Friday, December 14, 2018

Gear Junkie Reveals 2018 Gear of the Year

2018 is starting to wind down and we now only have a little more than a month before we make the transition to the New Year. That means we're likely to continue to see plenty of "year in review" retrospectives around the Internet in the days ahead as we look to reflect on the year that has passed before turning our attention to 2019. Our friends at Gear Junkie have done just that by presenting their 2018 Gear of the Year awards, shining a spotlight on the outdoor products that have impressed them most over the past 12 months.

All told, 13 pieces of gear made the cut, with some very impressive items standing out from the crowd. In fact, pretty much no matter what your favorite outdoor sport is, you're likely to find something on this list that applies to you. Mountain bikers, trail runners, skiers, hikers, backpackers, and just about everyone else will find some object to lust over. And since each and every product comes with the Gear Junkie stamp of approval, you can bet its a high quality piece of gear that you'll want in your closet.

Of course, I won't spoil the list by giving too much away, but I will share a couple of items earned a spot on the "Gear of the Year" list. For instance, Merrell's Thermo Rogue Boots got the thumbs up for their use on winter hikes, while the inReach Mini GPS tracker was lauded for its size, weight, and functionality. Costa's innovative sunglasses made from recycled fishnets got a mention too, as did Gore-Tex's new stretch fabrics which bring new functionality to an already iconic product.

All-in-all, this is a pretty great list of some of the best outdoor products to hit the market this year. To check out everything that made the cut, visit the GJ 2018 Gear of the Year awards here.

Antarctica 2018: Rudd Reaches the Pole, Others Struggle with Weather

Today the South Pole welcomed its second arrival of the expedition season, while poor conditions continued across much of the continent, making this one of the worst travel year's in the Antarctic in recent memory. Most of the skiers are struggling to make meaningful progress in whiteouts, soft snow, and heavy winds. Apparently, it is challenging enough that some are even calling it quits.

We had expected Lou Rudd to arrive at the Pole yesterday but instead he turned up early today. He shares the experience of his arrival on his Facebook page, with details of what it was like to approach 90ºS after 41 days out on the ice. After being alone and not seeing any manmade objects for more than a month, arriving at the Scott-Amundsen base is a bit startling. The Brit was greeted by staff from ALE and the station itself, before setting up camp nearby for some much needed rest.

Of particularly interest in Rudd's update on his progress is the news that other solo skiers have been calling it quits. Lou says one of the ALE staff told him that when he was at the Pole, although he doesn't say which skiers have abandoned their expeditions. A little research however indicates that Canadian Laval St. Germain is one of the adventurers who has returned to Union Glacier, which is where he'll stay until he begins his climb of Mt. Vinson next week.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Video: Alex Honnold Talks About the Risks and Challenges of Free Soloing

If you can't get enough of Alex Honnold talking about free soloing El Capitan, than this video is for you. In it, the climber shares his thoughts on his magnificent climb from 2017 up the most iconic rock face in the world, without the use of ropes, a harness, or any other safety equipment. As usual, the conversation turns towards the risks and dangers involved with this harrowing, high-stakes sport.

Video: Essential Skills - How to Fit Your Backpack

Yesterday I shared a video from our friends at REI that showed us the best techniques for packing a backpack, with some nice nuggets of information even for those of us who do this regularly. Today, REI is back with another video, this time showing us perhaps an even more important skill –– how to fit your pack. Many people don't understand exactly how to get their pack situated on their back and dial it in for the best fit and comfort. The clip below will show you how to do just that.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Flies to the Edge of Space

I've been writing about Virgin Galactic on a semi-regular basis for more than ten years, posting my first story on this blog back in July of 2008. Since then, the company has seen its share of highs and lows, with spectacular displays of technology intermixed with tragedy and disaster. But today, all of the years of hard work, preparation, and patience have paid off with the first successful flight of an American spacecraft beyond the atmosphere since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

This morning, the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo conducted another test flight above the California desert, with the aircraft dropping from below its delivery vehicle dubbed the White Knight. One separated, the ship's rocket engines kicked in and propelled it to the very edge of space before it successfully navigated back to Earth for a safe landing. It was the first flight of the SpaceShipTwo since a deadly crash sent engineers back to the drawing board four years ago.

