Thursday, March 31, 2011

In London On April 9th? Attend The Adventurist Film Festival!

The 2011 Adventurist Film Festival is scheduled to take place at the Royal Geographical Society in London on April 9th. Co-hosted by Hendrick's Gin, the event promises to once again shine a spotlight on some of the more offbeat, yet adventuresome, films to be released in the past year. There will also be a host of great guest speakers and plenty of libations to enjoy as well.

Amongst the guests who will be on hand for the event are Amazon Walker Ed Stafford, who will know doubt regale attendees with rousing stories from his 4000 mile hike along the length of the Amazon River. Ed will be joined by Tarka and Katie-Jane L'Herpiniere, who took a little walk of their own along the Great Wall of China,  and Andrew Miles from the Explorers Film School.

The day will begin at 12:15 PM and run throughout the afternoon, with short-list of the top film entries on display. An over all winner for festival will be crowned by 6:30PM, at which time everyone will retire to the RGS Map Room for further discussions of an adventurous nature. To check out the full program, click here and to purchase tickets for the event, click here.

The Adventurists, by the way, are the fine chaps behind such events as the Mongol Rally, the Rickshaw Run, and the Africa Rally, all of which look insanely fun.

Trailer For Jeff Lowe's Metanoia Film

Back in the winter of 1991, climber Jeff Lowe spent nine days putting up a new route on the Eiger. After completing that very difficult, and life altering, route, he named it Metanoia. No one has ever been able to duplicate that route ever since. Now, a new film is in the works that will tell the tale of that climb and the impact it had on the alpine world.

Yesterday, I received a note about this film, which is scheduled to be released later this year. In that note, there was a plea for donations to help complete the movie. The production team was seeking $25,000 to do just that. Today, when I clicked on the donations page, I see that they not only reached their goal, they've actually earned nearly $38,000 in the process. Pretty impressive response from the climbing community, and a job well done!

Also, the film interviews climber Ueli Steck about Lowe and the Metanoia climb. Ueli, who is amongst the strongest climbers in the world in my opinion, has nothing but good things to say. He is also gearing up to make an attempt on Metanoia himself. If anyone can climb the route, is is probably Steck.

Himalaya 2011: The Trek To BC Begins

The climbing hasn't exactly begun yet, but the climbers in the Himalaya are on the move. There have been a number of reports indicating that the weather has cleared, at least for now, and flights to Lukla are on schedule. Well, on schedule by Nepali terms anyway.

Arriving in Lukla is the first stage of the climb, even if it is still quite a long way from the mountain. From there, the climbers will actually descend a short distance for the first day, before making the long climb up to Namche Bazaar and their first rest day. It is all part of the early acclimatization process, and even though it is merely a trek at this stage, it all starts to prepare them for the challenge ahead.

Alan Arnette sent out his first audio dispatch of the season, and from the sounds of things, he is more than happy to have arrived in Lukla and to be back in the Khumbu Valley. He arrived in Lukla yesterday and made the long, slow slog up Namche Hill today. This is all old hat for Allen, who has been to Everest three times previously, but you can tell that there is some excitement in the air none the less.

Allen is climbing as part of the International Mountain Guides team, and they posted an update to their blog today as well. In that update they indicated that the entire team, including a group of trekkers, arrived in Lukla yesterday, but perhaps more importantly, the preparations in Base Camp are nearly complete, which means it'll be a nice comfy place to stay when they all arrive in a week or so. The tent platforms are all built, and the lead Sherpas are returning to Namche Bazaar today to count the oxygen bottles for their garbage deposit and register the climbers for permits to pass through the dreaded Khumbu Icefalls, the most dangerous place on the mountain.

Meanwhile, the Altitude Junkies team is now assembling in Kathmandu and preparing for their trek to EBC. They'll depart in two separate groups, one on the 1st and the other on the 2nd of April. Similarly, the Himex team is leaving for Lukla today and expect to be in Base Camp on the 9th. They share all kinds of details about their climbing group, and a host of new upgrades for BC, in this post.

Also back on Everest this year is David Tait, who has made three successful summits of Everest, including a complete traverse of the mountain from the North to the South side. Tait vowed that he was through with Everest a few years back, but just like clockwork, he still returns each spring. He is currently in Kathmandu and organizing his gear, but will be off to Lukla shortly, and expects to be in Base Camp by the 7th of April.

Plenty more to come. Expect some great images from the EBC trek over the next few days as the climbers make their way to the mountain. Having done that trek myself last year, I know full well what they're up to and where they are staying along the way. Reading about their travels is making me miss the Khumbu at the moment.

Gear Box: Satmap Active 10 Trek GPS

GPS devices are a dime a dozen these days. It use to be fairly easy to go into your favorite gear shop and plunk down your hard earned money, and walk out with a handheld device from Garmin or Magellan. Now though, there are a number of other options to choose from, all with a host of features to help you navigate your way through the backcountry.

One such option is the Active 10 Trek from Satmap, a company with a strong reputation in Europe, but a bit lesser known here in the States. As you would expect, the Active 10 Trek has all the features you could ever want in a handheld GPS device, including a built-in base map with a good level of details, the ability to mark way-points and chart courses, and a digital compass to keep you on course. The device is also ruggedized to protect against all sorts of weather and has a color screen to help the maps easy to read, even in the bright sunlight. A red backlight for navigation at night helps protect your eyes, and large buttons make the Active 10 easy to use, even while wearing gloves. 

The device is well built and screams high quality and refinement at every turn. It has a nice heft in your hands, but isn't too heavy either, and you get the feeling that it can stand up to all kinds of punishment on the trail. There are eight buttons on the unit, plus a tiny joystick. Those can be a bit daunting at first, but once you get the hang of how it works, you'll soon be using all of those buttons easily and without thinking. The interface is intuitive and easy to use. So much so, that I took it out on my first trial run without even reading the manual, and used it to successfully navigate off trail between two points. That should say something about how easy it is to use the Active 10. 

