Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Explorer Announces Great African Expedition

Explorer and adventurer Julian Monroe Fisher has announced his next expedition, and it is an ambitious one to say the least. Last year we followed Julian as he walked across Africa, and now he has plans to return to that continent, where he'll undertake a multi-year, multi-expedition adventure that will take him to the deepest heart of the African wilderness.

Julian has dubbed his new project the Great African Expedition, and the plan is for him to spend the next five years following in the footsteps of some of the greatest explorers in history, while studying how the Ethnographic make-up of the continent has changed since the 19th century. During the Victorian Age, much of Africa was mapped and explored for the first time. Since then, the ethnic landscape has undergone dramatic transformations, and it should be fascinating to find out what has changed, and what has remained the same.

The first phase of the journey is set to get underway next month, when Fisher will travel overland from Cairo, Egypt to Khartoum, Sudan, along the Nile River. On that expedition, he will be tracing the path taken by British explorer Samuel White Baker back in 1861. When Baker took that route, there were a number of unique and distinct tribes living throughout that region, and Julian will be exploring what has happened to those tribes and the state of the ethnic make-up along the Nile in the 21st century.

The second phase of the expedition will take place later this year, and will begin in Khartoum, and will continue to follow the Nile southward into the new nation of South Sudan. From there, he'll attempt to circumnavigate Lake Albert, before following the Lamia River into the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda. Along the way, he'll continue his study of the changing, and evolving, Ethnographic landscape of Africa.

Fisher outlines the rest of the expedition on his website, where you'll find information on each of the seven phases that he has planned. This will be a difficult and demanding project, as he intends to travel on foot, in dugout canoes, by camel, horse, and other non-motorized modes of transportation. But the Great African Expedition won't just be a grand adventure, it should also be an important study of the current status of the ethnic make-up of that continent.

Upper Peninsula Bound!

I'm off on a short adventure of my own over the next few days. I'm headed to Michigan's Upper Peninsula for a little fun in the snow. While there, I'm going to be snowshoeing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling, and attending the World Ice and Snow Sailing Association's Championship. The WISSA competition involves wind powered sleds flying across the ice at breakneck speeds, which of course, sounds like great fun.

For those unfamiliar with the Upper Peninsula, it is a fantastic wilderness destination that offers a lot to the outdoor enthusiast all year round. In the summer, it is great place to hike and camp, and since it falls on Lake Superior, paddlers will find plenty to do as well. The UP is one of those remote places that few people visit and many don't even know exists, but it is truly one of the great outdoor locations in the entire U.S.

Of course, I'll share more about the trip when I get back, and updates will likely be sporadic the rest of the week. Hope everyone is having their own adventures while I'm away.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ultrarunners Set To Run The Planet

Two ultrarunners, one a legend in the sport, the other a neophyte, are set to launch an ambitious new television show entitled Run the Planet, which will send them to a variety of locations across the globe, where they will take part in a series of long distance running challenges.

Starting February 25th, New Zealander Lisa Tamati and Australian Chris Ord, will start the first of those challenges by attempting to run 126km (78.2 miles) between Hermannsburg and Alice Springs, in Australia. Along the way, they'll cross that country's famous Red Centre, where temperatures will routinely approach 40ºC/104ºF.

Lisa and Chris' run will follow a famous route that was taken back in 1922, when an indigenous stockman named Hezekiel Malbunka covered the same distance in order to save the life of a missionary by the name of Carl Strehlow. At the time, Strehlow was in desperate need of medical attention, and someone needed to go to the telegraph station to request assistance. It was agreed that Malbunka could get there faster on foot than by horse, and he did so – in just a day and a half. Once he had completed his mission, the runner then turned around, and ran back to where he started, besting his old time by completing it in just a day. Fortunately, Tamati and Ord won't have to make the return trip.

Their new show, Run the Planet, will put Tamati at center stage. As an ultrarunner, she has already completed some impressive runs, including traverses of most of the major deserts of the world. It is estimated that Lisa's runs have covered enough distance to send her around the globe four times. Her partner, Ord, on the other hand, is new to the sport of ultrarunning, and over the episodes of the series, you'll see him learn from Tamati, while building his own skills and level of endurance. In any given episode, the duo will be attempting runs of anywhere from 80km (49.7 miles) to 350km (217.4 miles), across a wide variety of terrain and under a host of conditions.