This successful flight promises to open a new era of commercial space travel, with a number of high profile celebrities and businessmen already lining up for a chance to fly aboard Virgin's new venture. A 90-minute suborbital flight reportedly costs $250,000, with passengers aboard the SpaceShipTwo going as high as 50 miles above the Earth, which is enough to see the curvature of the planet and experience weightlessness.

Virgin's founder is none other than billionaire Richard Branson, who has a history of taking on all kinds of adventures. He is scheduled to be aboard the ship's commercial flight, which he promises will come within months, not years. If so, he'll beat billionaire rivals Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Blue Origin fame, as well as Space X's Elon Musk to the punch. Admittedly, both of those programs are planning more ambitious commercial space projects, but they also appear to be years away from getting off the ground.

Today's flight of the SpaceShipTwo is nothing short of a trump for Virgin. They can now put the tragedy of the crash from four years ago behind them and begin looking to the future. If all goes as planned, 2019 could be the year that commercial space flights finally become a reality. I for one am ready to go.

British Adventurer to Hike the Length of the Gambia River

It seems British adventurer Chaz Powell enjoys making long distance hikes along the paths of long rivers. In 2017, he completed a trek that took him 1600 miles (2575 km) down the Zambezi River, ending at the Indian Ocean. Now, he's gearing up for another length expedition, this time following the Gambia River instead.

ExWeb reports that Powell will start his hike on the Fouta Djallon Plateau in Guinea and travel through Senegal to Banjul, on Gambia’s west coast. All told, he'll cover approximately 745 miles (1200 km) in his march to the sea, taking about two months to complete. Unlike his hike along the Zambezi, which was in the heat of the African summer for much of the trek, this time the Brit will walk in the cooler months of the year. 

Powell tells ExWeb, “On the Zambezi, I learned that I have determination and strong self-belief." He goes on to add, "I was told by many people that it wasn’t possible, or it was too dangerous. I learnt that I can spend a lot of time in solitude and that I’m good at planning. Most of all, I learned that I wanted to keep doing these walks and that I can probably never stop doing them.”

That experience will serve him well on this journey and any future river expeditions that he takes, most likely in Africa. Powell says that his son lives in Livingstone in Zambia and that he is very passionate about this part of the world. A big part of the reason that he undertakes these expeditions is to raise awareness for the protection of the wildlife in Africa as well. 

Chaz tells ExWeb that has far as he can tell, no one has walked the length of the Gambia before, although this isn't just about making a historic first. He is simply looking for another wild adventure to embark upon and this fit the bill. He was also looking for something relatively short and fast too, although most people wouldn't consider two months in the bush a short hike. 

Find out more about Powell and this expedition on his website

Antarctica 2018: O'Brady at the Pole, Rudd Closes In,

40 days into the Antarctic ski season and we have our first arrival at the South Pole, with a second not far behind. The two men who are attempting solo, unsupported traverses of the Antarctic have now reached a major milestone, but there is still a lot of work to be done before they are finished.

Today, Colin O'Brady reached the South Pole at long last, becoming just the third person to ski from the start at the Ronne Ice Shelf and complete the route to 90ºS. He reports that his arrival there was humbling and satisfying, even though he had to press on shortly there after. O'Brady stopped long enough to take a few photos and soak up the scene, before moving on. After 40 days out on the ice, coming across a manmade structure in the middle of the white desert that is Antarctica can be a bit startling, but the American adventurer took it all in stride and was soon back on the trail and heading towards his finish line on the Ross Ice Shelf.

With this first stage complete, O'Brady has to feel pretty great about his chances of completing the expedition. There is still more than 300 miles (482 km) to go before he reaches the end however, although things do start to get somewhat easier from here. By now, the weight of the sled has come down tremendously and he'll be traveling downhill as he returns to the coast. And while his updates indicate that he is tired both physically and mentally, he seems prepared to take on whatever comes his way as he turns for home.