Of course, a number of GPS devices could be described in the same manner that I described this one above. But the Active 10 has something that no other handheld GPS device can boast, which is access to the library of National Geographic Maps right on the unit. The Active 10 has an SD card slot along the left side of the device, which facilitates expansion maps that can add far more detail to the built-in base map. SD cards with the Nat Geo maps are purchased separately, but deliver the kind of expertise that can only come from National Geographic. 

With my test unit I received two of the Nat Geo map cards to try out on the Active 10. Those cards included the Trails Illustrated: America's Greatest National Parks and the Topo! Texas maps. The latter of those would prove very useful on weekend hikes in my home state. The first time I zoomed down to the highest detail level while out hiking, my eyes nearly popped out of my head. Seeing all of those topographic lines, trails, and POI's was very impressive, and a HUGE upgrade from my previous GPS device that is over eight years old. Similarly, the National Parks card includes a similar level of detail for 25 of the best parks in the U.S. That list includes: Acadia; Arches; Big Bend; Bryce Canyon; Canyonlands; Channel Islands; Death Valley; Glacier/Waterton; Grand Canyon; Grand Teton; Great Smoky Mountains; Isle Royale; Joshua Tree; Kings Canyon; Mount Rainier; North Cascades; Olympic; Redwood; Rocky Mountain; Sequoia; Shenandoah; Voyageurs; Yellowstone; Yosemite; and Zion.

Satmap didn't scrimp on the accessories that come with the Active 10 either. Inside the box you'll find a lanyard, as well as a very nice case, for carrying your GPS on the trail. There is also a USB cable for connecting the Active 10 to your computer, 3 AAA batteries and a rechargeable battery pack. There is also a car charger and a wall charger with every international adapter you could ever hope for. The batteries last for a good long time, especially the included rechargeable pack. It is difficult to give you an accurate number, as how you use the device greatly impacts battery life, but I had no problem getting 15+ hours of use, and with the USB cable I could connect the device to my Solio solar charger to recharge the batteries on longer treks. 

Performance on the Active 10 is excellent. The first time I turned it on, it took it awhile to connect to the satellites, but it managed to lock on to every one of them, even under a decent tree cover. Subsequent uses of the device showed a marked improvement in locking on to the satellites as well. I'm not sure why there were performance gains, but I suspect that the first time out of the box, there was an initialization process that the Active 10 had to complete. 

After an initial get acquainted session, I found the Active 10 very easy to use, and I was quickly drilling down into some of the more high level navigational functions without even thinking about it. Setting way points was a breeze, and navigating to them was even easier. The electronic compass was useful in a number of circumstances, and the interface was so quick, that I could turn the device off, and store it in the case, only breaking it out as needed. 

I haven't had the opportunity to go geocaching with the Active 10 yet, but I'm told that it is easy to load up geocaching coordinates and go in search of those hidden treasures. I hope to give it a go sometime in the near future. 

If you couldn't tell, I'm highly impressed with the Satmap Active 10 Trek. By itself, it is an excellent, easy to use GPS device with all the features you could ever hope for. Throw in great battery life and an interface that is easy to use, and you have a real winner. Pair the device with the amazing National Geographic Maps, and you have a GPS unlike any other o the market. Those maps unlock a lot of potential for hikers, backpackers, mountain bikers, and just about any other outdoor enthusiast. You won't get the Nat Geo maps on any other handheld GPS device, and that puts the Active 10 in a class all it's own. (MSRP: $369.99)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Adventurer Set To Ski Across Alaska

Add the First Responder Recovery Project to your list of cool expeditions that are going on at the moment. It is the brainchild of Michael Ferrara, who is planning to ski more than 900 miles across Alaska, south to north. Along the way, he'll be posting updates to the Outside Online Blog, which notes that Michael's course will take him from the Pacific Ocean to the Arctic Ocean.

The first dispatch from Alaska was posted yesterday, with the news that Ferrara had arrived in Anchorage safely, along with his traveling companion, Lhotse. Lhotse is Michael's dog, and from the sounds of things, he gets more attention than his master. He'll also be trailing along on all 900 miles of this journey. Michael also announced a slight change in his route, but since he hasn't set off yet, it is mostly a logistical thing. At the moment, he's still finishing up his gear prep, and is busily cutting weight in hopes of going lighter and faster.

While skiing 900 miles through Alaskan backcountry should be quite an adventure in and of itself, Ferrara isn't going just because he enjoys the outdoors. He is hoping to raise awareness of the high level of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that is found amongst emergency response personnel. As a man who has spent 30 years of his life as a first responder in some form or another, Michael knows how important those men and women are, but he also knows the stress that that job can bring.

If all goes as planned, Ferrara should complete the expedition sometime in May. While most of us will be enjoying the warmer temps of late spring by then, in Alaska there will still be plenty of snow and ice. Especially in the north.

Be sure to follow Michael on his blog and the Outside Online Blog as well. And on a side note, I'd like to say that Lhotse may be the coolest name for a dog EVER!

New Film: Prisoners of the Himalayas

A friend of mine sent me a link to this video, which is a teaser for a film scheduled for release in October of this year. The film is entitled Prisoners of the Himalaya, and it was shot in the Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan, where the Kyrgyz people live. They are unfortunately trapped by circumstances, that have them stuck in some of the highest mountains on Earth and unable to pass into Pakistan, China, or Tajikistan. All told, there are 1200 Kyrgyz in the region, and the once nomadic tribe, has to eke out a subsistence level living in one of the harshest environments on the planet.

