Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tour de France 2014: Nibali Leaves No Doubt!

The toughest day in the Pyrenees has had a major impact on the General Classification of the 2014 Tour de France, but at the end of the day,  the overall leader of the race remains the same. Italian cyclist Vincenzo Nibali has left no doubt who is the best rider in the race this year, claiming his third stage win on the summit of Hautacam, and securing his victory in Le Tour, barring some unforeseen problems over the final few days of the race.

Today's stage featured two massive climbs, the first of which went up the imposing Tourmalet, which has been the site of some dramatic cycling showdowns in the past. That Beyond Category climb gave way to a fast and furious descent, before the riders started the grueling ride to the mountain top finish on Hautacam, another legendary slope from past tours.

The day belonged to Nibali, who left all challengers in his wake as he made his way up the final climb of this year's race. When the great Italian rider went on the attack, few were able to hang with him for very long, and soon he found himself riding alone all the way to the summit Behind him, the battle for a podium spot heated up however, as Alejandro Valverde, who entered the day in second place on the GC, cracked on Hautacam and watched a number of young riders pull away from him. That group included Thibaut Pinot, Jean-Christophe Péraud, and Tejay Van Garderen, all of whom picked up time. At the end of the stage, Valverde fell out of the top three, with Pinot and Péraud moving up to second and third place overall.

With the last mountain stage now behind us, Nibali should ride into Paris in the Maillot Jaune. Tomorrow's stage will be flat, and favor the sprinters, while Saturday's individual time trial shouldn't pose much of a challenge considering he has more than a seven minute lead on the second place rider.  Nibali is not a great time trialist, but he is certainly strong enough to hold off any challengers. Provided he gets through the course without any serious accidents, he will ride onto the Champs Élysées on Sunday in Yellow. He will become one of just six riders to win all three of cycling's Grand Tours.

Video: Where in the World Are You - Quest #11

Our friend Richard Bangs is back this week with another "Where in the World Are You" video. Once again, Richard provides clues as to the location that he is visiting, sharing cultural and historical landmarks to help give us hints. Can you guess where his travels have taken him this time?

Pakistan 2014: Success on Broad Peak and Gasherbrum II, Progress on K2

It has been a busy couple of days in the Himalaya and Karakoram of Pakistan, where multiple teams launched summit bids on several mountains across the region. While those summit bids are still on going on K2, climbers have found success on other peaks, including Gasherbrum II and Broad Peak.

We'll start on BP, where most teams set out from Base Camp on Monday, with the promise of good weather, and a wide window. Those forecasts proved to be true, and teams report great summit conditions as they approached the top yesterday and today. Amongst those summiting were Romanian climber Alex Gavin, who topped out along, with climbing partners Boyan Petrov and Ivan Tomov, both of Bulgaria. They completed their climb yesterday, and have already begun their descent back to BC.

The second round of summit pushes are underway today, and ExWeb has indicated that Spanish climber Jesus Morales also topped out at 6:15 AM local time. He is the first of a large group of climbers heading up today, and we should expect to hear about more successful summits shortly.

Not everyone found success on Broad Peak however. Oscar Cadiach, climbing with Anna Pujol and Jean Marc Flores, was headed for the summit this morning as well, but was forced to turn back just 22 meters (72 feet) from the top. Cadiach's home team reports that Oriol Ribas continued up alone, but it is unclear if he reached the summit or not. Oscar, Anna, and Jean will retreat to Camp 3 for now, and reevaluate the situation. The good weather window is expected to last through the weekend, and they may have another go at the summit before they leave the mountain.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Video: Nobody's River Trailer

Last year, a team of female paddlers set out to explore the Amur, a remote river located in Russia and Mongolia. It took them two months to complete that project, which was dubbed the Nobody's River expedition. Now, a documentary about their travels is nearing completion, and will soon be making the rounds at various screenings and film festivals. Below, you'll find the beautiful trailer for that film, which gives us a brief glimpse of what they faced while on their journey. This looks like a fantastic adventure film, and I'm looking forward to seeing the finished documentary.

NOBODY'S RIVER - TRAILER from NRS Films on Vimeo.

Ever Wonder What a $20,000 Bike Looks Like?