Exactly when the new show will begin airing is still up in the air, but my friends in Australia and New Zealand should definitely keep their eyes peeled. No word on whether or not it'll cross the ocean to North America yet, but I'd certainly tune in.

Expreso De Los Andes 2012: They're Off

Last week I mentioned that Ray Zahab, Kevin Vallely, and the impossible2Possible crew were getting ready to launch their Expreso De Los Andes expedition, during which they'll be spending the next few weeks running west to east across South America. The run did get underway as expected, and the athletes began by dipping their hand in the Pacific Ocean and then starting to head east. They'll finish when they reach the Atlantic Ocean near Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The video below gives us glimpse of what their first day was like. They managed to cover 45km (28 miles), but after the find their rhythm, they hope to amp that up to closer to 70km (43.4 miles) per day. That isn't going to be easy however, as the terrain will be very demanding, including a traverse over the Andes Mountains, and it is also incredibly warm where they are at right now. Still, Ray and Kevin are two very experienced endurance athletes, and if anyone can complete this run, it will be these two. It should be fun to follow their progress.

Expreso de los Andes Day 1 - 45km from GOi2P on Vimeo.

Afghanistan's Secret Peaks 2012 Expedition Announced

A small team of climbers has announced an interesting expedition that is set to take place this summer in the Wakhan region of Afghanistan. Dubbed the Afghanistan's Secret Peaks Expedition, the team hopes to trek the length of the remote Wakhan Corridor, visiting two unexplored valleys and attempting several first ascents along the way. Once summited, they also plan to paraglide from the top, giving them unique views of the unexplored territory below. Finally, they hope to document the entire journey on film as well.

The expedition, which is expected to begin in June of this year, is taking a "leave no trace" approach to exploring the rugged and beautiful Wakhan region. The team plans to travel in a carbon neutral fashion and hopes to minimize their impact on the environments that they are passing through. The use of the paragliders is part of that approach, as they'll be used to take arial photographs and video footage along the way.

The Wakhan Corridor is located in the north-east corner of Afghanistan, and stretches between that country and China. It serves as boundary between Tajikistan to the north, and Pakistan to the south, and was once a popular trade route for merchant caravans traveling from the Far East to Europe. The area has a reputation for having unpredictable weather, matched with very rugged terrain, and there are parts of the area that have remained mostly inaccessible for centuries. With plenty of snowcapped mountain peaks, it is also a huge draw for climbers looking to bag virgin peaks.

For me personally, the Wakhan region remains on my list of "must visit" places. I've heard that it is breathtakingly beautiful and that the people that live there are friendly and accommodating. It has started to become a popular trekking destination, although visitors to the area still remain low. Obviously Afghanistan still has security issues in parts of the country, but adventure travelers with the means will have a fantastic time there. I really need to go!

Find out more about the Afghanistan's Secret Peaks Expedition, and follow the team's progress in a few months, on their official website.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Video: Climbing The Nit de Bruixes Route

Climber Iker Pou recently became the first to complete the Nit de Bruixes (Witch's Night) route on Margalef Mountain in Spain, and one look at the video below, and you'll see why. Early on, it becomes quite clear that Iker is a talented and skilled climber, but as the video progresses, he becomes something else. Something superhuman. At one point he is holding his entire body in place with a single finger, and it is an impressive sight to see. My hands hurt just watching this video, which is quite a display of grace, power, and agility.

Patagonian Expedition Race Update: Closing In On The Finish

One of the toughest adventure race on the planet, the Patagonian Expedition Race, continues in Chile today, where 12 of the 20 teams remain in the competition and are heading towards the finish line. As usual with this event, the weather has been unpredictable at times, the course has been unforgiving, and things haven't gone exactly as planned. Still, the athletes are battling the environment, the elements, and each other, to take home the top prize.

