Friday, July 29, 2011

Venturepax Inspires Outdoor Adventures, Rewards You For Going Outside

A new website, entitled Venturepax, is looking to inspire us to head outside for a little adventure, and is willing to reward us for sharing those experiences with others. The site is already building a community of outdoor enthusiasts and is encouraging them to post photos and impressions of their adventures for others. When they do, they'll receive points that can be redeemed for discounts in local gear shops, t-shirts, water bottles, and more.

The Venturepax experience has three options: Find Venture, Share Experience, and Earn Rewards. The Find Venture option is a location aware library that suggest popular outdoor options that are in your area, and is a great place to discover new things to see and do outside. The Share Experience section allows you to pot your own suggestions, while also uploading images, while the Earn Rewards option gives you points based on the things you share that will eventually earn you some swag.

Earning points is easy. When you "check in" from a location, you'll receive 2 points. Uploading an image will earn you 20 points, while a video gets you 60. You'll also be rewarded by adding a new Venture to the library and sharing your experiences at that place or one of the others already added to the database. After you earn enough points, you can redeem them for Venturepax gear and discount cards.

The Venturepax website also reports that they are creating apps for Android, iPhone, and Blackberry that will let you check-in, share images, and post thoughts while on the go. That will make it extremely easy to rack up reward points while you're actually outside.

To get started at Venturepax, simply go to the site and create a profile, or login using your Facebook account. Once you're in, you can start sharing your outdoor adventures and finding new ones that you didn't even know existed.

The concept for this site is a simple, but good one. I've already found a few new things to do in my area, and that alone makes it worthwhile.

Adventurers Are "Artists of Life"

My friend DSD has a very thoughtful piece on her Summit Stones & Adventure Musings blog today entitled "Artists of Being Alive..."in which she philosophizes about those people who are "adventuring for another reason." She only has to point to her own blogroll to give examples of what she means, as it is filled with people who are pursuing the passions of their lives, such as climbing, paddling, or cycling, usually with some other goal or bigger cause in mind. Those people are striving to change the world through their own personal adventures, and that makes them "Artists of Life," a term I came to love the moment I read it.

The inspiration for DSD's post today is a quote from J. Stone which simply reads:
"The most invisible creators I know of are those artists whose medium is life itself. The ones who express the inexpressible... Their medium is their being. Whatever their presence touches has increased life. They are artists of being alive..."
That's very thought provoking and inspirational quote if you ask me. How many of us know people that fit that description? If you're lucky, you know more than a few. I'm fortunate in that I've had the unique opportunity to interact with a number of people who could be described that way, and I can say that my life has been made better for knowing them.

While you go about your day today and move on into your weekend, think about the "Artists of Life" that you know, and consider how you can paint your own canvass.

Christian Maurer wins Red Bull X-Alps 2011

While I've been mostly occupied with the Raid the North Extreme this week, another event was taking place in Europe that is definitely worth a mention as well. That's where the Red Bull X-Alps 2011 was taking place, which is a very unique race that is a demanding test of endurance, skill, and nerve as well.

For those who haven't heard of it before, and I'm one of them, the X-Alps is an event that pits endurance athletes on a non-stop race through the Alps, starting in Salzburg, Austria and ending in Monaco. Participants in the competition, and there were 31 of them, must travel either on foot or by paraglider. Yep, you read that right, foot or paraglider.  So, as a result, you have athletes running through the mountains, carrying their paragliding gear with them, while also scrambling to higher heights, so that they can launch themselves into the air and use their gliders to make progress.

The race got underway on Sunday, July 17th, and yesterday the first competitor crossed the finish line. That was Swiss athlete Christian Maurer who managed to glide the final 60km (37. miles) to the finish and land on a floating platform especially created for the event.

The rest of the competitors are expected to filter in between now and tomorrow, bringing a close to the race for 2011.

To find out more about the event, and see Maurer's winning ride, check out the video below.

Red Bull X-Alps: Day 12 from on Vimeo.

Currents TV Heads To The Hood River

The Hood River in Oregon is a world class destination for paddlers looking for all kinds of unique challenges. That's exactly what the folks at Currents TV discovered when they visited the area recently. They also found some good news in the form of a dam removal. The Condit Dam is scheduled to be demolished starting in October, which should help to ensure the health of the river in the future as well.

Enjoy the latest episode from the good folks at Canoe & Kayak and Five2Nine Productions.

Currents v2_2: Hood River, Oregon from Five2Nine Productions on Vimeo.

RTNX Update: Wins!

While most of the teams are still out on the course, the winners of this year's Raid the North Extreme have been crowned, as Team came across the finish line early this morning, to claim the victory. Congratulations to the team, which consists of Captain Bob Miller, Jakob Van Dorp, Gordon Blythen, and Sarah Fairmaid, on the impressive win.

The rest of the podium has yet to be decided, although it does appear that Team Wild Rose has a firm grip on second place at the moment. They're on the final mountain bike stages, and will transition back on foot later in the day, as they make their way to the finish. Behind them, there seems to be a battle brewing between DART-nuun, Atmosphere MOMAR and Tecnu Extreme/StaphAseptic for third place, while the Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers, the only other team on the full course, seem to be MIA from the leaderboard at the moment.

This year's RTNX is being run in the West Kootenay region of Canada's British Columbia. The 500+km (310 mile) race promised "real wilderness" to anyone who signed up, and it seems that most teams have gotten all of that and more. With only six teams still competing on the full course, and 15 others going unranked, it appears that the race has lived up to its billing. It also seems that the teams are having a great time and are enjoying the course, despite having poor weather conditions early in the week.

Good luck to the rest of the teams. Get home safe!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Karakoram 2011: Accident On Broad Peak

Earlier in the week we had reports of several successful summits on Broad Peak, despite the weather there not being the most advantageous for climbing. A few days later we also get word of tragedy on that mountain, as one of the climbers fell to his death while descending.

Climber Rob Springer, who is part of the Field Touring Alpine squad, posted news of the accident on his blog today. Rob is on BP to acclimatize before jumping over to K2, which is his ultimate goal this summer in the Karakoram. He reports that five members of their team were on a summit bid a few days back when Chinese climber Jeff Wai Hung Chung slipped and fell more than 500 feet before landing in a crevice. All attempts to reach the fallen climber failed, and in the end he succumbed to his injuries.

My condolences to Jeff's friends, family and teammates.

Rob also tells us that three of the climbers on the FTA team did actually summit during their bid to take advantage of the small weather window. They were Sophie Denis, Wim Smets, Andre Bredenkamp. On the way down however, they had issues of their own when one of them tore a muscle in their leg, greatly slowing their descent. As a result, it took them 27 hours to complete the round trip from High Camp to summit and back. Thanks to the combined effort of the team, they are all down safe and sound now however.

Rob believes that the weather window on Broad Peak is now closed for the season, saying that if teams didn't go up during the two-day break they had, they most likely aren't going to be able to do so now. He's getting ready to head to K2 himself, and after a bout of food poisoning, he is happy that he didn't burn too much energy on the BP climb.

As usual in the Karakoram this year, the weather will dictate who gets the opportunity to climb on any of the peaks. It's going to be dicey for the foreseeable future, and you don't want to take any chances on K2.

This Speed-Riding Video Will Have You Holding Your Breath!

Speed-Riding is an interesting activity that combines both skiing and paragliding into one exhilarating experience. Usually, speed-riders start off by skiing down the side of a mountain and as they pick-up speed, they also start to catch big air. Eventually they'll leave the mountain behind altogether and go soaring through the air, before eventually returning to Earth, hopefully on their skis once again.

The video below, which comes our way via the Adventure Journal, does a good job of showing off the sport. Caught on helmet cam, the video starts out with a typical skier out for a downhill run. But eventually that skier runs out of snow, which is when things start to get a bit interesting. I couldn't help but hold my breath as I waited for him to gain some altitude, and I can't be the only one to watch this video and fear for the safety of those skis.

