Sunday, April 30, 2017

Ueli Steck Dies on Nuptse

Incredibly sad news to report from Nepal today. The Himalayan Times has posted a story this morning that indicates that Swiss climber Ueli Steck was killed while climbing on Nuptse. He was apparently making a solo ascent of that mountain as part of his acclimatization process prior to an attempt on an Everest-Lhotse traverse later in the season. It is believed that he slipped and fell more than 1000 meters (3280 ft).

Dubbed the "Swiss Machine," Steck was known for his fast and light approach to mountaineering. He often climbed solo and was incredibly athletic, even at higher altitudes. His daring style made him a favorite amongst mountaineers and non-climber alike, who were often amazed at his exploits in the Alps and the Himalaya. The Everest-Lhotse traverse was to be just his latest big expedition.

According to The Times, Steck's body was shredded into several pieces due to the impact of the fall. Those remains were reportedly taken to Camp 2 on Everest where they were airlifted back to Kathmandu. His wife, who is at home in Switzerland was alerted to his death not long after the accident occurred.

As you can imagine, the mountaineering community is grieving today. Ueli was one of the brightest and most talented climbers of his generation, pushing the boundaries of what could be accomplished in the mountains. His death will cast a long shadow over this season on Everest, no matter what happens from here forward, and the Swiss Machine will be missed on that mountain and his personal playground – the Alps – back home.

I only met Ueli one time, but he came across as a genuinely humble human being. I have always enjoyed following his exploits in the mountain and wondering what he would do next. This is an incredibly sad ending to an incredibly rich life. My condolences go out to his friends and family.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Traveling to California - The Lost Coast Trail with Tepui Tents

As we round out the week, just a quick note on blog updates for next week. I'll be starting the month of May with a quick trip to California where I'll be testing out a Tepui Tents rooftop tent while spending a couple of days hiking on the Lost Coast Trail. This gives me the opportunity to not only see a place that I've heard so much about, but also test out some gear as well. I've been wanting to checkout Tepui's shelters for some time now, and this will be a great chance to do just that.

I depart early on Monday and will be back early on Thursday, so there is a good chance there won't be any updates until next Friday. But should a big story break, there is a chance I'll be able to post something to the blog before then. In the meantime, have a great weekend, enjoy the spring weather, and I'll be back before you know it.

After this trip, I don't have anything planned for a few weeks, which means I should be around for summit season in the Himalaya. Always an exciting time of year for sure.

Video: Life at Camp 2 on Everest

In my update on Everest from earlier in the day, I mentioned that a lot of teams were heading to and from Camp 2 as part of their acclimatization efforts. So what exactly is it like at C2 on the mountain? This video gives us a glimpse of what the place looks like and what staying there for a few days is actually like. While there, climbers tend to rest a lot, but also walk around, sometimes even going higher up the mountain, as their bodies adjust to the thin air. It is all part of the process that gets them ready for an eventual summit bid, which is still a couple of weeks off at this point.

Which Countries are the Most Adventurous? One Company Thinks it Knows

Ever wondered which countries in the world have the most adventurous citizens? A new study by a company called ShareaCamper claims to have figured out the answer to that question by studying the online search patterns for more than 40 countries and ranking the results. The winner, at least on this criteria? The Netherlands.

According to a press release put out yesterday, ShareaCamper – which as the name implies is an RV rental service – chose eight different adventurous actives, such as skydiving, skiing, and caravanning (aka overlanding) to be the basis of its research. Other terms included BMX, bungy jumping, hiking, rock climbing, and surfing.  The company then sifted through the Google searches for 40 different countries over the past 12 months to determine he number of searches made on the adventurous terms that were selected. The numbers were then averaged out for the time period to discover how many monthly searches were made proportionate to 100,000 citizens. This allowed countries with smaller populations to compete with larger ones, so it wasn't just about the sheer number of overall searches.

After the results were tabulated, The Netherlands came out on top, followed by Australia, and Sweden. Germany and France rounded out the top five, with Denmark, Norway, the U.K., the U.S., and Austria all making the top ten. Surprisingly, countries that are well known for their adventurous activities like New Zealand and South Africa came in further down the list, ranking 16 and 39 respectively. Thailand came in dead last at number 40.

