colder. Meanwhile, JetBoil's new MightyMo stove is certain to be a big hit in part because it weighs just 95 grams (3.35 ounces), and the latest knife from Gerber proves you don't have to break the bank to find a decent everyday carry for your pocket. Finally, the latest headlamp from Black Diamond also received a nod from the magazine thanks to it being very light (56 grams/1.97 ounces) and bright (150 lumens).

Since each of these items is $50 or less, there is sure to be a lot of interest in them. You'll probably have to be a bit patient however, as most of the gear shown at Outdoor Retailer won't be available until next spring. Still, it'll be worth the wait, and since these products are so inexpensive, you won't have to take out a second mortgage just to pay for them.

In the weeks ahead I'll be testing a lot of gear that I saw at OR and posting reviews. I've already started to receive some of those products, and there is plenty of good things to come for outdoor adventurers and travelers. I think you're going to be very happy with the way the industry is evolving, both in terms of delivering high quality gear that performs amazing well, and how eco-friendly the approach to creating our gear is becoming. It is an exciting time to say the least.

Himalaya Fall 2016: Kilian Trains in Tibet for Everest

We're back on a regular posting schedule for a few weeks after my recent visit to Quebec, and we have news from the Himalaya about Kilian Jornet's speed attempt on Everest. This expedition will be the last of his "Summits of My Life" project, which has also resulted in new records for the fastest known times on other major peaks, including Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, and Denali.

If you've been following Kilian's progress at all, you probably know that he left for the Himalaya a few weeks back where he has been organizing gear, continuing his training, and acclimatizing to the altitude. But, we also have a few more specifics about his schedule over the past few days.

Last Tuesday, Kilian flew from Kathmandu to Lhasa in Tibet. He spent a day there before starting the drive to Everest Base Camp, which is accessible by car on the North Side of the mountain. But, it is still a dramatic gain in altitude during that drive, so most people still go slow, and take a few days to reach BC, allowing their bodies to acclimatize a bit along the way. With that in mind, the Spanish ultrarunner has been working out along the way.

Over the weekend, he was in Tingri at 4300 meters (14,107 ft) where Kilian conducted some training runs. That's an altitude he's accustomed to, having spent the last few years making the Alps of Europe his personal playground. He also spent a good deal of time there training before leaving for the Himalaya.

It isn't clear yet just when Kilian and his team will arrive in Base Camp, but I would expect that that will happen this week. From there, the plan is to acclimate to higher altitudes before getting ready to make his historic attempt on the summit of Everest. We're still a few weeks away from that happening, but it certainly should be interesting to follow his preparation for the final push to the top. Especially when you keep in mind that this will be his first foray above 8000 meters.

Kilian's approach to the speed attempt has been a simple one. Get to the mountain while it is still summer, before there is anyone else attempting to climb it in the fall. This will ensure that the route is free from crowds that could potentially low him down. Taking one of the routes on the North Side should help keep the still on-going monsoons at bay to a degree as well, although it still could be dicey up on top. He'll now focus solely on acclimatizing and scouting the route until he is fully ready to go. From there, it will be a simple matter of waiting for the weather to cooperate and then choosing the best time to go.

For now, we all wait for that to happen.

Friday, August 12, 2016

On the Road Again: Heading Back to Quebec!

Just another quick note to let regular readers know that there will once again be no updates next week. My time back home was brief, and now I'm headed back to Quebec, Canada for another adventure. Some of you may recall that I was in Quebec this past winter where I had the opportunity to do some snowshoeing and dogsledding in some of the most beautiful (and cold!) conditions ever. Now, I'll return once again to the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region where I'll be whitewater rafting, stand-up paddleboarding, sea kayaking and hiking. It should be a wonderful time and a nice way to contrast the region between the two seasons.

While I'm away, the Karakoram climbing season should finally come to an end, and I'm sure there will be other interesting adventure news taking place. I'll try to post updates upon my return of anything important that may have taken place. Regular updates will resume on August 22, at which time I'll actually be home for several weeks in a row. That will be the first time that that has happened in several months.