Speed Riding Chamonix 3 juillet 2011 GoPro HD 960

RTNX Update: In Command!

We're now several days into the Raid the North Extreme adventure race, which is taking place as we speak in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia. With more than four days of racing under their belts, the teams have already had to endure some tough challenges. In fact, the course is so tough that only six of the 30 teams racing have a chance at completing the full course.

As of this writing, Team seems to have a commanding lead, and are currently on foot and steaming towards the next Transition Area, where they'll climb on their mountain bikes for the last leg of the race. In second place, and chasing hard is Team Wild Rose, followed by DART-nuun in third. At this point, the only other three teams who have a hope of completing the full course are GearJunkie/Yogaslackers, Team Atmosphere MOMAR, and Tecnu Extreme/StaphAseptic. There are also 10 teams that are continuing unranked at the moment, most likely due to a team mate dropping out of the race.

The full course teams will cover more than 500km (310 miles) by the time the reach the finish line on Saturday. The race has been a tough combination of trekking, mountain biking, and paddling, with plenty of navigation mixed in as well. There is still a lot of  miles to cover, and with serious navigation involved, anyone can get lost, but at the moment, the trailing teams will be hard pressed to catch WildernessTraverse. They seem to be running a good, solid race with few mistakes, and as a result, they've built a comfortable lead. For now.

Stay tuned for results tomorrow or Saturday.

Outside Has The Cure For The Post TdF Blues!

With the 2011 Tour de France in the books, it is easy to let a post-race malaise set in as we wait patiently for 2012 to get here so we can cheer on our favorite riders once again. This is the time that we console ourselves with our own long rides while day dreaming about our own days in the Yellow Jersey. Fortunately, the post-Tour cycling coverage over at Outside Online can help ease the pain of not getting our daily fix of Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett.

First up, Outside says that we can fight our annual "Tour withdrawal" by drooling over all the new bikes that made their debut there and will be arriving in our stores soon. In this article, they preview some of those hot new bikes, which includes offerings from Cannondale, CerveloPinarello, and more. These are state of the art bikes, and as you would expect, they come with hefty price tags. Some of them are approaching $10,000, which is out of the price range for most cyclists, but it is still fun to dream. Plus, by the time the 2012 Tour is over, features from these bikes will start to trickle down to something a bit more within our budgets.

Late July also happens to mark the start of RAGBRAI, one of the biggest cycling events in the world .The name stands for the Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, and each year more than 20,000 riders take part in the annual event. The ride kicked off this past weekend, and even Lance Armstrong dropped by for a spin. Outside takes a look at some of the statistics from this event, which is hugely popular back in my home state. For instance, more than 700 cases of beer are sold nightly at the camps for the event, making RAGBRAI as much of a party as it is a challenge. There are also an estimated 1500 support vehicles following the Peloton as well. It is a fun, not-too-serious event that I'd recommend to any cyclist.

Finally, have you ever wondered what kind of food the riders eat to keep them powering on the road for 3+ weeks? Outside also has one of the favorite recipes of Team HTC-Highroad. The simple, yet tasty-sounding, Potato Gnocchi Tourmalet includes two pounds of potatoes, eggs, zucchini, garlic, and more, and is guaranteed to power you through a mountain stage. Sounds good to me!

So how do you combat the Post-Tour Blues?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Uncontacted Tribe Lives Less Than 100km From Machu Picchu

As mentioned last week, Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the re-discovery of Machu Picchu by explorer Hiram Bingham. And while that amazing place continues to inspire travelers from across the globe, what I found even more interesting is that according to this story, there are still uncontacted tribes living less than 100km from the famous site. Worse yet, those tribes are now facing encroachment from the outside world that could threaten their way of life.

I wrote about the threats to uncontacted tribes when I posted a story about one being discovered in the Amazon a month or so back. In a nutshell, these tribes continue to live in isolation from the modern world, in the same manner that they have for hundreds of years. But now, climate change, deforestation, development and other outside forces are threatening to change their simple way of life forever.

This is exactly what is happening in Peru where the government has granted oil and gas companies access to the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti reserve, the home to these indigenous people. The Peruvian government says that it wants to protect these people, and their way of life, and yet they are providing access to their lands for big business.

Of course, this provides a difficult ethical dilemma for the modern world. We all know that society is constantly in need of energy sources, but how far should we go to tap new ones? Do our needs exceed those of these tribes simply because we have a more advanced society? It is a tough call, but I know that drilling for oil or natural gas in their environments will have a negative impact on their way of life, altering it forever.

Five Explorers For The Future

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Jon Bowermaster's writing. He regularly posts interesting and thoughtful pieces on his own website, as well as We both just happen to be contributors at Gadling as well, and today Jon has posted a great piece that looks at five up and coming explorers for the future.

Jon starts the article out by defining just what exploration will mean in the 21st century. As he notes, there really aren't any new lands to explore and our quest for precious metals and other rare commodities has morphed into a search for alternative energy sources and cures for diseases. He argues that the new area of exploration is more science based and involves as much time in the lab as it does in the field.

With that in mind, Jon does offer us five emerging explorers to keep our eyes on in the future. Those include: Hayat Sindi, who is developing new ways to monitor health and medical needs in developing parts of the world. She is joined by Ashley Murray, who is tackling wastewater issues, and Kevin Hand, a rocket scientist charged with designing a propulsion system to take a probe to Europa. Juan Martinez, who works to inspire youth to get outside, and Tuy Sereivathana, a conservationist who is protecting elephants in Cambodia, round out the list.

If some of those names sound familiar, it is because they are all on National Geographic's Emerging Explorers list for 2011, which I wrote about back in May. They also represent the changing face of exploration in the new millennium – an era that is also shifting our thoughts on what is important in this field. The days of the stalwart explorer in a pith helmet carving his way through the unknown regions of the jungle are mostly over, and these are the explorers that are going to lead us into the future.

Olly Hicks Gears Up For Global Row 2012

Remember Olly Hicks? He was the young adventurer who attempted to circumnavigate Antarctica in a rowboat back in 2009. Ultimately, due to a number of reasons, he was forced to abandon that voyage, but now he is back and gearing up to give it another go next year.

In his first  attempt, Olly set out from Tasmania to challenge the Southern Ocean, but soon found the conditions in that body of water were fickle and conspiring to work against him. The wind and currents made it nearly impossible for Hicks to make progress, and after weeks out on the water, he eventually conceded defeat, due in no small part to design flaws on his boat that made it less than ideal for the waters in which he was traveling.

Since that time, Olly has been working with two veteran naval designers on ways to overcome the flaws in his original boat design. With those new designs complete, he now feels ready to start planning his next attempt at the Global Row 2012, as the expedition has been dubbed. The new boat incorporates some unique features that will make it better suited for the conditions in the Southern Ocean, and the design team feels that Olly can expect to average 50-60 nautical miles per day. He'll put those estimates to the test when he returns to the water in October of next year, departing from Tasmania once again.

The voyage is expected to take somewhere between 18-22 months to complete, during which time Hicks will cover more than 18,000 nautical miles. The first phase of the journey will take Olly across the Pacific Ocean to South Georgia Island, where he plans to wait out the winter before resuming. That stage is expected to take approximately 160 days to complete. After overwintering and resupplying in South Georgia, he'll take to the Atlantic Ocean and continue around the globe, before arriving back in Tasmania. If successful in his venture, Hicks will become the first person to circumnavigate the Southern Ocean by rowboat.

While Olly loves a good adventure and wants to set the record, he's also making the row for two of his favorite charities as well. He hopes that his efforts will help raise funds for both the Hope and Homes for Children organization as well as the Save Our Seas Foundation.