Meanwhile, Brit Lou Rudd isn't too far behind and should arrive at the South Pole today as well. He reports that he has continued to experience whiteout conditions in the final days approaching the Pole, but he continues to push through those long, challenging hours while out skiing. Rudd was part of a team that traversed the continent two years ago, and he is drawing on those experiences as he moves forward, comparing his current progress, alone and unsupported, to what he did as part of a team and has found his current status to be quite good. He is skiing longer hours, covering further distances, and staying as upbeat as possible considering the circumstances.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Video: Welcome to the Snow Globe - Ice Climbing with Sasha DiGiulian

What happens when one of the best rock climbers in the world goes ice climbing in December? Find out in this video, which takes us to Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, one of the coldest and windiest peaks in the U.S., with Sasha DiGiulian as she hones her skills on the frozen mountain. It is a cold, windy, and snow adventure, which only adds to the challenge and fun.

Video: How to Pack Your Backpack

One of the essential skills that any backpacker needs to learn early on his how exactly to pack your backpack. Of course, you can just stuff all of your things into your pack and not worry about how they are organized and layered, but that method will probably only lead to frustration at some point. So why not take a few tips from our friends at REI and learn how to properly get everything you're taking with you into your bag. If you're an experienced trekker you probably already know much of what will be said in this video, but there are still a few handy tips to be had.

The Adventure Podcast Episode 43: The Outdoor Gear Holiday Shopping Guide

We're back with another episode of The Adventure Podcast this week, with our attention turning to the holidays ahead. We know that a lot of you are probably searching for the perfect gift to get the outdoor adventurer in your life, so my co-host Dave Adlard and I are here to help. We offer some suggestions on what to buy the man or woman who already has everything, sharing some of our favorite gear items across a variety of price points.

But before we jump into that topic, we first talk about the latest adventure news with an update on a number of stories we've been following in recent weeks. First we catch up with Eric Larsen and his attempt to set a speed record going to the South Pole, as well as the latest from Ben Lecomte's swim across the Pacific. We also update you on plans for a winter commercial expedition to Everest, a solo-hiker's plans to trek across Death Valley, and what Patagonia is doing with its $10 million tax cut.

As usual, you'll find this episode embedded in this blog post below, allowing you to listen straight from your browser. You can also download and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Sticher, or Spotify. If you like what you hear, or have suggestions on how we can make the show better, reach out to us on our Facebook page, Twitter, or email. We appreciate any feedback or questions that you send our way.

Thanks for listening!

Arctic Ocean has Lost 95% of Oldest Ice in Past 30 Years

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released its annual Arctic Report Card and it doesn't bode well for our planet. The latest studies indicate that the Arctic Ocean has undergone a startling change over the past 30 years that even climatologists were stunned to discover.

According to the NOAA Report Card, the Arctic has lost 95% of its oldest and most stable ice in the past three decades, likely pushing it beyond the point of no return in terms of protecting it from climate change. The ancient ice that has been a part of the Arctic Ocean for hundreds of thousands of years is the structure that holds that region of the planet together, helping to keep it cold even in the summer months, then rebuilding the younger, thinner ice over the course of the winter. Unfortunately, without that core it is likely that most of the permanent Arctic ice will disappear in the future.

The loss of this older ice has come as a surprise even to the scientists and researchers who have been studying the impact of climate change on the Arctic. The fear is that without that solid base the Arctic could become ice free throughout the summer months, which would speed global warming along at a faster rate.

Researchers who make annual visits to the Arctic to survey the health of the ice there received a dramatic wake-up call this past March. While flying above the Arctic Ocean north of Greenland they spotted younger, thinner ice where normally the older, thicker frozen core would and should have been found. Those scientists acknowledge that the break up of the the region could have been caused by an unusually strong wind that crashed through the area this past winter, but even if that is the case it is a sign of how fragile the ice has become there.

Remains of Climbers Missing in the Himalaya for 30 Years Found on Pumori

The remains of two Icelandic climbers who have been missing in the Himalaya for 30 years have been found on the mountain they were attempting to summit in October of 1988. The discovery brings closure to friends and family, who have wondered about the fate of the two men for more than three decades.