As of this writing, there is a familiar name atop the leader board. Team Adidas TERREX-Prunesco has passed through the final checkpoint and are now headed for home. They seem like a lock to once again claim the championship, although Team EastWind and the GearJunkie/YogaSlackers are still in pursuit. At this point however, it appears that those two teams are dueling it out for podium positions behind he defending champs. Team Kauri and Cyanosis are currently further back in fourth and fifth place, but not completely out of striking distance should someone ahead of them falter or make a navigational error.

I'm told that paddling conditions early on in the race were extremely challenging, with a few boats taking on quite a bit of water on the heavy seas of the Magellan Strait. One team was also forced to withdraw after they went off course on one of the early kayaking stages. Returning to dry ground didn't necessarily  help maters either, as high winds and occasional rain have made the course a challenge in general. Of course, this is all typical for this race, so no one competing there should be too surprised.

Barring some strange turn of events, look for Adidas to wrap up another title by tomorrow, with most the remaining teams staggering in by the next day. The race is scheduled to end on the 22nd, so teams will likely be short coursed to make it home by the end of that day.

Winter Climb Update: Holding Tight On Gasherbrum I

The last two teams in Pakistan this winter are on Gasherbrum I (8080m/26,509 ft), where they are currently huddled in Base Camp and preparing for a major storm to hit. By all accounts, the Polish Squad and Alex Txikon and Carlos Suarez, are prepared to go to the summit, but the weather will now dictate if and when that will happen.

In his most recent dispatch, Alex says that it was a relatively quiet weekend in BC, where the teams spent the past few days preparing for the weather ahead. The forecast says that winds could be in excess of 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph), and as a result, they've been tying down the tents, and making sure all of their gear is properly secured. Those high winds are expected to last at least a couple of days as well, which means that there will be no attempt on the summit until things have died down.

In an earlier dispatch, the Polish team said that they didn't expect the weather to improve dramatically until the end of the month, which isn't until the middle of next week. If thats the case, the climbers will need to continue to be patient, while they look for a possible window ahead. They are looking to become the first to summit GI in winter, and they'll have until March 20th to actually complete that task. Ultimately, it will be the conditions at altitude that will decide whether or not they can achieve that goal.

I suspect that there won't be much to report from Gasherbrum I this week unless the weather does indeed take a turn for the better. Lets keep our fingers crossed for these men. I'd love to see them get a legitimate chance at the summit, but most of all, lets hope they all come home safely.

Video: Snowboarding In An LED Suit

This video was making the rounds late last week, and I had a few people send it my way again over the weekend, so I thought I'd share it today. It shows a snowboarder riding down the mountain, at night, in a suit lit up with LED lights. That description really sounds strange in and of itself, but when you see it in motion, it truly is something to behold. The video is oddly tranquil to watch, and the slow-motion effect, coupled with the music, it has an odd, other-worldly effect.

Glowing Man HD from Jacob Sutton on Vimeo.

Book Review: The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide by Andrew Skurka

Andrew Skurka is, without a doubt, the ultimate hiker. Over the years, he has trekked more than 30,000 miles, going end-to-end on the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trails, coast-to-coast across North America, and through some of the most remote and rugged regions in Alaska. This former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year has figuratively, and now literally, written the book on long distance hiking, as his new book, The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide, hits stores this week.

Whether you're taking a day hike through a local park or making an epic trek through the Himalaya,  you can learn something from Andrew's book. Despite the title seemingly indicating that it is strictly a tome on the best gear for hiking and camping, there is plenty of wisdom and philosophy to be gained as well. For instance, you'll learn how to not only trek faster, but smarter too, and you'll also gain valuable insights into judging what to bring with you, what to leave at home, and how to prepare for a backpacking trip in a variety of conditions and locations. Skurka even touches on how a good hiking trip can be beneficial to the health of a relationship as well.

But the bulk of the book is focused on one of my favorite topics – gear. Andrew shares the benefits of his considerable experience in the field to tell us what items have performed the best for him on his adventures, and exactly how they can help us too. He doesn't spend much time endorsing specific products from gear companies however, preferring to instead educate us on the benefits of a good layering system, for example, or why using a tarp-shelter is a better option than a tent. Skurka even tells us how to construct a cheap, lightweight, and efficient stove from common items found around the house.