This is definitely a film to keep your eyes on. It is beautifully, yet starkly, shot, and it promises to tell quite a tale. Find out more at

Thanks to Alan Curr for sharing this great video. Alan is headed to Afghanistan in a few months, and he knows I'm VERY jealous of that! ;)

Prisoners of the Himalayas from Louis Meunier on Vimeo.

Gear Box: Keen Alamosa WP Hiking Shoes

Spring is clearly in the air. The weather is warming up, the last of the winter snow is melting away, and our winter gear is going back into the closet so we can break out our warm weather equipment instead. It is most definitely time to hit the trail again, and if you're in the market for a new pair of hiking shoes, Keen has just the thing for you.

Living in Texas, we don't really get much in the way of snow, so I've already had an early start on the spring hiking. Recently I've been hitting the trail with a new pair of Keen Alamosa WP's on my feet, and once again I'm very impressed with what the company has to offer in their new line of hiking shoes.

The Alamosas are lightweight, yet durable, with an aggressive tread on the soles that holds tight even on slick wet rocks. Crafted from a great mix of breathable fabrics and nubuck leather, the shoes look great and feel even better. Like nearly every pair of Keens that I've tested over the past year or so, these shoes require little to no break-in, and the first time I put them on was prior to a three hour hike in the Texas Hill Country. At the end of that hike, the Alamosa's still looked like that had just come out of the box, but they felt like a pair  of hiking shoes that I had owned for years. Better yet, my feet felt well rested and protected throughout the hike, and there wasn't a blister to be found anywhere.

The "WP" on this pair of shoes stands for "Water Proof," and they certainly live up to that billing as well, I've walked through puddles, across streams, and through mud, and in all cases, my feet stayed dry. Of course you'd expect that from any shoe that bills itself as water proof, but on the other hand, those types of shoes often don't allow your feet to breathe, resulting in hot sweaty, feet on the trail. Those conditions can also lead to blisters, but fortunately the Alamosas breathe quite nicely, helping to keep your feet comfortable for extended treks in warmer weather.

As with the rest of their catalog, Keen has another excellent shoe on their hands. I was very impressed with how durable these shoes were while still remaining very lightweight. I'm not sure how they do it but  Keen has come up with the perfect blend of protection for our feet, without making the shoe bulky or heavy. Something I'm sure we can all appreciate. If you're in the market for some new light hikers this spring, you could do a lot worse than the Alamosa WP from Keen.  (MSRP: $110)

Shop for more Keen Shoes at

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge Returns To Adventure Racing Schedule!

If you follow the various adventure racing posts that I write, you've probably heard me say that 2011 is shaping up to be the best year for the sport in some time. The calendar is full of great events all over the planet, and teams have a plethora of great options to choose from. They can now add one more to that list.

Last week it was announced that the Swisse Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge is returning after a three year hiatus. As the name implies, the event will take place in the wilds of Australia's Tasmania, and will be hosted by F1 racer Mark Webber. This will be a five day, stage-race covering more than 350km (217 miles) that will run from December 7-11 of this year, and pit teams of two in three different classifications. Disciplines will included running, mountain biking, navigation, and paddling of course.

The race has lined up an impressive group of sponsors, not the least of which is Swisse itself. The company has committed itself to backing the race for three years, which means the Tasmania Challenge is here to stay for awhile. They're joined by Tourism Tasmania, LG, Red Bull, and others in getting behind this event.

Curiously, the Tasmania Challenge will overlap with the Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge, which has held down the anchor spot on the adventure racing calendar the past few years. While the two races offer different experiences, you can't help but wonder if some of the more prominent Aussie and Kiwi teams/athletes might stay closer to home to compete in this race rather than head to the Emirates to race. Hopefully there is enough room for both races to co-exist, but it is great to see so many options available.

Wingsuits Over Mexico

It has been a few weeks since we had a really cool wingsuit video, but I found this one today while catching up on all the latest news over at The Adventure Journal. It features Jon Devore and Mike Swanson sailing over some very impressive looking mountains near Monterey, Mexico. As is typical with these videos, the view looks spectacular and the whole thing looks like a lot of fun. Not sure I'd ever have the nerve to try this, but I sure enjoy watching these guys do it. I'm guessing you will too!

Elephant Ivory Project Update: Into The Bush

The past couple of weeks I've written a few posts about the Elephant Ivory Project, which is an expedition that is going on right now in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Explorers Trip Jennings and Andy Maser are on the ground in that country, and are preparing to gather elephant scat in hopes of creating a DNA map of the region that can be used to trace the illegal Ivory trade back to its origins. The team behind this expedition hopes to put an end to those activities once and for all.

Last week when we checked in with Trip and Andy they were preparing to travel into a forest that is simply designated as TL2. That forest sits right between two major national parks where diverse elephant herds roam, and the thought was that by gathering samples from TL2, they could get a diverse set of data to help more accurately plot their DNA map of the DRC's elephant population. There were some challenges to that plan however, as the region is also home to a notorious criminal by the name of Colonel Toms, who recently broke out of a prison there and has resumed poaching wild game as a way of earning money to pay for arms. Undaunted, Jennings and Masar set off with Terese and John Hart, two researchers that know the area well, in hopes of moving ahead with the project.

In a journal entry posted to the expedition's website yesterday, Jennings gives us an update on their progress. The team arrived at the city of Kisangani, which sits at the heart of the jungle. The city is in the midst of a cholera outbreak that has left 27 people dead and another 200 infected. Needless to say, that hasn't made it one of Trip and Andy's favorite destinations thus far. Fortunately, there stay will be short, as they hoped to leave the city today for the town of Kindu, which sits right on the edge of the TL2 forest. From there, they'll plunge deep into the jungle on motorcycles where they'll begin the expedition in ernest by tracking elephants and collecting their dung.