With the Tour de France in its final stages, and the riders turning towards Paris at last, I'm sure there are more than a few of us who are climbing aboard are road bikes, and dreaming of riding on the Champs Élysées in the Yellow Jersey. While that is an impossible dream for most of us, that doesn't mean we can't at least ride a bike that is fitting for the toughest cycling event on the planet. Outside magazine has posted a profile of five of the most advanced bikes that are currently in Le Tour, including a $20,000 ride that is unlike any other.

If you're in the market for a new bike, or the TdF has inspired you to get into cycling, than any one of these five bikes will make for an impressive ride. While the high end models have been built specifically for the best riders in the world, there are consumer models designed for you and me that are more than adequate fore our needs, not to mention much easier on our wallets.

Amongst the bikes that Outside spotlights are the Trek Émonda, which is the lightest production bike at the planet, tipping the scales at just 10.25 pounds (4.6 kg), a full 4 pounds (1.81 kg) lighter than the minimum requirements for the Tour de France. The top end version of Émonda will set you back $15,750, but the entry level model costs just $1650, although it isn't quite so svelte.

Tour de France 2014: Hard Riding in the Pyrenees

With the 2014 Tour de France all but decided, fans of the race are hanging on to see who will claim major stage victories, and stake claim to all of the jerseys that are not yellow in color. Usually, the big mountain stages bring tension and drama, but this year they have provided individual efforts for glory on individual stages, while the peloton watches Italian rider Vincenzo Nibali continue his dominance of the race.

Today's stage was expected to be a punishing one, and it lived up to the hype. With the riders now moving into the big mountains of the Pyrenees, the peloton struggled to stay together across three Category 1 climbs, and a final push up the Pla d'Adet on a Beyond Category slope, that ended with a summit finish. It was a day that would sap the legs of all but the strongest of riders, even though it was a mere 124.5 km (77.4 miles) in length.

The hero of the day was Polish rider Rafal Majka, who wore the Polka Dot Jersey of the King of the Mountains at the start, and only extended his lead in that category at the end of the day. He was chased by Giovanni Visconti of Team Movistar, who finished 29 seconds back, while Nibali came across the line in third, 46 seconds off the pace. But that was enough to take more time from his rivals, and extend his overall lead in the race.

At the end of the stage, Nibali had a 5:26 lead on Alejandro Valverde, and a 6 minute lead on Thibaut Pinot. With one more big mountain stage to go, and no sign of cracking, the Italian seems assured of riding into Paris with the Maillot Jaune, that is barring an unforeseen problems.

Reminder: National Geographic Seeking Adventurers and Explorers for "Expedition Granted"

A month ago I posted that National Geographic was seeking explorers and adventurers for their Expedition Granted program, which will award a $50,000 grant that will ultimately allow someone to pursue their dream project. Over the past few weeks, numerous ideas for how that grant would be used have been posted to the Expedition Granted website, with some fascinating projects being pitched. But the contest is not over yet, and it isn't too late to pitch your passion project as well.

The process is simple. Record a two-minute video that explains how you would use the $50k grant, and why you deserve to be the recipient. Then, upload it to the Expedition Granted website, and share it on social media. If your idea is good enough, you just might earn a spot amongst the finalists, and a shot at winning the grant.

The deadline for submissions is August 31. After that, the EG Advisory Council will select ten finalists, which will be announced on September 16. The public will then be allowed to vote for the project of their choice, with balloting open through September 29. The winner will be announced on September 30.

This is a great opportunity for someone to get their dream project off the ground. Often times, we have great ideas on things we would like to do, but the ability to raise cash to accomplish those goals can be a major stumbling block. A $50,000 grant from National Geographic should help to open doors however, and allow someone to do some very interesting things with the money.

Kudos to Nat Geo for putting together the Expedition Granted program. The organization is looking to promote exploration in the 21st century, and this is a great way to do it.

If you'd like to see what kind of projects have been submitted so far, click here for a list of the submissions. All I can say is that the competition is going to be stiff.