Whether or not using Google search terms is a good way to determine just how adventurous a country is would certainly be up for debate. Perhaps the citizens of some places simply don't need to search for the activities that the would like to go out and do, as the options are easily accessible and don't require much time on a computer. Still, it is interesting to see where the rankings fell based on those criteria. Where did your country land?

Everest Climbing Gear - Then and Now

National Geographic has another interesting article and photo gallery up today, this time taking a look at the past and present gear used on Everest. The slideshow contains a number of fantastic images, and each one focuses on a particular topic, such as "communications" and "insulation layers," with information what was used when Hillary and Norgay completed the first ascent, versus the gear that the rank and file mountaineers are using now.

Today's climbers are outfitted with highly technical apparel, a host of gadgets, and gear that offers an amazing weight-to-performance ratio. Everything from the boots they wear to the tents they stay in have improved dramatically over the past 60+ years. With all of the advanced fabrics and space-age materials at our disposal, it is easier to climb lighter, faster, and more comfortably than ever before, which is part of the reason so many more people are making the attempt.

So just how different was it back in 1953? In the Nat Geo article we learn that Hillary and Norgay couldn't use wireless communications higher up on the mountain, so they communicated by laying out their sleeping bags in a particular pattern that could be seen below. Today, walkie-talkies, sat phones, satellite messengers, and even cell phones can be used to communicate from any point on Everest, including the summit.

Similarly, the tents used on the first ascent where heavy and bulky. Those shelters were made from cotton, and were often crowded, uncomfortable, and very heavy. In contrast, today's tents are surprisingly strong, lightweight, and warm, even at higher altitudes. Every aspect and component of a tent has been upgraded, making them easier to carry and assemble, even when the weather turns bad.

The story is a fun one and well worth a read for Everest fans and gear junkies alike. Lots of good information here comparing climbing now to then. You're likely to come away with even more respect for those early Everest climbers.

Himalaya Fall 2017: Rest and Recovery, Base Camp Pups, and Acclimatization on Everest

It has been a busy week on Everest. Reportedly, the weather has been quite good there over the past few days, allowing a number of teams to send climbers up to Camp 2 to continue their acclimatization efforts as they prepare for the challenges ahead. At this point, most of the teams have now spent at least a little time at that point on the mountain, with some now planning to even higher over the next few days. It is a lot of work, and rest and and recovery in Base Camp are much appreciated at this stage of the game, when summit bids are still a long way off and the grind can begin to take its toll.

The IMG team will be one of the first to head up to Camp 3 for their rotation. Their first squad will begin the ascent to that point on the mountain today, even as another team descends back to BC after spending a couple of days at C2. Sherpas have been steadily shuttling gear up to that point as well, and as a result there is now a wall of bottled oxygen in place there, waiting to go higher. The IMG clients have all been undergoing oxygen mask and goggle training over the past few days in anticipation of the summit push in a few weeks time. All part of the process as they get read for what is to come.

The Adventure Consultants are back in Base Camp after a few days at altitude as well. The team is recovering nicely and enjoying the fine weather after going up to Camp 2 and staying there for a few nights. Unfortunately, on the descent, one of the members of the team – New Zealander Mike Davies – slipped and fell while crossing the Khumbu Icefall. This resulted in a broken wrist and as a result he's now on his way home. Thankfully, the injuries weren't serious, but it was enough to keep him from continuing the climb. The team has also adopted a dog that is living in Base Camp and named him "Blizzard." He has apparently been keeping the group company and playing off the sympathies of the ladies in the group to enjoy some food and water too.

The Mountain Professionals have checked in from C2 on Everest as well, where they report good weather all the way up the Western Cwm. In fact, according to their dispatch, it was downright hot on the ascent as the sun reflected off the ice. The group will now rest for a few days in their current position before moving up to "tag" C3 on Sunday. After that, it is back to BC for some rest. The latest dispatch from the team also indicates that Sherpas are working away on fixing ropes to the summit, and may accomplish that feat by as early as Monday of next week.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Video: A FlightLapse Through the Night Skies

If you're looking for a relaxing video to give you a nice sense of calm, you've come to the right place. Shot by a pilot as he flew from the night sky, this "flightlapse" gives us a stunning view of the Milky Way overhead while some prominent cities are passed by underneath. The music give is a serene feeling and the visuals only add to that experience. This is a truly breathtaking 2+ minute clip that shouldn't be missed.