The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide is packed full of practical information that isn't what you would always necessarily expect. For instance, Skurka does share his thoughts on what clothing items work best in different environments, which can be a huge benefit for someone who is trying to sort through all the options in base layers, fleeces, shells, and son on. But he also discusses, in great detail, the differences between "water-resistant" fabrics vs. "waterproof-breathable" ones, and even explains how they work and why they are valuable. This can be beneficial when deciding what to spend our money on and what options work best for our own personal trips as well.

The Guide extends well beyond clothing however, with Andrew offering valuable insights into footwear, headwear, hand wear, and even eyewear. He discusses sleeping bags and sleeping pads, shelters, maps and GPS, trekking poles, and much more. In short, everything you could possibly need for a hike lasting a few hours to a few months, and everything in between. Along the way, Skurka shares wisdom on how to find a proper campsite, how to prep food for a prolonged journey, and how to stay well hydrated while on the trail.

The book wraps up with a series of sample gear kits that are broken down nicely be geographical locations in the U.S. For instance, there are unique lists for tackling the Eastern Forests of the country, as opposed to the western mountain states or dry deserts of the southwest. Accompanying each kit is an introduction to the region, which helps hikers familiarize themselves with what to expect while traveling there. Some of the factors that are touched upon include environmental conditions, precipitation, wildlife and insects, and the availability of water along the way.

All in all, this is an extremely comprehensive guide for planning, preparing, and equipping for just about any kind of backpacking trip. Andrew will show you how to do it efficiently and enjoyably, while a minimal amount of the best gear possible. The kind of wisdom that you find between the covers of this book can only come from someone like Skurka, who has more experience in the field than any of us mere mortals could ever hope to attain on our own. The guide is easy to ready, informative, and helpful on many levels, and I think hikers of any level and experience will find plenty to like here.

The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide is available now from National Geographic books for $19.95.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Hugh Neff Wins 2012 Yukon Quest

The 1000 mile long Yukon Quest sled dog race was won by veteran musher Hugh Neff earlier this week, when he crossed the finish line just 26 seconds ahead of second place finisher Allen Moore. It took Neff just 9 days, 16 hours, and 5 minutes to cover the course, which is run annually between Fairbanks and White Horse. Neff managed to make up 42 minutes of time over his rival in the final 100 miles, to nip him at the finish line.

Third place in the race went to Lance Mackey, who has won the YQ on four occasions. He was about 5 hours and 20 minutes off the pace, but says he felt like he actually won, since his dogs were on all three of the top teams. Jake Berkowitz and Brent Sass rounded out the top five at the event.

The Yukon Quest is always in interesting preview of what to expect at the Iditarod, which gets underway in about two weeks time. That race will actually be shorter than the YQ this year, dropping to 975 miles in length, due to changes in the course and the ceremonial start in Anchorage. Still, it remains one an amazing event, and should be fun to follow once again this year.

Winter Climb Update: Stuck In BC On GI

Now that most of the teams have left Pakistan for the season, all of the action is focused squarely on Gasherbrum I, where both the Polish squad and Alex and Carlos are hoping to make the first winter ascent of that 8080 meter (26,509 ft) mountain. The two teams have been working together over the past few weeks to fix lines and establish camps, but now they seem to be taking a different approach on how to proceed.

According to the latest dispatch from the Poles, they have now established Camp 3, finished acclimatizing, and have all of their gear in place to make a proper summit bid. There is just one problem however, and that is the weather. Conditions are not good on the mountain today, and the forecast says that it could be another seven days before things improve. Winds are predicted to top 100 km/h (62 mph) above 7000 meters (22,965 ft), which makes it impossible to climb above that height. The team is prepared to wait it out, but they now feel it could be the end of February before they can make a true attempt on the summit. Patience is most definitely the name of the game at the moment.

Meanwhile, Alex and Carlos indicated yesterday that they planned to climb up to Camp 1 today. That would take them up to 6200 meters (20,341 ft), well below the maelstrom of wind, where they'll apparently shuttle more gear in preparation for their own eventual summit bid. It appears they won't go any higher than C1 however, and my guess is that they'll be back in BC by tomorrow, and waiting along with their companions.