Over the next two weeks they plan to set up camp in the remote research station of Obenge, a place that is so remote that even the poachers don't bother to go there. Andy and Trip hope to take samples from 30 distinct elephant herds in an area that falls on the banks of the Lomami River.

This being Africa, the wilderness and wild animals aren't the only dangers to their travels. The journal entry also notes that a poacher by the name of Moses has been operating in the area and has actually been burning crosses in the yards of people who support the creation of the Lomami National Park, a proposed reserve that will protect 25,000 square miles of forests. The DRC government is expected to pass legislation creating the park this year, and if that happens, it'll put a crimp into the poacher's activity in the region. Moses doesn't like that much and has been going around attempting to intimidate people. It seems he'll be getting a visit from the Congolese military in the next few days to politely ask him to stop.

For Trip and Andy, the real adventure is just about to begin. They're in the jungles now and pursuing their goals of collecting DNA samples from the elephant herds, but they have a lot of work ahead of them, and there are plenty of people who do't want to see them succeed. Expect another update on their progress next week, and keep in mind that few things ever go as planned in Africa.

[Map courtesy of the Elephant Ivory Project]

Himalaya 2011: More From Kathmandu

As I mentioned yesterday, the 2011 Himalaya season is starting to ramp up quickly with climbers and guides arriving in Kathmandu and putting the final touches on their preparations for the climbs ahead. One of those climbers is Alan Arnette, who will no doubt be posting regular updates throughout his expedition to climb Everest as part of his Seven Summits for Alzheimer's campaign. Alan posted another update from Kathmandu today, offering more insights into what is happening there and what we can expect in the weeks ahead.

Aside from setting the scene about how noisy and chaotic Kathmandu can be this time of year, or any time of year for that matter, Alan says that the weather in the region has improved, which means flights will resume to Lukla today. That's important for the climbers heading to the Khumbu region, in particular those going to Everest, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, and other peaks in that area. The IMG team that Alan is climbing with is scheduled to leave for Lukla on Thursday, when they'll also begin their trek to Base Camp. Other teams were already hoping to get out of KTM yesterday, so expected a bottleneck of travelers over the next few days, as everyone struggles to get out on the trail.

Alan also noted that he bumped into Russell Brice, owner of Himalayan Experience, better known as Himex, in the lobby of his hotel, and also had lunch with Phil Crampton of the Altitude Junkies. Both indicated that the number of climbers on Everest could be down as much as 25% this year thanks to the ongoing issues with the global economy and a rise in prices to climb the mountain. Back in 2009, there were more than 500 people who reached the summit of Everest, but it seems that this year we won't even come close to those kinds of numbers. That's probably a good thing, as it will reduce the crowds on Summit Day and may make for a safer climb in general.

Over the next week or so, most of the teams will be consumed with getting out of Kathmandu and making the trek to Base Camp. While that trek is a walk in the park compared to what lies ahead for them, it is still an important part of the acclimatization process that will prepare them to go higher on the mountain. It is also quite a great hike with some amazing views. On the North Side of Everest, in Tibet, the climbers will actually drive to BC. It isn't the same experience, and they deal with the acclimatization a bit differently, but there will be teams headed that direction soon too.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Put Foot Rally Promises African Road Trip Adventure

Are you still searching for a great adventure for 2011? Then perhaps the Put Foot Rally is just what you're looking for. The Put Foot is a road rally that will get underway in June and send teams off on a 17-day, 7000km (4350 mile) journey through seven different countries in Africa, promising plenty of excitement along the way.

The rally begins in South Africa, in either Cape Town or Johannesburg, on June 21st with "Registration Day," which is when all of the crews check-in and make their last minute preparations. There is also a pre-race party to get everyone in the mood. The next day, the rally truly gets underway with all of the teams hitting the road for the first checkpoint (and second party!), which is located in Etosha Park, Namibia. The rally will continue over the next week and a half, with checkpoints in Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique, with the finish line located in Swaziland.

There are a couple of other factors that make the rally a unique event to say the least. For instance, you can drive the route in any vehicle you choose, from a 4x4 Land Cruiser to a tiny Fiat. What ever gets you and your crew from one checkpoint to the next is acceptable. There is also no set routes either, which means you'll be navigating your own course. That leads to all kinds of interesting possibilities, including taking wrong turns that will send you off into the African wilds or leave you stranded on a lonely back road with nothing but lions and elephants to keep you company. This is a true road trip adventure, where the rules are simply that you have to pass through all the checkpoints along the way.

The rally has designated the Bobs For Good Foundation as its official charity and the Put Foot organizers are working closely with that organization to help raise funds. Bobs For Good is a group that works tirelessly to provide shoes for underprivileged children in Africa who might not ever own a pair otherwise.

If the Put Foot Rally sounds like the kind of adventure you'd like to go on, you can register by clicking here. Only 50 teams will be accepted, with several already signed up. Be warned though, this is going to be quite a challenge, and travel through Africa is not easy. There are some real dangers there and this won't be for the faint of heart or the unprepared.

All that said, I would absolutely love to go on this rally. Anyone want to put together an Adventure Blog team with me and hit in the road in June? This looks like it is going to be great fun and I can't wait to hear more about it.

Himalaya 2011: The Season Begins

It is hard to believe, but another Himalayan spring climbing season is already upon us. While it'll be a few weeks before the real work begins on the various mountains, the climbers are now arriving, along with truckloads of gear, in Kathmandu. Most will spend a few days there sorting out their equipment and organizing flights to their ultimate destination, where the acclimatization process can begin in ernest.

For those heading to Everest's South Side and its neighbor Lhotse, that process starts with a flight to Lukla, where they'll make the trek up the Khumbu Valley. Those heading to the North Side will actually fly to Tibet and drive to Base Camp on that side of the mountain. After a day or two of rest in BC, they'll start working their way up the mountain, building their various camps and gear caches, with an eye on making a summit bid sometime around mid-May or so, depending on the weather.