While October 2012 seems like a long way off at this point, Olly is about to begin the all important search for sponsors for the Global Row 2012. With that in mind, a new website will be launching soon, and you can keep up with Olly's progress on his Facebook page right now.

Stay tuned for more as Olly ramps up for his next big adventure next year.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Karakoram 2011: News From K2

While there have been a number of reports from Broad Peak and the Gasherbrums over the past week or so, including news on successful summits, there hasn't been many updates from K2. The climbers on that mountain have been working hard however, as they not only build camps and fix lines, but also acclimatize for the challenging climb ahead.

According to Maxut Zhumayev, the team of international climbers that he is a part of have completed fixing their lines up to Camp 3 at 7100 meters (23,293 ft). After spending some time, and considerable energy, at altitude however, they have now returned to BC where they are getting some much deserved rest and relaxation, including singing around the campfire and drinking beer from a jar. Maxut also describes the winds at the summit as a "hurricane" and reports that they'll now take a few days rest before proceeding back up the mountain.

Similarly, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner is also part of the same team, and offers some insights as well. Their weather forecast had promised them decent conditions while they were on the mountain, but they deteriorated rather quickly once they got above ABC. The winds picked up and the snow began to fall, as the temperatures dropped, making it a much harder excursion than they had anticipated. Still, it sounds as if they accomplished their goals and everyone is feeling good. Gerlinde even says that they were ready to climb back up to C3 to spend the night and begin work on the route to Camp 4, but the weather deterred them, so they went back down to rest up instead.

Once Camp 4 is established, they'll begin eying the summit. It is the final camp before they make a run at the top. Spirits are high despite the fact that the climbers have been on the expedition for more than 40 days at this point, but the weather is expected to be bad for the next few days, so they'll sit tight and wait for a window. Time may be of the essence however, as it is nearly August, and they still have a lot of work to do before a summit bid can begin. The question now is will K2 turn back all challengers once again this year?

The 2011 Mongol Rally Has Started!

One of my favorite annual events, the Mongol Rally, has gotten underway this week, with 311 teams setting out on the ultimate road trip adventure. They'll now drive more than 10,000 miles across Europe and Asia, in vehicles more suited for commuting around town, before hitting the finish line in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

Of the 311 teams, 224 started on Saturday in the U.K., while another 87 set off from the Czech Republic. They'll now tackle grueling deserts, snow capped mountains, and roads that can barely described as roads as they race for days on end to reach the Mongolian capitol. Along the way, they'll have all kinds of adventures, explore a dozen unique cultures, and have the time of their life doing it.

The race is quite an event in and of itself, but it is also a great fundraiser for charity as well. This year's charity of choice is the Christina Noble Children's Foundation, which is based in Mongolia. The CNCF is an organization dedicated to helping improve the lives of underprivileged children living in developing countries, and each of the teams in the Mongol Rally has pledged to raise at least £1000 (about $1640) for the foundation. The goal is to raise more than £400,000 total before the end of the race.

As is typical with this rally, there are a number of unique entrants into the race this year. The press release that I received said that there is a group of racers dressed as Stormtroopers from Star Wars who are driving an ambulance. (I'm already rooting for these guys!) There is also a team of Vikings, a group driving an old fire engine, and even a school bus from the U.S. As you can imagine, it makes for quite the wacky scene, and you can check out some of the images from the start of the race by clicking here.

So? Who's up for a major road trip from the U.K. to Mongolia next year?

New Film Follows Paraplegic Up Kilimanjaro

Remember Chris Waddell? He's the paraplegic athlete who climbed Kilimanjaro a few years ago without the use of his legs. Chris actually went up the mountain by pedaling a hand-cart with his arms, eventually reaching the summit of Africa's highest peak.

Now, a film about his adventure is being screened in a few select spots across the country giving us a first hand look at what it was like for him to go up the 5895 meter (19,340 ft) Kilimanjaro. It looks like a very inspiring and well made film, based on the trailer that you'll find below. I'm hoping I get a chance to see it at some point.

I had the opportunity to speak with Chris on the phone shortly after he had completed his climb, and he seemed like a very genuine, good natured, guy who loved the outdoors and simply wasn't going to let anything stand in the way of his goals. He was also very humble about his accomplishments and just wanted to breakdown barriers as to what the general perception of what a paraplegic could physically accomplish. I have lots of respect for him.

Thanks to The Goat for sharing this one.

Why We Need NASA

Last week, the Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down for the final time, effectively bringing an end to America's manned space program – at least for now. For many of us, this was truly the end of an era, and with no clear cut plans for a replacement program, it seems like space exploration has been put on the back burner.

At the moment, the U.S., like most of the world, is embroiled in an economic malaise. The country is dealing with high unemployment rates, a shaky housing market, and federal budget crisis that threatens to make matters even worse. Because of this situation, many people have been saying that we need to cut NASA's budget even further and concentrate on fixing problems here on planet Earth. Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson has an answer to those people in the video below, in which he tells us exactly why we need NASA, both now and in the future. It's a great message about exploration, technology, and inspiring a whole new generation that seems fitting at the moment.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Raid The North Extreme Is Underway!

The Raid the North Extreme adventure race got underway yesterday with 30 teams setting off on a 500km (310 mile), six day race through the West Kootenay region of British Columbia. The coed teams of four will now trek, paddle, mountain bike, and navigate their way through the beautiful and demanding Canadian backcountry.

As I write this, the teams are roughly one day into the Raid, and as of now Team is in first place, having passed through Checkpoint 4 on the course as they continue on their mountain bikes. Behind them is Team Custom Cellular, although coming on quickly is Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers. Each of the lead teams still have a ways to go on their  bikes before transitioning to the kayaks for the first time.

Race headquarters has a host of live feeds to help keep you updated on the race as it unfolds throughout the week. Not only is there a running Twitter feed, but you'll also find a live leader board and a course tracker to show you where the various stages begin and end, as well the current locations of all of the teams. It is a slick interface that gives fans of adventure racing the opportunity to follow the action as it unfolds, while also keeping them up to date on the current standings in the field.

Look for the fastest teams to start arriving at the finish line on Thursday or Friday of this week. It seems that at the moment, weather conditions are good and the course is a beautiful challenge for the athletes to enjoy. Stay tuned for updates as the race continues throughout the week.

Paragliding Mozambique

I caught this beautiful video this morning while catching up on the National Geographic Adventure Blog. It is a wonderfully serene scene from Mozambique, where adventurers Gavin McClurg and Jody MacDonald became the first people to paraglide above the deserts there.

The duo discovered this place while on their five year long Best Odyssey that has seen them sailing the world while looking for the absolute best places to kiteboard, surf, paraglide, and sail. Their journeys have taken them to the ends of the Earth, but they have found some amazing places to enjoy the activities they love.

What more can you ask for?

The Dune Discovery- paragliding where no one has before from Offshore Odysseys on Vimeo.

Karakoram 2011: Broad Peak Summits, Tragedy On GII

Over the weekend, several climbers on Broad Peak took advantage of a brief break in the weather to head up to the summit, while others used the time to further acclimatize. There was also sad news from Gasherbrum II, where a climber fell to her death on the descent.

As I mentioned last week, the weather reports on BP haven't been good for some time, but there were predictions of a very brief window opening over the weekend. As a result, several climbers moved up to high camps with the intention of taking advantage of lull in the winds and the hopes of grabbing the summit at last. According to ExWeb, four climbers were successful in that bid as Xavi Arias and Xavi Aymar both topped out, as did an unnamed French and Russian climber as well. The summits were achieved on Friday in high winds, and according to the British Team on the mountain, it was a 30 hour round trip push from Camp 3 to the summit and back. At the time of their update, they were still waiting on these climbers to come down. That same team of climbers from the U.K. sent their squad up as high as C3 as part of the acclimatization process over the weekend as well. They report that things are progressing well, although they're still waiting on a weather window to allow them to finish off the climb.