FlightLapse #01 - MilkyWay from SkyProduction on Vimeo.

Video: Rare Drone Footage of a Blue Whale

Blue whales are amongst the rarest and most elusive animals on the planet, and while they had been brought to the brink of extinction, they seem to slowly be making their way back from the edge. This video gives us an amazing look at one of these creatures from a drone's eye view. The clip shows us how the blue whale eats as it goes about its life in the ocean. As the largest creature ever known to inhabit the Earth, it is quite a sight, and one that I was fortunate enough to see on my recent visit to the Southern Ocean. Check it out for yourself below.

Gear Closet: EcoFlow River Portable Generator Review

The options available to us for keeping our electronic devices charged while in remote regions continue to grow. A couple of weeks back I took a look at the Renogy Phoenix Solar Generator and found it to be a powerful and full featured – if a bit heavy – method for staying charged while on the go. Now, I've gotten my hands on another portable generator called the EcoFlow River that will be available soon, and it brings some more intriguing possibilities to the market.

Currently, the River is only available for preorder on Indiegogo, but the device is already fully-funded and should begin shipping in July of this year. In fact, the River has been such a success on the crowdfunding site that it's designers had hoped to raise $30,000 to get it into production, but have already raked in more than $400,000 with more than two weeks to go before the campaign ends. In other words, people already want this gadget and it is a major success before it even goes on sale.

I've been lucky enough to get to test out a pre-production model of the River, and have found it to be an incredibly well made product. Everything about the generator screams high quality, from the excellent case (complete with handle on top), to the LCD screen that provides info on the amount of power in the device, and how it is being used, to the plethora of ports to keep our gadgets charged. In terms of lightweight, portable generators with lots of power, this is the most well thought out and best designed version I've seen yet.

With its 116,000 mAh battery and 500-watt output, the River is capable of recharging a smartphone up to 30 times and a laptop as many as 9 times depending on the model. Additionally, it can power a projector or mini-refrigerator for 10 hours, and recharger a drone 4-8 times as well. This makes it a great tool to have at base camp, whether you're working in the field or spending an extended amount of time in the backcountry. And since it is waterproof resistant, offers built-in surge protection, and weights just 11 pounds, its an excellent companion for use on our adventures.

Reinhold Messner on the Future of Climbing Everest

Italian climbing legend Reinhold Messner has weighed in on the current state of affairs on Everest, and where mountaineering on the world's highest peak is headed, and as usual his thoughts are quite fascinating. Messner recently spoke with The Diplomat about these subjects and more, bringing his years of vast experience and knowledge to the table. In his typical style, the iconic climber doesn't mince too many words.

In the interview, Messner talks about the crowded conditions on Everest, and the guided climbs to the summit that are now very different than when he made his famous ascents on the mountain. In describing what it is like there, the Italian says that it is not alpinism but is instead tourism. A very different game than previous generations. He also says that with the path more well prepared and set out for the climbers to follow, the sense of adventure and exploration is gone. It is simply a guided trip to the top of the world.

The Italian also discusses the growing sense of resentment amongst Sherpas and how that has led to more locally owned trekking and climbing companies in Nepal. Those companies are able to offer less expensive trips into the mountain, and as a result they are slowly but surely eroding the business of foreign operators. That will have a dramatic impact on the future of climbing on Everest. Those same Sherpa are also now very experienced and talented mountaineers in their own right, and no longer need to follow the foreign climbers up the slopes.

Messner goes on to touch on the dangers of climbing the mountain, the fact that no one listens to the danger signs until it is too late, and the fact that so man inexperienced climbers are traveling to the Himalaya. He also talks about his relationship to Buddhism and his hopes for a free and autonomous Tibet, amongst other topics.