Kristinn Rúnarsson and Þorsteinn Guðjónsson were attempting to summit 7161 meter (23,494 ft) Pumori from the Nepali side of the mountain when the went missing. The duo were last confirmed to have been seen on October 18, 1988 at an altitude of 6598 meters (21,650 ft), although another climber claims to have seen them reach the summit successfully. 

The duo were not along on their expedition, as two other members of team were with them in Nepal. Both took ill, with one heading home while Scottish mountaineer Steve Aisthorpe descended to a nearby village to recover. He urged his Rúnarsson and Guðjónsson to continue their climb, telling them he would catch up with them later. He never show them alive again, but spent weeks searching the mountain and the surrounding area for them.  

The remains of the two mountaineers were discovered last month by an American climber on Pumori. Others brought their bodies down from Pumori and returned the remains to Kathmandu, where they cremated in a ceremony that was attended by friends and family who have long wondered what became of them. One of those family members was the 30-year old sun of Rúnarsson, whose fiancé was pregnant when he went missing. The young man never had the chance to meet his father, but was able to bring his ashes home to Iceland. 

I've read a couple of different reports on this story now and what strikes me is that the family members of the missing men are not grieving anew over their discovery. Instead, they are relived and actually happy to now know what happened to them and have some closure at long last. While I'm sure it has been difficult for them to reopen some of these old memories, their sons, brothers, and friends have come home at long last. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Video: Africa's Okavango Delta in 360 Degrees

360º video can be an amazing tool for delivering a unique experience. Case in point, the clip below takes us to Africa to visit the Okavango Delta in Botswana. This is a place that most of us will never be fortunate enough to see in person, but we can catch a glimpse of it here, with technology allowing us to look around in all directions to get a better look at our surroundings. The clip was shot by a team of National Geographic researchers who spent 18 days exploring the Delta. Thanks to this video, we get a sense of what that was like for them.

Video: Wingsuit Pilots Go Subterranean in 'The Crack'

It seems that BASE jumpers and wingsuit pilots are always finding new ways to push themselves and their sport to its limits. In the case of this video, that means a team of fliers leaps from the top of a tall cliff in the Swiss Alps, then makes a controlled descent down a narrow, twisty canyon referred to as "The Crack." It is some scary stuff to watch unfold, but I'd much rather see it from the comfort of my own office than the way these guys are doing.

ENO's 12 Days of Christmas Sale Continues with Half-Off Outdoor Gear

I want to once again thank my friends over at Eagles Nest Outfitters for sponsoring The Adventure Blog this month as we countdown their 12 Days of Christmas sale. If you didn't see my post last week, ENO is running some amazing sales over the next few days, giving outdoor enthusiasts, campers, and backpackers a chance to save up to 50% off on some of their best gear. But, you'll have to hurry, because the sale wraps up this week.

Here's the catch. You have to go to ENO's website everyday to see exactly what's on sale. And when find something you like, you'd better grab it quick, because it probably won't be on sale tomorrow too.  For instance, today, the company has its awesome Indio Daypack available at just $24.95, while its excellent Twilights Camp Lights are priced at $9.98. Those are deals that are tough to beat, whether you're shopping for someone else on your list or you're looking to get yourself a little something too.

For those not familiar with ENO, they make some of the absolute best camping hammocks and accessories that money can buy. They are lightweight, durable, and easy to set up, with complete packages for one stop shopping. But beyond that, the company makes a host of other great products as well, including the aforementioned Indio Daypack and a number of other great backpacks and totes. I'm also partial to their chairs and blankets too, which are fantastic for camping or just lounging around in the backyard.

So if you're still looking to close out that holiday shopping list, head over to the ENO website now and wrap things up. But if you don't see something you want on sale today, drop back over tomorrow, because chances are it might be on sale then instead.

Again, a big thank you to the team at ENO for sponsoring the site in December.

American Ultrarunner Sets New 24-Hour and 100-Mile Mark

This past weekend endurance athlete Camille Herron set impressive new marks for ultrarunners, establishing new records for a 24-hour run and covering 100 miles (161 km) on a track. The event took place in Arizona at the Desert Solstice Invitational, where Herron proved she is amongst the elite athletes in the sport.