We also have news this morning from the Field Touring Alpine team has put three climbers on top today. They sent five up to the summit despite the winds, and two turned back, while three were able to successfully stand on top. This is great news, as ExWeb points out that we had heard reports that the team was heading home just last week.

One team that has decided to pull the plug is the Altitude Junkies. They waited until the last possible moment, but with weather forecasts all sounding sketchy at best, they've decided it is best to call it a season on BP. In their latest dispatch, they explain the various weather forecasts that are being used by the teams on the mountain and why it causes problems and confusion at times. The climbers on this team have been waiting for three weeks for a chance to go up, but it simply isn't in the cards this year.

Finally, ExWeb is also reporting that a climber has fallen to her death on Gasherbrum II after a successful summit. Iranian climber Leila Esfandyari was on her way down to Camp 3 when she fell, but other than that few details are offered. She was part of a squad that put four climbers on top, and there were reportedly 15 summits on Friday on GII.

Condolences to her team, friends, and family.

Tour 2011: Cadel Evans Wins Le Tour

Yesterday one of the best Tours de France in recent history came to an end when Cadel Evans rode onto the Champs Elysees in Paris wearing the race's famed Yellow Jersey. In doing so, he became the first man from Australia to win the race and showed that he is without a doubt amongst the elite riders in the world.

The traditional Sunday ride into Paris during the Tour is largely a ceremonial affair. The Peloton calls a truce against the Yellow Jersey, and everyone enjoys a quiet morning before the sprinters move to the front of the pack and charge for the final Green Jersey points that are available on the streets of Paris. This gave Evans an opportunity to savor his victory and enjoy the moment as much as possible – and enjoy it he most certainly did.

The win comes after three very smart weeks of racing. Evans kept himself at the front of the Peloton for most of the stages. With the help of his team and some very savvy riding, he was able to stay out of trouble and avoid some of the mishaps that have plagued him in the past. He also didn't panic when some of the other pre-race contenders went on daring breakaways that could have cost him major time. Instead, he stuck to his game plan and worked hard to keep everyone within striking distance. No where was this as evident as it was on Stage 18 when Andy Schleck rode away to a four minute lead on the road, but Evans was able to draw him back in, doing the work completely on his own, and shaving two minutes off the lead on the final climb up the Galibier at the end of the day.

As a result of all of this hard work, Evans was sitting in third place coming out of the big mountain stages and heading into Saturday's individual time trial. He trailed only the Schleck brothers with Andy in first place 57 seconds ahead, and Frank in second just four seconds out of reach. During that time trial, Cadel rode like a man who knew he had the Tour de France in his grasp. Neither of the Schlecks are particularly adept at time trialing, and it showed. By the end of the day, Evans had not only erased their leads, he had taken first place and was ahead of Andy by 1:34. A remarkable time for sure.

Andy and Frank rode good a Tour as well, and their strategy was a sound one. They had built an excellent team around themselves in the newly launched Leopard Trek squad, and that allowed them both to stand on the podium in Paris. That said, their goal was to win the Tour and anything less has to be viewed as a bit of a failure. It is becoming increasingly evident however that neither man will ever win the race if they don't improve their ability to ride an individual time trial. It is their achilles heal in an otherwise impressive set of cycling skills.

Two of the three other jerseys that were up for grabs in the race were decided before arriving in Paris. Spain's Samuel Sanchez locked up the Polka Dot Jersey as the King of the Mountains in climbing and France's Pierre Rolland claimed the White Jersey after an impressive ride up Alpe d'Huez on Friday and a solid time trial on Saturday. That left just the Green Jersey up for grabs on the Champs Elysees, which Mark Cavendish locked up with an impressive ride yesterday and a big stage win.

With the 2011 Tour now officially over, we can look back and reflect somewhat on what transpired. This was definitely one of the best Tours in recent history for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the dramatics provided by the riders out on the rode. There were some daring breakaways and inspiring individual performance, such as Thomas Voeckler's fantastic efforts to not only grab the Yellow Jersey mid-way through the race, but also hold on to it for ten stages afterwards. He rode like a man on a mission, and while the Alps eventually killed his legs, it was hard to not cheer for the guy.

It was also a relatively scandal free Tour de France as well. The race organizers had instituted even more stringent drug testing and yet they had only one doping violation the entire race. That came about when Russian rider Alexander Kolobnev tested positive for a banned masking agent and retired from the race. This is a far cry from recent Tours when there were violations occurring on a regular basis, some of which had a direct effect on the final podium placement. As a fan of the race, I'm happy to have no black clouds looming over the event, at least for now.

So ends another Tour de France and those of us who love the race will begin to count the days until next year's iteration arrives. Huge congratulations to Cadel Evans. This is a much deserved win for the Aussie and I was glad to see him stand on top of the podium in Paris yesterday.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Long Distance Runner Going From LA To New York

Long distance runner Alex Bellini has set out on one heck of a run. A month ago, the Italian set out from Los Angeles on a road run that will take him more than 4900km (3045 miles) to New York. He hopes to run 70 stages, each 70km (43.5 miles) in length, to complete the run in just 70 days.

Alex is currently 32 days into the run and is making his way across Oklahoma. If you're at all aware of the current weather conditions here in the U.S., you know that at the moment that region is getting hit with a nasty heat wave that is causing temperatures to soar well over 100ºF/38ºC. As a result, it has been some very long, and hot, days out on the road. Read more about his progress on his official blog, which can be found by clicking here.

The entire project is sponsored by Jeep, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. The company has been practically synonymous with adventure for much of that time, and they are backing Bellini as a sign of their continued support for adventurous lifestyles. The 70th anniversary is also what inspired Alex to run the 70 stages/70km/70 days itinerary.

I can't even imagine running these kinds of distances in the current heat we're experiencing. I live further South from where Alex is running, and I've been averaging about 4-5 miles per day recently and the heat has been taking it out of me in a very bad way. Putting in these kinds of miles, then doing it again the next day, and the next... Just brutal! Hopefully he stays on pace and hits his target on schedule. For now though, he's going to suffer.

Tour 2011: Alpe d'Huez Lives Up To Its Legacy

Yesterday was a great day in the Tour de France. Today was even better.

There are certain stages that always deliver on the promise of high drama and theatrics in Le Tour, and Alpe d'Huez is right up there with the best of them. With its 21 iconic switchbacks, and nearly 15km (9.3 miles) of climbing, often at grades in excess of 10%, the mountain has dashed many riders hopes of winning the race. This year was no exception, delivering unprecedented suffering to the Peloton.

Today's stage was a short one, just 109.5km (68 miles), but all the climbing brought new levels of punishment to the riders. Early on, defending champ Alberto Contador made a breakaway in hopes of gaining a stage win and picking up enough time to get himself into contention for the the podium if not the the Yellow Jersey. He was shadowed by Andy Schleck for much of the way, and a game Thomas Voeckler, who wore the Maillot Jaune for the past nine days, tried to hang with the group as well. Cadel Evans found himself in trouble early when he experienced mechanical issues with his bike, throwing him off the pace, and eventually dropping him back to the Peloton. For a time, it looked as if his troubles in the Le Tour would strike once again this year.

Riding aggressively, Contador and Schleck built up a considerable lead on the road, going out to more than three minutes ahead. But as the stage wore on, Evans picked up the pace and started to reel them back in. By the time they reached the base of Alpe d'Huez, the GC contenders were all even once again although Voeckler, who had cracked on a previous climb, was a minute and a half back.

