Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Off To The Caribbean!

As I alluded to in a post earlier today, I'm off to the Virgin Islands for the next few days for some sailing and snorkeling in the sun. I'll no doubt share some of those adventures after I get home, but in the mean time, I hope everyone else has some adventures of their own planned for the weekend ahead.

Back soon!

NG Adventure Interview and Video of Free Skier JP Auclair

Earlier today, National Geographic Adventure posted a great interview, and an even better video, featuring free skier JP Auclair. The video was shot as part of a film entitled All.I.Can. by Sherpa Cinema and shows JP racing through the streets of three towns in British Columbia. In the interview, Auclair discusses the making of the video, the motivation behind it, and what it was like to zip through intersections, down stairs, and across snowy, and sometimes not snowy streets.

JP Auclair Street Segment (from All.I.Can.) from Sherpas Cinema on Vimeo.

Outside Online Lists Their Favorite Gear, Bike, Environmental and Adventure Blogs

The staff over at Outside Online has been spending a lot of time on the Internet lately. The site, which is the web companion to Outside Magazine, has been posting lists of their favorite blogs and websites in a variety of categories, including gear, bikes, the environment, and adventure. The lists will have some very familiar sites for regular readers of this blog, especially since I was lucky enough to be named to one of the list as well.

The Top 10 Environmental Blogs features such sites as Treehugger and The Cleanest Line, both of which are favorites of mine. That particular list is topped by the The New York Times Green Blog, which just should be an indication of the overall level of quality of the websites on this list. The Top 10 Bike Blogs includes Fat Cyclist and Bike Snob NYC, which I enjoy as well, with Red Kite Prayer getting top overall honors.

The Top 10 Gear Blogs was definitely a hotly contest category, as there are a number of good gear blogs on the Internet. But these are definitely the best of the best, featuring our friends over at the Gear Caster and The GearJunkie as well. Outside's top gear blog honors goes to the Outdoor Gear Lab, which is an excellent source of information on a dizzying array of products.

Finally, the Top 10 Adventure Blogs is practically a list of my favorite sites on the Internet. Some of the familiar names on this list include National Geographic Adventure and The Goat, which I link out to frequently, as well as Adventure Journal, which it tops in this category. That is impressive enough in and of itself, but the gang over at AJ also scored top ten listings on the Gear and Bike blog lists too! Well done to Steve and crew.

Finally, I'd like to thank the editors over at Outside for including my humble little slice of the Internet. I managed to rank 5th on the list of Adventure Blogs, and I'm excited and honored to be mentioned in the same breath with the other great sites on the list.

Jordan Romero Prepares For Vinson, Last Of His Seven Summits

15-year old mountaineer Jordan Romero is back in the press today, thanks to a story at about his upcoming expedition to Mt. Vinson, the tallest peak in Antarctica. Romero made headlines last year when he successfully climbed Everest at the age of 13, sparking a lot of debate in the mountaineering community about how young is too young for some of these big peaks. Now, he has just one mountain remaining on his Seven Summits list, and he'll try to remove that final hurdle in just a few weeks time.

Jordan began his quest to become the youngest climber to complete the Seven Summits when he was just 10 years old, knocking off Kilimanjaro in Africa. Since then, he has gone on to climb Aconcagua in South America, Denali in Alaska, Elbrus in Europe, Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia, Kosciuszko in Australia, and of course Everest in Asia. Now, only the 4892 meter (16,050 ft) Vinson remains.

According to Jordan's website, he'll leave for Punta Arenas, Chile on December 12th, where he'll no doubt have to put the finishing touches on his preparation for the climb while waiting for a proper weather window for ALE to deliver him to Base Camp. With any luck however, he'll be there by mid-December and will spend Christmas on Vinson working towards the end of a goal that he has been remarkably focused on over the past five years.

I'll post updates on Jordan's climb as we get them.

Antarctica 2011: Rest Days Due To Weather and Health

While I prepare to head out to tropical climes in the Caribbean tomorrow, the Antarctic teams are experiencing a decidedly different environment than I'm about to enjoy. Weather has been better and overall progress has been good, but for most of the South Pole skiers, there is still a very long way to go before they reach their goals.

The Aussie explorers Cas and Jonesy spent a second straight rest day in the tent, which is the last place they want to be at the moment. Progress on their Hercules to the Pole and back again, expedition has been slow thus far, and progress has been hampered by a series of nagging injuries as well. But Cas has contracted a nasty skin infection which is making it very difficult for him to proceed at the moment and from the sounds of things it is quite painful. Hopefully this isn't going to threaten the expedition as a whole, but the infection isn't likely to get better until after they're off the ice. Lets keep our fingers crossed that the boys will at least have a chance at the first unsupported there-and-back-again ski expedition to the Pole.

Richard Weber's team has been experiencing great weather conditions, with plenty of blue skies and light winds. The temperatures have even been quite warm by Antarctic standards, which has made the entire team happy. They did run into a bit of a snag yesterday however, when they came across a rather large crevasse field. That danger forced them to turn west, rather than south, as they navigated around the potential problem. Despite the detour, the skiers managed to knock off 24km yesterday and crossed the 83ºS latitudinal line, earning themselves some extra chocolate for the day.

Weber is taking his team to the Pole on skis, but they'll kite back to Hercules at the end of the expedition. Joining them will be South African Howard Fairbank, but until they unite, Fairbank is skiing solo and unsupported to the Pole himself, via the Messner Start. Already 8 days into his adventure, Howard notes that he is now finding his rhythm and is as determined as ever to make it to the Pole, despite a few equipment issues and persistent cold and biting winds. Yesterday, while covering nearly 30km of distance, he managed to break one of his ski poles, which made for an awkward journey, but gave him something to do when he stopped for the day. Howard has now repaired the pole and seems optimistic that it will hold up for the remainder of the expedition.

Following their day of rest the South Pole 1911-2011 team was ready to get back out on the ice and continue their progress to the Pole. Unfortunately, the weather had other plans for them as high winds and bitterly cold temperatures confined them to the tent for another day today. Sitting in the tent hasn't been easy though, as the men are feeling the effects of the altitude and the lower air pressure that is found at the Poles of the planet, which makes every movement an effort, even while acclimatized after weeks on the ice.

Felicty Aston was also hit with the high winds and colder temperatures as well. Because of the strong headwind, she was only able to cover about 5 miles (8km) yesterday, and rest was elusive in the tent last night. No word if she hit the trail again today or elected to stay tent bound as well, but it appears that the weather is very hit or miss depending on your location.

That's all for the Antarctic updates for this week. After I return from my excursion, I'll post a progress report on where everyone sits. Hopefully the explorers will have good weather and snow conditions, allowing lots of progress in the days ahead.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Video: Timelapse Shows Off Beauty Of Oregon

Oregon is a beautiful state with diverse landscapes ranging from mountains to beaches and everything in between. This is displayed quite well in the timelapse video below, which will have you making plans to visit the state for yourself.

According to the Vimeo page for the video, this was shot over a six month period, that culminated with a 1600 miles road trip in September. In the process, the creative team behind the project managed to create a piece of art that is a joy to watch. I love the music too!

Finding Oregon from Uncage the Soul Productions on Vimeo.

Russian K2 Winter Ascent: More Details On The Climb

Last week I posted a story about an all-star team of Russian climbers who will take on the Mountain of Mountains this winter when they attempt to climb K2. Now, as the 16-man team prepares to depart for Pakistan, we get a few more details on the climb courtesy of ExWeb.