Most of what Messner talks about isn't especially new, and anyone who follows the climbing scene on Everest probably is aware of the things that are going on there. Still, it is always interesting to hear a man of his prominence and stature share his opinion on where mountaineering was, where its at now, and where it is heading. Check out the full text of the interview here.

Missing Trekker Survives 47 Days in the Himalaya

The Himalayan Times has published quite a story of survival. The newspaper is reporting that a trekker who had been missing in the mountains of Nepal has been found after 47 days, although his 19-year old companion has died. The duo were traveling in the Langang region of the country without a guide when they disappeared, leading to what must have been a harrowing month and a half in the wilderness.

21-year old Taiwanese traveler Liang Shang Yuen and his companion Liu Chen Chun had come to Nepal to trek in the mountains there. On February 21, they had gained the permits necessary to enter Langtang National Park, and were part of a home stay program for three days in early March, before setting off on the next phase of their trip. Unfortunately, heavy snow set in and the duo hadn't been seen since.

According to the story, it seems that the two young men took refuge in a cave, and may have gotten disoriented and lost. Over time, they ran out of food and were surviving just on drinking water, while they waited for rescue.

Search and rescue teams spotted Liang a few days back laying unconscious on the banks of a river. The body of Liu was nearby, with rescuers saying they believed that both travelers had fallen from a cliff. Liang is understandably in poor condition, but has been airlifted to Kathmandu for treatment. His family will be arriving there from Taiwan tomorrow.

At the moment, the young man can't recall much of what has happened over the past 47 days. His story is likely to be quite a tale of survive however, as it isn't easy to live in the mountains without food for so long. It must have been quite the ordeal to say the least. Thankfully, at least one of the trekkers was found alive and he'll be going home soon.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Video: The Colors of Africa

It's no secret that Africa is one of my favorite places to visit, and if you wonder why, you only need to  watch this video. It is a colorful, majestic place that is filled with life and energy. In this clip, you'll catch a glimpse of the people, landscapes, and wildlife that make Africa such a special place. Just watching it makes me long to go back. Enjoy.

Colors of AFRICA by Avichai Wechsler from אביחי וקסלר צילום on Vimeo.

Video: Traversing the High Sierra with Kalen Thorien

What do you do in the off season if you're a professional skier? In the case of Kalen Thorien, you set out on an 18-day, 270-mile solo traverse across the High Sierra Mountains. In this video, we join Kalen on this adventure as she goes in search of adventure and solitude. She finds all of that, and a lot more, as she makes the hike through some very remote and ruggedly beautiful landscapes.

Gear Closet: Eddie Bauer Cloud Cap Flex Rain Jacket Review

Over the past few years there has been a very noticeable trend in outdoor apparel. Most of the big name manufacturers have begun offering products that are less "technical" in appearance in favor of a more natural look that blends in nicely when not on a trail. This clothing offers the same high level of performance and comfort, but it doesn't look like traditional outdoor gear, extending its appeal beyond the traditional outdoor market. When I received the new Eddie Bauer Cap Flex Rain Jacket, my first thought was that it looked like something I would wear around town or while traveling, rather than on a tough hike on the trail. But, as it turns out, those looks were a bit deceiving. While this jacket does indeed give off the appearance of being designed for city slickers, it is actually a solid solution for use in the backcountry too.

Made from 100% nylon, and sporting an athletic cut, the Cap Flex fits snugly without being restrictive. The jacket comes with an adjustable hood, waterproof zippers, secure hand pockets, adjustable hem and cuffs, and pit zips for venting excess heat. Individually, each of those features isn't especially groundbreaking in any way, but together they add up to a nicely equipped jacket designed for use in the rain when temperatures aren't especially hot or cold.

While putting this jacket to the test, I've worn it as a rain jacket while running errands around town, hiking trails, and even running. In most cases, it worked exceptionally well, keeping moisture at bay with its sealed seams and DWR coating. In fact, despite getting caught in some serious downpours, the interior of the jacket stayed exceptionally dry and comfortable, which is a good testament to how well it performs.