Once the final climb got underway, Contador went on the attack once again, dropping his rivals. Evans was content to shadow Andy Schleck, knowing that if he keeps him in sight, he can try to grab the win tomorrow in the individual time trial. At one point, Schleck tried to implore Evans to help him drive the pace, and if you could read Evans lips, you could tell exactly what he thought of that idea. In a nutshell, the letters "F" and "U" come to mind.

As the stage ground on, and the climb up Alpe d'Huez took it's toll, Contador began to run out of gas, and suffer mightily. That allowed fellow countryman Sammy Sanchez, and and French rider Pierre Rolland to catch him on the slopes. Rolland immediately went on the attack, leaving Contador in the dust, and crawling on to the stage win, giving France its first win of the year, and hope for a future Tour contender. Sanchez came in second, assuring him the Polka Dot Jersey for the King of the Mountains, and Contador limped home in third place, a beaten man.

A minute back, Evans and the Schleck brothers picked up the pace and went on the attack, but came in together, setting up a huge day tomorrow when the three of them will duel one another for the win, and to decide who rides into Paris on Sunday in Yellow.

So, when the dust settled at the end of this epic stage, it was Andy Schleck who donned the Yellow Jersey, while brother Frank moved up into third place, 53 seconds back. Cadel Evans is now in third 57 seconds off the pace. The Green Jersey still belongs to Mark Cavendish, who will have to fight off Jose Rohas on the Champs Élysées on Sunday if he hopes to go home as the top sprinter. The King of the Mountain, as mentioned, has been decided, with Spain's Samuel Sanchez taking the title as the best climber in this year's Tour. With his big win today, Perre Rolland of Team Europcar earns the White Jersey as the best rider under the age of 25, giving the entire country of France hope for the future.

Hats off to Thomas Voeckler for continuing to battle not only today, but for the past week. He fell well off the pace today, but continued to ride hard, and didn't give up the Maillot Jaune easily. He has shown what a tough rider he is and deserves a lot of respect.

Tomorrow will now be one fantastic day of riding around Grenoble. It is a 42.5km (26.4 mile) individual time trial that will have the riders going head to head against one another for final positioning. While world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara will most likely put in the best time of the day, all eyes will be on the Brothers Schleck and Australia Cadel Evans. Evans is by far the more accomplished time trialist, and it will take a miracle for Frank to hold him off, especially considering just four seconds separate the two riders. Andy isn't the best time trialist either, although he has improved in that discipline over the past few years. The question now is, whether or not his 57 second lead will be enough to hold off Evans. They'll leave the gate tomorrow as the last and second to last riders respectively, and it'll all be decided out on the road.

Whew! After the past two stages, I'm exhausted just watching the Tour. Such a fantastic way to end another great race. I'm going to miss it when it ends on Sunday.

Karakoram 2011: Summits on Gasherbrum II

Despite bad weather across much of the region, the Karakoram climbing season continues to unfold. Yesterday there was more action on the Gasherbrums, while climbers on Broad Peak hope to take a shot at the summit and have moved themselves into position as well.

Over on Gasherbrum II, Alex Txikon has reached the top just nine days after summiting GI. According to the dispatch on his website, he is tired but excited to have bagged his second 8000 meter peak of the summer. He's not done yet either, as Txikon will now move on to K2, where he hopes to add yet another big mountain to his resume.

Carlos Pauner also topped out on GII, nabbing his 12th 8000-meter peak in the process. His dispatch reports that it took Pauner 11 hours of climbing to reach the summit, and that his intentions were to drop down to Camp III before taking a rest. But the descent won't be an easy one, as there are no fixed lines to the summit, so they'll be down-climbing without ropes.

Meanwhile, some teams on Broad Peak have moved into position with hopes of a summit attempt on Sunday. The weather reports have indicated that bad weather is expected over the peak well into next week, which has convinced some teams to go home, while others are pinning their hopes on a narrow window of calmer winds that are expected on the 24th. As a result, acclimatized teams are getting themselves up to Camp 3 with the hopes of making a dash to the summit if the winds do actually calm some.

For many of these climbers, K2 is looming, so they need to finish up their efforts and head to that mountain – a mountain that is as unforgiving as they come.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Nepal To Re-Measure Everest To End Dispute With China

The government in Nepal has requested that the height of Mt. Everest be re-measured in an attempt to gain a more accurate reading of its true height and to end a brewing dispute with China. For years, the official height of the mountain, as recognized by Nepali officials, has been 8848 meters (29,029 ft), but that measurement includes 4 meters of snow on top of the peak. China insists that the mountain should be measured sans snow, and they list the height as 8844 meters (29,015 ft).

Everest falls along the border between Nepal and Chinese controlled Tibet. Apparently, last year the two countries agreed to use the 8848 meter height while discussing border disputes between the nations, but the Chinese continued to use the lower height. In order to settle the dispute once and for all, Nepal has begun the task of re-measuring the mountain using sophisticated GPS devices. Measurements of the height will be taken at three different locations, and the entire process could take up to two years to complete.

It should also be noted that in 1999 an American team measured the height of Everest, using GPS equipment, at 8850 meters (29,035 feet). That is the same number that National Geographic uses in its publications and representations of the mountain. The new survey will be the first official measurement since that time, and since technology has increased in sensitivity and accuracy, it is likely that this will be the most accurate measure of the height of the mountain to date.

It should be interesting to discover what the survey teams find when they compile their data. Maybe we should start a pool now as to what the height will be.

Tour 2011: The Alps Deliver High Drama

Heading into today's Stage 18 of the Tour de France, we knew that we could expect some fireworks between the top contenders in the GC. But what we didn't know was that one of those contenders would put in an amazing attack, while another would see his hopes of winning dashed beyond repair.

The 200.5km (124.5 mile) stage ran between Pinerolo and Galibier-Serre Chevalier and featured high mountain passes, and three uncategorized climbs to sap the strength of the riders in the Peloton. The ride started as expected, with the top riders all shadowing one another, waiting patiently, and biding their time. But then, something unexpected happened 60km into the ride. Andy Schleck went on the attack and left his rivals behind while building a huge lead through the final climbs of the day. At one point, he was as much as 4 minutes out, and was the virtual leader of the Tour. He even caught an earlier breakaway, and steamed passed them, eventually earning a stage win, crossing the finish line more than 2 minutes ahead of his brother Frank, who came in second and 2:15 in front of Cadel Evans, who did most of the work to reel Andy back in on the last climb of the day. The Yellow Jersey, on the shoulders of Thomas Voeckler, was in that group as well, allowing the tough Frenchman to hold on to the lead for one more day.

This big move was an impressive display of strength and extremely bold on the part of Schleck, who needed to be aggressive in order to gain some time and put himself into position to win the race. The gamble paid off, as he is now in second place, just 15 seconds behind Voeckler. Brother Frank holds down third place, 1:08 back, while Australian Cadel Evans is now in fourth, 1:12 off the lead. Tomorrow, on the slopes of Alpe-d'Huez, these men should be throwing attacks at one another to decide who will have the Maillot Jaune headed into Saturday's time trial.

One name conspicuously absent from that list is defending champ Alberto Contador. The Spanish rider lost precious time today and was dropped from the pack on the final climb when Evans made a move to pull in Andy. Contador looked like he was in pain on that part of the ride, and as a result, he is now sitting in 7th place, 4:44 behind Voeckler. With the attack from Andy today, combined with his inability to follow the lead group, it now seems that Contador's chances of winning the race are over, and he may well struggle to even get into the top five. He'll have an opportunity to show his mettle tomorrow, on the final mountain stage of the year. He is also a fantastic time trialist, so he may hope to make up some time on Saturday as well.

No matter who ends up heading to Paris in Yellow, you have to give Thomas Voeckler the respect he is due. The Frenchman has carried the Maillot Jaune with honor and dignity for his country, and as nearly every new stage began, everyone thought "this will be the day" that he drops the Jersey. It hasn't happened yet, and while it seems inevitable tomorrow, it doesn't take anything away from how well he has ridden and how well he has defended the lead. Voeckler is what the Tour is all about, and he has given it his all, as evidenced by the final shots of him today at the finish line. Clearly, he was spent.