In my original post, I wrote that the Russians were about to attempt the impossible, and while that is a bit of hyperbole, I do believe that a K2 winter ascent is perhaps the most challenging climb in mountaineering. It is a significant undertaking in during the summer, and winter will present a whole host of additional challenges. But, making the first ascent of the second tallest mountain in the world isn't challenging enough for this veteran crew. They're going to attempt to do it without the use of supplemental oxygen as well. ExWeb reports that the team will stash an oxygen bottle in each of their camps for a emergency purposes, but aside from that, they'll go sans O's.

The team is also still working out the details of exactly which route they'll be taking as well, although the plan now is to go up a variant of the well known  Cesen Route. At some point they'll traverse the treacherous face of the mountain and switch over the Polish Route, which they'll take to the summit. That is, if everything goes according to plan.

The expedition also has an official website, all in Russian of course, which can be found here. Google Translate can help fill in some of the details however, and doing so reveals that the team will hold a press conference on December 5th, prior to their departure to the Karakoram on December 9th. That means they'll arrive in Pakistan less than two weeks before the start of winter, and by the time they organize their gear and travel to Base Camp, the new season should have officially begun. They'll then have until March 20th to complete a true winter climb, although I'm sure none of them are interested in spending three months in that remote location during the winter.

The hope is that they'll pull off this incredible feat and fly the colors of Mother Russia at the summit along side the official flag of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, which will take place in Sochi, Russia.

Make no mistake, this will be one of the most ambitious and difficult mountaineering expeditions in recent history. The 16 men on this team are about to be pushed to the very limits and they are going to need a lot of things to go their way before they will successfully step onto the summit. If they are successful, this talented team will have pulled off one of the toughest climbs imaginable on this planet.

Update: It has been pointed out to me that there is an English language version of the site which can be found here. Much easier than using Google Translate! Thanks Greg!

Five Years On, David Sharp Still Haunts Everest

In May of 2006, British mountaineer David Sharp died while climbing alone on Mt. Everest. He was approximately 450 meters below the summit and the exact details of what went wrong are unknown to this day. But what is known is that while he lay there in the snow, just off the main path on Everest's North Side, roughly 40 climbers passed him on their way to the top. No one stopped to render aid or tried to conduct a rescue, and the 34-year old perished while others went up to celebrate their successful summits.

The incident resulted in quite a backlash within the mountaineering community which still resonates to this day. Some were critical of the fact that no team even attempted to bring Sharp, who was suffering from exposure and altitude sickness, down the mountain, and a number of high profile figures on Everest were lambasted for leaving David to die. Those involved more directly in the controversy claim that there was confusion over the Sharp's health and status, and communications over what to do for him were unclear as well.

It didn't help that much of the media at the time portrayed the climbers as being very callous, not carrying what happened to another human being, while remaining singularly focused on getting to the top of Everest. Few understood the logistics of pulling off a high altitude rescue, but the fact that no one even tried has been at the center of this story since it first broke.

One of the climbers who was there that day, and walked past Sharp on his way to the summit, was New Zealander Mark Inglis, a double-amputee who made history by becoming the first man to climb the world's tallest mountain without either of his legs. Inglis went on to write a book about that experience and included his recollection of what happened regarding Sharp. Inglis maintains that he and his teammates thought that David was already dead, so they continued on their way, but not before checking in with team leader Russell Brice back in Base Camp, who allegedly told the team to forget about Sharp and keep moving. Brice for his part says that he didn't speak with Inglis about the matter, which has led to even more confusion over the whole situation.

This has all been brought to the forefront once again thanks to an interview that Inglis conducted with the BBC. In that interview, the Kiwi climber says that he regrets not going back when his team came across Sharp on the mountain, but he continues to say that a rescue wasn't possible, particularly in the extreme cold and altitude on Everest. Unfortunately, the BBC won't let me embed the video here, but you can watch a segment of it by clicking here.

The David Sharp controversy has been an on going one over the past few years, and considering some teams have since successfully conducted high altitude rescues on Everest and other mountains, it isn't likely to go away anytime soon. While it is a sad story to say the least, I do think it has had a positive impact on the mountaineering community, who seem less likely to simply give up on a fellow climber in the wake of the events that went down on Everest back in 2006.

Thanks to Adventure Journal for sharing the link to the video.

Design Concept: High Altitude Mountaineering Pod

An Italian design firm called LEAPfactory has unveiled a new conceptual design for a portable pod that would give high altitude mountaineers a more robust structure to live in while on long expeditions. The so called LEAP Pod would reportedly provide all the comforts of home, while also going easy on the environment.

According to the designers, the pod would be delivered to base camp on a mountain via helicopter, and would offer living quarters, a sleeping space, bathrooms, and plenty of storage for gear. Solar panels would provide power for lighting, an integrated stove and communications gear, and the interior would be warmer and more comfortable than a tent. Waste materials would be stored on board for easy clean-up, which would also lessen the impact on the environment as well.

The LEAP, which stands for Living Ecological Alpine Pod, would need to be securely fastened on a set of moorings, which would make it a semi-permanent structure, and multiple climbing teams could use it over time. The belief being that the more it is used the more the environment is protected from the impact that climbing teams can have on mountains where they spend weeks climbing.

While the concept looks like an interesting one, this isn't really all that practical for any place but base camp. The higher camps wouldn't necessarily have the space to install such a structure, and delivering it via helicopter would be nearly impossible at those altitudes anyway. That said, it does look like it could be warm and comfortable for the numerous days that climbers spend in BC on a mountain like Everest for instance.

No word on what something like this would cost, but the bill would likely be paid by a big guide company, who would then pass on the costs to their customers over multiple years of use.

Adventure Racing News: GearJunkie, Team WEDALI Join Forces

The Team GearJunkie adventure racing stable grew in size yesterday when it was announced that was joining forces with veteran adventure racing squad Team WEDALI for the 2012 season. The newly renamed group will go by the moniker of Team GearJunkie/WEDALI and will join Team GearJunkie/YogaSlackers under the GJ adventure racing umbrella.

Minneapolis based WEDALI, which stands for We Eat Dirt And Like It, did everything but eat dirt in 2011. The team was amongst the top AR units in North America, claiming victory at the 2011 Checkpoint Tracker Adventure Racing Championship and finishing high in a number of other races as well. Additionally, the team took first place at the 2010 United States Adventure Racing National Championship as well.

In addition to being a great site for gear news and reviews, has also been a great advocate for the sport of adventure racing. Now with two teams in the fold, site founder Stephen Regenold, who is also based out of Minneapolis, has really shown his commitment and love for the sport.

Both teams will have a full schedule of races in 2012, starting with the YogaSlackers returning to Patagonia for the Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race. Because these two teams are amongst the best in North America, it is also likely they'll be competing head-to-head in a few races as well. I have no doubt there will be a good spirited rivalry between the GearJunkie teams.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Antarctica 2011: Emergency Evacuation From Weber Team

One Antarctic team had a scary moment over the weekend when one of the members of the squad had to be evacuated from the ice. The story is a sobering reminder of the fact that even in the 21st century, the frozen continent can be a harsh and unforgiving place.

Kathy Braegger, who is part of Richard Weber's expedition, was airlifted back to Punta Arenas after falling ill while out on the ice. She is reportedly getting plenty of medical attention and is doing well, but wasn't in any condition to continue on with her teammates, who were understandably upset that she was forced to abandoned the journey. 

Weber, who is no stranger to the Antarctic, is leading the group to the South Pole from the Messner Start on the Ronne Ice Shelf. They'll make the 900km (560 mile) journey on skis and then kite back to Hercules Inlet to complete their adventure. Reportedly all the other members of the squad are doing fine and so far their progress has been good. 

Kudos to the fine folks at Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions for pulling off the medivac for Kathy. The Antarctic truly is one of the most remote places on the planet, and getting a plane out to pick her up was no small task I'm sure. This is why ALE is the best in the business, and why most people rely on them to support their adventures at the bottom of the world.