Until then, enjoy the last few weeks of summer, get outside and have some adventures of your own, and explore this great big planet of ours. I'll be back before you know it!

Video: In the Land of the Midnight Sun - A Visit to Norway

Need a bit of an escape as we head into the weekend? You'll find it in this five minute video that takes us into the Nordland region of Norway where we discover epic landscapes, breathtaking vistas, and a place where the sun never sets – at least at this time of the year. It is an incredibly beautiful clip with some amazing views that will leave you desperate to get outside and pursue an adventure of your own. We all might not be able to get to a place that looks like this in the next few days, but I'm sure we can still find an outside setting that can captivate us none the less. Don't miss this video. It is well worth your time.

An Aerial Perspective of Nordland from Michael Fletcher on Vimeo.

Video: Paragliding Over Rio de Janeiro

With the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in full swing the eyes of the world of turned towards Rio. If you've been watching the events unfold in Brazil, you've no doubt seen some beautiful shots of the surrounding landscapes along the way. But in this video we join paragliders Nader Couri and Joe da Silva as they soar high above the city and Conrado Beach, giving us an adrenaline filled look at the surroundings. We haven't seen Rio from this vantage point just yet.

Belgian Adventurer to Attempt Simpson Desert Crossing in Australia

Belgian adventurer Louis-Philippe Loncke is about to set out on another expedition across Australia's Simpson Desert. Back in 2008, he mad a similar journey spending 36 days traversing the "Dead Heart" of the continent solo and unsupported. This time out, he hopes to repeat his success, although he is taking a completely different approach.

Stretching out for more than 176,000 sq. km. (68,000 sq. miles), the Simpson Desert covers parts of Australia's Northern Territory, Queensland, and South Australian states. Marked by a dry, sandy red plain and towering dunes, it is one of the most forbidding places on the planet, and home to the longest parallel sand dunes on Earth.

When he completed his crossing back in 2008, Loncke pulled a specially built cart that carried his gear and supplies, including water, behind him the entire way. This time out, he'll leave the cart behind and carry all of his equipment in his backpack instead, something he did while crossing Death Valley last year. His route will be a bit different this time out as well, as he'll travel west to east starting from Old Andado station in the Northern Territory and ending at Poeppel Corner via the geographic center of the desert itself. All told, he expect the expedition to cover about 280 km (174 miles).

The challenges that Loncke faces on this journey are numerous. The desert is extremely hot and dry, so dehydration, heat stroke, and exhaustion are real possibilities. Since he's carrying all of his supplies and gear with him on his back, equipment failure is a serious concern too, as is the fear of potential injuries. On top of that, he'll have to contend with snakes, dingos, and wild camels too, not to mention a host of annoying biting insects. In other words, this won't be a walk in the park, but a seriously difficult expedition through an unforgiving environment.

Loncke says that if he crosses the desert successfully, and still has enough supplies to continue on, he plans to push another 135 km (84 miles) past his end point to the town of Birdville instead. That would bring the entire journey up to 415 km (258 miles), although he'll have to wait to see how he feels physically before making that decision.

Loncke departed for Australia from Belgium yesterday and will spend a few days preparing for the journey before setting out. He should get underway next week, and have quite an adventure in the desert. Stay tuned for updates on his progress.

Good luck Lou-Phi!

Karakoram 2016: Czech Climbers Launch Summit Bid on Gasherbrum I

Earlier in the week we said that the climbing season in the Karakoram was grinding to halt, with most teams now long gone. But, one team remained in the mountain holding out home that they would still get a chance at the summit on Gasherbrum I, and along a new no less.

Czech climbers Marek Holecek and Ondra Mandula are now in the midst of a summit push along a route that Holecek has already attempted on three previous occasions. According to ExWeb, the duo set out from BC on Tuesday with the hopes of being into position to complete their climb today. Poor weather has momentarily stalled their attempt however, although they are hoping for conditions to improve this weekend so they can finish the ascent.