At the event, Herron ran for 24 hours straight on the track, covering 162.9 miles (262.1 km) in that time period. That's a new world record, but it wasn't the only one she set. She also managed to complete the 100 mile distance in 13 hours, 25 minutes, besting the previous mark by 20 minutes. Over the course of the 24 hour period, she completed 650 laps around the 400-meter course, while maintaining an average speed of an 8:40 mile. That's faster than most people run their first –– or any other –– mile in a typical 5k or 10k.

In comparison, the previous 24-hour distance record was held by Patrycja Bereznowska of Poland, who covered 160.53 miles (258.3 km). The current male record is held by Jacob Jackson and sits at 157.58 (253.6 km).

Obviously running on a track has its benefits and is more of a controlled environment, but this is an impressive feat nonetheless. It is also no unlike cycling's hour record, which is always held on a track too. The point is to set up good conditions to see what an athlete can accomplish without worrying about the surface they're running on or having deal with outside variables such as traffic. In the case, Herron proved herself to be up to the challenge and absolutely smashed the records in the process.

Huge congratulations to Camille. I'll be thinking about those distances and times when I set out on my humble little six mile run tonight.

Antarctica 2018: Slow Going for Larsen, O'Brady Nears Pole, Rudd Gives Up Solo Status?

It has been a busy week at the bottom of the world where the South Pole skiers continue their long, difficult trek across the Antarctic. The weather conditions have started to cooperate a bit more, but the soft surface snow continues to make skiing a challenge, while sastrugi are a constant nuisance as well. Still, progress is being made and we should see our first arrivals at 90ºS before the end of the week.

Perhaps the biggest news is that it appears that British skier Lou Rudd has given up his solo status. By most rules agreed upon by polar explorers a skier must not have any contact with any other individuals until reaching their destination. For many, that is the South Pole, where they are often greeted by the staff and crew who man the Scott-Amundsen Research Station. For those continuing on, that also means reaching the Pole while avoiding and contact with the people that work there. In the past, skiers have even camped away from the station to avoid any potential interact as well.

Yesterday, while skiing along towards the Pole Rudd made contact with a group of individuals who are driving a tracked supply vehicle back to Union Glacier. The vehicle stopped, interacted with Rudd and by his own admission they spent 10-15 minutes chatting and taking photos. That was a welcome respite from the isolation that comes with crossing the Antarctic, but unfortunately it probably also means he has to given up his solo status. Since the people he encountered didn't give him any supplies or aid, he should maintain his unsupported status however.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Video: How to (Mis)Pronounce Outdoor Gear Brand Names

Let's face it, in order to get more creative and distinct in the outdoor market, a lot of brands come up with some unique names. Some of them can be down right tough to pronounce if you haven't heard someone officially say them. Chances are, we're probably pronouncing a few of them wrong. Thankfully, our friends at Gear Junkie are here to help, proceeding this video that will help us sort through this challenge.

Video: Surfing Lake Superior in the Winter

It may come as a surprise to some people, but you can actually catch a wave on Lake Superior and surf along its shores. Of course, if you want a real challenge, you may want to try it during the winter, when things get really interesting. That's exactly what "Surfer Dan," the subject of this video does. Brazing the ice cold water, high winds, and extremely frigid air temperatures, he still hits the water to surf just as he would in Maui. Well, maybe not exactly like Maui. Brrr!

Gear Closet: Altra Lone Peak 4.0 Running Shoes Review

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Altra running shoes. The company's foot-shaped design and zero-drop approach have been a perfect for for my running style and and feet. Over the past few years I've tested multiple shoes from Altra and have always come away very impressed and happy with the footwear. So much so that it is actually very difficult for me to switch to another brand when testing shoes these days, which was why I was eager to give the company's new Lone Peak 4.0 model a try.

All of that said, I do recognize that shoe reviews can be very subjective in nature, particularly when it comes to running shoes. What works great for me, may not work as well for you. And what feels great on your feet may be uncomfortable and irritating on mine. So, keep that in mind when reading any footwear reviews, bot on this blog and elsewhere.