Good luck to the rest of team and get well soon Kathy!

Video: Harrowing Mountain Bike Crash

I came across this video at Adventure Journal earlier today and thought that while it was incredibly scary it was also worth sharing. The crash that you see in the video took place during the Victorian Downhill State Series of races that are held in Australia, and while it looks brutal, we're told that the person involved in the accident was not injured. When you watch the footage however, you'll see that if that is true, they were extremely lucky.

Steve Casamiro, who is the editor of Adventure Journal, wrote a nice piece with this video that I think many of us will find very fitting. It's called "Finding Lessons in a Nasty Mountain Bike Crash," and you can read it here. As Steve notes in the story, we've all been where this rider was, on a trail we probably have no business riding on, a bit out of control in part because of the nasty conditions, and then holding on for dear life. Most of us don't end up in a crash like this one, thankfully, but when we do have our crashes, where ever they may come, the important thing is to get back up, learn from our mistakes, get better and move on. Hopefully that is what happened here.

Bungie Jumping Into The Abyss

Bungie jumping has never been all that high on my "to-do" list, and bungie jumping into a pitch dark cave seems even scarier. But that's exactly what this group of crazies did when the set up a jump in an abandoned gold mine in the Czech Republic and then filmed their little adventure to share with the rest of us.

The sensation of falling is always a bit unnerving. What must it feel like when you're free falling into the abyss?

Antarctica 2011: Weather Improves For Most

While those of us in the U.S. took a few days off from work to give thanks for all the good things going on in our lives, the Antarctic explorers pressed on with their expeditions amidst a host of on going challenges.

One of those explorers who is happy to be underway at last is Felicity Aston. After waiting out a ten day delay, Felicity arrived in the Antarctica more than a week ago, only to have further delays due to mechanical problems with the plane. On Friday she was transported to her starting point on the Ross Ice Shelf, and started the first leg of her journey, which will see her traverse the continent via the South Pole, ending at Hercules Inlet. Aston has been sending regular tweets from the ice, keeping us all well informed of her progress, and so far it seems that she has been doing very well. Aside from a rough day with high winds, the expedition has gone about as well as can be expected in these early stages.

Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltour seem delighted with their choice of restarting the expedition. They've been back out on the ice for a week now, and have already started to cover some excellent distances thanks to strong winds and their kite skis. The pair took yesterday off to recharge the batteries on their equipment as well as their own personal energy reserves, but they're back on the trail today, covering 76.7 km (47.5 miles). Thats a far cry from the early days of the expedition, when they struggled just to get a few kilometers each day.

Cas and Jonesy have also elected to take a rest day today in an attempt to let their bodies recover. The Aussies have been out on the ice for 29 days already, and while progress was initially quite slow, they have now enjoyed some better days and he pace has picked up appreciably. Both men are feeling plenty of aches in their achilles tendons and toes due to the physically demanding cross-country skiing that they've been enduring over the past several weeks, and they've also developed an uncomfortable, and downright painful, rash as well. They are also keenly aware of the clock ticking against them, as the Antarctic season will end on January 24th, and while that seems like a long way off yet, they do have to still reach the Pole and make the return trip to Hercules.

Mark Wood has now been underway on his North South Solo Expedition for a week, and progress has been steady and sure, despite a variety of conditions that have worked against him. Mark did face a scary moment yesterday when the bindings on one of his skis broke while he was moving. A broken binding can be a massive problem for skiers headed to the South Pole, and he knew that the future of his expedition was in jeopardy, but fortunately Mark was able to use his multi-tools to fix the problem, and he was able to continue on today. Hopefully this fix was a good one, as it would be a shame if he had to battle equipment issues all the way to the Pole.

Conditions have improved for the Scott-Amundsen Centenary Race teams, who were battling whiteouts and high winds last week. The past few days have been much better however, and both squads are covering better distances, although perhaps taking a page right out of history, the Amundsen team seems to be a bit faster. If things continue like this, they'll be the first to the Pole, as they currently have just 444 nautical miles to go, while the Scott team still has 538 nmi to cover.

Finally, the South Pole 1911-2011 team are enjoying fine weather and as a result, they actually skipped a planned rest day yesterday to take advantage of the conditions. They're continuing to steam on towards the South Pole via Amundsen's route, and have approximately 542km (336 miles) remaining.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ski The Himalayas S3E12: Climb Up, Ski Down!

The final full episode of Season 3 of Ski the Himalayas finally gives the team, and the audience, what we've been waiting for – namely climbing and skiing on Thorung Peak, a 6157 meter (20,200 ft) mountain in Nepal. After enjoying some fresh powder at about 19,000 feet, the team rests up over night, then goes all the way to the summit, where they enjoy the view just long enough to step into their planks and start skiing back down. As you can imagine, the scenery is once again spectacular in this episode.

Antarctica 2011: Slow Progress Is Still Progress

With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us in the U.S., I likely won't be posting updates over the next few days, so I thought I'd take an opportunity to check-in with the Antarctic teams to see how they are progressing. So far, it has been a tough season at the bottom of the world, but the explorers are taking it in stride and seem to be making the best of a tough situation.

One of those teams, is the Antarctic ICE squad of Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltour, the two men who hope to spend upwards of three months, crossing more than 6000km, this year. After getting off to a very rough start, Dixie and Sam elected to retreat to a nearby base, consider their options, and relaunch the expedition. They returned to the ice yesterday and managed to already cover more distance than they had in their first week previous to the restart. As you can imagine, that makes them optimistic for good things to come. It should also be noted that they have also restarted the clock on the expedition as well. One look at their website shows you that this now considered "Day 2" of the journey.

Aussie skiers Cas and Jonesy are reporting that while they are making better progress, conditions still remain very challenging for the duo who hope to go from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole and back again. Deep snow has continued to slow their progress and the high winds aren't helping matters either. With about 800km (497 miles) still to go to the Pole, they are staying focused on their goal and trying to remain upbeat, despite a few nagging physical concerns. Hopefully they'll get a chance to get in a rhythm soon however, as this expedition has simply been once challenge after another for them so far.

Richard Weber and his team finally got underway yesterday. They'll be kite-skiing from the Filchner Ice Shelf to the South Pole over the next few weeks. Richard reported a bit of a slow start yesterday with warm (by Antarctic standards) weather and soft snow keeping the group from covering too much ground.

Mark Wood officially launched his North-South expedition yesterday as well, beginning what he hopes to be back-to-back journeys to both the North and South Poles. So far, Mark has had good weather, although he notes that crevasses and sastrugi are already an issue. Still, progress has been good, particularly for the early going, and he is already exceeding 10 nautical miles, despite moving mostly up hill.

One team that could use some good weather is the Scott-Amundsen Centenary Race squad. Both teams were caught in blizzards yesterday resulting in whiteout conditions. It was so bad that the Scott Team made no progress at all, although the Amundsen Team did manage to knock off 12.3 nautical miles. That is an impressive number considering how horrendous the conditions were. Team leader Henry Worsely described it in the words of Shackleton as the "white darkness."

Video: Man's Best Friend!

I came across this video yesterday on the Wend Blog, and thought it was just too cute not to share. It features a mountain biker headed out to the trail with his faithful companion Lily, who is an adorable little dog who simply seems to love running. Particularly after her owner on his bike. She seems to skip along beside him all the way down the trail, and has more energy than any creature ought to. After watching this, you'll want a Lily of your own to take out on the trail with you. Good stuff!

Les Stroud Returns To Survivorman!