New Documentary Seeks to Tell the Story of the Women of the Mountains

A new documentary that is seeking funding via Kickstarter  is looking to tell the story of six women, all of whom are drawn to the mountains. The film is entitled the Women of the Mountain, and it tells the tale of three ultra-runners who compete in some of the longest, and toughest, trail runs on the planet. At the same time, the doc also profiles three other women who live their lives in those same mountains. The film will take viewers from the Himalaya in India, to the Alps of Europe, and on to the Sierra Nevada in California. It will follow these women as they overcome a variety of challenges in their lives, and show how strong they truly are.

The film is seeking $45,000 in funding to complete the project. As I write this, they have collected about $7600 towards that goal. Check out the video below to learn more about the film, and click here if you'd like to contribute to the cause.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Video: Miracles Around Us

This video was apparently made as a promotional project for Oars, the adventure travel company that specializes in rafting and kayaking expeditions. But this doesn't come across like a commercial in any sense of the word, but is instead a beautiful reminder of all of the amazing, miraculous, things that are taking place around us as we travel across our planet. The scenery is breathtaking, and the narration is thought provoking, even if it is a bit haunting. This video is one you won't want to miss.

Miracles from Thelonious Step on Vimeo.

Video: Megavalanche Mountain Bike Race Down Alpe d'Huez

The Megavalanche is an insane down-hill mountain bike race that takes place each year on the sloes of Alpe d'Huez, one of the most storied climbs in the history of the Tour de France. But in this case, the riders are racing down a much different route, and as you'll see in the video below, it is one wild ride. Carnage is often the best way to describe the early stages of the ride, and it doesn't get much easier as the riders descend. This is one event I'm more than happy to watch on video, and leave the actual racing to those who are crazy enough to ender it.

Tour de France 2014: Pyrenees Showdown as Push to Paris Begins

This past weekend, the 2014 Tour de France rode into the Alps, where it became abundantly clear that Vincenzo Nibali is the strongest rider in the peloton, and in complete control of the race. When the riders hit the long, steep slopes of the mountains, the Italian flashed displays of strength and endurance, even as his closest rivals faded away. With five stages yet to go, including several big days in the Pyrenees, this is Nibali's race to lose, and barring any unforeseen problems, he will ride into Paris in the Maillot Jaune and take a victory lap on the Champs Élysées.

But their is still some drama and glory left to play out in Le Tour. There are stage victories to be claimed, a long individual time trial to be overcome, and several other jerseys still up for contention. That was exactly the mood amongst the riders as they took off on today's 237.5 km (147.5 miles) Stage 16, running from Carcassonne to Bagnères-de-Luchon, which featured tough climbs, but a very fast downhill descent to the finish. It was a day for a breakaway to survive, provided some climbers could get over the final Beyond Category climb, then sprint to the end. That is exactly what happened, as Aussie rider Michael Rogers found his first success in the Tour de France after riding in the race for ten years. He finished nine seconds ahead of a group of riders, that included Thomas Voeckler, Vasili Kiryienka, and Cyril Gautier, who had jousted with one another across the final kilometers of the course.

The first day in the Pyrenees have already had an impact on the overall standings for the General Classification. Nibali didn't surrender any time to those who have been chasing him, and made sure that he kept Alejandro Valverde, currently riding in second place, in his sights at all time. But French rider Thibaut Pinot managed to climb up to third place however, as Roman Bardet and Tejay Van Garderen lost ground in the mountains and gave up significant amounts of time. As it stands now, Valverde is 4'37" behind Nibali, with two more big mountain stages looming.

Walking the Nile Update: Into Egypt

Last week, explorer Levison Wood reached another milestone on his Walking the Nile Expedition when he crossed the border between Sudan and Egypt. It is his sixth, and final, country in Wood's attempt to walk the entire length of the Nile, which he launched last fall. With his arrival in Egypt, Lev now faces approximately 1600 km (995 miles) before he reaches the finish line at the mouth of the river as it flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

According to a dispatch posted late last week, the border crossing took place aboard a slow, crowded, and very hot ferry. It took nearly 20 hours for the boat to reach Aswan in southern Egypt, where Wood could begin walking once again. Ahead of hims is another long stretch of the river of course, but also a bit of uncertainty. Egypt has had its share of unrest over the past few years, and hopefully there will be no issues for the Brit as he makes his way north. It is my understanding that the country is most dangerous in Cairo itself, which is still some weeks off.