Men's Journal Names the 25 Most Adventurous Women of the Past 25 Years

Here's another list for those of you who enjoy these articles. This time, it comes our way from the good folks over at Men's Journal, and it names the 25 most adventurous women of the past 25 years, giving us a look at a group of ladies who are tough, determined, and downright inspiring too.

Each profile of the ladies includes a few paragraphs about why they are deserving of a spot on the list, as well as a brief rundown of their noteworthy accomplishments. These women are explorers, pioneers, athletes, and activist, and in most cases they are all of those at once. I have written about the exploits of many of them right here on this very blog, with more than a few pulling off some of the most daring and impressive accomplishments we've seen in the outdoor world.

So who made the cut? As usual, I won't spoil the list too much, but I will reveal a couple of the women who earned a place on MJ's honor roll. That list includes the likes of polar explorer Sarah McNair-Landry, Nepali climber Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita, and Appalachian Trail hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis. They're joined on the round-up by filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow and mountaineer Melissa Arnot Reid, just to hame a few.

To find out who else is part of this hall of fame, and to learn more about the ladies mentioned above, check out the full article by clicking here. Chances are, you'll come away with a few new heroes to follow and a lot of respect for some of the most impressive women who are out their pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

Himalaya Spring 2017: Season Progressing On Schedule

So far, the spring climbing season in the Himalaya has been a textbook one, with schedules and plans unfolding exactly as expected. That's good news for all of the expedition teams, which are now spread out at various points along their respective mountains working on their acclimatization process. For the most part, things are going about as smoothly as one could expect with some squads already eyeing summit bids in the days ahead.

We'll start with an update on Ueli Steck and Tenji Sherpa, who are preparing to make an attempt at an Everest-Lhotse Traverse. Ueli has been in Nepal for several weeks now, and has been focused on training for the upcoming climb. According to reports, he and Tenji climbed as high as Camp 2 on Everest and spent two nights there before April 12, which is two weeks ago at this point. We're still awaiting a new dispatch to give us an indication of what they've been up to since then, but it is safe to say that the duo have now spent more nights at altitude and may have even touched Camp 4 at this point. It is believed that Ueli will want to begin the traverse ahead of the massive summit push that will come around mid-May so that he can avoid the traffic jams, although the weather will ultimately decide when that happens.

Also on Everest, the big commercial squads are spread out across the mountain. International Mountain Guides has three different teams moving on the mountain with the first descending from C2, while another moves up to that point, and the third treks up to Camp 1. Likewise, the Adventure Consultants team went up to C2 this past weekend and touched the Lhotse Face, while RMI's climbers are currently safe and sound in Camp 1.

On the North Side of Everest, Japanese climber Nobukazu Kuriki is getting settled in and will be making his sixth attempt on the mountain. Previously he has climbed solo in the fall, but due to shifting politics on permits he's back for a go in the spring. The #EverestNoFilter team of Corey Richards and Adrian Ballinger are also climbing from that side of the mountain and have now been as high as 7010 meters (23,000 ft).

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Video: The Life and Legacy of John Muir

John Muir was a tireless advocate for protecting and preserving outdoor spaces for others to enjoy. In fact, without his efforts, we might not have places like Yosemite and Yellowstone designated at national parks. Muir was a forward thinking naturalist in a time when that wasn't a popular thing to be, and yet he wrote about the need to ensure that our wild spaces didn't vanish completely from the Earth. In this video, we learn more about the man and his work, and we see first hand the places that he worked to protect. It is a powerful and inspiring tribute to that legacy.

John Muir - The Last Oasis from Michael Coleman on Vimeo.

Video: Scary Footage From Everest Base Camp During 2015 Earthquake

Today marks the second anniversary of the devastating earthquake that rocked Nepal, killing nearly 9000 people and leaving countless others injured. The disaster leveled homes and building, leaving thousands without a place to live, with food, water, and other supplies difficult to find. Even now, we're still hearing new stories about what it was like on that day, and in this video we get some new footage, including shots from Everest Base Camp, where more than 20 people were killed in an avalanche. Nepal, and the mountaineering community in general, are still struggling to recover from this event, which has left an indelible mark on everyone connected with that place.