While details are still a bit light, it appears that Les Stround will be returning to television with a new version of the show that made him famous. This morning, the following message on his website:
Les Stroud is about to head back into the field to film and produce NEW Survivorman Specials! He is upping the ante. Setting out for 10 solid days of lone survival. The original. The authentic. The only true survival experience. Airing on OLN IN CANADA, DISCOVERY SCIENCE CHANNEL IN THE USA and DISCOVERY CHANNEL INTERNATIONAL.
I know that this is welcome news for a lot of fans of the show and it sounds like they have big things planned. Apparently Les will be headed back into the field to start filming in just three weeks time, which means they are ramping up very quickly.  No word yet on where he'll be going, but I'm already looking forward to seeing what he'll be up to.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Video: A Tour Of Antarctica's McMurdo Station

McMurdo Station is an Antarctic research base that is owned and operated by the United States. Located on the southernmost tip of Ross Island, the place is sprawling, featuring three airfields, a heli-pad, harbor, and more than 100 buildings. At it's peak season, such as now, it is home to more than 1200 people and is  an important center for scientific research on the continent.

Recently, diver Henry Kaiser visited the place to conduct some research of his own. He also created the short film below that shows what life is like at McMurdo during the busy austral summer. I thought you might enjoy seeing how the research teams in Antarctica live this time of year.

Adventure Racing Site No Boundaries Introduces AR Power Rankings

Adventure racing and endurance sports website No Boundaries launched a new feature a few weeks back, introducing a list of AR Power Rankings for the first time. The rankings will be a monthly feature moving forward, and for now they are focused on the best teams in America, although I'm told they are pondering adding Canada soon and international teams possibly in the future.

So what teams made the No Boundaries list? Topping the rankings, at least for now, is Team Tecnu Extreme/Staphaseptic, who definitely had a great year in 2011. They're followed closely by Dart-nuun and Wedali in second and third place respectively, with Team Bones and GearJunkie/YogaSlackers rounding out the top five. Team SOG earned a sixth place ranking, with Odyssey Adventure Racing/ taking seventh. CheckPointZero/Tech4o, Alpine Shop, and Bushwhacker finish off this list of strong teams.

The panel of AR experts who selected this inaugural power ranking line-up have posted their thoughts for each team as well. If you're a fan of the sport, particularly here in North America, you'll want to head over and read their justifications for picking the teams, and ranking them where they did. There are also a group of very good teams who earned "honorable mention" status as well.

This is an interesting list with the top teams well represented. What do you think? Did they get the rankings right?

Russian Team To Attempt The Impossible: K2 In Winter!

Explorers Web has a story today about a new expedition to the Karakoram this winter that will attempt to climb K2 under the harshest conditions imaginable. The team features an all-star line-up of Russian climbers who are accustomed to formidable challenges, but despite their collective experiences in the mountains, this will most certainly be their toughest climb yet.

The 16-man team will consist of Alexey Bolotov, Gennady Kirievskiy, Vladimir Belous, Nikolai Totmianin, Valery Shamalo, Gleb Sokolov, Vitaliy Gorelik, Illias Tukhvatullin, Andrey Mariev, Vadim Popovich, Evgeny Vinogradskiy, Nikolay Cherny, Sergey Bychkovskiy, Igor Boriseko and Vladimir Kuptsov. Himalayan vet Viktor Kozlov, whom ExWeb describes as having spent years planning this attempt, will lead the expedition.

Standing 8611 meters (28,251 ft) in height, K2 is the second highest peak in the world, and one of the toughest climbs under the best of conditions. During the winter, high winds, cold temperatures, and precarious snow conditions will only serve to elevate the challenges that are normally associated with the "Savage Mountain." K2 also happens to be one of the deadliest mountains to climb, with about a 25% fatality rate amongst summiteers.

Just how challenging is this mountain? This past summer, a team of four climbers reached the summit after weeks of working the route, waiting out the weather, and acclimatizing. They were the first team to top out on the mountain in over three years. In contrast, hundreds of climbers summit Everest every year. To say K2 is tough is an understatement, and that doesn't even begin to factor in the difficulties that winter will present.

Now that said, I'd like nothing more than to see it actually climbed in the winter. This is going to be one epic adventure and the men who will be undertaking this expedition know going in that they are going to suffer. The plan is for the large team to be spit into groups of two men each. They'll all take shifts working at fixing lines, building high camps, and supporting one another for summit bids. It'll take a truly team effort to reach the top, and we get to follow along as they do.

Watch for more updates on this expedition in the weeks ahead.

Solo Sailing Update: Laura Crosses Indian Ocean

Teenage solo sailor Laura Dekker completed her crossing of the Indian Ocean last week, safely arriving in Durban, South Africa. This marks the end of the third leg or her solo circumnavigation attempt, which began in August of last year.

Laura remained mostly silent about her route across the Indian Ocean in an attempt to avoid becoming a target for pirates, but reaching South Africa is another significant milestone on her journey. According to her most recent blog update, she is currently in Port Elizabeth, and will soon be sailing around the Cape of Good Hope, which should be the last of the major challenges before she turns for home. That last stretch run will have her sailing up the western coast of Africa and returning to Gibraltar where she began.

The 16-year old has now crossed the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Ocean, and seems to be a lock for finishing her voyage safely, and thereby claiming the title as the youngest person to sail solo around the world. Laura made headlines when she announced her intentions to do just that at the age of 13, but bureaucratic  red tape kept her on dry land until she was finally able to set sail last year at the age of 14. Since then, she has been casually making her way around the planet, and seemingly having a great time doing it.

There is no word when she'll set sail again, but reading her journal entries online, Laura seems eager to get going. If the weather works in her favor, I imagine she'll brave the Cape soon enough and start final stage for home.

Gear Box: Brooks Range Isto Softshell Jacket

Brooks Range is one of those gear companies that knows its market and knows it well. They make a very nice, albeit limited, line of outdoor gear that is high in quality, well designed, and very affordable. Their small catalog of products keeps the company focused and agile, continually delivering gear that performs well in a variety of settings and conditions.

That same philosophy is on display with Brooks Range's newest lightweight, softshell jacket, the Isto. The Isto is built for active pursuits, and incorporates four-way stretch fabrics to keep you moving without restricting motion. Those same fabrics are comfortable and breathable, making this jacket ideal for aerobic activities. Something I forgot about when I first put it on.

You see, the Isto is quite lightweight, and the first time I put it on, I was surprised to find that it wasn't quite as warm as I had expected. But then I started to move, and in the process, started to warm up as well. Taking an early morning hike with the Isto soon showed off its strengths, as it clearly keeps you plenty warm when used in active pursuits. In fact, it is the perfect weight for hiking, climbing, trail running, or just about any other outdoor endeavor in cool weather.

Brooks Range knows that one of the most important aspects of any piece of  active apparel is that it fits well and moves with the person wearing it. With that in mind, they've incorporated drawstrings into the hem that allow you to adjust the fit to your needs. The cuffs also use high quality velcro to seal snugly around the wrists, and the main zipper easily glides up the front, closing off the comfortable collar. The jacket also includes three pockets – one large one on the chest and two others for the hands. All three are ample in size and can be zippered shut, keeping contents safe and sound inside. An interior pocket is sadly missing, as I always appreciate the option for keeping small items on the inside of my jacket.