As for the other jersey competitions, Mark Cavendish keeps the Green and really doesn't face any competition until the race reaches the Champs-Élysées on Sunday. Jelle Vanendert kept the Polka Dot Jersey, but Andy Schleck moved into third place just four points back. He's likely to gain more points tomorrow, which could lead to the possibility of a winner taking home both the Yellow and the Polka Dot in the same year. Rein Taaramae of Cofidis claimed the White Jersey today as the best young rider in the field as well.

Tomorrow's stage is a short, but brutal one. Just 109.5km (68 miles) in length, it features an awful lot of climbing. THings get started early with a Category 1 climb, followed almost immediately by a Beyond Category climb up the Col du Galbier. From there, it is a long, steady descent, that will test the riders technical skills, but give their legs a bit of a break, before the final climb of the day, a tough slog up Alpe-d'Huez, a Beyond Category climb that is amongst the most storied and feared in the history of Le Tour. It will be on those final slopes that the fate of the riders will be decided.

The question now is, does Andy Schleck have anything left in the tank for another tough mountain stage tomorrow? He needs 15 seconds to shake Voeckler out of the Yellow Jersey, but more importantly, he needs to put more time between himself and Cadel Evans. Neither of the Schleck brothers are particularly great time trialists, and they shouldn't feel comfortable with anything less than a two minute lead on Evans, who excels in the discipline. If Andy falters, will Frank take up the mantle for Team Leopard-Trek? There is going to be a lot more high drama in the High Alps tomorrow. Don't miss it!

Trekkers Complete First Thru-Hike Of Great Himalaya Trail

Two trekkers, Australian Greg Babbage and Brit Toni Wilson, have walked their way into the record books by becoming the first people to hike the length of the Great Himalaya Trail in Nepal end-to-end in a single season. The pair began their walk back in February and finished up just a few days ago, covering more than 1700km (1056 miles) in the process.

You can read all about Greg and Toni's adventure on, which is where they posted updates about their journey over the past few months. The duo began their excursion in the eastern part of Nepal, near Kanchenjunga and wandered west to Humla, in the Yari Valley, where the borders between Nepal and China meet. Along the way, they passed over 25 high mountain passes, reaching a maximum altitude of 6200 meters (20,341 ft) in the process. All told, the entire trek took 157 days to complete.

When it is completed, the GHT will be the longest and highest trekking route in the world, stretching for more than 4500km  (2796 miles) from Nanga Parbat in Pakistan to Namche Barwa in Tibet. The proposed final route will pass through Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet, with the splendor of the tallest mountains on the planet as a dramatic backdrop.

For now however, the route across Nepal is the only section that is completely open for trekkers to hike, and Australian adventure travel company World Expeditions offers travelers the opportunity to take it on – either in sections or as one massive hike. The company is already organizing excursions for 2012, preparing a great trip for anyone looking for a Himalayan experience that is unmatched by any other trek through the region. If you have 157 days of vacation to burn, then I'd recommend you take this walk.

Win TdF Prizes From Versus

The Versus channel continues to do an excellent job of delivering Tour de France coverage once again this year. Lets face it, the sport is certainly not the easiest one to sell to none cycling fans, and yet the great team  at Versus finds a way to make it compelling television year in and year out. If you haven't been watching these past few weeks, you're in luck, as today and tomorrow are likely to be excellent. Depending on the standings, Saturday's individual time trial should be fantastic as well.

Before the Tour wraps up for another year, Versus is giving us all a couple of chances to win some great prizes in their Defining Moments Fan Challenge on Facebook. To enter, simply logon to FB and click the "Like" button on the Versus cycling page (That's easy!). From there, you'll have the opportunity to share your personal story of overcoming long odds or coming up just short in your attempt at glory. Other fans will read and vote on the stories they like best, with the top vote getters squaring off to take home a new Cannondale Synapse road bike – a machine that is worth more than $3000. There are also several daily prizes to be had as well, like cycling helmets, helmet cams, and gift certificates.

While yore on the site, be sure to click on the Headsweats Ask Bobke button, located on the side of the page, to get the opportunity to ask commentator and fan favorite Bob Roll a question about the tour. If they find your question interesting enough, it may be used on the air in the nightly encore broadcasts.

Speaking of Headsweats, they're also running a Tour de France related special for Versus fans. When you make a purchase now, you can enter the promo code "Bobke" to get 25% off your next purchase. That's a pretty good deal for some great headwear to use during active outdoor pursuits.

With the days of the 2011 Tour starting to run short, enjoy ever minute of these last few stages. They should be great ones.

The Space Shuttle Lands For The Final TIme

At 5:56 AM ET, the Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down at Kennedy Space Center for the final time, bringing to a close the shuttle era. The video below shows that final landing, and although it is a little on the dark side, you can still catch history in the making. It could be my imagination, but it seems that even the announcer is a bit choked up.

I have been fortunate enough to visit the Kennedy Space Center and see the shuttle on the launch pad in all of its glory. A few days later, I was luck enough to witness a night launch as well. For most of my life, the Space Shuttle has represented exploration and a quest for knowledge, and I'm sad to see it go. Lets hope the next era of space travel isn't as far off as it seems at the moment.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tour 2011: Warning! Epic Showdowns Ahead!

Earlier today, the Tour de France returned to the high mountains, as the riders moved into the Alps at last, heralding the arrival of the biggest, and most important, stages of the race. Over the course of the next two days, there will be some epic showdowns to say the least, as the GC contenders do their best to shake Thomas Voeckler out of the Yellow Jersey and position themselves to take the crown.

But that is what lies ahead. Today's course featured 179km (111.2 miles) of racing between Gap and Pinerolo that featured a number of climbs, the last of which was a Category 2 affair that led up to the the top of the Pramartino Slope, before making a harrowing descent to the finish line. That descent was fast and technical, leaving more than one rider to scramble for his life as his bike went careening off the road. Even Voeckler found himself in a bit of trouble as he scrambled to keep the pace, at one point the Frenchman slid off the road and onto a parking lot alongside the route. The narrow roads and thickly wooded countryside were scary to watch, and many of the cyclists seemed wary as they dropped.

In the end however, there was one rider that survived the break, and rode alone to the finish line. That was Norway's Edvald Boasson Hagen, who claimed his second stage win of the year, and made up for some of the disappointment from yesterday, when he was out sprinted by Thor Hushovd. It has been a great year for Norway in Le Tour, as they have just two riders in the race, but four stage wins between them. Hushovd also spent several days in Yellow in the early part of the race.

Coming in second place today was Bauke Mollema, 40 seconds behind Boasson Hagen and third went to a game Sandy Casar, another ten seconds back.

In the GC, it was an eventful day which featured more attacks from defending champ Alberto Contador, who knows that he has to make up ground on his main rivals if he hopes to reach the podium in Paris. Contador attacked on the final climb of the day, but unlike yesterday, Andy Schleck was able to answer and stick on his wheel. After they went over the top, Contador once again pulled away on the descent, working closely with fellow Spaniard Samuel Sanchez to try to make up ground. In the end however, it was all for nought, and the Schleck Brothers, along with Cadel Evans, caught the two Spanish riders before the line.

While Contador failed to gain any time on the other GC contenders, he did show that he is in fine form and ready to attack on the two stages ahead. Those stages are more to his personal style, allowing him to attack on the steep mountains ahead. Thursday and Friday's stages are each mountaintop finishes, which is where the three-time winner thrives. The Schlecks and Evans will have to be prepared for those attacks if they hope to hold off Contador, and Sanchez, as the two men seem to have formed an alliance of sorts.

