Thursday, December 29, 2011

Antarctica 2011: Fairbank At The Pole, Others Close In

While the rest of us have enjoyed a relaxing holiday season, the Antarctic skiers continue their long march to the South Pole. The season has already been a long one for many of the explorers, but it isn't over yet, and there are still many miles to go, with time starting to run short.

South African solo-skier Howard Fairbank reached the Pole on Tuesday of this week, reaching the bottom of the world on his 35th day out on the ice. That is a very quick and respectable time for ski journey to the Bottom of the World, where he is now enjoying some rest and relaxation. His original plan was to kite ski back to Hercules with Richard Waber's team, who are likely to join Howard at 90ºS today, but Howard is weighing his options for the return trip and may elect to hop an ALE flight to Chile instead.

Cas and Jonesy are closing in on the Pole as well and as of yesterday they had just 74km (45 miles) to go until they reached the halfway point of their journey. The Aussie duo have now spent almost 60 days on their trek from Hercules Inlet, and the original plan was for them to attempt to become the first to make an unsupported return trip to that point. The journey has taken its toll on the boys however, and we'll have to see if they elect to continue their journey as well. If they stay on pace, they should arrive at the South Pole in time for the New Year.

Felicity Aston is on the trail towards Hercules as well, having already passed by the Pole last week. She's now skiing North, which means she has the warmth of the sun on her face throughout the day, and while she still has a long way to go to complete her solo traverse of the continent, she seems optimistic and in good spirits as she continues on her adventure.

Finally, Mark Wood has now been on the trail for 38 days and has crossed the 87th parallel today. That leaves him with about 290km (180 miles) to go until he reaches the Pole. He expects that to take roughly 12 days to cover, which would put him at the finish line on about January 10th or so. That will mark the end of the first stage of Mark's epic polar adventure however, as he'll then immediately head to Canada, where he'll start a solo and unsupported expedition to the North Pole as well – a journey that is likely to be even more demanding and difficult than this one.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Antarctica 2011: Jordan Tops Out On Vinson, Completes Seven Summits!

Just a quick update on 15-year old climber Jordan Romero, who finished his quest to climb the Seven Summits over the holiday weekend by successfully topping out on Mt. Vinson. Jordan, along with his father Paul and step-mom Karen, completed their climb on Christmas Eve, and were back in Base Camp in time for dinner.

For Jordan, Vinson marked the conclusion of a quest that he started when he was just 10 years old. Inspired by a mural he saw at his school, the young man decided he wanted to climb the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents. He would take on Kilimanjaro in Africa first, but would follow that up with successful climbs on the other continents as well, including Everest last year. He was just 13 years old when he stood atop the tallest mountain on the planet.

Antarctica was the last continent for the teenager to visit, and the 4892 meter (16,050 ft) Vinson presented a considerable challenge. What the mountain lacks in height, it makes up for with challenging weather conditions. High winds and extremely cold weather are the norm on Vinson, not to mention plenty of snow. Throw in the fact that the air pressure at the Poles is lower, and the air is actually thinner there than it would be taller mountains closer to the equator.

According to Jordan's Facebook page, the team is now preparing to leave Antarctica and head home. They're expecting an airlift back to Hercules Inlet today, and then back to Punta Arenas, Chile in the next few days. From there, the long journey back to the U.S.

The question is, what's next for the talented and focused climber? Will Jordan take a break from mountaineering for awhile, or will he set his sights on bigger challenges. Perhaps the 8000 meter peaks? He already has one under his belt. I guess we'll have to wait to see. After all, the young man still has to graduate high school.

Congrats Jordan.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Apa Sherpa To Hike Great Himalayan Trail

Two famous Sherpa mountain guides are preparing to embark on another epic adventure in mid-January, when they set off to hike the entire length of the 1700km (1056 mile) Great Himalayan Trail. Starting on January 15th, Apa Sherpa and Dawa Steven Sherpa will begin the trek, which is expected to take roughly 120 days to complete.

Touted as the highest altitude long distance trail in the world, the GHT isn't likely to pose much of a problem for these two men. Apa has reached the summit of Everest an astounding 21 times, while Dawa has been to the top of the world's highest peak on two occasions himself. They've chosen to undertake this latest challenge in an effort to raise the profile of the trail and bring economic investment to its development. They'll begin their journey in eastern Nepal in the village of Ghunsa and will march west until they reach the town of Darchula. Along the way, they'll pass through 20 different districts, surrounded by the unmatched mountain landscapes of the Himalaya.

Along the way, Apa and Dawa will also be looking to raise awareness of the impact of global climate change on the region as well. That has been a particularly important topic with the Sherpas over the past few years, as mountain glaciers retreat, taking their fresh water supply with them. This is an important issue for Nepal, particularly in remote rural areas, where villagers often have to walk for hours each day just to collect fresh water.

Hopefully the two men will post updates along the way and will share their journey online. In the past Apa has often posted about his Everest climbs online, and if he does something similar with this trek, I'll post regular updates on their progress here.

The GHT sounds like an amazing experience and I hope that it garners more attention amongst trekkers and backpackers.

Happy Holidays!

Just a quick note to wish everyone happy holidays and the best for the New Year. Hopefully 2012 will be a prosperous and adventurous one for you and your friends and family. I want to thank everyone for reading my almost-daily musing and updates on the adventure world. I hope you find something fun, interesting, and inspiring from the things that I right about.

Over the next week or so, updates are likely to be sparse and sporadic as I take a little time away to enjoy the holidays with friends as well. I'll try to keep track of what is happening down in Antarctica and on the major climbs, and post updates on progress as necessary. This is traditionally a bit of a quiet time for news, but the start of a new year always brings great new things, and we have the North Pole and Spring Himalayan seasons ahead.

Happy Holidays and Thank You All!

Winter Climb Updates: Dupre On Denali, Russians Wait

I have updates on the two major winter climbs that are both about to get underway. In Alaska, Lonnie Dupre returns to Denali for a solo January ascent and in Pakistan, the Russian team goes after the toughest climb of them all, K2 in winter. 

We'll start in Alaska, where the weather finally cleared yesterday, allowing Lonnie to hit the mountain at last. He'll now start the process of establishing his Base Camp and organizing his gear ahead of the climb. Since this is to be the first solo January ascent of the mountain, Dupre will likely not start the climb until January 1, which gives him several days to prepare. The weather report looks to be good in the coming days, which also bodes well for the start of the expedition, although the weather is notoriously fickle in Alaska, and can change quickly. Like last year, Lonnie will climb without a tent and will instead take shelter inside snow caves that he'll build himself. 

The weather is on the minds of the Russian Team as well, as they prepare for what will no doubt be the biggest challenge of their climbing careers. The first eight members of the squad have now completed their acclimatization and are back in Skardu, while the second group of eight rotates out for a little time in the nearby mountains as well. Their gear has been packed and organized, and now they're waiting for the Pakistani Army to assign them a helicopter to airlift the supplies to Base Camp. Bad weather in the region is keeping the helicopters grounded at this point however, so the expedition can't officially get underway until the gear can be delivered to BC. There are high hopes that that can happen in the next few days, and the climbers themselves can continue their journey to the mountain. 

Winter is now officially here, which means that these two winter climbs can now officially get moving. Both expeditions are going to be incredibly challenging, as Lonnie will face the mountain alone and with a hard deadline of January 31st, while the Russians are now prepared to spend upwards of three months climbing K2. 