After owning the Isto for a few weeks, I found myself grabbing it without thinking as I headed out the door each morning, even if I was just running errands around town. Thats when I realized how much I liked this jacket. It is comfortable, fits well, and is a great option for active days on the trail. It comes in four different colors and would make a great holiday gift for someone on your list. With an MSRP of just $100, it won't break the bank either.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ski the Himalayas S3E11: Altitude Sickness

Episode 11 of Season 3 of Ski the Himalayas opens with the team still on the trail to Base Camp, and crossing through Thorung Pass, where the scenery is simply breathtaking. Watching this episode will both inspire you to visit the Himalaya and discourage you at the same time, as the effects of altitude sickness are hitting the climbers to some degree or another. It is also a great demonstration of how strong the Sherpas are, as they shuttle the very heavy loads up to BC.

impossible2Possible Gears Up For Youth Expedition To India

The impossible2Possible team is gearing up for their latest youth expedition, setting their sights on India this time out. As usual, the organization will take a group of young people to a remote and challenging destination, where they'll spend a week traveling by foot throughout the region.

On this particular expedition, ultra-athlete Ray Zahab will be joined by four youth ambassadors as they attempt to run across the Thar Desert, a dry an inhospitable place that is known to have sand dunes that reach as high as 150 meters (492 ft) in height. Located along the border of India and Pakistan, the Thar is amongst the largest deserts in the world, but isn't well known outside the region.

Ray, along with runners Emma Cook-Clarke, Jessica Kenny, Harshveer Sign Saluja, and Patrick Doughty, will attempt to cross the Thar in just one week. In order to do so, they'll need to cover 290km (180 miles) on foot, averaging roughly a marathon a day for seven straight days.

While all i2P expeditions are a great adventure in and of themselves, they also have key educational goals in mind as well. In this case, the team will be exploring the topic of World Health and the importance of quality, affordable health care to people around the globe. For many, health care simply isn't an option, either for lack of money or facilities. It is estimated that one million people die each year in India alone because they lack access to health care, and the i2P team will be spreading the word about that very topic as they interact with classrooms as part of their Experiential Learning Program.

The team will leave for India this week and will begin the expedition soon there after.

British Ultrarunner Sets New EBC to Kathmandu Speed Record

British ultrarunner Lizzie Hawker has set a new speed record from Everest to Kathmandu, by running from Base Camp to the capitol of Nepal in just under three days. Hawker started the run last week and finished the 320km (199 mile) route on Friday.

Officially, Hawker's time was recorded as 2 days, 23 hours, 25 minutes, which shaved a bit of time off her previous record, which was set back in 2007, when she made the same run in 3 days, 2 hours, 39 minutes. Her latest time includes an unexpected stop over in the village of Bupsa, where Hawker spent 8 hours waiting out the rain. At that point she thought her chances of breaking the record were slim, but she managed to get back on the trail and make up the time.

Perhaps even more impressive, Lizzie, who is amongst the top ultrarunners in the world, completed the run without sleep and while suffering from what is described as a chest infection, which she contracted while on the Everest Sky Race. My guess is that she had a bad case of the Khumub Cough, which I can tell you from my own experience is quite nasty. I don't envy her on that run.

Considering the trek from EBC to Lukla takes about four days by itself, this is super-impressive. Most of us then board a plane and fly back to Kathmandu from Lukla, but Lizzie kept on running, finishing up the whole journey in under three days. Amazing.

Thanks to Outside Online for the tip on this one!

Antarctica 2011: More Of The Same

The weekend had both highs and lows for the polar explorers in the Antarctic. For some, weather conditions continued to make their journeys very challenging, while others began to see a light at the end of the tunnel, with a promise for improvements ahead.

One of the teams that has struggled so mightily so far is the Crossing the Ice team. The boys are hoping to make a round-trip journey from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole and back again, but have been greatly slowed by the tough conditions they've encountered so far. Their latest updates indicate that the weather has taken a turn for the better, with clear skies and manageable winds. Still, the fine powder of fresh snow has made it difficult to pull their sleds, which is making them expend more energy than they had hoped. They also note that while this is a two-man expedition, they spend most of the time alone, lost in their thoughts. It is impossible to chat while on the trail and at the end of the day they are too exhausted to sleep, so they end up spending a lot of time in solitude. Cas and Jonesy are making the headlines back home in Australia though, as evidenced in the video below, which shares details from the field.

The South Pole 1911-2011 team had a relatively easy go of it compared to others up until last week. They had been skiing across the Ross Ice Shelf, which allowed them to get somewhat acclimated and build a rhythm. But after they made their way on to the continent itself, the challenges ramped up as well. Not only did they have to deal with the long, slow climb up to the Antarctic Plateau, the weather has taken a turn too. Their clear skies and low winds have been replaced with whiteouts and gale forces, which have slowed their progress considerably. They're also feeling the effects of 20 days on the ice as well, and although they were tempted to take a rest day yesterday, they continue to soldier on.

 Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltour spent the weekend at the ALCI base, which was was hit with a blizzard. The duo were forced to restart their planned 3 month long, 6000km expedition that will, if successful, become the longest unsupported Antarctic adventure ever. Dixie and Sam spent the past few days selecting a new starting location and working out the logistics of getting dropped off at the new position, and now they're eager to get back underway. Unfortunately, the weather will prevent that from happening until tomorrow at the earliest, although Wednesday looks to be the most likely day to relaunch.

Also eager to get underway are Felicity Aston, Richard Weber, and Mark Wood. Each arrived at Union Glacier over the weekend and are now putting the final touches on their preparation for their various journeys to the South Pole. Expect these three independent expeditions to all begin in the next day or two.

Finally, the annual pilgrimage of climbers to Mt. Vinson has begun. Teams are now arriving on the continent and making their way out to the 4892 meter (16,050 ft) which is the tallest on the continent. Most of these climbers are in the midst of their Seven Summits bids and are hoping to knock off Vinson  over the next few weeks. A handful of climbers will be tackling other, lesser known, mountains as well.

Friday, November 18, 2011

New Long Distance Trekking Trail Set To Open In New Zealand

Long distance hikers looking for a new challenge will have one starting December 3rd. That's when the Te Araroa foot trail opens in New Zealand, offering a  route that is more than 3000km (1864 miles) in length, stretching from north to south across the entire country.

Te Araroa, which means The Long Pathway, stretches from Cape Reinga, in the northernmost tip of New Zealand's North Island to Bluff, located in at the southernmost end of the South Island. Walking the entire length of the trail will take backpackers through thick forests, past verdant farmland, up volcanoes and mountains, and across open meadows. The trail even passes through seven cities, which will serve as great starting and ending points or places to resupply.

Building this epic trail was no small feat, as it was mainly accomplished by volunteers who worked many long years to link up a series of trails and fill in open spaces on the map. In fact, it took more than 17 years to complete this project, with all kinds of legal, technical, and physical challenges that had to be overcome in order to bring it into existence.

The official opening ceremony will take place at 10 AM local time on December 3rd in Wellington, which is almost exactly the middle point of the trail. After that, it'll be officially open for long distance hikers, and the countdown will begin as to who will be the first to trek it end-to-end.

Cool story and a great new trail. Thanks to Lou-Phi for sharing. I'm sure you're already plotting your adventures on the Te Araroa my friend.

Lucky Telegraph Reader Joins Scott Centenary Team

British newspaper The Telegraph has awarded one lucky reader a spot on the Scott Centenary Expedition, which will go to the Antarctic next year to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the death of Robert Falcon Scott while returning from the South Pole.

21-year old marine biology student Henry Evans was awarded the final position on the team after months of training and tests. As part of the selection process, Evans underwent a battery of physical and mental tests and worked hard to get into the best condition possible. He has also learned to pull a heavy sledge, loaded down with gear and equipment, all in preparation for the expedition that will get underway in 2012.