When Levison set out late last year, he had every intention of walking the entire 6853 km (4258 miles) length of the river. Not long after he began his trek however, civil war broke out in South Sudan, and the country was incredibly dangerous when he arrived there. Determined to press on, he entered South Sudan and continued his walk along the Nile. But as he traveled across the conflict riddled country, he ran into problems in the town of Bor, and was expelled from the country by the South Sudanese government in an effort to protect him from the ongoing fighting there. As a result, Wood was unable to walk approximately 645 km (400 miles) of the river, so even as he approaches the finish line, he'll have a section of river that remains unfinished.

There are still weeks of travel ahead of Lev, who will now walk along the Nile Valley through the Sahara Desert. Having visited this section of the Nile myself, I can tell you that it is quite fertile along the river, but the harsh desert conditions begin not far from its banks. The desert brings incredibly high temperatures as well, which will almost certainly have an impact on his journey as well.

Pakistan 2014: Summit Push Begins on K2, Broad Peak, and Gasherbrum II

While I was off on a little adventure of my own on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, the climbers in Pakistan have been busy preparing for summit bids in the Himalaya and Karakoram. Most have now wrapped up their acclimatization efforts, and have launched their summit bids in ernest. Over the next few days, they will be pushing themselves to the limit with the hopes of reaching the summit on their respective mountains, including the most difficult peak in the world – K2.

Over the past few days, Alan Arnette has continued to release a string of dispatches sharing his experiences on K2. He reported that heavy snow and high winds have made things challenging, even in Base Camp, where avalanches were a regular occurrence. But the weather is expected to improve starting today, with favorable conditions expected to last into next week. That is an unusually long weather window for K2, so everyone is hoping to take advantage of it, even if they haven't had a chance to complete their full acclimatization rotations.

Alan, and the rest of his team, will leave BC today to begin their summit push. Over the next few days he'll be proceeding upwards to each of the successive camps with the hopes of reaching C4 on Saturday, then going for the summit in the early hours of Sunday. He'll provide brief updates on his progress while he can, but all of his efforts will be focused on climbing this "Mountaineer's Mountain" over the next few days.

He won't be alone in his efforts to reach the summit. Al Hancock and Adrian Hayes have also began their summit bids. They have had the opportunity to fully acclimatize, and are now ready to stand on the summit. Since they have spent some time at Camp 3 already, they'll have an accelerated schedule, with the hope of topping out on Friday or Saturday of this week. The duo will release no further dispatches until they return from the summit push, as they'll now leave behind any unnecessary gear to move faster and lighter, and carry more important items with them.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Video: Where in the World Are You? - Quest #6

While I'm off on a short adventure of my own, I wanted to share the latest video in Richard Bang's Where in the World Are You? series. This time out, we're off to Africa. But can you identify the place from the clues that Richard provides? Just watching this makes me want to return to Africa soon. Fun stuff!

Video: Bike Mounted Camera Capture Tour de France Action

Ever wonder what it is like to ride in the Peloton at the Tour de France? Than this video is definitely for you. It shows some harrowing footage on the now infamous Stage 5 of this year's race. That's the stage that was marred with crashes due to steady downpour, and the riders passing over the always-dangerous cobblestone roads of northern France. The footage was captured by a bike mounted camera, and provides a bit of perspective on what pro riders face in the biggest cycling event in the world.

Off to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

The Adventure Blog is on a brief hiatus as I head off to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for a little fun and adventure of my own over the next couple of days. While there, I'll be hiking, mountain biking, sea kayaking, and taking in the wonderful sights of the UP.

If you've never been to this wonderful place, you truly need to add it to your list of destinations. It is a surpassingly remote and wild place, with a lot to offer the outdoor adventurer. In fact, I'd venture to say that it is perhaps the best outdoor playground in the U.S., east of the Mississippi River.

In the days ahead, I'll share some stores about my time there, but for now I'm looking forward to exploring what the UP has to offer. This is a fairly brief trip, and I'll be back to posting updates on Tuesday, July 22. Until then, I hope all of you take the opportunity to enjoy some outdoor adventures of your own. And if you want to follow along with what I'm up to, follow me on Twitter at @kungfujedi or "like" the Facebook page for The Adventure Blog. I'll be posting regular updates to both of those social media outlets.