Antartica 2011: Summit Plans Change For Jordan, Felicity Leaves The Pole

While the rest of us prepare for a little time with our friends and family for the holidays, the Antarctic explorers remain focused on their respective goals. Most will celebrate Christmas in their own way, but the best present of all will be achieving the things they set out for on the frozen continent.

One person who should be getting just what he wanted for Christmas is teen mountaineer Jordan Romero. Yesterday I mentioned that he had reached Low Camp on Vinson and was hoping to make his summit bid on Sunday, which would put him on top for Christmas Day. Turns out there has been a slight change of plans however, and after moving up to High Camp today, Team Jordan now expects to summit Antarctica's highest peak tomorrow. If successful, Jordan will become the youngest person to complete the Seven Summits. Good luck to Jordan, his dad Paul, and stepmom Karen. Get up and down the mountain safely.

Meanwhile, Felicity Aston has left the South Pole behind and is now back on the trail and headed towards Hercules Inlet. You'll recall that she arrived at Pole earlier this week and then spent a rest day there before resuming her journey. Felicity hopes to become the first woman to traverse Antarctica solo, and reaching the Pole was a good milestone for her expedition. She still has a long ways to go however, which is why she didn't linger at 90ºS for long.

Australian adventurer Mark George is continuing his solo and unsupported trek to the Pole, and is sending holiday wishes to friends and family back home today. Mark has been out on the ice for 27 days and has now passed the 85ºS mark, which puts him more than halfway to his goal. He reports good weather conditions, and warmer than expected temperatures, which has made the snow soft. Those warm temps are appreciated, but the soft snow makes it much harder to pull the sledge behind you. Still, Mark is making good time and covering solid daily distances as well.

Howard Fairbank continues to make progress toward the Pole as well, and now expects to cross the 89th parallel tomorrow. That'll leave him just one degree shy of the South Pole, where he'll complete his solo and unsupported journey and await Richard Weber's group, whom he'll kite back to Hercules with. Howard says that while he is closing in on the finish line, things are not getting any easier though, largely because of a painful foot injury that  makes it difficult to ski at times. The South African says that he is both mentally and physically exhausted at this point, and he'll reassess the idea of kiting once he hits 90ºS.

Finally, Cas and Jonesy have picked up the pace this week, skiing an extra hour each day and as a result, covering more distance. They're also thinking strategically about their expedition now, as they intended to not only reach the South Pole, but then ski back to Hercules Inlet when they're done. Because of this, they've begun to drop supply caches in various locations along the way, which has the benefit of not only lessening their loads, allowing them to move faster, but gives them resupply for the return trip. They're also rationing their food at this point as well, which means they're generally hungry all of the time. When you burn 6000+ calories per day on the trail, it is hard to get enough to eat. But if they want to have a legitimate chance of becoming the first team to make the round-trip from Hercules Inlet to the Pole and back, they need to conserve their supplies. While they haven't indicated that there will be a change in those plans, I wouldn't be surprised if they don't also reassess their situation upon reaching the South Pole as well.

That's all for now. More updates soon.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Video: Kayak Crashes!

The gang over at Canoe & Kayak magazine are winding down 2011 by taking a look back at the year that was. You can check out their Top 10 stories for 2011 by clicking here and then watch their "Salute to Carnage" videos here. One of those videos, which features some of the most epic kayak crashes you're likely to see, can be viewed below. It is definitely one of those videos where you'll likely laugh out loud a few times, but then be thankful that it isn't you in the situation as well. Enjoy.

Explorers Club Follow-Up: Clarification On Yesterday's Story

Yesterday I posted another story in the ongoing saga of the internal disputes that are taking place inside the Explorers Club, the 108 year old institution that has been at the forefront of exploration and adventure since its founding. In the story I quoted a New York Post article which stated that EC member Josh Bernstein, who also happens to be on the Club's Board of Directors,  was "censured and fined" because he accepted tickets to the Club's annual Patron's Dinner from the event's sponsor, Rolex. Turns out that isn't altogether accurate, and as with all things in this story, there is more to tell. 

Last night I heard from yet another source that Josh did indeed buy his own tickets to the event, but was invited to sit at the Eddie Bauer sponsored table, and not Rolex as the Post story indicated. As you would expect from a sponsor table, it was located closer to the stage, giving it a more prominent position at the event. That also means that tickets for that particular table actually cost more than a standard member ticket, which is what Josh purchased. It turns out Bernstein was disciplined not for receiving a free ticket to the event from a sponsor, but for the difference in price between the ticket that he purchased and the cost of one for the table where he actually sat. And remember, this so called inappropriate gift came about because Eddie Bauer execs in attendance at the event actually asked him to sit at their table in the first place. 

Of course, a lot of clubs and organizations have rules about what members and directors can accept in terms of gifts and comps, and they are usually spelled out pretty clearly in the bylaws. For obvious reasons, you don't want officers and board members having inappropriate relationships with donors/sponsors. But I'm told that in this case, it was not at all unusual for members and directors to sit at sponsor tables at events in the past, and no one thought twice about it. It wasn't until President Lorie Karnath called out Bernstein for accepting the invitation that this suddenly became an issue.

So why was Josh Bernstein singled out in this case? Should he have been called on the carpet for not having paid full price to sit at the Eddie Bauer table, particularly when they asked him to be there? Or is there some truth to the stories that Karnath made the move to fine and censure him in an effort to prevent his re-election to the Club's Board of Directors in 2012. That's exactly what member Ken Kamler told the Post yesterday in their story. 

Either way, I wanted to clarify the situation, as it varies slightly from what the Post reported, and I repeated yesterday. When these details ware conveyed to me, I thought it was important to pass them along.

Antarctica 2011: Jordan In Low Camp On Vinson, Eyes Christmas Summit

Just a quick update on Jordan Romero this morning, who is now in low camp on Mt. Vinson in Antarctica, where he is hoping to complete the last of his Seven Summit climbs. If successful, Jordan will become the youngest person to complete that feat at the age of 15.

The current plan is for Jordan and his team, which consists of his father Paul and stepmother Karen, to move up to high camp tomorrow, where they'll rest, acclimatize, and prepare for a proposed summit bid on Christmas morning.

You can follow along with their progress on Jordan's website, which is updated with current weather conditions on the mountain as well as text messages from the team and their current GPS coordinates. As I write this, it is -22ºC/-7ºF in LC, with a windspeed of 38km/h (20.5 mph). In other words, it is cold and breezy, which is just what you'd expect when climbing this mountain.

Stay tuned for more updates on Jordan's progress. Hopefully he'll be getting the best Christmas present ever on Sunday when he stands on top of Vinson and accomplishes the amazing goal that he set for himself when he was just 10 years old.

Summer Issue of Trail Run Magazine Now Available

The Summer Edition of the fabulous Trail Run Magazine is now available for your downloading and reading pleasure. Summer Edition you ask? Why yes, it is summer in the Southern Hemisphere, and this great e-zine focuses on the trail running scene in Australia and New Zealand, although it has plenty to offer trail runners everywhere.

Readers will find all kinds of interesting content in the latest issue, including excellent gear suggestions and reviews, profiles of great trail options, and an awesome interview with legendary mountain runner Sjors Corporaal, who seemingly burst onto the New Zealand running scene, and has dominated some of the tougher races there. The mag also takes a look at some of the toughest races down under and the latest trends in trail running shoes, including the popular barefoot craze.

As usual, the Trail Run is filled with great photos to accompany the excellent articles, and it can now be purchased in a high quality "mook" format. A mook falls somewhere between a magazine and a book, for those who prefer reading offline.