The reports from the winter climbs start to sound a bit like a broken record after awhile. It is all about the weather, which is always bad. There just seems to be widely varying degrees of bad.

Expreso De Los Andes 2012 Expedition Begins Tomorrow

A month ago I posted the announcement from the impossible2Possible team that they would be setting off on a new expedition, this time to run west to east across South America. This new adventure was dubbed the Expreso De Los Andes 2012, and it is set to officially get underway tomorrow.

The plan is for ultra-runners Ray Zahab and Kevin Vallely to being their journey in the Chilean city of Concón, which sits along that country's Pacific coast. From there, they start running east, with the intention of covering roughly 1700km (1056 miles), before eventually ending at the Atlantic Oceain in Buenos Aires, Argentina. To get there, they'll first  have to traverse the Andes Mountain Range, and deal with running long distances at higher altitudes.

In the early stages of the run, Ray and Kevin intend to average about 70km (43.4 miles) per day. Once they clear the Andes however, they hope to amp those distance up to as much as 100km (62.1 miles) per day. They'll be aided along in the journey by a support crew, who will drop water and supply caches for them ever 20-30km as well.

As usual with any of the i2P expeditions, this run has an educational and inspirational component to it as well. On the Expreso De Los Andes expedition, the team is hoping to inspire young people to become more physically active, and to do that, the've enlisted a number of teachers and school administrators in a physical challenge program. One of those administrators is George Singfield, who is preparing to run a half-marathon in May. "Principal George," as he is known, happens to be diabetic, so he is learning the importance to taking care of his health, while improving his physical conditioning for the run. He, and a number of others, are hoping to inspire the children in their classrooms and schools by leading by example.

According to the i2P Twitter feed, the crew arrived in Santiago, Chile yesterday and, they should be making their way to Concón today, with the intention of setting out on schedule tomorrow. Throughout the run, we'll be able to track Ray and Kevin's progress on the expedition's official website, where they'll regularly be posting updates and videos.

Round-The-World Cycling Race: Change In Name, Still Underway Tomorrow!

Yesterday I posted a story about the Global Bicycle Race, which was suppose to get underway tomorrow from Greenwich Park in London. It turns out there is a lot of history and backstory to that event which has led to it actually being cancelled. But, the World Cycling Racing - Grand Tour has risen from the ashes, of the GBR, and that race will actually launch tomorrow as expected, with many of the same goals as the original event.

This new race will feature 10 riders covering a minimum of 18,000 miles as they ride around the world. They still hope to complete their circumnavigation of the planet, and return to London, in time for the opening of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, but if they want to set a new speed record in the process, they'll have to go considerably faster than what I posted yesterday. In that story, I wrote that Vin Cox was the current world record holder, having circled the globe in 163 days. Turns out, British cyclist Alan Bate actually holds the record, which stands at 96 days, 10 hours, and 33 minutes. That means that for a rider to break the record, he'll need to average 190 miles per day.

The Grand Tour website notes that this event will be five times longer than the Tour de France, but that's really only half the story. Sure, the length is considerably greater, but riders in the peloton of the TdF have teammates and other riders to lean on when things get tough. The cyclists in this Grand Tour will mostly have to go it alone, which can really take its toll on a daily grind of riding that will stretch on for months.

Much like the GBR, the riders in the Grand Tour will be allowed to travel a route of their own choosing. They will still have to pass through antipodal points on the globe and they must continue riding in the same general direction the whole time, i.e. east to west or vice versa. Each of the bikes will be equipped with a GPS tracking device which will broadcast their position every ten miles or so, allowing us to follow their progress online and to ensure that all of the cyclists cover the required distance before they finish back in London.

So while the name of the race has changed, and a few of the details are different, the first round-the-world cycling race is still scheduled to get underway tomorrow. It should be an interesting event to follow.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Want To Race Around The World On A Bike?

This Saturday, one of the most amazing and difficult races I've ever heard of will get underway, when 20 riders set off on the first ever Global Bicycle Race. As the name implies, this competition will send the cyclists competing in it on a round-the-world ride that will be unlike any other.