Our friend Alan Arnette set off for Kathmandu this weekend and has already made his first dispatch from that city. Alan talks about the all too familiar sights, sounds, and smells of Nepal's capital, and since this is the eight time he has visited that place, he is getting to know it well. Regular readers will know that Alan will be attempting Everest again this year. The mountain his the third of his Seven Summits for Alzheimer's project during which he is hoping to raise $1 million for the Cure Alzheimer's Fund.

Alan is climbing as part of the IMG team this year, and he reports that the news from the Khumbu is that the region above Namche Bazaar has plenty of cold, wet, heavy snow at the moment. He also reports, not surprisingly, that the weather has forced the cancellation of flights into Lukla today. Travel to the Khumbu is always a bit spotty at the start of the season, which is another reason the climbers end up staying in Kathmandu for a few days.

Also in Kathmandu is Dave Hahn, one of the guides for RMI Expeditions. Dave sent a dispatch to the National Geographic Adventure Blog with some details on his team, which will include Bill and Sara McGahan, a father-daughter team who hope to summit Everest together. Sara is just 16, which makes her one of the youngest climbers on the mountain, just slipping in under the new age requirement rules. Dave hoped to catch a very early morning flight to Lukla, but they're likely still in Kathmandu thanks to the weather. With the quick turn around out of the capital however, it seems that Dave wants to get to BC quickly and establish the campsite. Look for the RMI team to be trekking the Khumbu in the next few days.

It is going to be an interesting year on Everest and throughout the Himalaya in general. There are mostly only big commercial teams this year and fewer independent climbers. That should make it easier to determine what is going on, but may also make it a "by the numbers" kind of season as well.

Reading the reports from Kathmandu reminds me that last year this time I was only a few weeks away from making my trip to the Himalaya. KTM is a colorful and chaotic place with lots of things to see and do, but it also suffers from rolling blackouts, dirty air and water, and noise at all times of the day and night. It is a wild place to say the least, and while I enjoyed my stay there, I was anxious to get out to the mountains. I'm guessing that most of the teams are feeling like that at the moment as well.

North Pole 2011: Ben Saunders Updates Us On His Plans

Last week I posted an update from Ben Saunders who was forced to abort his solo and unsupported attempt on the North Pole speed record due to weather. At the time, we only had a simple Twitter post to give us the news, but later in the day Ben wrote his thoughts on having to head home before he ever had a chance to get underway.

As you can imagine, Ben is feeling a bit frustrated and very disappointed at the outcome of the expedition this year. For three straight seasons he has attempted to set a new speed record to the Pole, only to variables out of his control thwart him at every turn. In the past, it was equipment that let him down, but this year it was the weather. A never ending bout of incredibly bad weather put an early end to the polar season this year, preventing any planes from landing at Cape Discovery, where many arctic explorers had hoped to get underway. In his blog post, Ben noted that the current weather system that is hovering over the region is unlike any that has ever been seen before. One can't help but wonder if this is a freak occurrence or if it is a result of changes in our weather patterns due to other climate changes.

For now, Ben is heading home, but he has already announced that he'll be heading to Antarctica in October to take part in an expedition to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Scott Expedition to the South Pole. Expect to hear a lot more about that event in the fall, when there will no doubt be plenty of attention centered around the Scott and Amundsen expeditions.

For a final video from Resolute Bay, check out Ben's "Open Ending" below.

Ben Saunders - Open Ending from Ben Saunders on Vimeo.

Raid The North Extreme Joins AR World Series!

One of the major adventure races taking place in North America this year is, without a doubt, the Raid The North Extreme, which is scheduled to take place in the West Kootenays of Canada's British Columbia from July 23rd - 31st. Over the weekend, organizers of the race also announced that they are re-joining the AR World Series, making the RTNX the only qualifying event in North America this year. That means that teams competing in the 500+km (310+ mile) race will now be vying for an all expense paid entry to the AR World Championship to be held in Tasmania in November of this year.

This announcement marks the return of Raid The North Extreme to the AR World Series fold. The race was originally part of the series when it formed back in 2000 and it even served as the championship event in 2004. After that, the RTNX dropped out of the ARWS, but by returning both events are made that much better.

As of this writing, the RTNX is just two teams shy of its cap of 50, which means if you aren't already signed up to race, you will probably want to get your application in today. The news of the race now being a qualifier for the AR World Championship is sure to seal the deal for any teams that have been on the fence about competing. A chance to head to Tasmania in November sounds like a fantastic reward on top of the already great prizes for winning the event.

Kudos to the RTNX staff for joining the ARWS. This is yet another feather in their cap for an event that was already looking like it was going to be one of the best races of the year.

Friday, March 25, 2011

New Web Series "Mandatory Equipment" Will Show Us How To Prepare For An Adventure Race!

Have you ever wondered what kind of training and preparation is necessary for an expedition length adventure race? Than you're in luck, as a new web series is starting soon that will give us a behind the scenes look at Team Mandatory Equipment getting ready for the Raid the North Extreme race that will take place this July. The weekly series is set to begin in April, and will follow the team  which consists of 3 women and 1 man, as they get ready to endure the 600km (373 mile), 6 day non-stop race.

I'm excited to see where this series goes. I think it'll give fans of adventure racing further insights into team dynamics and preparation, while possibly introducing new fans to the sport. Adventurer racers are an enthusiastic, athletic, and dedicated bunch, and I'm sure that will come through in the episodes when they begin to air.

Check out the trailer for the show below and visit the Mandatory Equipment Facebook page for more info and updates. Can't wait!

Mandatory Equipment: A web series - Trailer from 1iOpen Productions on Vimeo.