If you like the look and content in Trail Run, than stay tuned for more big things from the team who is delivering this great magazine. I've heard through the grapevine they would like to turn their attention to our other favorite outdoor sports, like climbing and paddling as well. If Trail Run is any indication of what their other projects will be like, I'm excited to see what they bring to the table.

Gear Box: Bogs Jamison Boots

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. One of the most important aspects of any outdoor activity is keeping our feet comfortable and happy. The shoes we put on our feet can definitely make or break our adventures, which is why selecting the right pair of hiking boots is such an important and personal decision. Take for example the new Jamison boots from Bogs. If you're looking for a great new pair of hiking boots to use in the backcountry or when high on the slopes of a mountain, than this isn't your boot. But, if your looking for a solid, comfortable, warm boot for wearing around town and on light hikes, then this just might be the shoe for you.

Bogs is a company that has built itself a reputation on designing and manufacturing a wide variety of boots and shoes for use in the work place, while hunting, or for just wearing around town. Their shoes are both stylish and functional, and are especially popular with several of my female friends, who appreciate their warmth and comfort in the cooler, rainier weather.

The Jamison boots were my introduction to Bogs and I was immediately impressed with the high quality construction that went into putting these boots together. They feel solid, rugged, and tough, and thats before you ever put them on your feet. They also have a nice, understated styling that almost feels like a bit of a throwback, but in a good way. Some companies making boots today seem to feel they have to use unusual colors or patterns to make them standout, and really they just need to make them comfortable to wear and strong enough to stand up to day-to-day abuse.

Slipping the boots on, I immediately found that they were comfortable and warm. , although they had a fit that took a little getting use to. The soles are very solid and a bit on the larger side, which made the boots feel bigger than they actually are. Those same soles provide plenty of stability and traction however, even on wet and slick surfaces, which is where they really shine. The boots are also completely waterproof, and designed for cold temperatures. I can attest to the fact that they are plenty warm, but the Bogs website says they are rated for sub-zero temperatures. That may be true for running around town, but I don't think I'd want to test that rating in the backcountry.

Bogs says these shoes are built for hiking, but I personally don't think they'll be replacing my Asolo's anytime soon. That said, they are a fantastic shoe for wearing in an urban setting, particularly in bad weather. They'll keep your feet warm and dry, while also keeping you standing upright. That isn't to say they don't make a good pair of hiking shoes, as they can transition well from the pavement to the trail for those unexpected adventures, its just that they wouldn't be my first choice to wear on an extended hike. In those cases, I'd prefer something that breathes a bit better and is a bit more form fitting on my feet.

If you're in the market for a comfortable pair of boots for your urban adventures or light hiking activities, the Jamison is a good, versatile option. The fact that they are both waterproof and well insulated, will make them a favorite amongst those who live in cold weather climes, especially since winter has just gotten underway. You'll find they look good, can take a beating, and perform well in rain, snow, and even ice. (MSRP: $108)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Video: Slacklining With Dean Potter

Where do you go to get a thrill after you've climbed some of the toughest rock routes in the world? If you're Dean Potter, you move on to slacklining. In the video below, Dean is walking a tight wire, more than a 100 feet long, across an open chasm in Yosemite, without any kind of safety device. One misstep, and it is a long fall to the ground below. Crazy stuff, as usual, from Dean.

I'm not sure I get the whole slacklining/highlining craze. It seems like you're just asking for trouble. Still, the video is unnerving the watch, I'll grant you that.

Explorers Club Infighting Hits New York Post

One of the stories I've been following over the past few weeks has been reports of serious infighting going on at the Explorers Club, an organization that has been around for more than a hundred years and has counted such notable explorers as Neil Armstrong and Sir Edmund Hillary amongst its ranks. Today, a story appeared in the New York Post that gives us a further glimpse at what is going on behind closed doors at the venerable institution.

You can read the Post article by clicking here, but in a nutshell it shares some details of a completely different internal struggle from the one that I've been writing about. It seems that club leadership (read President Lorie Karnath) saw fit to bring disciplinary actions against one of its board of directors for accepting free tickets to the club's annual spring dinner. The tickets were provided by the sponsor of the event, Rolex, and were given to Explorers Club member Josh Bernstein, who the Post says was "censured and fined" over the incident.

I'm sure more than a few of you have seen Josh on his popular television shows Digging for the Truth and Into the Unknown. Bernstein, who has always been an explorer first and a television personality second in my mind, didn't offer comment on the affair, but his lawyer says that it has "resulted in unwarranted criticism of his character and integrity" inside the organization.

EC member Ken Kamler, who is also a club director, is actually much more candid in his assessment of the situation however, saying that the disciplinary action was taken as more of a vindictive move by Karnath over Bernstein. Kamler says that Josh is a potential candidate to be a future president of the Explorers Club, and is a direct threat to Karnath, who is up for re-election in 2012. Berstein's position on the board is also subject to re-election next year too, and the censure and fining could be used as a way to cast him in a bad light, with club elections just around the corner. Kamler concludes his statements by saying that under Karnath, the EC has become a "rich person's travel club," as the current president seems more interested in "rubbing shoulders with explorers while promoting cronies."

That last statement plays more into the controversy that I had been writing about recently. (You can read my previous reports here, here, and here.) As you may recall, my coverage of what was happening at the club started a few weeks back when I received word that 10 of the 12 members of the prestigious Flag and Honors Committee resigned when their selection process for awards and medals was openly questioned by nominees who had no business even knowing they were nominated, let alone the process that took place to select the eventual winners. My sources tell me that some of those nominees were put forward by the President, or her closest advisors, and that they were not happy when the Committee decided to select other winners.

As a result, the entire process was called into question at a board meeting in St. Louis, resulting in attacks on the integrity of the Flag and Honors Committee itself. I'm told it was quite a heated discussion, that went on for some time, and afterwards 10 of the 12 members of the Committee sent a letter to the Board asking for an investigation into the breach in confidentiality over their final nominations, and an over all look at how the awards were being given. The implication was that some of the EC leadership were using the awards for political gain or to reward friends, some of which had done little to earn such an honor. The letter asked for the investigation to be completed ahead of the next board meeting on January 27th, and that if such an investigation didn't take place, the 10 members would resign from the F&H committee. Rather than wait for the board to respond however, Karnath chose to accept the resignations immediately. By the way, the only two members of the Committee to not sign the letter to the Board were Karnath and her husband.

These two stories, the move against Josh Bernstein and the actions with the Flag and Honors Committee illustrate what some are saying are moves by the President, and her closest confidants, to consolidate power at the Explorers Club to ensure that Karnath stays at the helm of the organization for years to come. In her defense, she did guide the organization through a very tough economic phase and she found ways to keep the organization from hemorrhaging money. She has been credited with "bringing the EC into the 21st century" in a number of ways. But these current inside stories seem to hint that there is a high level of nepotism going on as well, which flies in the face of the values on which the Club was founded.

I'll finish this post with a direct quote from the article by the Post.
Fellow director Jim Clash added,“What is happening there now is truly insane. Sir Edmund Hillary, our late honorary president, is probably rolling over in his grave.”

Antarctica 2011: Felicity At The Pole!

As expected, Felicity Aston reached the South Pole yesterday, which is a terrific milestone in her attempt to become the first woman to go solo and unsupported across the Antarctic continent. On her Twitter feed, Felicity announced that she arrived at approximately 4:00 PM amidst nearly a complete whiteout conditions. She was greeted by friends upon her arrival, and was soon warm and well fed.