Unlike most Antarctic excursions, the International Scott Centenary Expedition does not intend to go to the South Pole. Instead, the team, led by veteran explorer Antony Jinman, will travel 300 miles across the ice to return to the exact spot where Scott, and his remaining team members. The men were returning from the South Pole at the time, ended up getting caught in a week long blizzard, and perished just 11 miles away from a life-saving supply depot. Their bodies were discovered months later, but a 100 years on, and the legacy of Scott continues to loom over Antarctic exploration.

When The Telegraph announced it was going to award an open position on the team to one of its readers, hundreds of people applied to be a part of the expedition. After weeks of scrutiny, the candidates were eventually narrowed down to ten finalists this past April. Over the weeks that followed, more of them were washed out by the rigorous demands of the training process, and by early November, when they let for a training exercise in Norway, there were just four candidates still standing. On that trip, Evans rose to the top, beating out the other three, and earning a spot on the team for next year.

Some people like to win trips to the Caribbean or Europe. I'll take this Antarctic journey instead.

Wim Hof In Columbia Omni-Heat Commerical

Remember Wim Hof? He's the the Dutch guy who has earned the moniker of "Iceman" after finding he has an incredible natural ability to withstand the cold. He holds the world record for the longest ice bath (1  hour, 13 minutes, 48 seconds) and he once ran a marathon above the Arctic Circle wearing only a pari of running shorts. A few years ago he even attempted to climb Everest wearing just a pair of shorts and shoes. He failed, although he claims it was due to a foot injury. Since then, he has managed to summit Kilimanjaro wearing next to nothing.

Hof is now the star of a new series of commercials from Columbia that promotes their Omni-Heat gear, which incorporates electric heating elements into jackets, boots, gloves, and so on. In the commercial he demonstrates why he doesn't need it, but us mere mortals just might. My favorite part of the commercial is the fine-print disclaimer that reads: "Wim Hof is a professional, You are not. Do not attempt."

Antarctic 2011: More Teams Heading For the Ice

The new out of Punta Arenas this morning is that ALE is resuming flights to Antarctica, which means more teams are now preparing to start their journeys across the frozen continent. Among them is Felicity Aston, who is hoping to become the first woman to traverse the continent solo and unsupported. Earlier today, Felicity tweeted that that she was once again on stand-by, waiting to see if she would be able to fly today, but she soon followed that up with a note saying that she was "a go" for Antarctica. She'll now proceed to Hercules Inlet, the starting point of her expedition.

Also likely to be on that plane is Richard Weber, who will be leading a team of kite-skiers to the South Pole, and quite possibly Mark Wood, who is eager to launch his North-South Expedition, during which he'll be making back-to-back journeys to the North and South Poles. In his latest audio dispatch, Mark says that the flights have been delayed once again, and that he may not fly out until Sunday, but that is conflict with Felicity's comments, which indicate they are indeed going today.

One of the elements of Mark's expedition that I failed to mention the first time I wrote about it is that he is taking a different approach to raising awareness about his particular cause, which in this case is global climate change. While a lot of adventurers attempt to raise funds to support an organization or charity, Mark is instead working with DoNation and is asking us all to show our support for him by pledging to do small, day-to-day, things to help the environment. So instead of sending him money, we can instead pledge to ride our bike rather than using our cars or something similar. The site lists a number of things that we can all do in our lives to help protect the environment, each of which is assigned with a saving in CO2 emissions. Mark hopes that the cumulative savings of all of our pledges will exceed 100,000KG of CO2.

As for the teams out already on the ice, they continue to battle the elements and the conditions. Dixie and Sam were successfully airlifted back to the ALCI yesterday and are now plotting their next move. They hope to announce their restart position and plans over the weekend, and return to their expedition as soon as possible. You may recall, the two men has to be retrieved from the ice after having a horrendously bad start to their planned 3-month long, 6000km expedition that would be the longest unsupported Antarctic journey ever. From the sounds of things, the retrieval process was a bit harrowing, with snow and fog making it challenging for the plane to come find the two men. But in the end, they are safely back at base and figuring out where to go next.

Aussies Cas and Jonesy are getting some media attention in their home country, appearing on a morning television show that is following their progress. You can check out the video of the segment below, which gives you a good indication of what it is like for the boys as they make their way towards the South Pole. The halfway point of their expedition. It has been slow going thus far, but they are still hopeful that things will improve over time.

Gear Box: Primus Eta Solo Stove

The trend in lighter, more efficient, backpacking and camping gear has paid dividends in all kinds of different equipment over the past few years. Everything from tents and backpacks to sleeping bags and hiking boots have shed excess kilos while improving performance and durability. This same formula has also been applied to camp stoves, which were once of the heaviest and bulkiest pieces of gear in our packs. Now, outdoor enthusiasts have a number of great personal cooking options, which seem to get more useful and efficient each year.

Take for example the Eta Solo cooking system from Primus. Designed to support one or two hikers while on the trail, the Eta Solo is impressively compact and lightweight. The stove tips the scales at just 12.9 ounces and even with a fuel canister, it barely weighs more than a pound. When not in use, that same canister stores neatly inside the included .9 L pot, keeping everything well organized for when you need it to cook your next meal.

When you are ready to play the part of camp chef, you'll find the Eta Solo to be a solid performer. In my tests, it was consistently able to boil a pot of water in just over two minutes, although admittedly those tests didn't take place under conditions what would be deemed extreme. The stove did resist the wind very well, but I wasn't able to put it through its paces in temperatures below 50ºF/10ºC. I was especially impressive in how efficiently the Eta uses its fuel, which helps to stretch the lifespan of the canister and allows you to carry less gas when you're on the trail.

Other great features include solid burner control, good build quality and a locking mechanism that securely holds the pot in place and keeps the entire system very stable. The stove also comes with optional support for larger pots, which brings a nice level of versatility to the entire system, and a removable wrap for the pot allows you to hold it even when it's very hot. The included hanging kit was a nice touch as well.

The Eta Solo isn't without room for improvement however. The placement of the controls seemed a bit close to the burner at times and I found myself having to watch where I put my fingers. The stove's support legs also didn't fit neatly inside the pot while the fuel canister is inside, which took away from the compact nature of the product as well.

Those few nit-picks aside however, Primus has put together an excellent, efficient stove that is on par with any of its competitors. Aspiring backcountry gourmets looking for a compact cooking system at an affordable price (MSRP is $120) will find that the Eta Solo is a great choice for their culinary needs while on the trail.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ski The Himalayas S3E10: Trekking The Annapurna Circuit

Ben Clark and Jon Miller continue their Himalayan adventure in Episode 10 of Season 3 of Ski the Himalayas. In this video, the boys and their rest of their team, climb up above 16,000 feet and play in the Himalaya snow a bit. In this latest video of the series, we get a good look at the Annapurna Circuit, one of the more popular treks in Nepal and one of the best routes in the entire world. The scenery is simply gorgeous in this episode.

Two More Korean Climbers Die In The Himalaya

ExWeb is reporting the sad news today that two more Korean climbers have died while climbing in the Himalaya. Mountaineers Hyung-Il Kim and Ji-Myoung Jang fell to their deaths on the 6640 meter (21,785 ft) Cholatse, a peak located in the Khumbu region of Nepal.

The two men fell on November 11th while attempting to open a new route on the mountain. Their bodies were later discovered at 4700 meters (15,520 ft) and arrived home in Korea today. Services are scheduled to take place on Saturday.

It has been in incredibly rough few weeks for the mountaineering community in Korea. Back in October, climbers Park Young-Seok, Shin Dong-Min, and Kang Ki-Seok disappeared while climbing Annapurna, and the country has barely finished mourning that loss, when news of these latest deaths was revealed.

Condolences to the friends and family.

London2London Update: Sarah Completes Stage 1

British adventurer Sarah Outen arrived in Tokyo a few days back, successfully bringing to a close the first stage of her London2London expedition. This leg of the journey was 11,000 miles in length and lasted for 227 days, but puts her only halfway to her goal.