While Voeckler still clings to the Yellow Jersey, Evans has closed the gap some. He now sits 1:18 behind the leader, and 4 seconds in front of Frank Schleck in third. It seems unlikely that Voeckler can hold on to the Maillot Jaune after tomorrows massive climbs, but the popular Frenchman has surprised us at every turn in this race, and perhaps he'll do it again tomorrow. We'll just have to wait and see.

There wasn't a whole lot for the sprinters to do today, although there were a few points to be picked up on an intermediate sprint. As a result, Mark Cavendish kept the Green Jersey once again. Likewise, the standings in the King of the Mountain competition remain largely unchanged, as Jelle Vanendert keeps the Polka Dot Jersey. Rigoberto Uran held on to the White Jersey as well as the Tour's best placed rider under the age of 25.

As mentioned, tomorrow's stage is going to be a true test of skill and stamina. The Peloton faces a grueling 200.5km (124.5 mile) ride from Galibier to Serre Chevalier that features three Beyond Category climbs, including a very long and tough climb to the finish. By the time the riders reach that final ascent, expect to see only the best climbers out in front, including Contador, the Schlecks, Sanchez, and Evans, who is a two time world champion in mountain biking and knows a thing or two about climbing. Contador will need to press the attack to gain time, and everyone else will need to be in top form in order to respond. To make matters worse, tomorrow's finish will be at the highest altitude ever for the Tour, throwing a little thin air into the mix.

On Friday, the famed Alpe-d'Huez, perhaps the most storied climbing in Tour history, will await the contenders.

National Geographic Celebrates 100 Years Of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of South America, and the stunning images of the mountain top fortress, located high in the Peruvian Andes, have inspired more than a few thoughts of adventure. 2011 marks the 100 year anniversary of Hiram Bingham's rediscovery of the hidden fortress, and to celebrate National Geographic has launched a website dedicated to that amazing place, which has been an archaeological treasure trove for a century.

Whether you've visited the site yourself or have dreams of making the journey one day, you'll find plenty to love on the Nat Geo Machu Picchu site. Not only will you find a host of great images from ancient city, you'll also get a list of the top 10 Machu Picchu secrets and 10 famous visitors, which include several surprising names. You'll also find articles on the history of the place, five great side trips while you're in Peru, and suggestions for alternate routes to the Inca Trail – a popular 4-day trek that ends in Machu Picchu itself. And once you've finished digesting all of that information, you'll be able to test your knowledge in a Machu Picchu quiz as well.

As a kid, reading the story of Bingham's discovery of Machu Picchu was like reading a real life account of Indian Jones. I was fascinated by the fact that a structure such as this one could be hidden away for centuries, and it allowed my imagination to run wild thinking about all the other undiscovered sites that are still out there, just waiting for us to stumble across them. This Sunday, July 24th,  is 100 years to the day since that archaeological find. Take a moment on that day to at least give a tip-of-the-hat to not only the Incans that built the amazing structure, but the man who rediscovered it as well.

New Website Offers Discounted Adventure Trips To Members

A new website could prove to be quite a boon for adventure travelers looking for great deals on their next trip. Epic Thrills launched this morning as a members-only site that offers exclusive pricing on some of the best trips available from some of the best adventure travel companies in the world.

Using the Jetsetter model of offering members a single exceptional deal each week, Epic Thrills has partnered with a number of well known travel companies to offer discounts of up to 30% off active adventures to far-flung corners of the globe. For example, the very first trip that they will sell is an 11-day mountain biking journey through Nepal that is organized by Pedalers Pub & Grille, a company well known for its fantastic cycling adventures. Pricing for this trip will be revealed at 1PM ET today, but I'm told the savings will be 20% off the regular price.

Once a new travel deal is posted, it will remain on the site for anywhere from 7-14 days, with a new deal being revealed each week. Members will have the opportunity to purchase at the discounted price, but once the trip reaches its maximum capacity, the deal will be closed.

At the moment, the only way to get into the site is by requesting membership on the site's sign-in page or to know someone (like me!) who can send you an invite. Once you're accepted, you'll be able to create an account, login and take advantage of the savings yourself. While you wait for that invite to be sent, you can read the Epic Thrills Blog, which looks to have some excellent content already in place.

I know that this approach to discounted travel deals has worked well for Jetsetter and it can be a really great option for travelers looking to save a little green. If you're an adventure traveler, you'll definitely want to get in on this program.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Everest 2011 Stats

The 2011 spring climbing season on Everest may be long over, but there are still some interesting facts about the various climbs on the mountain that are coming to light. This article, from The Economic Times, shares some of the numbers from this past spring as passed along to them from Ang Tshering Sherpa, the outgoing president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.

According to the article, there were 156 climbers who went to the summit from the South Side of the mountain this past spring. Of those, 39 were Americans, the most of any single country. The U.K. came in second with 27 summitteers, and India was third with 19. Those climbers were spread out over 92 separate expeditions, which was down from the 100 teams that received permits last year. We had heard that Base Camp was quieter this year, and those numbers seem to confirm it. All told, there were 506 ascents of the mountain, with 375 coming from the Nepal side and a further 131 from Tibet's North Side. The article also gives a tip of the hat to Apa Sherpa, who we all know summitted for a record 21st time.

The Economic Times is an Indian newspaper, and as a result they also share the accomplishments of their countrymen, which were quite impressive this spring. For instance, Haryana, Bikash Kaushik and Sushma Kaushik are a husband and wife team who summitted together, becaming the youngest couple in the world to accomplish that feat. They are 24 and 27 respectively. The Indian military reached a milestone as well when Flight-Lieutenant Nivedita Chaudhary became the first female Air Force officer to summit. She was joined on top by Anshu Jamsenpa, described as a "housewife," who became the first Indian woman to summit Everest twice in a single year.

The article also puts into perspective exactly what the spring climbing season means to Nepal, as it states that the government there earned $2.38 million in revenue from the permits and taxes that come along with climbing in that country. It is also estimated that the climbing season had an economic benefit of $9 million for the country as a whole as well.

A Bike Race Of A Different Kind

While the climbing and the descents in Le Tour will be quite impressive over the next few days, the riders in that race have nothing on the guys in the Megavalanche, a race that also takes place on the Alpe-d'Huez but features a distinctly different kind of riding. Check out the video below, which comes our way courtesy of the Adventure Journal, to see what I'm talking about.

The winner of this race was rider Remy Absalon, who took 40 minutes to cover the 20 miles and 9000 foot descent to the finish line. Crazy and scary!

Tour 2011: Contador Throws Down The Gauntlet, Evans Takes The Challenge

It is becoming increasingly clear that in the 2011 Tour de France you should expect the unexpected. Case in point was today's 162.5km (101 mile) stage between Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux and Gap which was expected to be  a great opportunity for a breakaway, but not have much of an impact on the GC itself. Those expectations were both right and wrong in so many ways, and with the rain, and sometimes snow, steadily falling throughout the day, the riders once again put on a show.

As predicted, there was indeed a major breakaway early on in the stage, with a large group of riders pulling away from the Peloton. Over the miles however, that group began to splinter, as the course steadily climbed throughout the morning. By the time they lead riders topped out on the Col de Manse, a Category 2 climb that gave way to a treacherous descent to the finish, only Norwegians Edvald Boasson Hagen and Thor Hushovd, along with Canada's favorite son Ryder Hesjedal remained. Both Thor and Boasson Hagen had already won stages this year, and were sparring back and fourth down the stretch, with Hesjedal, a team mate of Thor's on Team Garmin - Cervelo, aiding in the pursuit. In the end, the Garmin boys were too much for Edvald, who took second behind Hushovd, who is continuing to have a fantastic Tour.