North Pole 2011: Ben's Headed Home For Tea

The weather has apparently claimed another victim amongst the explorers who had hoped to go to the North Pole this season. Ben Saunders has called it quits before he could ever get out of the starting gate, making it official on Twitter a short time go.

Saunders, who hoped to make a solo and unassisted attempt on the North Pole speed record, post the following to his Twitter account:
“Ongoing blizzard at N coast of Ellesmere Island = no flights this year. Time to go home and have a cup of tea. Will update the site tonight"
So there you have it. Ben never had the chance to even get out of Resolute Bay and go to Cape Discovery, where he hoped to begin his expedition. Instead, all he could do was sit, and wait, and watch the weather. In the end though, the weather never gave him a break, and too many days have slipped by for him to safely attempt any kind of journey to the Pole.

Look for updates to his blog tonight passing on more information, but really there are few surprises here. The last report we had said that he hoped to fly out on Wednesday, but when that day came and went without an update, and then two more followed, I assumed that the expedition was probably off. Hopefully Ben can go home and regroup for next year. Perhaps 2012 will offer a bit more luck.

This surely has been an odd year for North Pole expeditions. There will be no true journeys to the Pole this year, and only a few last degree trips as well. This is likely a sign of things to come however, as the Arctic Ocean is getting more and more unstable and the weather conditions are becoming more difficult as well. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The days of going to the North Pole on foot, may becoming to an end very quickly. Maybe even more quickly than I had originally thought.

More Guests Announced For Mountainfilm Festival

The Mountainfilm Festival is inching ever closer to its May 27th start date, and organizers have announced more guest speakers for the event which is held annually in Telluride, Colorado.

Previously, it had been announced that speakers such as Dan Austin, of 88bikes, and climber/guide Freddie Wilkinson, amongst others, would be on hand to share their stories and experiences. Now the list of guests has grown nicely with some excellent and interesting people being added to the mix. For instance, Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson is back this year as a judge and he'll be joined by Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch and photographer George Steinmetz, who once spent 28 months hitchhiking through Africa.

Perhaps most intriguing of all is Tim DeChristopher, an environmentalist who has been convicted in a U.S. Federal Court for making false bids on energy leases in the western United States. He'll speak about the importance of taking action on global climate change and how to use non-violent, civil disobedience to make changes. Less than a month after his appearance at Mountainfilm, DeChristopher faces sentencing for his actions. What exactly that sentence will be remains to be seen.

For the full list of guests who will be on hand click here and to purchase passes for the festival, click here.

What is Mountainfilm? from Mountainfilm in Telluride on Vimeo.

8 Month Long, 6 Continent, Cycling Tour Annouced

Are you anticipating a little time off from work in the semi-near future? If so, you may want to sign up for the latest cycling tour announced by Pedalers Pub and Grille, an adventure travel company that specializes in cycling adventures all over the planet. In celebration of their 25th anniversary, the company has announced an epic ride that also comes with an epic price tag.

Dubbed the Once In A Lifetime Tour, this new option will send 30 lucky travelers off on an eight month long journey that will cross six continents and nearly 30 countries. The tour will kick-off in June of 2012 with a shakedown cruise in Vermont that will allow riders to get to know one another and get use to the rigors of the ride. From there, it's off to Europe, where they'll take a spin through France, Austria, Italy, and a number of other great cycling destinations. In the weeks that follow, the group will ride through parts of Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America, experiencing some great destinations along the way.

The tour won't come cheap though. If you want to join the fun, you'll need to plunk down $95,000, which includes all of your transportation costs, accommodations, most meals, guides on the trip, and a custom built bike. While nearly $100k for a vacation is a lot of money, you really are getting a lot for what you pay.

For more information on the trip, including a complete list of countries, click here, and for a detailed look at the itinerary, click here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

In Search Of The World's Most Poisonous Frog

You think it's easy being a photographer for National Geographic? Sure they get sent to some of the most amazing places on the planet and capture fantastic photographs of those destinations. But did you ever stop to wonder what they have to go through to get those great shots? Check out the video below for a very funny first hand account from photographer Mark Moffett, who traveled to Colombia to find an elusive, and very dangerous tree frog.

Ski Season Isn't Over Yet!

The calendar may read spring, but that doesn't mean that its time to put away those skis (or snowboards!) just yet. If you're still itching to hit the slopes a few more times this season, then perhaps the video below will help you get through the day a bit easier. Shot in Jackson, Wyoming, it really does give you a great sense of how great backcountry powder skiing can really be. Enjoy!

Thanks to The Adventure Journal for sharing this. Great stuff!

Mid Wintahhhh 2011 from Andrew Whiteford on Vimeo.

Is It Time To Put An End To "Adventures" On The Indian Ocean?

Jon Bowermaster has posted a really thoughtful and interesting piece on Gadling today that declares that it is time to end Indian Ocean adventures. That's a very bold statement from a man who has spent plenty of time on the world's oceans, including the Indian, but Jon's message makes sense, and should serve as a warning for those sailing those treacherous waters.

What spurred Jon to write this piece is the recent high profile pirate attacks in that region. We've all been well aware of the pirate activity off the coast of Somalia for a number of years now, but the recent taking, and subsequent killing, of four Americans a month ago, has brought the subject back to the forefront. Just days later, a Danish ship, with three children aboard, was captured, making worldwide headlines as well.

According to the article, there are now more than 800 hostages being held by the pirates, who are conducting weekly raids on ships in the Northern Indian Ocean. They have mostly preyed upon shipping and oil vessels, but have begun to attack private yachts with increasing frequency of late, which has many wondering why anyone would sail through those waters to begin with.

Jon notes that he is someone who encourages what he calls "an adventurous life," but reminds us that we need to take caution and think things through when we set out on our adventures. There is a fine line between being adventurous and being foolish, and sailing into those dangerous waters is probably falls more on the foolish end of the spectrum.