While her arrival at the Pole is indeed cause to celebrate, Felicity is far from finished. Having started her journey on the Ross Ice Shelf, she now plans to ski to Hercules Inlet to complete her traverse. That means that the bulk of the distance still lies ahead, although she will be descending back to the coast, which should help ease the journey some. Listen to Felicity's audio dispatch from 90ºS by clicking here.

Another skier who has been closing in on the Pole is South African Howard Fairbank, who was at 88.17ºS as of yesterday. Unfortunately, bad weather set in, forcing Howard to take shelter in his tent, while high winds caused whiteout conditions. As you can imagine, this has left him feeling a bit frustrated about the situation, as he is close enough to the Pole that he can practically smell it, and his recent days on the ice have been very productive mileage wise. Hopefully today is a better day for Howard, who should reach the Pole in time before Christmas. That is, if the weather cooperates.

Mark Wood is continuing his slow, steady, and sure march to the South Pole. He has now been out on the ice for 30 days – a solid month– and yesterday he crossed the 85th parallel. He expects that it will take upwards of another 20 days to reach the Pole, which is a bit off the pace he had originally intended. Still, his spirits remain high and he seems as focused as ever on achieving the first leg of his goal. Once he's completed his Antarctic march, Mark will then head north to the Arctic, where he'll face the even more challenging trek to the North Pole.

Finally, the two teams in the Scott-Amundsen Centenary Race keep plugging away as well. The Amundsen squad covered 12.5 nautical miles (23.1km) yesterday and as a result, they've now crossed the 86th degree. They still have about 240 miles (386km) to go until they reach the Pole, and the terrible weather they've had to deal with over the past few days hasn't helped much. Meanwhile, their compatriots on the Scott Team are dealing with dangerous crevasse fields as they struggle to leave the Bearmore Glacier behind at last. Once that obstacle is behind them, they hope to pick up some speed on the way to the finish line as well. They are currently 305 nautical miles (564km) from the Pole, but remain focused on their goal.

Climb For Change Launches VIMFF Photo Contest

Climb For Change, a website that serves as a hub for climbers who are undertaking expeditions for charity, is sponsoring the Mountain Photography Competition for the 15th annual Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, which takes place in February of 2012. Submissions are being accepted now through January 15th, with the finalists, which will be selected by a jury of professionals, being put on display at the festival.

The grand prize winner of the competition will earn a two week guided expedition through Northern Pakistan and the "People's Choice" Winner, which is decided by an online vote, will win a Venta SV jacket from Arcteryx.

You'll find more details on the Climb For Change Facebook page, including a submission form and a gallery of entries to the competition so far. Judging from the entries on that page, you'd better bring your A-game, as there are some great photos already in the competition.

This is an opportunity for aspiring photographers to really show their stuff, and get your images displayed at a world-class mountain film festival. Who knows, you may even earn yourself a trip to Pakistan as well.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Video: Gold Rush Mother Lode Adventure Race 2011

This past September, the Gold Rush Mother Lode Adventure Race took place in California. Over the course of three days, some of the best teams in North America challenged one another in an epic clash on foot, mountain bike, and kayak. What exactly did that race look like? Check out the excellent video below for an idea. It'll also serve as a nice sneak peak for the race, which will return in August of 2012.

Winter Climb Updates: Russians On Their Way To BC, Lonnie in Talkeetna

The big winter climbs that I've been covering, even before they've gotten underway, are both ramping up nicely and getting ready to commence. Considering the first full day of winter is tomorrow, the climbers are all in the final stages of preparation and are preparing to let the action begin.

First up, the Russian K2 team took just two days to reach Skardu, arriving there on Saturday. Since then, they've been busy getting their gear prepped for the climb and packing it for transport to Base Camp. Most of the equipment will be shipped via helicopter, where it will be waiting for them to arrive, and while the support crew works at putting the final touches on their preparation work, the eight climbers who will be working the mountain have started their acclimatization process. They'll spend a few days climbing the nearby Sadpara Mountains, before heading into BC itself. The hope is to arrive their by Sunday, Christmas Day, when they'll officially start the expedition.

Meanwhile, Lonnie Dupre is also putting the finishing touches on his preparations to take on Denali once again. He's also keeping a close eye on the weather as well. According to his website, he'll be off to Base Camp as soon as his air taxi can deliver him to the frozen wilderness. Dupre is returning to the mountain once again this winter in an attempt to become the first person to solo-summit in the month of January. To that end, he hopes to be in position on January 1st so that he has a full 31 days to accomplish his goal. Last year, his attempt was thwarted by bad weather, which is a common occurrence on North America's tallest peak during the winter.

Both of these climbs are going to be epic. Lonnie's solo bid on Denali is a bold mountaineering feat and the Russian K2 squad could be attempting the impossible. For those of us who love to follow these kinds of adventures, it is certainly going to be fun to watch. Lets just hope everyone stays very safe.

Gear Box: Ortovox Supersoft Base Layer

One of the things I love about testing out new gear is that occasionally I come across some really great items from a company that whose gear I've never used before. That's exactly the case with the new Supersoft Base Layers from Ortovox that I've had the pleasure of testing out over the past few weeks. Specifically, the Long Sleeve men's zipped top.

I first got a look at the Ortovox line-up at Outdoor Retailer back in August, where I was very impressed with the design of their gear. Everything they had on display had a fresh and unique look and seemed really high quality. Needless to say, when I received the zipped base layer a few weeks back, I was excited to put it through its paces and see if it lived up to my expectations. I soon found out that it definitely did.

Living in Austin, Texas we don't really get a true winter. It rarely snows here and cold weather doesn't hang around long. But this fall, it has been especially cool and damp for a prolonged period of time. As a result, I've had good weather to test this top while on nightly runs or mountain bike rides, during which it performed admirably on its own or as a layer underneath a shell.
Ortovox uses a blend of fabrics in this shirt, mixing soft, high quality merino wool on the outside, with a natural fabric known as modal, which is made from beech wood cellulose, on the inside. The result is base layer that breathes well, stretches and moves with the wearer, and provides plenty of warmth in cool and cold conditions. The shirt fits snugly, but doesn't feel restrictive in the least, even when you have the zipper pulled up tightly around your neck, as I did on one recent run in which it started to rain halfway to the finish line.

One thing I always appreciate in my gear is versatility, and this base layer offers that as well. Not only is it an excellent piece of gear for active pursuits like running or cycling, but it also looks good enough to wear around town as well. Throw in the fact that it makes an excellent start to a three-layer cold weather clothing system (base, fleece, shell) and you have an excellent article of clothing to take with you when you travel as well. The shirt would serve equally well strolling the streets of Paris as it would on the slopes in Chamonix.

With an MSRP of $120, this isn't a base layer for someone who isn't going to appreciate its performance and quality. But if you're an active outdoor enthusiast who doesn't let a little thing like cold weather slow you down, then you're likely to appreciate what Ortovox is delivering here. It is a very high quality piece of gear that will likely become one of your favorite pieces of clothing for winter adventures or travels. I know it'll be joining me on future journeys.

Write A Blog Post, Win Some Gear!

Want to win some free gear? Can you write a simple blog post? Then I have just the contest for you! The folks over at are celebrating a few additions to their line-up of gear and are giving us a chance to take some of it home.

Details on the contest can be found by clicking here, but in a nutshell, they're asking all entrants to submit a 500-word blog post that falls into one of seven different topic categories. Those topics include such things as  your favorite trail, highlights from a recent hunting or fishing trip, or even a close call you may have had while in the backcountry. You'll find the topics are very broad and offer you the opportunity to be creative and have some fun with what you write. Photos are not required but they definitely can't hurt either.