With all of that out of the way, I have to say that the prospect of a new edition to the Lone Peak line-up was an exciting one. This shoe isn't just a popular with runners but is a big hit with thru-hikers too. In fact, the Lone Peak is reportedly amongst the most popular shoes on the Appalachian Trail, which means it is a nice blend of weight, durability, cushioning, and comfort. It also offers a high level of versatility, which is always appreciated too.

I'm happy to say that the Lone Peak 4.0 lives up to the legacy of the former models, with some very nice updates that improve on them as well. For starters, this version of the Lone Peak seems more durable than ever before, with an upper that shrugs off abuse with ease. After putting more than 150 miles on these shoes, they still look –– and perform –– like new. The shoe also comes equipped with a rugged toe cap that keeps your little piggies safe from accidental bashes against rocks, roots, and other obstacles. This is something I was definitely happy to see, as I have a propensity for doing just that from time to time.

Backpacker Offers 40 Great Holiday Gifts for 2018

As of today, we are officially two weeks from Christmas, which means if you haven't started shopping yet you may be starting to run out of time. Thankfully, Backpacker magazine is here to help, offering 40 great gifts for the outdoor adventurer on your list this holiday season.

The list offers suggestions for just about any budget, starting with Kate's Real Food energy bars and continuing with a host of other products that hikers, backpackers, and outdoor lovers are sure to appreciate. You'll find everything from water bottles and t-shirts to camping and fitness gear. There are products on the list from the likes of Five Ten, Kelty, Outdoor Research, and numerous others, with options for pretty much every season and activity.

There are so many products to sift through on Backpacker's list that it is difficult to find a few favorites to single out. This also makes it easy to not spoil too much of the content along the way as well. Some of my favorite items include Altra Lone Peak 4.0 running shoes, a Klymit Double V sleeping pad, and a solar-powered USB battery pack from Tough Tested. You'll also find a great soft-sided cooler from Hyrdo Flask, a heated jacket from 8K Flexwarm, and much, much more.

If you're still looking for that perfect gift for your outdoorsy friend or family member, perhaps this list can help. Check it out here.

China Has Strict New Rules for Climbing Everest

With the winter fall climbing season in the Himalaya now behind us and the spring climbing season still a bit far off, you would think there wouldn't be much news to report from Everest or the other big peaks in Nepal and Tibet. But as it turns out, China has decided to make things interesting heading into 2019 by drafting some potentially strict new rules that could change the way teams approach the worlds highest peak. 

The new rules haven't been made official yet, but are set to go into effect on January 1, 2019 provided they are approved and finalized. Alan Arnette has received a copy of these regulations and has had a chance to pour over them to see what is in store for mountaineers. In a lengthy blog post on his website he breaks down the impact of the new regulations and what they mean for climbers considering expeditions to Everest, Cho Oyu, and Shishapangma in Tibet. 

According to Arnette, the documents that has received indicate that the new rules are focused on four specific areas of mountaineering on Tibet's 8000-meter peaks. Those areas include "Formation of Expedition, Registration Deadline, Environmental Protection, and Mountain Rescue." The regulations found in the documents focus on those areas and are long and detailed, but Alan does a great job of sifting through all of the chuff to find the ones that are most important and impactful. Some of them are truly worrisome.

I'd recommend reading Alan's report to get all of the details, but one of the biggest impacts of the new set of rules is that it appears that China is moving to lock out Nepali operators on Everest. One of the clauses in the updated rules clearly states:
“In order to ensure the healthy and orderly development of mountaineering and minimize the occurrence of mountaineering accidents, mountaineering teams which were organized in Nepal temporarily will not be accepted.”
According to Stefan Nestler, who has also reported on these new regulations, a group of Nepali expedition operators immediately traveled to Tibet to seek clarification on the rules and may have succeeded in getting some Nepali companies approved to continue operating in Tibet, but as Alan points out, China has not been opposed to closing down the border into Tibet before and could do so again, making it harder for those operators to cross over to the North Side of Everest.