So what do you think? Do you agree with Jon when he says that is perhaps best if we avoid a significant portion of the Indian Ocean for now? Should sailing, and maybe rowing, adventures in that area of the world be postponed or even cancelled? There is little doubt that there is significant risk attached to sailing the ocean in general, but adding the real threat of pirates to the mix is just asking for trouble.

Personally, I'm not one to tell someone they shouldn't go on an adventure, but I have to agree with Jon. It is  important that you be smart when embarking on what ever adventure you choose, and while some inherent risks are involved, why invite more trouble than you have to?

Catlin Arctic Survey 2011: Explorers Complete First Phase Of Survey

It's no secret that conditions in the Arctic have been especially challenging this season. In fact, there are few explorers out on the ice at all. But that hasn't stopped the Catlin Arctic Survey team, who have returned to the great white north for another year as they press forward with collecting data on the implications of climate change on the region.

Much like last year, the Catlin Arctic Survey consists of two teams, the Ice Base Team, which consists of scientists and researchers who stay at a stationary base, and the Explorers Team, who are traveling through the Arctic collecting data samples along the way. That team hit a milestone on Tuesday when they completed the first phase of their journey by arriving at the Ice Base.

Traveling to the base was no easy endeavor however, as the four members of the team had to cross the Prince Gustaf Adolf Sea, battling the incredibly bad conditions as they went. Over the course of the 77 mile journey, they had to endure -42ºC/-43ºF temperatures, high winds, and blizzard conditions. But that phase of the expedition allowed them to collect important data about the health of the ice in the region, which is a clear indicator of how climate change is affecting the ice caps.

The four explorers, Ann Daniels and Phil Coates, both of the U.K., along with Tyler Fish from the U.S. and Australian Adrian McCallum, will now set out on the next leg of the adventure. That will be a 300 mile long trek that begins near the North Pole and continues to Greenland. Along the way they'll continue to collect data that will be shared with researchers upon their return. That data will hopefully give us further insights into how changes in the Arctic are having an effect on weather conditions in Europe and North America.

Gear Box: Osprey Hornet 32 Pack

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Osprey Packs. In fact, I own several of them in a variety of sizes, and they each serve a specific purpose, and they do so very well. Which is why I was excited to have the offer to test out one of their new Hornet 32 packs, a lightweight, minimalist daypack that still carries all the quality you expect from Osprey.

The first thing you'll notice when you pick up the Hornet is just how light it actually is. The bag is designed for trail runners, adventure racers, and peak baggers, and it serves their needs very well. It is so lightweight in fact, that you barely notice that it's on your back, but even when filled with gear, it still carries the load very well. There are a variety of adjustment straps to help you get just the right fit, and secure your burden, which is appreciated when you want to set a faster pace on the trail.

As the name implies, the Hornet 32 is a mid-size pack with plenty of room to carry everything you'll need for a long day on the trail. The Hornet features a spacious main compartment, as well as three outer mesh pockets, one on the back and two on the front. Those mesh pockets are perfect for storing items you want to get to quickly, such as water shoes or a rain jacket. There are also two more pockets on the hipbelt, and a removable top pocket with two separate compartments as well. In short, you have plenty of places to organize and store your gear.

Despite its lightweight, the Hornet still impresses with quality. The pack is made fro triple-ripstop nylons that wear well and feel solid, as do the shoulder straps and belts. Often times a pack this light feels like it could rip easily or show wear and tear after just a few hikes, but the Hornet 32 weathered the storm well, and looks new, even after using it a few times.

As you would expect, the bag is hydration ready and can carry up to a 3 liter water bladder. It also comes with a vented back panel with a removable, replaceable pad, which helps you to stay ventilated on your back while on the trail. But, don't expect the same level of ventilation you find on Osprey's other, heavier, packs that have a true frame in place to help facilitate air flow. Clearly this was one of the compromises you make in order to reduce weight and adhere to the minimalist philosophy.

Still, the Hornet is a joy to use. It fits well, carries a load nicely, and has plenty of room for all your gear, plus water and lunch, on a day hike. Sprint adventure racers will appreciate the lightweight but high quality and fast packers will enjoy the variety of places to stuff their gear as well. It should be noted that this bag comes in 24 and 46 liter capacities as well, so be sure to get the one that most fits your needs.

(MSRP: $139)

Checkout other Osprey Packs at

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Adventure Photographer Corey Rich Shares His Story

I came across this great video earlier today while catching up on the news at the Goat Blog. It profiles adventure photographer Corey Rich, who tells us about his passion for the outdoors and for taking documenting his adventures through photographs. He managed to combine both of those elements into one fantastic profession. I mean, who wouldn't want to be an "adventure photographer," right?

Great video with some nice inspiration for a Wednesday.

Corey Rich Origins of a legend. from Rex Lint on Vimeo.

Members Only Gear Shop To Launch Next Week

A new members only gear shop is set to open its virtual doors next week, and as a pre-launch promotion its offering a $200 shopping spree to one lucky winner who signs up early. will officially launch next with plans to offer great, name brand outdoor gear, clothing, and travel destinations at 70% discounts off the regular price. The sales will be exclusive to members, which is why it is important to sign up early and get in on the deals. Everyone who signs up between now and March 31st will automatically be entered into a drawing, with the winner receiving $200 to spend in the new gear shop.

Signing up is easy and takes just a minute or two. Simply fill out the form on the front page of the site with your name, e-mail, and password, and you'll be eligible for the $200 prize. You'll also be all set for the launch next week, when you can start enjoying the savings on the gear. Sales will always begin at 8AM PT and run for 72 hours in length.

The company will also be donating part of their profits to grassroots environmental groups as part of the 1% for the Planet organization, a great non-profit that has over 1400 companies that donate 1% of their profits to charities.