When the duo launched this summit push they climbed up to 6000 meters (19,685 ft) on Tuesday, setting up their first camp after a long day in mixed weather conditions. On Wednesday of this week the weather had improved and they set out to climb higher, but as they went, conditions once again deteriorated. Snow began to fall on the mountain, and several avalanches occurred, cutting off their ability to safely descend. Instead, they went up and found shelter near a serac, pitching their tent at 6800 meters (22,309 ft). That is where they have stayed for the past two days, waiting for things to improve. The plan is to wait out the weather, then move up to 7400 meters (24,278 ft) for one last campsite before moving on to the summit.

The new route is one that Holecek has scouted in the past, going up Gasherbrum I's southwest face. As mentioned, the Czech climber has failed to complete his ascent along this new path on three separate occasions, but he now believes that his persistence will pay off and he and Mandula can top out. At this point that all depends on the weather, and the amount of supplies that they have left. Summiting this late in the season is a bit uncommon in the Karakoram, but not unheard of. They will need some luck to go their way however.

We'll be keeping an eye on their progress throughout the next few days. Hopefully they'll find success along this new route, but if not it will be more important that they ascend safely. I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Video: BASE Jumping Through the Clouds in Switzerland

BASE jumping can be a scary enough proposition on its own, but throw in some clouds and it gets even more difficult. That's what skydiver Felix Lorentzen and friends discovered when they made a recent jump in the mountains of Switzerland. Putting aside their trepidation they decided to go for it anyway, and the result is the video below. After all, they knew that the ground had to be down below them somewhere. Right?

Video: Tusker Trail's Mongolia Trek - Episode 3

Today we have Tusker Trail's third and final video of their Mongolia Trek, bringing a close to the journey. This video is a strong visual companion to the articles I have written recently about my own experiences on this amazing trip, and watching the three videos over the past few days has brought back some fantastic memories of our ride through the Altai Mountains. If you've read those stories and wanted to see what this part of Mongolia looks like for yourself, you can watch these videos to get a sense of the place. Better yet, you can sign up and go yourself. Check out the final clip yourself, and start planning your own Mongolia adventure.

Gear Closet: Solartab Portable Solar Charger

Now days it is not uncommon to travel into the backcountry with an array of electronic devices. Most of us will take a smartphone and sometimes even a tablet. We carry rechargeable headlamps, GoPro cameras, GPS devices, and a variety of other gear. The problem is, it isn't always easy to keep the batteries in all of those gadgets charged up, and without power they mostly become dead weight. But, thankfully there are some handy methods to carry extra power with us wherever we go, and improvements in the efficiency of solar panels has made them a viable option too. Which is why the Solartab portable charger was so intriguing to me as an option for backcountry power. Recently, I had the chance to put the device to the test, and came away fairly impressed.

At its core, the Solartab is a 5.5 watt solar panel that covers the front of the device. That panel is paired with a 13,000 mAh batter that can store the power collected from the sun for future use. That's a sizable battery in its own right, and enough to recharge an iPhone six times over, with power to spare, or fully recharge an iPad with enough juice for a smartphone too. When you pair that with the built-in solar panel, you have a  way to keep your gadgets running indefinitely, at least in theory.

The Solartab – which is roughly the size of a standard model iPad – also comes equipped with a custom made case that not only protects the solar panel, but also allows the user to adjust its angle to ensure that it is always drawing the most power possible from the sun. A handy light on the side of the device even tells you when it is actually generating energy, which is automatically stored in the battery pack.

Two 2.1 amp USB ports can then be used to transmit that power to any gadget capable of recharging via USB. That includes just about any small electronic device today, including headlamps, action cameras, GPS devices, UV water purifiers, and so on. A micro-USB port on the Solartab can be used to charge up the internal battery from AC wall outlet before you leave home, ensuring that you always have enough power on the go. Indicator lights on the side of the panel are a handy indicator to let you know just how much juice is in the Solartab at any given time.