Have fun, and I'll be back soon!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Video: A Postcard From New Zealand's South Island

The South Island of New Zealand is a beautiful destination for adventure travelers looking for an active escape. The video below shows us just how amazing the place actually is, as the filmmakers behind this clip have made a video postcard designed to inspire the rest of us to follow in their footsteps and explore everything New Zealand has to offer. They don't have to ask me twice. I'm ready to go now!

Postcard from New Zealand from Bitt-n.com on Vimeo.

Adventure Tech: Suunto Introduces Ambit 3, Connected Family of Devices

If you're a technology and gadget nerd like me, you probably already realize that 2014 is shaping up to be the launching of the age of wearable technology. Samsung, Motorola, and other tech companies have already embraced the Android Wear platform, and the world waits with baited breath to see what Apple's iWatch will bring to the table this fall. In response to this burgeoning demand for more connected devices, the traditional manufacturers of fitness watches have also started to up their game, with Garmin, MagellanTomTom, and others bringing new options to consumers. A few days back, Suunto took the wraps off of their new products, the Ambit 3, giving us a glimpse of what it will deliver to outdoor athletes, including new levels of connectivity with smartphones and other devices.

Building on the highly successful Ambit series, the new Ambit 3 will bring all of the features of previous models, as well as a host of new capabilities. The watch will have integrated GPS of course, to help track speed, distance, altitude, and other data from our workouts and outdoor adventures. The easy-to-use interface of the Ambit OS makes it a breeze to use all of the features, and performance of the Ambit 1 and 2 are amongst the best in the business. The durable and comfortable watches are equally useful on a long run, bike ride, hike, or climb, and that level of versatility is one of the things that I really like with my Ambit, which I use on an almost daily basis.

The Ambit 3 will come in two models, the "Sport" and the "Peak." The former of these products is designed specifically with athletes in mind, and will put an emphasis on running, cycling, and swimming functionality, as well as easy integration with the Suunto heart rate monitor. It will also track progress of workouts, including recovery time, and integrate with the iPhone or iPad for sharing and analyzing that data as well. The "Peak" version of the Ambit 3 is built for mountaineers and outdoor adventurers, and brings such functionality as navigation, a compass, altimeter, and barometer. The device is capable of up to 50 hours of battery life in GPS mode, which is very good for device of this type.

Tour de France 2014: A French Win in Oyonnax

After yesterday's rest day – the first of two in this year's Tour de France – the riders returned to the road today for a challenging stage through a hilly section between Besançon and Oyonnax. While the route wasn't nearly as demanding as the small mountains we saw this past weekend, it was enough to create gaps in the peloton, and allow a breakaway to survive long enough to claim a stage win for the host country, its first of the year.

For the most part, the race today didn't offer much in the way of drama, which was to be expected following the crash-filled, crazy few days that led up to the rest day. But near the end, several teams lined up their leaders with the hope of claiming a stage win. Those teams included Cannondale, who hoped to get Peter Sagan his first stage win of the year. Ultimately those efforts fell short however, as French rider Tony Gallopin found a burst of speed in the final few kilometers that allowed him to escape his close pursuers, then hold on for the win.

Gallopin's win had little impact on any of the various classifications in the race. Italian rider Vincenzo Nibali keeps the Yellow Jersey, and barring some disaster, will do so until the race reaches the Alps and Pyrenees at the very least. Sagan once again kept his Green Jersey as the race's top sprinter, while  Joaquim Rodriguez stayed in the Polka Dots that designate him as the current leader of the King of the Mountains competition. Roman Bardet continues his reign as the White Jersey wearer, as the best young rider under the age of 25 in the race.

The question on everyone's lips at the moment is whether or not anyone can catch Nibali. The Italian is unquestionably in charge of the race at the moment, and looks poised to ride all the way to Paris in Yellow. But this Tour has been an unpredictable one, with many crashes and strange outcomes. While Nibali is the clear favorite to win the race, anything can happen int he mountains, and there are still 10 stages left to be ridden. Vincenzo is a great climber of course, but it only takes one poor performance for him to give up time, and open the door for someone to challenge him. At this point, it unclear who can rise to that challenge, but perhaps someone will attack in the mountains to at least put some pressure on Nibali. We'll find out in a few days.