Adventure Elevated in Coeur d'Alene

It has been such a busy couple of weeks that I've barely had time to get caught up from all of my recent travels. Having only just returned from the Southern Ocean in March, I was home for only a couple of weeks before heading out to Idaho to attend the Adventure Travel Trade Association's (ATTA) AdventureElevate event in Coeur d'Alene. I got back from there, only to hit the road once again this past week on a kayaking trip in Oregon. This week, I'm staying in one place at long last, and taking the opportunity to share some stories, starting with my experience with the ATTA.

For those that aren't familiar with the organization, the ATTA is a fantastic group of people, destinations, and organizations who are deeply immersed in the adventure travel industry. It is made up of more than 1000 members spread out across 100 countries, and is supremely focused on promoting adventure tourism in a safe, sustainable manner. I've been lucky enough to be peripherally involved with the ATTA for several years now, and even spoke at one of the organization's events in Mexico a few years back. But, this was the first time I had the chance to attend one of its AdventureElevate events, so I went in with a lot of excitement. I came out with even more.

Scheduled to run for two days starting on April 12, the adventurous activities actually began 24 hours earlier, with a "Day of Adventure." This gave attendees a chance to experience the region that hosted the event by allowing us to get outside and go hiking, biking, or paddling in different areas. In this case, Coeur d'Alene served as the perfect backdrop, offering up breathtaking scenery, wonderful amenities, and access to some outstanding outdoor opportunities.

Nat Geo Posts 2017 Spring/Summer Gear Guide

Now that April is all but behind us, it is pretty safe to say that spring is in full swing and summer isn't all that far off either. Of course, that means it is time to head back outside an enjoy all of the activities that the warmer months have to offer. Of course, the changing of the seasons is also the perfect excuse to add some new gear to your arsenal as well, and National Geographic is here to help.

The Nat Geo Adventure website had posted its Spring/Summer 2017 Gear Guide, offering up 20 new products that you'll want to have at your disposal this year. As usual, the list includes a wide variety of items ranging from clothing to shoes to tents and much more. If you're in the market for some gear, chances are you'll find a good suggestion here on what you should consider buying.

Amongst the items making the cut are the new Suunto Spartan GPS watch, the Sugoi Zap cycling jacket, and  the Voormi River Run hoody, which I've also reviewed on this blog. Other products that earned a spot on the Nat Geo list include the Nano-Air jacket from Patagonia, the Nemo Wagontop 4P tent, and the Gregory Paragon 48 backpack.

This is, of course, just a taste of the items that are recommended by Nat Geo's expert gear tester. There are plenty of other products on the list for you yet to discover. So go gear up and head outside. I'm sure you'll find plenty of good ways to put your new toys to the test.

North Pole 2017: Barneo Closes for the Season, More on Polar Bear Shooting

The 2017 North Pole expedition season has come to a close. The Barneo Ice Camp, which is temporarily built on an ice floe in the arctic each year, shut down once again over this past weekend, with all staff, visitors, gear, and supplies now evacuated from the ice. By all accounts, it was another successful season, with a number of teams using the base as a gateway to and from the Arctic. And while there were no full-distance skiers to the North Pole this year, there were plenty of "last degree" expeditions that covered the final distance to the top of the world.

For the most part, the Arctic season came and went without too much to report. It was generally business as usual this season, with only groups of travelers and some researchers coming and going from Barneo. But, if you read this blog with regularity, you may recall that last week I wrote a story about an incident that left a polar bear wounded (and potentially dangerous) in the Arctic. That story had now blown up into a full-fledged controversy with clients accusing the guide of wrongdoing, contradictory statements from those involved, and a lot of questions as to what actually happened.

When I posted the article last week, the news was that a bear had wandered to close to a last degree ski team and that in an attempt to scare it away, they actually shot the animal, leaving it injured. A wounded bear can be extremely dangerous, and there were conflicting reports as to whether or not the guide for the expedition – polar vet Dixie Dansercoer – actually reported the incident to the team at Barneo, who could then relay that info on to other teams on the ice. At the time, the base manger Irina Orlova claimed that Dansercoer had failed to disclose the info fully, creating a bit of a stir as a result.