As you probably recall, Sarah is attempting to make a completely human powered circumnavigation of the planet. She got underway in April, setting out from London, and paddled her way down the Thames River and across the English Channel. After that, she climbed aboard her bike and started pedaling east, passing through 12 different countries before arriving at her temporary stopping point. Along the way, she  has had to deal with bad weather, trucks that wouldn't share the road, dehydration in the Gobi Desert, and choppy seas on her paddle from Russia to Japan.

For now, Sarah will enjoy some down time in Japan as she rests and prepares for the next major stage of the expedition. In the spring of 2012 she'll start a 4300 mile solo crossing of the North Pacific, which will begin in Choshi, Japan and end in Vancouver, Canada. If she is successful, she'll become just the third person to make that journey.

After that, Sarah will return to the bike and ride from Vancouver to New York City, where she'll return to the water once again, and row the North Atlantic. If all goes according to schedule, she'll return to where she started – London – in late 2013.

Congrats to Sarah on reaching the end of this incredibly long first leg. Now take a break and getting ready for the next adventure.

Video: Trailer For Mountaineering Film Next Time Inshallah

Ever wonder what conditions are really like on one of these big mountaineering expeditions? Then take a look at the trailer for a new film coming soon entitled Next Time Inshallah. The film was shot earlier this year when a team of climbers attempted to summit Gasherbrum I along a new route in the winter. That same team, led by Gerfried Göschl and Alex Txikon, will give it a go again this winter, but after watching this video, you'll wonder why they'd want to go back.

By the way, the title of the film refers to them successfully reaching the top the next time they climb, God willing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cycling And Climbing Through South America

Two cyclists and climbers have combined their passions to launch a single great expedition that is currently underway in South America. Calling themselves the Biciclimbers, adventurers Jairo and Fer have set off to ride their bikes from Caracas, Venezuela to Ushuaia, Argentina, covering a distance of about 15,000km (9320 miles) in the process. Along the way, they'll also stop to climb some of the more prominent mountains in the countries they pass through as well.

According to their blog, it seems that the expedition got underway earlier this month, with the team first setting its sights on a climbing a big rock wall on the Gran Sabana of Venezuela. After that, they'll return to the road and what ever adventures capture their attention.

The Biciclimbers have dubbed their expedition "Pedaling the Andes," and they expect to cross through eight countries along the way. After leaving Venezuela, they'll make their way to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and finally Argentina. Exactly which mountains they'll climb along the way remains unclear, although the website does list Aconcagua, the tallest peak in South America at 6962 meters (22,841 ft).

The website and blog for the Biciclimbers is in Spanish, so in order to follow along, you'll need to be able to speak the language or use Google Translate to stay updated on their progress. They are already posting blog updates form the road however, and from the sound of things, they're enjoying the adventure so far.

What an amazing idea for a trip. Cycling and climbing on an extended journey sounds fantastic, and I hope Jairo and Fer have a great time. Very inspiring!

Who Inspires Your Outdoor Adventures?

It there a person or organization that has inspired your, or others, to get outside and enjoy outdoor activities? If so, then the Outdoor Industry Association wants to know about it. For the second year in a row, the OIA is sponsoring the Outdoor Inspiration Awards, and they're asking us to nominate those deserving some recognition.

Submissions can be made in several categories including Person, Group, and Company. Obviously, the "person" category is designed to honor individuals who inspire others to get outdoors, while the "group" category will recognize larger organizations, such as clubs, guide services, fund raising organizations and so on. The "company" category is specifically for for-profit businesses that displays some form of dedication to getting their employees, customers, or other people outside. You can read more about these three different categories and the selection process, by clicking here.

To nominate an individual, group, or business, fill out the online form with all the pertinent information, such as their name, contact information, and a brief explanation of why you think hey are deserving of the award. Nominations must be received by December 16 of this year, and a committee will review each of them, selecting those that they deem best fit the qualifications for inspiring others to take on an outdoor adventure.

Antarctica 2011: Frustration At The Bottom Of The World

If there is one word that can be used to sum up the 2011 Antarctic season thus far, it has to be frustration. Teams have been struggling all over the continent with bad weather, cold temperatures, and generally miserable conditions. Most are soldiering on, keeping their eyes on the prize, which in most cases is the South Pole, but these first few weeks out on the ice have not been easy for the explorers.

Yesterday I mentioned that Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltour will restart their epic three-month long, 6000km (3728 mile) journey after getting off to an incredibly rough start. Cold weather and unusual Antarctic ice conditions has prevented them from breaking out the kite-skis, and slowed progress to a crawl. If all goes as planned however, they'll be picked up by plane today and flown back to one of the near by bases this evening. From there, they'll select a new starting point, and resume their intended exploration of a seldom visit section of the eastern Antarctica.

Things haven't been going much better for Cas and Jonesy, the two Aussie lads attempting to travel unsupported from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole, and back again. In their latest audio dispatch, they express their frustration quite plainly, mentioning how whiteout conditions, strong winds, and the long, slow slog up to the Antarctic Plateau have taken their toll on them. Yesterday, the boys enjoyed a much needed rest day, which will put them back on the trail with a bit more energy today, but having only traveled 161km (100 miles) thus far, they aren't very pleased with their progress.

The two teams taking part in the Scott-Amundsen Centenary Race  are continuing at a solid pace, despite plenty of obstacles. The Scott Team has had to navigate sastrugi fields for the past few days and it looks like they'll continue for awhile yet. Those hard ridges in the snow are like continuous speed-bumps, preventing the skiers from finding their rhythm and tiring them out at the same time. Despite those challenges however, they have managed to make steady progress, with both teams covering more than 10 nautical miles today alone.

One team that is making progress is the South Pole 1911-2011 squad. They hit a major milestone today be moving within sight of land at last. They have been skiing along the Ross Ice Shelf, but are now moving onto the continent itself, and have started to see changes in elevation on the horizon. That means that they'll start the climb up to the Plateau soon as well, which will slow down their progress some. Still, the team seems to be in good spirits and enjoying the journey thus far.

Meanwhile, back in Punta Arenas, a host of new explorers are just itching to get out on the ice. Flights have been delayed by weather once again, which has left the likes of Felicity Aston, Mark Wood, and Richard Weber all waiting for their turn. I'm sure it is quite ironic for them to be sitting in town, waiting to start their respective journeys, while others are already out on the ice and struggling to make progress as well. You know you're a hardened polar explorer when you can't wait to get out on the ice and start suffering, rather than relaxing in Punta Arenas.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NASA Is Now Accepting Applications For New Astronauts

Okay, so who didn't want to be an astronaut when you were a kid? I mean, come on, it has to be the coolest job on, or off, the planet, right?!? Earlier today, NASA announced that it is seeking its next class of astronauts, which will lead us into the future of space exploration. You can read all about the process by clicking here or jump to the online job description, which can be found here.

The particulars of being an astronaut are actually quite interesting. The salary ranges from $64,724 - $141,715 per year, which seems on the low side considering the risks involved. On the other hand, I'd pretty much go up into space for free, so I wouldn't complain too much if they actually wanted to pay me too!

It should also be noted that the job does hinge on an extensive background check and medical examination as well. Mandatory drug-testing is also part of the requirements, as is frequent travel. If that "frequent travel" includes going into low-Earth orbit and long stays at the luxurious International Space Station, then count me in. The job description also offers info on the requirements, how candidates will be evaluated, the benefits plan for working at NASA, and exactly how you apply.

I know that the economy is rough right now and lots of people are looking for jobs. Perhaps adding "astronaut" to your resume will help open some doors down the line.