The race will begin on Saturday at Greenwich Park in London and the riders will then attempt circle the globe, and return to the park, in less than 160 days, which will coincide with the opening of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games that begin in London on the 27th of July. If they do manage to arrive back at the start in under 160 days, it will also represent a new world record for circumnavigating the globe on a bike. That current record is 163 days and is held by race organizer Vin Cox.

There are several possible routes that the riders can take, which you'll find posted on the race's website here. Each route covers approximately 29,000km (18,000 miles) and touches four or five continents, depending on which way a rider decides to go. They can also choose to travel either East to West, or vice-versa, with both options providing interesting strategic gambles.

Throughout the race, each rider will carry a GPS device which will not only broadcast their current position, allowing us to follow along at home, but also keep track of the milage that they've covered. Riders will also be required to send a text message to update their status at least once a week, and take photos and video of their journey, and visit anti-podal points on the Earth, which is a fancy way of saying they must be opposites sides of the planet. They're also required to ride the same bike the entire way, although replacement parts are obviously permitted.

Other than that, the riders are allowed to devise their own routes, have their own sponsors, and even elect to have a support team with them. This freedom of approach is an interesting aspect of the competition, and opens up the door for some true adventures along the way.

To find out more about this event, which I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more about over the next few months, go to the Global Bicycle Race's official website.

Good luck to all the competitors.

Video: World's Largest Rope Swing!

Remember the video I posted a few months back that featured a human slingshot? Well the same creative (and crazy!) folks that were behind that clip are back with another scary, yet fun, video. This time, they've rigged up the world's largest rope swing, and it quite a ride.

Essentially, they've rigged up the "swing" to the top of a large stone arch. They then fling themselves off the top of the arch and hang on for dear life while they fly through the air – with helmet-cams capturing all the fun of course. You can check it out below.

So? Would you take this swing for a ride?

Video: Year of the River

2011 was an important year for the health of the river systems in the Pacific Northwest. With the launch of two dam removal projects on the Elwha and White Salmon Rivers, the ecosystems that surround those two waterways have begun the process of returning to their more natural states. That transformation is documented in the beautiful new short film by Andy Maser, which you can watch below.

In the video, we get a glimpse of how setting these rivers free will eventually have a dramatic, and lasting,  impact on the region. Not only will it provide more whitewater for paddlers, but it will allow the natural migration of the fish species to resume – something that hasn't happened in nearly a century.

The dam removal project is an important one for many reasons and it is amazing that it is finally happening, nearly 30 years after it was first proposed.

Year of the River from Andy Maser on Vimeo.

Gear Closet: Hydrapak E-Lite Runners Vest

Awhile back, I wrote a review of the new Marathoner hydration vest from Camelbak, which should be hitting stores about now. I found it to be a good option for long distance runners who want to stay hydrated while on the go. Fast forward a few months, and I've now had the opportunity to test out a similar vest from Hydrapak, and while the two products are competitors, I thin they'll appeal to a different audience.

Over the past few weeks, I've been putting the Hydrapak Elite Vest to the test, both on road and trail runs, and I've come to really appreciate what this lightweight, minimalist pack brings to the table. The vest weighs in at a mere 9.9 ounces, and is pretty much stripped down to the bare essentials. It sports a 1 liter water bladder, half that of the Camelbak, and two small zip pockets, which stretch to hold more than you would think at first glance. The Elite Vest also has four holster style pockets for keeping your gels, nutritional bars, and other food items close at hand.

Made from very soft, moisture wicking fabrics, I found the Elite to be very comfortable to wear, particularly over longer distances. In fact, for my tastes, Hydrapak's offering was more comfortable to me than Camelbak's, which is a bit larger, although by no means bulky. Adjusting the fit on the Elite is a quick, and simple affair, and once properly adjusted, it locked into place nicely, something I appreciate greatly when on an extended run.

When Hydrapak says that this is a minimalist pack, they truly mean it. If you are a runner that needs to carry more than a liter of water, or carries a jacket, headlamp, or other items with you, you'll probably appreciate the expanded options available on the Marathoner more. But if you prefer to move fast and light, and don't require much in the way of extra gear, the Elite is a great option, so long as you are aware of the limitations ahead of time. Personally, I felt that the smaller vest was a better option in the warmer weather of Texas, where the larger pack can lead to overheating.