Once you've written your post, fill out the entry form on the contest page and you'll automatically be entered. The contest runs through January 13, 2012, at which time six finalists will be selected by the amount of traffic the entry receives, tweets it generates, and so on. Those finalists will take home some sweet gear, such as a Rush 24 backpack, Stryke Pants, or these awesome looking Scene One Gloves.

You've still got a few weeks to enter the contest, so fire up your keyboard, write a creative entry, and see if you can score some free gear.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Antarctica 2011: Felicity Closes In On The Pole

It was another productive weekend for the Antarctic skiers heading to the South Pole. The weather was generally good for the past few days, although some of the teams are now reporting a change once again, with high winds working against them, even as they close in on their destination.

One of those skiers is Felicity Aston, who has now entered the last degree to the Pole and should be arriving at 90ºS in the next few days. It won't be an easy journey to that point however, as she reports very strong winds this morning, which are making it tough to make progress. On her Twitter feed she also laments the fact that after skiers have passed the last degree, they aren't allowed to leave anything behind. That includes human waste, and as a result, she's now "pooing in a bag." Such are the hardships of a polar explorer. As a reminder, don't forget that the South Pole is not the finish line for Aston, who will then ski to Hercules Inlet for pick-up.

South African adventurer Howard Fairbank has crossed the 88th degree himself and his hoping to reach the South Pole sometime next week. He has been going solo and unsupported until this point, but will join Richard Weber and his squad to kite ski back to Hercules. Howard reports that the winds have increased for him as well, although it was the terrain that really made it a tough go today. He did manage to cover 30km (18.6 miles), but it was a real struggle that has left him physically and mentally drained. Still, his spirits seem high and he is happy to have reached another milestone in his journey.

Speaking of Richard Weber and the team he is leading to the South Pole, they reached a milestone of sorts over the weekend as well. The group managed to cross the last of the crevasse fields, and the 87th parallel, but not without a few injuries. A members of the squad by the name of Chris de Lapuente fell on the ice, and managed to break his wrist and tweak his knee fairly seriously. He has managed to keep skiing, although his knee is reportedly quite swollen. In a bit of ingenuity, the team used a paperback book as a make-shift splint to protect the wrist, and for now Chris is toughing it out. Hopefully these injuries won't prevent him from completing the expedition.

Dixie and Sam had hoped to close in on the Pole today or tomorrow, but the winds they are using to drive their kites, all but disappeared yesterday. As a result, they took the opportunity to rest and plan for their post-Pole adventure. The boys are closing in on 30 days out on the ice, but that is roughly on a third of what they have planned, so after they pay their respects at the South Pole Station, they'll be continuing on for another two months of travel throughout the continent. If the winds cooperate, I'd expect them to arrive at the Pole before the end of the week, as they are now notching as much as 150km (93 miles) per day when the winds are blowing right. As of this morning, they were sitting at about 87.5ºS, leaving them just 2.5º to go.

It seems we should start to see a steady stream of skiers arriving at the South Pole over the next few days. For some, it will be the end of the line, for others, just another stop over on a much  longer and challenging adventure. Stay tuned for more.

Video: Montana: Shaped by Winter

Speaking of adventurous destinations. My friends over at the Montana Office of Tourism released the video below a few months back, but now that winter is just a few days away, it makes for an even better reminder of what that state has to offer. I was lucky enough to visit Montana and Yellowstone last January, and absolutely loved it. The video below will tell you why you should go soon too!

MONTANA: Shaped by Winter from Montana Office of Tourism on Vimeo.

Nat Geo's Adventure Travel Destinations For 2012

As 2011 grinds to its inevitable end, it is now time to start looking forward to 2012 and making plans for our adventures in the year that is ahead. With that in mind, the National Geographic Adventure blog has shared their picks for the top destinations and activities for 2012.

Some of the places earning a spot on the list include Mammoth Mountain in California, which is famous for its great snowboarding and skiing. Those looking for a different kind of mountain experiences are encouraged to travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina for a mountain biking adventure or visit China to take on the 7498 meter (24,600 ft) tall Mustagata. Paddlers will have plenty to choose from as well, as the list provides kayaking opportunities in Idaho and Rhode Island, as well as an epic canoe trip through the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania.

All in all, a pretty great list of suggestions for making plans for next year. I'll be writing my own top ten travel list for soon, and this year I'm going to take a slightly different tact. Instead of listing a specific destination, I'm going to list a specific adventure from a specific travel company that can help you get the most out of your travels. So, rather than saying go to Nepal because its great for the following reasons, I'm going to instead recommend trekking the Annapurna Circuit with a specific adventure travel company. This is just an example, but I'll be sure to share my list here once it goes live over at Gadling too. I think you'll like some of the suggestions.

Until that time, be sure to read Nat Geo's list, as it does have some great suggestions, not all of which will destroy your bank account.

Video: Climbing Malaysia's Dragon Horns

I missed the first video in this series when it hit the web a few weeks back while I was out of the country, but fortunately I came across the second video while reading The Goat this morning. They feature climbers Cedar Right and Lucho Rivera, who recently visited an island in Malaysia to bag a couple of peaks known as the Dragon Horns. They undertook this expedition to raise funs for the Big City Mountaineers, and managed to bring in about $4000, which was generously matched by The North Face.

The rest of us get some excellent videos of their adventure, which you'll find below.

Rumble in the Jungle: Part One, The Unclimbed Horn from Cedar Wright on Vimeo.

RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE: Part Two, The Dream Route from Cedar Wright on Vimeo.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Video: Rocking and Rolling On The Southern Ocean

The Drake Passage is one of the most notoriously treacherous bodies of water in the world. Sitting between the southern tip of South America and the Shetland Islands of Antarctica, it is a dividing line of sorts between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Because of its unique geographical location, it has been known to see some incredibly bad weather, which can make sailing through those waters a precarious affair.

Recently, ski guide Kent McBride experienced this first hand when he was returning from an expedition to the Antarctic in which he, and some teammates, skied a variety of locations in the region. After finishing up that excursion, the team was on its way back to Chile, when they caught out in the Drake Passage when things began to get a bit dicey. You can see the results in the video below, which show the waters there rolling dramatically, while we're informed that the wind gusts are topping out the Beaufort Scale, which is a ranking between 1 and 12 that indicates the force and danger of the winds. In this case, the ship was experiencing a 12 on that scale, which is hurricane force.

You can read more about Kent's adventures over at the Born Out There Blog, which is the official blog of First Ascent gear.

Warning: If you're prone to sea sickness, this video may be enough to put you over the edge.

New Website For Adventure Travelers

A good looking new travel website launched recently, bringing good coverage to adventure destinations across the globe. The new site, entitled Switchback Travel, is already rich with content and offers articles on several destinations which will no doubt be of interest to readers of this blog as well.

Amongst the stories already posted on the site are an article about hiking in the French Pyrenees, exploring the backroads of Maui, and the climbing, paddling, and backpacking options on the Norway's Lofoten Islands. That last article is part of a much larger feature on Norway itself, which is billed as Europe's true wilderness. Other articles take a look at the Great Himalayan Trail, something I've written about myself, and give advice on the best camera to take on your next adventure.

All in all, Switchback looks like it is a nice addition to the online travel community, and with its focus on adventure travel, I'm sure I'll be reading it regularly and using it as a resource for future trips of my own. I like the nice use of photography on the site, and the writing is comprehensive and insightful as well. The site is most definitely off to a good start, so be sure to check it out.