Outside Recaps The Deadliest Season in Everest History

As most of you probably already know, this past climbing season on Everest was the deadliest in the history of Mt. Everest, despite the fact that the South Side of the mountain was shutdown for most of the spring. On April 18, a massive avalanche rolled down the slopes of that section of the mountain, not far from Camp 1, claiming the lives of 16 Sherpas who were shuttling gear and supplies up the slopes at that time. It was a disaster of epic proportions that will continue to resonate with the climbing community for years to come, and even now, months after the accident, we're still learning new details about that tragic day.

In the latest issue of Outside magazine, resident Everest expert Grayson Schaffer shares his insights into the lost season on Everest. His article, entitled "Black Year: Everest's Deadliest Season" is now available online, and it is a long, and exhaustive look at everything that happened on April 18, giving us the most detailed account of the rescue efforts, which eventually turned into a mission to recover the bodies of the fallen. The article takes us step-by-step through that day, starting early in the morning before the avalanche hit, and continuing on until search and rescue operations ceased.

Of course, no story about this Everest season would be complete without looking at the fallout that followed the tragedy, and this one does that as well. It explores the politics and tensions that led to the cancellation of climbing operations, particularly those that were brought to bear on Joby Ogwyn, the BASE jumper who was planning to fly a wingsuit off the summit of the mountain.

The article also looks at the meeting that took place in Base Camp on April 20, which would ultimately lead to the demands of the Sherpas on the Nepali government, and eventually contribute to the shutdown of the mountain. What followed has been the subject of numerous stories, with a small, but very vocal, group of Sherpas applying pressure on their compatriots, the climbers, and guides, to call of the climb, and go home.

This is a long article, and will require some time to get through the entire thing, but it is probably the best, most complete, look at the situation that we've seen to date. It incorporates first hand accounts from Sherpas, climbing team leaders, guides, and others who were on the mountain. The further we get away from the tragedy, the more likely we are to get a clearer picture of the accident, and the days that followed. I'm sure the entire story still isn't known, but we are getting closer.


Badwater Ultra-Marathon Begins New Era with 2014 Race

The annual Badwater Ultra-Marathon, one of the toughest foot races on the planet, is scheduled to get underway next Monday, July 21. It will be the 37th running of this event, which draws runners from all over the planet each year to test themselves along a 135 mile (217 km) route through the hottest place on the planet – Death Valley. But this year, the race will have a slightly different look than in the past, as new regulations by the National Park Service have banned athletic competitions from taking place inside the parks while it conducts a review of safety for such events.

As you can probably imagine, this change in policy has not sat well with Badwater competitors, many of whom have been taking part in the event for years. The name of the race is derived from the Badwater Basin, which sits inside Death Valley National Park, but won't even be a part of the route this year. That starting point was part of the tradition that has made this ultra-run such a special event, and these changes, brought on by a new park superintendent, have left some runners frustrated.

This year, organizers of the event have been forced to alter the traditional course to meet the new requirements from the park service, and as a result, the runners will now set off from Lone Pine, California, although they will still have the finish line on the slopes of Mt. Whitney. Along the way, they'll cross over Horseshoe Meadow, at an altitude of 10,000 feet (3048 meters), before traveling through Owens Valley on a dirt road at 5500 feet (1676 meters), before proceeding on to Darwin, as they approach the Mt. Whitney Portal at 8360 feet. Over the course of the 135 mile run, competitors will face 17,000 feet (5800 metes) of vertical gain, and 12,700 feet (4450 meters) of cumulative descent.

For their part, the National Park Service says that they are continuing to receive more applications and requests to hold endurance events inside the parks, including Death Valley. In order to ensure that those events are safe, the agency has elected to study the viability of holding athletic competitions on government managed public lands. Their concerns aren't just about the safety of competitors, as they also want to examine the impact of such events on traffic flow, and access to other the park by other visitors during the events. The environmental impact of these events are also being evaluated as well.

The door is not closed on the Badwater returning to its original course in the future. It is possible that the NPS will decide that the event is safe, and has minimal impact on the park. But for this year, the race will have a different course, and a different look. One that keeps it out of Death Valley National Park altogether.