Despite its minimalist design, the Elite Vest is a very high quality product. After numerous runs, mine looks like it is is still brand new, and feels like it will be a great training companion for a long time to come. With a price tag of just $54.99, it also is an inexpensive option for runners on a budget, although there is nothing "budget" about this product.

The Hydrapak Elite Vest gets a big thumbs up here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Three Women Backpackers Hiking The Length Of South America

Three American women have set out on quite an adventure, as they look to hike nearly the entire length of South America, south to north. Along they way, they've been chronicling their journey on the aptly named eat hike sleep hike blog.

Two of the ladies, Sarah Field and Trinity Ludwig, first met at summer camp when they were just 13 years old. They remained friends after that, and continued to attend the same camp together for the next several years. Eventually, they joined the staff and connected with Shelley Brook, and the three have stayed in constant contact ever since. When Trinity got the idea of making this South American hike, Shelley was quick to join the expedition and it wasn't exactly difficult to talk Sarah into coming along either.

The women started in Ushuaia, Argentina last October and plan to spend the first six months of their trek exploring that country and Chile. Their complete route can be found here, and also includes visits to Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela too. In their most recent blog updates, the trio reported that they have passed from Lanín National Park in Argentina and have now moved into Chile for the first time.

Reading through their blog posts, it seems they're having a wonderful time in South America, although as you might expect, not everything always goes as planned. Still, this is a fantastic adventure, and it is wonderful to read about their experiences and their love for travel.

Thanks to Scott Ireland for sharing this great story. Much appreciated my friend!

Video: A Story For Tomorrow

Earlier today I came across the very well done, and very charming, video that documents the travels of a couple as they make their way through Chile. The story begins in the north, in the Atacama Desert, and works its way south to Patagonia, with plenty of amazing things to see in between. If this short film doesn't inspire you to want to visit Chile, nothing will. Very well done!

a story for tomorrow. from gnarly bay productions, Inc. on Vimeo.

Prominent Explorers Club Member Publicly Call For President's Resignation

It has been a few weeks since I last posted on the growing internal controversy over at the Explorers Club. During that time, I know there has been some on going discussions with members over the leadership, and I'm told that a board meeting, held on January 28th, was a very long, and difficult one. Now, it seems that the Club's spat is going public once again, as one of its more prominent members has called for President Lorie Karnath to resign from her post.

EC member Greg Bledsoe updated his blog yesterday with this post, in which he reveals that Explorer's Club Honorary President Don Walsh has sent out a letter to the membership that calls for the resignation of Karnath as President of the club. You can read Don's e-mail here. It gives a good over view of the entire controversy in the club, and indicates that this is the greatest crisis of leadership the organization has seen while he has been a part of it. For the record, he has been a member for more than 50 years.

In case you're wondering, Walsh has a long and distinguished career in exploration and has served as part of the EC leadership for two decades, while also earning the Club's highest award, as well as Hubbard Medal from National Geographic. He was named the Honorary President due to his service to the organization, and has been highly supportive of presidents in the past. To say he carries a lot of weight within the EC is an understatement, and for him to ask for the resignation of the current President is a big deal.

I know a number of readers of this blog also happen to be members of the Explorers Club. I believe that this is an important story that needs to be shared, as the organization is now at a crossroads in terms of where it will go in the 21st century. In Walsh's letter, he talks about stifled communication brought on by Karnath and her "ruling clique," as well "ethics trials" brought against board members – often on dubious terms. He also mentions that there has been an unwillingness to share financial records with board members, and even touches on the highly irregular move by 10 members of the Club's Flag & Honors committee who threatened to resign over other implications of impropriety.

To get the full story, be sure to read Greg's blog post, which he has followed up today with his thoughts on who he'll be voting for in the EC Board elections that are coming up soon. It seems that they will be vitally important in determining who controls the 107-year old Club as we move forward in the years ahead.

(PS: I generally have used a graphic of the EC flag to denote posts on these topics, but I was kindly asked to no longer do so by Club officials, lest they get a cease and desist order on my humble little blog. In this post, I elected to use an image of Don Walsh that Greg is using on his site as well.)

Video: Experience Freedom (In A Wingsuit!)