Antarctica 2011: Milestones

This past Wednesday, which marked the 100th anniversary of Amundsen first reaching the South Pole, was a major milestone in the 2011 Antarctic season. For several teams, it was the end point of their expeditions, as they had hoped to make it to the Pole in time for the celebration. For other skiers, it was a day to reflect, take stock of their progress, and consider all of the brave men and women who had traveled this route before them.

For one team, the Antarctic 1911-2011 squad, Wednesday was most definitely the end of the line. After having two team members airlifted to the Pole to take part in the ceremony, the remaining two members, Vegard Ulvang and Harald Dag Jollie, did complete their ski expedition, albeit a bit late to join the festivities. Now, the four men are headed home, bringing a close to their Antarctic adventure.

Another skier who feels like he's achieved a milestone is Mark Wood, who is now 25 days into his solo and unassisted journey to the South Pole. Mark managed to cover 16 nautical miles (29km) today and feels like he has turned the corner in terms of feeling good, acclimatizing to the environment, and finding his rhythm on his skis. He still has plenty of distance to go of course, and when he's done in the Antarctic he heads directly to the Arctic, but he now feels that his first goal, the South Pole, is a tangible destination.  The expanse of white that is the Antarctic continent can be a bit tiresome though, as he noted in an audio broadcast today, during which he equated it to that scene in The Matrix, when the characters were standing in an all white environment with no points of reference.

Also now in their 25th day on the ice, are Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltour, who are continuing to explore the continent via kite skis. Since enduring a horrible start to their journey, which forced a restart, the boys have managed to really chalk up the mileage. Yesterday alone, they covered 115.3km (62 miles),  which brought their total distance up to 1246.5km (673 miles) so far. Their latest dispatch reports that they are very much enjoying the steady and strong winds that are allowing them to make this kind of progress, and they hope to be at the South Pole sometime early next week. But again, this is just the start of their journey as well, since they intend to be on the ice for more than three months and cover 6000km (3239 miles) while they are there.

The two teams in the Scott-Amundsen Centenary Race are still plodding along, despite challenging conditions. The Amundsen squad now has 271 nautical miles (501km) to cover before they reach the Pole, while their compatriots on the Scott Team are facing 346 nmi (640km) before they get to their destination. Both teams are dealing with rough terrain at the moment, with the lead team hoping to put the Axel Heiberg glacier behind them this weekend, while Scott squad battles the Beardmore Glacier and all of its crevasses, stastrugi, and other assorted issues.

Finally, Cas and Jonesy continue to be media darlings back in their native Australia. The latest news report on their expedition, which you can see below, says that the boys plan to reach the Pole in the first week of the new year, although they'll barely have time to celebrate. Once their, they intend to turn around and ski back to Hercules Inlet in an attempt to become the first to go solo and unsupported to the Pole and back. Thats still a very long way to go, with the clock ticking against them.

Gear Box: Snow Peak SnowMiner Headlamp

Just when you think you've seen it all in terms of headlamp design, along comes the SnowMiner, by Snow Peak, to shake things up. This cleverly designed light looks like nothing else on the market, but that's just the start of what makes this lamp so great.

Like any good headlamp, the SnowMiner is lightweight (just 2.3 ounces/65g without batteries), comfortable to wear, and provides plenty of light. It features two different pre-set levels of illumination, high (80 lumens) and low (8 lumens), and comes with a flashing strobe mode that can be used to signal for help in emergencies. Perhaps best of all however, is the "Variable" mode, which lets you easily dial-up the exact brightness you need. This is accomplished by pressing, and holding, the power button, which gradually adjusts the light from its brightest to lowest setting.

One of the things that impressed me the most about this lamp was how comfortable it is to wear, even over extended periods of time. The headband adjusts very easily, and can be worn directly on your head or over a hat or helmet as well. Once it is in place, you barely notice the oversized lamp unit, which features a soft, silicone covering around the bulb itself. At first, that soft covering seems like just another unique design choice, but it turns out is has a purpose all of its own too.

While the SnowMiner is a nice headlamp in its own right, it turns out it has a few tricks up its sleeve that truly set it apart from the pack. For starters, when you're done using it on the trail or moving around camp, the lamp quickly, easily, and efficiently turns into a hanging lantern. A plastic hook built into the headband make it easy to hang from the ceiling of your tent, providing plenty of illumination for those late night card games or curling up in your sleeping back with a good book.

As for that soft silicon covering I mentioned, well its true use becomes apparent when you switch to lantern mode. When you're wearing the SnowMiner as a headlamp, the silicone covering collapses around the bulb to allow it to focus its beam in a more concentrated direction. This helps us to be able to see further ahead when we're walking on a dark trail, but doesn't really help much when trying to illuminate a larger area. But when you're ready to use the light as a lantern, you simply give tie silicon a slight pinch and a twist, and two tiny magnets inside the light release it, allowing the covering to expand into a dome. That dome disperses the light nicely, making it act more like a lamp and less like a flashlight. It really is an ingenious design that will be much appreciated when bedding down for the night.

Battery life is fantastic on the SnowMiner as well, lasting 50 hours on high and 140 hours on low. The light uses three AAA batteries, which are cheap and easy to find, and when they start to get low, the headlamp gives you plenty of warning by turning on a small red indicator light.

Snow Peak designed the lamp to be easy to use, even while wearing gloves, and the large power button is  fantastic when you're fumbling around in the dark as well. I also appreciated the easy to access battery compartment, which made it a snap to replace dead power cells. I've used other headlamps where that simple task turned into an exercise in futility.

In case you couldn't tell, I'm very impressed with the SnowMiner. It's a great little head lamp that extends its functionality well beyond what you would expect out of a light like this one. If your'e looking for a last minute stocking stuffer, the backpacker or hiker on your list will definitely appreciate this lamp. (MSRP: $49) (Checkout other Snow Peak gear at

K2 Winter Update: Off To Skardu By Bus

The all-star team of Russian climbers who will take on K2 this winter, have started the second leg of their journey. After arriving in Pakistan last weekend, they've been busy organizing their gear and planning the logistics of the expedition. After completing that process, they have now shipped their gear to Skardu, which serves as the gateway to the Karakoram, and they had hoped to hop a flight to that city as well. But weather delays have grounded air travel in the region, so they've elected to go by bus - a journey which could take upwards of 30+ hours to complete.

On Tuesday, the team stopped by the Central Alpine Club of Pakistan, where they were briefed on the climb and awarded their climbing permit. With that last logistical hurdle out of the way, they are now free to proceed with the expedition. The plan is to ship their gear from Skardu to K2 Base Camp by helicopter, while they follow along on foot, taking the time to acclimatize a bit on their way to BC. The plan is to be in camp and officially begin the climb on Christmas Day.

The team is deep in talent and has some impressive climbs on its resume, including ascents of Lhotse, Everest, and K2 itself. But according to ExWeb, none of the mountaineers have completed a Himalayan climb in the winter and the bulk of their experience climbing during that season is within Russia itself. Winter climbing in Russia is a challenge of course, but they're likely to face conditions they've never seen before in the Karakoram.

Climbing K2 is a supreme test of physical and mental toughness. It is, arguably, the most challenging climb on the planet, and that is under the best of conditions. The winter will bring a whole new set of obstacles to over come, not the lest of which will be the bitter cold temperatures, howling winds, and heavy snows. I salute these bold Russian climbers for giving this climb a go, and while the odds are supremely stacked against them, I'll definitely be cheering them on none the less.