While the breakaway boys were jousting at the finish line however, the real story was back in the Peloton, where Alberto Contador finally made his presence known. On a day that was not expected to be all that exciting for the top contenders, Contador went on the attack, and in the process made his rivals Frank and Andy Schleck look weak. Andy in particular appeared to have no answer to the Spaniards acceleration, and was soon dropped on a climb that should have been easy for him. In the end, he gave up precious seconds to his rival, opening the door for Contador to really challenge in the high Alps, which start tomorrow.

One rider who didn't crack under the pressure however was Aussie Cadel Evans, who not only matched Contador move for move, but also pulled away from him down the stretch. Evans made up enough time to climb into second place, serving notice to the field that he isn't going away this year. He looked extremely comfortable following Contador's attack, and then putting in one of his own, and considering how great of an individual time trial rider he is, he seems to be the front runner at the moment.

For the most part, Thomas Voeckler let Contador and Evans duel it out ahead of him, seemingly unable or unwilling to follow. At the end of the day, he remained in the Yellow Jersey, although Evans closed the gap to 1:45 seconds. Frank Schleck dropped to third and Andy is in Fourth, but both looked out of their element today. Contador moved up just one place into sixth, and is now 3:42 off the lead. More importantly however, he has narrowed the gap with everyone except Cadel Evans.

There were a few sprint points to be had today, but for the most part they were given away to riders not in competition for the Green Jersey. Mark Cavendish holds on to that coveted title and rode very well today through some tough hills. He'll find it much tougher over the next three days however, and will just hope to avoid elimination in the big mountains. Jelle Vandendert of Omega Pharma Lotto kept his Polka Dot Jersey, although that will surely be challenged in the next three days as well. The White Jersey was retained by Rigoberto Uran of Team Sky as well.

Tomorrow should be a great day for cycling fans, as the high mountains of the Alps are here at last. It is going to be a challenging 179km (111.2 mile) ride from Gap to Pinerolo that features multiple Category 2 and 3 climbs, as well as Cat 1. Most of the day will be spent going up, with a long, rapid descent following the slog up to Sestieres. After that, there is one Cat 2 before a very fast descent to the finish. It'll be a good opportunity for a break once again, as the next two days will have mountain top finishers that will be dominated by the sports best climbers, and most likely the GC contenders.

The next three days should provide some amazingly compelling cycling. Contador has shown that not only is he strong and able, but that he is also willing to go on the attack to try to get himself onto the podium in Paris. The Schlecks looked like they were unable to pursue him today, which should be worrisome heading into the Alps. If their form doesn't improve, they could find themselves off the podium altogether. Their new team, Leopard-Trek, had very high expectations going into this Tour. It is practically an all-star squad with the one-two combination of the Brothers Schleck as their ultimate weapon. But if they don't have a better outing tomorrow, they could have some real problems on Thursday and Friday.

Perhaps it's time they focused on Frank's options instead of Andy's.

Karakoram 2011: Weather Window Slammed Shut

Heading into the week, all of the weather forecasts indicated that there would be a couple of days of great weather in the Karakoram, which could give some of the teams a chance at their respective summits. But the weather in the mountains is fickle to say the least, and it now seems that that window won't open after all, which means the teams will continue to wait, while Mother Nature ponders their fate.

The British Broad Peak team posted an update his morning that confirms that high winds and generally poor conditions have hit the upper-reaches of the mountain. The team had hoped to make a summit bid early next week, but their advance team was turned back from Camp 1 yesterday, and the long range forecasts are ominous to say the least. They'll hold position for the next week, and hope for the best, although things aren't looking all that promising at the moment.

Meanwhile, the Brits say that two of the commercial teams on BP have decided to call it quits and head home. Amongst them is the Altitude Junkies, who haven't mentioned their immanent departure on their own website yet, although their last dispatch does mention the incredibly high winds that are buffeting the mountain at the moment.

The Field Touring Alpine squad sent out an audio dispatch yesterday and confirmed that echos the reports of bad weather on Broad Peak, and across the Karakoram actually. But their forecasts seem to indicate that another window could open early next week, which could give them one last crack at the summit. After that, it's on to K2, where their camps are already being built and supplies are being delivered.

Speaking of K2, there hasn't been a whole lot of news coming out of Base Camp there, so we can only assume that everyone is too busy establishing their high camps and acclimatizing to the altitude. There are a number of teams on the mountain already, but I haven't received many dispatches from any of them for awhile now. The focus in the Karakoram will soon shift to that mountain, as traditionally the early part of August is when climbers make their summit pushes on that incredibly tough peak. Earlier this week, Maxut Zhumayev did mention that his team was in the process of establishing camp at 7100-7400 meters (24,000 ft) but there was no word on when summit pushes would begin.

Finally, Alberto Zerain has climbed up to Camp 1 on Nanga Parbet, where he is keeping a close eye on the weather. It has been incredibly bad there as well, with lots of wind and rain, but it appears that there may be a summit window opening now, and he hopes to be in position to take advantage of it should it happen.

It seems no matter which mountain you visit, it is always the same story. We are all at the mercy of the weather.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Denali Update: It's Over For Alan

Alan Arnette's plans for summiting Denali came to an end over the weekend thanks to a suborn and persistent weather system that would not allow access to the top of the mountain. He and his team had been at High Camp, located at 17,500 ft (5334 meters) for seven days waiting for a weather window to open, but high winds and heavy snows continued to prevent them from mounting any kind of serious summit bids. As a result, they simply ran out of time, so Alan, along with the rest of his Mountain Trip team, are now heading home.

This Denali climb was the most recent in Alan's bid to climb the Seven Summits to raise funds for Alzheimer's research. After completing successful climbs on Mt. Vinson in Antarctica, Aconcagua in South America, and Everest in Asia, he seemed poised to stand atop Denali as well. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate with those plans, so this summit will have to wait for awhile.

Next up on the agenda is Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe at 18,481 ft. (5643 meters). Alan will travel to the Caucasus Mountains in August to take on that climb, before heading to Tanzania in September for the 19,340 foot (5896 meter) Kilimanjaro.

Having a climb called off due to weather is part of the game when it comes to mountaineering. That doesn't make it any easier or any less disappointing when it happens. According to his latest dispatch, Alan is now at Base Camp at 7800 ft on the mountain as he waits, along with about 45 other climbers, for extraction from Denali. The weather is much better at that altitude, and temperatures have risen high enough that they have to wait for the glacier to refreeze before a plane can come and retrieve them. if all goes well, the teams should be headed home today however.

I'm sure more than a few of them will be dreaming about Denali until next year, when they can return and give it another crack.

Endangered Big Cats Making A Comeback?

Some of the world's most endangered big cats may be making a comeback, as two of the more elusive species, living in remote areas, have been spotted recently, leading some to believe that their numbers may be better than previously suspected.

First we have this story courtesy of the Adventure Journal, which brings news that researchers have discovered a population of snow leopards that is alive and well in a very mountainous region of Afghanistan. The cats were captured by camera traps that were set throughout the area and wired to automatically snap a picture of anything that wanders by. This particular population was an unexpected find, and bodes well for the species, which is thought to number somewhere between 4500 and 7500 cats across all of Central Asia.

A similar story comes our way from TreeHugger as well, but in this instance the cats in question are the even more rare Armor Leopards, found in rugged forests in Russia's far eastern wildernesses. These cats are on the "critically endangered" list and it was believed that fewer than 50 of them still existed in the wild. A new survey, that once again uses camera traps, caught 12 unique individual leopards on camera however, which lends hope for that species making a comeback as well. Check out video footage of these extremely rare and beautiful creatures below. (Big thanks to Outside Online for this story!)

Both stories are good news for animal conservationists. While far from out of danger, it is good to know that both cat species are doing better than expected. Perhaps they can each be brought back to healthy, thriving numbers once again.