The two USB ports are actually quite fast, although when a device is plugged into both ports you'll see a drop in speed. Still, an iPhone 6S can be powered up in about an hour and a half, and my iPad Mini was restored to full strength in under three hours. That's about on par with plugging those devices into the wall.

As with most small solar panels, the Solartab can be a bit of a mixed bag at times. In direct sunlight it can charge fairly quickly, and since you have the ability to turn it to face the sun, and shift the angle to get the most exposure, it works well on clear, sunny days. But, when the clouds come out its ability to draw a charge can be severely hampered. The designers of the device say that under the best of conditions it can take about 12 hours to fully recharge the device's battery, but don't expect those conditions to come around all that often.

Olympics Add Adventure Sports for 2020

As the 2016 Olympic Games continue to unfold in Rio, there was big news about the 2020 games this week – at least for the outdoor community. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had officially announced that climbing, surfing, and skateboarding will all be a part of the next Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo, Japan.

For some, the announcement came as good news, with professional climbers, surfers, and skateboarders applauding the decision. Others have shrugged it off as a non-event, saying that the Olympics are far from the venue that they want to use to promote their sports. Alex Honnold, for instance, told Reuters hat he probably wouldn't even be able to qualify, as "Competitive climbing is basically a whole different sub-sport.” He went on to add that he'll probably be on a solo expedition somewhere instead.

The surfing community has expressed a similar sentiment as outlined in this story from Outside magazine. Surf legend Kelly Slater says he'd love to compete, while others have not been so quick to embrace the Olympic spirit. Owen Wright eloquently summed up his feelings on the matter by saying “Fuck the Olympics.”

Either way, these sports will be a part of the games in four years, and it should be interesting to see how they play with a larger, more mainstream audience. I don't expect to see climbing televised, but both surfing and skateboarding will hold an appeal for sure. Whether or not viewers embrace these additions remains to be seen, but at least they are getting some recognition, even if the best athletes in each sport may not actually be there to take part.

As for the current Rio games, it has been a bit of a mixed bag for me so far. On the one hand, it is always great to see these world-class athletes competing on such a big stage. But on the other hand, the amount of trouble that has been taking place in and around the Olympic venues is a bit disturbing. Athletes getting robbed, dignitaries held up at gun point, violence in the streets. Not a lot of those stories are making it to the mainstream press, but they are happening on a regular basis. If you haven't seen the current episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumble on HBO yet, I would urge you to do so. It'll give you an entirely new perspective on the games, the IOC, and the process of determining where the Olympics are held every four years.

Lets hope things go better in Tokyo.

Miranda Oakley Sets New Female Speed Record on the Nose in Yosemite

It has been good couple of days for female climbers. Yesterday we had word that Maddie Miller set a new speed record for nabbing all of the high points in the U.S., and today we learn that Miranda Oakley has managed to break the record for climbing The Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite in the fastest time ever by a woman. What's more, she didn't just break the record, she smashed it, setting a new high water mark in the process.

A few days back, Oakley completed a solo summit of Yosemite's most iconic route in 21 hours and 50 minutes. That shaved more than 2.5 hours off the previous record, which was set by Chantel Astorga back in 2014. Astorga went up the nose in 24 hours, 39 minutes, which means Oakley is also the first woman to break the 24-hour mark as well.

The Nose has a long and storied history in climbing. It is considered one of the most famous routes in all of rock climbing, requiring equal parts skill, strength, and stamina to complete. Rated a 5.9 C2, the classic ascent is a 3000-foot monster that tests the dedication and determination of any climber. Oakley did it solo for the first time last year, completing her climb in a little under 27 hours.

For reference sake, the current speed record on The Nose for a two-person team is held by Hans Florine and Alex Honnold. That talented duo managed so complete the route in 2 hours, 23 minutes, and 46 seconds. The solo record for men is held by Tommy Caldwell, who topped out in just under 12 hours.

Congratulations to Miranda for an impressive display of skill and strength. Well done!