I can't wait for them to get on the mountain and start the climb.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Antarctica 2011: Felicity Aston Radio Interview

One of the Antarctic skiers that I've been following closely this year is Felicity Aston, who is attempting to become the first woman to make a solo and unsupported traverse of the continent. Yesterday, Aston was interviewed on National Public Radio (NPR) here in the states, giving a large audience an introduction to polar exploration.

In the interview, which you can listen to here, Felicity talks about what it is like to travel through the Antarctic on foot, dragging her gear and supplies behind her on a sledge. She touches on dealing with the weather conditions, what the landscapes are like, and much more. Overall, a very solid interview, with good questions asked by the host.

Felicity notes that she has now been on the ice for more than 20 days and that she is roughly a degree and a half from the Pole. That means she should arrive at 90ºS sometime early next week. Of course, that is just the first waypoint for her, and after a short break, I'm sure she'll be back on the trail and headed towards Hercules Inlet. Overall, she's been making good time, but she still has a very long way to go before she's done.

Follow Felicity's progress on her Twitter feed, which features regular updates from Antarctica.

Video: Big Wave Kayak Surfing In Canada

Every spring the winter run off swells the rivers in and around Quebec, creating some of the most amazing conditions for freestyle paddlers to surf some very big waves. This past spring, kayaker Tyler Fox took is video camera along to shoot the action, and as you'll see below, the results are nothing short of spectacular. The water really is huge and that allows these talented athletes to really show off their abilities.

After you're done picking up your jaw, head over to Canoe & Kayak where you can read an interview with Tyler, where he talks about the experience of being out on the water in these conditions, as well as the "biggest, most gnarly wave ever surfed."

Spring Fever - Big Wave edit from Tyler Fox from Tribe Alliance on Vimeo.

Antarctica 1911: How Amundsen Won The Pole

As most of you know, yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen becoming the first person to reach the South Pole. A century ago, that was almost as big of an accomplishment as man walking on the moon. Back then, exploration was quite the source for national pride, and at the time, there were a number of explorers that were vying for the chance to be the first to plant their flag at 90ºS.

Amundsen's triumph followed a number of failed attempts by several pioneers of arctic exploration, including Ernest Shackleton and the Norwegian's chief rival, Robert Falcon Scott. But was was diffeent on this expedition from all the others, and how did Amundsen reach the finish line more than a month ahead of Scott? That is the subject of an excellent article on the National Geographic Adventure blog, which goes into detail on the advantages that Amundsen had over Scott, thanks to the time he spent in the Arctic, where he learned polar survival skills from the Inuit.

Throughout his lifetime, Amundsen was drawn to the cold, polar regions of the planet. Not only did he visit the South Pole, but he also became the first person to visit both Poles by going to 90º North as well. The explorer also pioneered routes through the Northwest and Northeast passages too. On many of his adventures, he displayed a keen ability to adapt to situations and learn from his challenges. So when Amundsen had a chance to learn from the Inuit tribes while making the first traverse of the Northwest Passage, he became a keen student of the skills that allowed them to thrive above the Arctic Circle.

When he returned to the Antarctic, Amundsen knew that sled dogs and warm furs were going to help him win the day, and in the end, those choices proved to be very wise. Not only was he able to move much faster than Scott, but his approach was much more efficient for the men too.

The rest is, as they say, history.

Adventure Medical Kits Survival Medic Winners!

For the past week, I've been running a little giveaway on the Adventure Blog to hand out three Survivor Medic packs from Adventure Medical Kits. I asked anyone who entered to e-mail me to share their favorite outdoor destinations, and after receiving several hundred entries, I randomly picked three winners last night. Those winners and there outdoor adventure destinations of choice, are as follows:

• Duffy Knox of Los Angeles, California, who prefers spending time in Zion National Park.
• Erich Rainville of Lovettsvill, Virginia enjoys spending time on the Franconia Ridge Trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire
• Jordan Toney from Johnson City, Tennessee, who loves the Roan Highlands of the Appalachian Mountains.

Keep your eyes peeled for your packages guys, I should be getting them in the mail today.

I want to thank everyone for entering the contest and sharing your favorite outdoor places. Some of them I've visited and others I can add to my list for future adventures. And thanks for reading the blog, it is much appreciated.

Also, thanks so much to my friends over at Adventure Medical Kits for providing the Survivor Medick packs for the giveaway. Both I, and my readers, appreciate the great products you deliver.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Walking Home From Mongolia: A Month In!

Way back in August, I told you about the Walking Home From Mongolia expedition, which would put adventurers Rob Lilwall and Leon McCarron on a 5000km (3106 mile) journey from Mongolia to Hong Kong, in the dead of winter no less. The plan was to travel both on foot and by kayak, and the entire trip was expected to take roughly six months. The boys hit the trail exactly one month ago today, and have been making excellent progress since.

Their journey began in the village of Sainshand back on November 14th, when Rob and Leon started their march into the Gobi Desert. Ahead of them was more than 200km (124 miles) of one of the harshest environments on the planet, and when the began, over night temperatures were hovering around the -18ºC/0ºF range. The plan was to hike across the Gobi, then cross the Chinese border at a city named Datong. From there, they would follow a stretch of the Great Wall for another 200km, continuing their slow, methodical walk south. On November 24th, the duo crossed the border after just 12 days of hiking. It turned out that the actual distance was closer to 250km (155 miles), but they managed to cover it at a good pace none the less. Temperatures got even colder however, reaching -30ºC/-22ºF at times, and knocking their comm units out of commission until things warmed up a bit.

Two days ago, Rob and Leon reached the town of Chahar Youyi Houqi, where they report that they are now entering a more heavily populated area of China, and they are encountering settlements with more regularity. Leon notes that many of them are ghost towns, so their interaction with the people there remains scarce. Still, they are seeing a definite change in the landscapes and are their brushes with modern life.

The weather, as you would expect at this time of year, remains quite cold and there is plenty of snow falling around them. Keep in mind however, that winter doesn't officially begin until next week, which means there are some very long and cold months ahead before they reach Hong Kong. If they are dealing with snow and sub-zero temperatures already, it is probably only going to get worse moving forward.

Follow Rob and Leon's adventure on their website and Facebook page for further updates and images from the field.

Antarctica 2011: Celebration At The Pole!

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the arrival of Roald Amundsen, and his team, at the South Pole. To commemorate the event, I have posted a lengthy article about the race between Amundsen and his chief rival, Robert Falcon Scott, on Gadling this morning. You can read it here. Most of you already know the story of course. Amundsen, who employed techniques and skills that he learned from the Inuit tribes in the Arctic, was able to use sled dogs and a shorter approach to beat Scott to the Pole. The tragic story of Scott and his men will unfold in future posts, but today we celebrate the Norwegian explorer, who became the first to reach the bottom of the world, 90ºS.

To mark this auspicious occasion, Norway's Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, skied the last few kilometers to the Pole along the very same route that Amundsen and his team took on their historic expedition. When he arrived at the Pole, Stoltenberg was joined by research scientists, explorers, adventure travelers, and other dignitaries in a ceremony that paid homage to the spirit of Amundsen, who would later become the first person to visit both the North and South Pole, while also pioneering routes through the Northeast and Northwest passages.

Unfortunately, most of the teams skiing to the South Pole who had hoped to be there to celebrate the event weren't able to make it. Bad weather delayed the start of the season by as much as two weeks, and that through schedules off dramatically. One team that gave it their best was the South Pole 1911-2011 squad, who would have liked to have one more day to complete their journey. Instead, the four man team broke into two units, with two of the men (Jan-Gunnar Winther and Stein Aasheim) were picked up by plane and transported the final distance so that they could be on hand in an official capacity at the ceremony. Their two companions, Vegard Ulvang and Harald Dag Jollie, both continued skiing on, and did manage to reach the Pole today, although it was after the ceremony was over. Still, the two men had to feel incredibly satisfied to have completed their own expedition a century after the man who inspired them.