It has been awhile since we've seen a really nice BASE jumping/wingsuit video, but this one is a perfect way to start the day. The music and scenery is simply beautiful and the shots of people floating through they air have a unique tranquility about them. We all know they're falling at a frightening pace, but it almost seems like they're suspended in air.

I still don't think I'm ready to attempt any of these stunts, but I sure enjoy watching others do it.

Experience Freedom from Betty Wants In on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Ice Run: 1500km Through Siberia On A Motorbike

The Adventurists are up to their old tricks. The same group that brought us the Mongol Rally and the Rickshaw Run, launched their latest overland adventure – The Ice Run. This time, they're racing across 1500km (932 miles) of frozen Siberian wasteland using old Russian motorcycles, complete with sidecar.

The inaugural Ice Run got underway yesterday at the southern end of the River Ob. The riders will now follow the frozen river north to the town of Salekhard, which sits above the Arctic Circle. During the brief summer months, the only way to complete that journey is by boat or airplane, but during the long winter, the frozen tundra, and even the river itself, allow for passage. Of course, the riders still have to deal with the snow, ice, and incredibly cold temperatures along the way.

Just how cold does it get there? According to this page on the Ice Run site, temperatures will fall between -10ºC and -60ºC (14ºF to -76ºF). Throw in winds that regularly hit 40mph and the windchill shaves another 40º off of those temperatures. As a result, machines start to break down and oil begins to freeze. The local police will even close the roads to prevent drivers from leaving town and getting stranded, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere.

There are currently 13 teams entered into this unique, and dare I say crazy, race. You can track their progress online by clicking here, and as of this writing they've covered roughly 150 miles so far. As with all the other events from the Adventurists, this road rally is helping to raise funds for charity. The live tracker also says that the teams have currently raised £11,980 ($18,770), with more to come.

And while we're on the subject of raising money for charity, I think it is worth pointing out that all of these great road races that the Adventurists have sponsored over the past few years have brought in more than £3.5 million ($5.5 million) for a variety of organizations. That's a pretty impressive number.

So, just what are the Ice Run riders dealing with out on the "road?" The video below, which was shot during an initial test run of the ride, will give you some indication. It's a toss up which looks colder, this video, or one of those shot on those winter climbs we've been following.

Video: Load Bearing - An Adaptive Alaskan Adventure

In June of 2011, a team of disabled climbers traveled to Alaska to take on an unnamed peak in the Alaska Range, near the Upper Eldridge glacier. They were part of the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program (TASP) and the expedition was led by Mountain Trip guides. Their story is told in in the beautiful short film, made by a friend of mine, below. The film is roughly 20 minutes in length, but is well worth the a watch.

Enjoy and share with others.

load bearing from Craig Stein on Vimeo.

Winter Climb Update: Over On Nanga Parbat

Faced with an already treacherous climb, and more bad weather in the forecast, mountaineers Simone Moro and Denis Urubko have decided to pull the plug on the Nanga Parbat expedition this winter. The two men have spent the last 51 days on this attempt, and had reached as high as 6600 meters (21,653 ft) on the mountain, but ultimately, the conditions are just not safe and the necessary weather window doesn't appear to be in the immediate forecast.

Simone and Denis will now wait the next few days for the snow to stop falling long enough for a team of porters to come gather their gear. They expect to be in Base Camp for another three or four days, then start the long journey home.

They had shared BC with a Polish team, which departed the mountain yesterday, and with the departure of the Russian squad from K2, Gasherbrum I is now the last of the 8000 meter peaks with an ongoing winter climb.

In announcing the end of their expedition, Moro and Urubko released the video below. They say that their weather reports indicate that as much as 100-50cm (3 -5 feet) of additional snow could fall on Nanga Parbat over the next week or so. With the danger from avalanches already high, it seems prudent that they go home and wait for another opportunity.

Video: Winter Climbing On Gasherbrum I

In yesterday's winter climb update I shared a video from the Polish team currently on Gasherbrum I. Today we have one from Alex Txikon and Carlos Suarez, the other team on that mountain. Each of these videos from Pakistan gives us a good indication of how challenging the climbs are on these big mountains and how the winter conditions only add to difficulty.