Video: This Is My Winter Helmet Cam Action

Last week I posted the teaser trailer for a new extreme snowboarding video called This Is My Winter that looked amazing and scary at the same time. Today I have more footage from the film, all of it captured by a video camera strapped to the head of the rider. That means we get a first person perspective as they climb remote mountains, strap on their snowboard, and then fly back down the hill.

This video only reiterates my decision to never, ever, try to do this myself.

Helmet cam teaser - THIS IS MY WINTER from TimeLine on Vimeo.

Inside SEAL Team Six By Don Mann Releases December 5th!

Occasionally I like to use this blog to spotlight some of the great projects that my friends are working on, and that's the case with this post. My friend, and Primal Quest boss, Don Mann is about to release what looks like a fantastic book entitled Inside SEAL Team Six: My Life and Missions with America's Elite Warriors.

For many fans of adventure racing, Don is well known for masterminding some of the most challenging races the sport has ever seen. A fantastic endurance athlete in his own right, he has also competed in his fair share of adventure races triathlons, Iron Man's and so on. But Don is also a Navy SEAL, serving with the elite group for more than 17 years, eight of which were spent with SEAL Team Six, the unit that took down Osama Bin Laden this past May.

In his new book, Don shares his experiences working with the exceptional men who are a part of the SEAL's – many of whom he has trained himself. He spins tales of his own adventures as part of the team, many of which he hasn't been able to share until now. The specific details of some still can't be completely told, and the the press release for the book says that three different government agencies took exception with some of what he revealed, forcing the redaction of more than 5000 words.

I have no doubt that this book will will make for fascinating reading, giving the account of Don's experiences from around the globe, including missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Panama, and beyond. It will go on sale in just a few weeks, December 5th to be exact, and will be available in hardback as well as on the Kindle, iPad, and other tablet devices.

On a personal note, having gotten to know Don while working on Primal Quest, I can tell you that he is a warm, personable guy who is a lot of fun to be around. I am very much looking forward to reading his story and learning more about his life. Look for a full review in a few weeks time.

Video: The Yukon Arctic Ultra Endurance Race

The Yukon Arctic Ultra is one of the toughest endurance races on the planet. The event takes place each year in Canada during the dead of winter and sends athletes on a 430-mile run along the Yukon Quest sled dog trail. To say it is cold would be an understatement and athletes need tobe self-sufficient while out on the trail.

A new documentary captures the spirit of the race very well, showing us why athletes push themselves to the limit in such a harsh environment, while also demonstrating why this just might be the toughest race on the planet. You can watch the entire video online, and I've embedded it below. It is a little more than an hour in length, so pop some popcorn and get comfortable.

The Yukon Arctic Ultra from Yukon Arctic Ultra on Vimeo.

Gear Box: SteriPEN Freedom Water Purifier

When I made the trek to Everest Base Camp last year, I had the opportunity to test a truck-load of gear. One of the items that performed the best and left a lasting impression was the SteriPEN Journey, a water purification device that uses ultraviolet light to remove all the harmful elements from our drinking water. On that trip, I put the Journey to good use, and unlike most of my companions, I had no issues with getting sick while on the trail. Because of that experience, I vowed to never travel without a SteriPEN in my pack again, although I did feel there was room for improvement in the device.

Fast forward a year and a half, and SteriPEN has introduced several new products, including the just released Freedom. This new addition to the line-up brings some much appreciated improvements over the Journey, making it the best SteriPEN yet.

One of my few criticisms of the Journey was that it was powered by a CR123 battery, which is a bit of an odd size and difficult to find when traveling abroad. Granted, the battery is rated for 100 uses, but the last thing you want is for it to die, without a back-up, while you're in a remote location. The Freedom has remedied this situation by incorporating a rechargeable battery pack. The downside? The battery is only good for 40 uses before needing a recharge.

Fortunately, recharging the Freedom is fairly quick and easy. It can be accomplished by using the included AC adapter or via USB. That means that while on the go, you can juice up your SteriPEN using your laptop or even a portable solar charger such as the Brunton Restore. Charge times varied depending on the method you use. The AC adapter took a little more than two hours to complete while USB on a laptop added about another hour. Using the solar charger took roughly double that amount of time.

When it is fully charged, using the Freedom is as easy as can be. You simply remove the plastic cover from the UV lamp, immerse it in water, and start stirring. The built in sensors will detect the liquid and light the lamp automatically. An LED light in the handle will blink green to indicate that the Freedom is working properly – that same light will stop blinking and remain lit when the process is complete. It typically takes 48 seconds to purify a half-liter of water and the process can be repeated to clean a full liter of water.

As with all SteriPEN devices, when used properly, the Freedom will remove 99.9% of all the harmful bacteria, viruses, and other harmful elements from our water. That means we can safely drink the water no matter where we are on the planet, and if you've ever visited remote locations in developing countries, you know how important that can be.

Weighing in at just 2.6 ounces, and measuring about five inches in length, the Freedom is small, lightweight, and very compact. The Journey wasn't exactly large either, but it is always nice to slim down our gear when ever possible, and ultralight hikers, backpackers, and travelers will appreciate just how small the device actually is.

MSRP on the SteriPEN Freedom is $120, which is quite a bit more expensive than buying iodine tablets for adding to your water. However, purification tablets are not always relabel and they can make your water taste funny too. When I'm traveling abroad, I don't want to risk getting sick, and SteriPEN eliminates nearly all chances of that happening. For that alone, the Freedom is worth every penny, and it will definitely be a permanent fixture in my backpack.

Antarctica 2011: Dixie and Sam Will Restart

The 2011 Antarctic season is proving to be a particularly rough one for a number of the explorers that are now out on the ice. While it is still early in the austral summer, the weather has remained fickle and teams have struggled at times to make progress. One of those teams, the Antarctic ICE squad of Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltour, have even made the decision to restart their expedition altogether.

You may recall that Dixie and Sam traveled to Antarctica to embark on a three-month long journey that would have them exploring a chunk of the continent that has seldom been visited by man. They plan to use kites to cover longer distances – they estimate they'll cover about 6000km, while also taking weather readings to record the impact of climate change on the region.

As of now, they've been out on the ice for a total of nine days, but due to very challenging conditions, they've decided it is for the best that they be picked-up and transported to a safer starting point. Over the course of their first week in the Antarctic, they've managed to cover just 27km (16.7 miles) in large part because they've encountered large chunks of ice and rubble that are seldom seen on a journey in this part of the world. Dixie, who is a veteran of both the North and South Pole, says that he has never seen conditions such as these in the Antarctic. He compares them to what he would expect traveling to the North Pole, where the arctic ocean creates more unstable and unexpected issues.

Those strange conditions aren't the only thing the pair have been dealing with. The weather has been less than cooperative as well, and temperatures have been far colder than expected. Frostbite has been a major concern so far, and while neither man has had any real issues with it yet, they have been battling "frost nip" on their nose and cheeks. High winds have dogged their progress as well, exhausting their physical strength and playing havoc with their tent.

Today, the duo announced that they have chosen to have ALE pick them up and take them to a safer place to restart their journey. Before that can happen however, they have to clear off a section of the ice to allow a plane to land. That could take a day or two, which will also give them time to discuss where exactly they'll go next, as they are moving through uncharted sections of the continent and could encounter similar conditions again. Dixie and Sam are quick to point out that there first week wasn't a total loss, as they are now well acclimatized and have their gear tuned properly for the expedition ahead.

We'll have another update from Dixie and Sam in the next few days, most likely after they've been transported to their new starting point. It seems their spirits remain high and they're eager to get their journey properly underway, despite the setbacks they've endured so far.