Congratulations to the first visitors to the Pole this season and to all of those who made it for the ceremony. Here's to another hundred years of adventure in the Antarctic.

Five Great Laptops For Travelers

My recent trip to the Caribbean was filled with lots of fun activities, including hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving, and sailing. It wasn't all just about fun in the sun however, as the trip was hosted by Microsoft, who assembled a group of travel writers to give us the scoop on some fantastic tools and laptops that could be of benefit for travelers of all types.

Some of those tools included cloud storage service Skydrive, which is a great way to share video and photos from your trip, and Movie Maker and Windows Live Photo Gallery which help to edit them into masterpieces that your friends and family will actually want to look at.

But the real treat was getting to play with some hot new laptops that have a lot to offer travelers who want to stay connected while on the go. For the past few years, Apple's MacBook Air has been the undisputed king of travel computes, but now Windows users have some really good options as well. Here are five of them to consider when it comes time to upgrade your technology.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1
This is a laptop designed for adventure travelers. The ThinkPad X1 is a ruggedized PC that can withstand plenty of punishment and even features a water resistant keyboard. You can, quite literally, pour a bucket of water over the machine, and it will continue to run just fine. Sure, ruggedized PC's have been around for while, the Panasonic ToughBook is a well known example, but the X1 weighs in at just 3.7 pounds and is less than an inch thick. It features USB 3.0, which is perfect charging gadgets on the go, a 160GB solid state drive, and a battery that lasts nearly 6 hours on a single charge. Lenovo has built a rugged computer that can go just about anywhere and survive the rigors of the road.

Take this one with you to Everest Base Camp. (MSRP: $1773)

Asus Zenbook UX21
For travelers who like to travel light, the new Zenbook from Asus is the perfect option. This laptop features an 11 inch screen and weighs only 2.4 pounds. It's also super-thin, just 3mm in the front and 9mm at its thickest point in the back. Battery life is a respectable 5 hours and the Intel Core i7 processor provides plenty of power for all your mobile needs. Slip this one into your carryon bag, and you'll barely know its there. The Zenbooks stylish good looks will likely turn heads as well.

Take this one with you on a month long trip through Europe (MSRP: $999)

Sony Vaio Z
The SonyVaio Z is the workhorse of this group, providing mobile workstation power in a thin and light body. The Vaio Z is just 2.5 pounds and .7 inches thick, which is remarkable for a machine that has the ability to drive three external monitors at once. This machine is truly designed for the business traveler, as it features a 7 hour battery life out of the box and gives you have the option to add a sheet battery that extends that life to an amazing 16 hours, without adding much in the way of bulk. That means, you can hop a flight from Los Angeles to Sydney, use your laptop the entire way, and never have to worry about a recharge. Designed for to handle everything from e-mail and games to heavy duty video editing, this is a great option for when you absolutely need to get work done while you travel.

Take this one with you on a flight across the Pacific. The rest of the cabin will be jealous when their machines run out of juice before the halfway point. (MSRP: $1999)

Toshiba Portege R830
Another light and thin, yet durable option, Toshiba has built the Portege R830 to be both powerful and affordable. With a magnesium case and a specially designed shock-resistant system, this laptop is built to withstand the abuse that comes along with travel. Slightly heavier and thicker than other machines on this list, the Portege is unique in that it still includes a DVD drive, something that is becoming increasingly rare in our cloud-based, streaming media world. Battery life is a strength as well, keeping you up and running for eight hours, while powering the LED-backlit screen and surround sound.

Take this one with you when you have kids to entertain. The DVD drive will come in handy and the machine can handle the abuse from kids too! (MSRP: $799)

Samsung Series 9 - Special Edition
Built from Duralumin, the same material as some modern aircraft, the Samsung Series 9 is both rugged and beautiful. The metal casing protects the laptop nicely, while keeping it thin and light at the same time. The Series 9 is just .6 inches thin and tips the scale at a shade under 3 pounds. It still packs plenty of technology however, including a 13.3 inch backlit LED LCD screen, USB 3.0 and HDMI ports, a 7 hour battery life, and an illuminated keyboard. Throw in premium sound and a 128GB SSID drive, and you have a laptop that would make James Bond jealous.

Take this one with you everywhere! (MSRP: $1649)

Video: What A Wonderful World

We live on an amazing planet. And lest we forget that from time to time, here is a great video courtesy of the BBC and narrated by David Attenborough, to remind us. Simply beautiful and a great way to start the day!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Local Team Wins 2011 Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge

I mentioned the Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge last week when it got underway, but I completely forgot to update the final standings yesterday. The five-day event, which was a stage-based adventure race through the wilds of Tasmania, covered more than 350km (217 miles) and featured plenty of trekking, mountain biking, and paddling with some climbing, navigation, and other challenges sprinkled in for good measure.

The fifth, and final stage, took place on Sunday, with the teams crossing the finish line in Hobart. Local boys Mark Padgett and Mark Hinder, collectively known as Team Iron House, claimed first place in the Van Diemen Cup - Elite category, with a commanding lead over the competition. Behind them in second was Team Tasmania, consisting of Guy Andrews and Darren Clarke, while Team Pure Tasmania, made up of Emma Weitnauer and Jarad Kohlar, took third. The Enthusiast category, which is made up of mere mortal athletes like you and me, was won by Team Xtech (Tim Robinson/Dean Hemborrow). The complete results for the event can be found by clicking here.

By all accounts, this was a fantastic event, which was revitalized thanks to adventure racing fan and F1 driver Mark Webber himself. The race has signed a three year contract, which means it is likely to be around for the next few years and anchor down the end of the adventure racing calendar in 2012 and 2013 as well.

Congrats to the winners and everyone who took part in the race.

Antarctica 2011: Jordan Romero Is On His Way

While the South Pole skiers struggle with their own demons, namely the bad weather and endless days on the ice, the climbers are now appearing in Antarctica in larger numbers, as they set off to climb Mt. Vinson and other nearby peaks.

One of those climbers is of course Jordan Romero, the 15 year old mountaineer who is on the brink of becoming the youngest person to complete the Seven Summits. Yesterday, Jordan and his team (read: his dad and stepmom) left the U.S. for Punta Arenas Chile, where they'll have a brief stop over to collect their gear and complete final preparations before the expedition officially begins. So far, Jordan's website hasn't been updated with on his status, but keep an eye out on the Team Jordan Romero twitter feed for news on his whereabouts. Once he arrives in Base Camp, there will be regular updates, with texts, images, and voice reports as well.

Mt. Vinson marks the end of a long quest for Jordan. The young man climbed his first of the Seven Summits, Kilimanjaro, back in 2006 when he was just ten years old. He followed that up with a slew of successful climbs up Aconcagua, Elbrus, Denali and others. Of course, it was his climb up Everest last year that caught the attention of media around the globe, as he scaled the highest mountain on the planet at the ripe old age of 13.

With Everest out of the way, Vinson was the last obstacle for the young man. Standing 4892 meters (16,050 ft) in height, the peak won't necessarily intimidate with its altitude. The high winds, bitterly cold temperatures, and heavy snow will still create quite a challenge however, so this won't be a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination. Still, Jordan has faced stiffer challenges since he began climbing, and I've learned not to bet against this kid. He is strong, talented, and very determined. It should be fun to follow along on the last of his Seven Summits.