I signed up for the site, as I'm always interested in good deals on gear. But I'm also very intrigued by the listing of "travel destinations" as part of the program as well. Can't wait to see what that entails. Guess I'll find out when the site officially goes live next week!

The Weather Channel To Launch New Photography Show

Fans of photography in extreme places will be pleased to hear that there is a new television show in the works that will cater to their needs. The new program, entitled From the Edge With Peter Lik will debut next week, March 31st, on The Weather Channel of all places.

The show will focus on scenic outdoor photography in places where the weather continues to have a direct impact on shaping the landscape. Amongst the destinations slated to be shown in the first 13 episodes of the show are Hawaii, Alaska, Utah, Death Valley, and more. During those episodes, viewers will watch professional photographer Peter Lik as he works to capture the natural beauty of the landscapes while dealing with a variety of challenges, not the least of which is weather.

Lik's bio is listed on the show's website. As a boy, growing up in Melbourne, Australia, Peter received his first camera as a birthday present at the age of eight. He has been hooked on the art of photography ever since. He has visited some of the most remote places in the U.S., visiting all 50 states, and Australia, and has been awarded the honor of Master of Photography from both the Professional Photographers of America and the Australian Institute of Professional Photography, giving him the distinction of being one of the very few photographers in the world to be recognized with that honor on two continents. He has also earned a fellowship with the British Institute of Professional Photography, the organization's highest level of achievement.

The first episode of From the Edge will air next Tuesday at 8 EDT/7 CDT on The Weather Channel.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Elephant Ivory Project Update: On The Ground In The DRC

A few weeks back I wrote about the Elephant Ivory Project, which is sending explorers Trip Jennings and Andy Masar deep into the African bush in the Democratic Republic of Congo to track elephants. The duo is hoping to collect dung from five distinct herds of the animals in the hopes that they can create a "DNA Map" of the region which can then be used to track the illegal ivory trade. The eventual goal of the expedition is to raise awareness of the illegal poaching of elephants and hopefully bring an end to the practice altogether.

When I wrote about the expedition the first time, Trip and Andy were just preparing to leave for the DRC. Now, more than a week and a half later, they are on the ground there and preparing to strike out into the wilderness. But, as their recent journal update indicates, there are more challenges to the project than just impenetrable wilderness and wild animals.

Trip and Andy are hoping to journey into a forest that is designated as TL2. Unfortunately, those plans have had to be put on the back burner for now, as a notorious criminal and poacher by the name of Colonel Toms has moved into the region with a group of bandits, and it currently not safe to operate there. Toms recently escaped from prison where he was serving a 20 year sentence for crimes against humanity, and has immediately gone back to his old ways, setting up shop in TL2. His illegal poaching efforts are used to finance the purchase of weapons for his band.

Jennings and Masar aren't giving up however, as TL2 can provide some very important data for their research. The forest sits right between Salongo National Park and Virunga National Park, which sit 600 miles apart, which means that TL2 could conceivably provide genetic information on elephant herds spread out across the entire country. The promise of that information has put Trip and Andy on a plane to Kisangani where they hope to gain access to the TL2 forest, while avoiding Colonel Toms' band of merry men.

The field update from the expedition team puts into light just how dangerous Africa can be at times. They are traveling into some truly remote wilderness area where there is practically no law at all. Poachers are out to get the animals of course, but they certainly don't have any qualms about making a few explorers disappear too. Lets hope that Andy and Trip remain safe as the venture into the jungles.

Stay tuned for more.

Outside Profiles Miss Elizabeth Hawley

In just a few short days, hundred of climbers will begin to descend on Kathmandu where they'll collect their gear, finish last minute preparations, and then depart for a variety of Himalayan peaks. Each of them will be focused on reaching their respective summits, often spending weeks toiling away on the mountain just to stand on top for a few minutes. But as Outside Magazine notes in their profile of Miss Elizabeth Hawley, the summit doesn't count until she says so.

For those that don't know, Miss Hawley is a fixture in the Himalayan climbing community. The 87-year old woman has been in Nepal for 60 years, documenting and recording every climb up every peak. Many climbers stop by to pay homage and discuss their climb before they set out, then again on their return to Kathmandu, where they are often quizzed about their expedition. To say she has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Himalaya is almost selling Miss Hawley short.

The Outside article talks about her meticulous record and how the are the definitive source for all climbs that take place in the Himalaya. They also quote climbers like Reinhold Messner who even defers to Hawley and her impressive stockpile of information. All told, she has conducted more than 15,000 interviews in her illustrious career, and it doesn't appear that she'll stop anytime soon.

As the 2011 Himalayan Season dawns, this article is a great place to kick off the coverage. After all, Miss Hawley remains the Queen of the Mountains, even though she has never climbed one herself.

North Pole 2011: Ben Waits While The Clock Ticks

It wasn't good news for Ben Saunders last night. The polar explorer has been waiting for a flight out to Cape Discovery so he could begin his solo and unassisted speed record attempt to the North Pole, but once again the weather is not cooperating. Now, his window for making that attempt is dangerously closing to ending altogether, although he still hopes to give it a go.

According to his latest blog post, Ben now hopes to depart tomorrow, which means he must finish in record time or risk having to get a private flight off the ice at a price tag that runs into the six figures. Conditions in the region have been incredibly bad for the past few weeks, so a flight out tomorrow is far from a foregone conclusion, especially considering that no planes have made it to Cape Discovery this year.

I'm sure this is all very frustrating for Saunders, who is stuck in Resolute Bay and more than ready to get on the move. I guess for now, we'll have to wait to see if he can finally get underway tomorrow, as any further delays would probably mean an end to the expedition altogether. As it stands now, he has a HUGE task ahead of him if he does hope to gain the record.

Ben Saunders - Two Days from Ben Saunders on Vimeo.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Paddler Makes First Ever Atlantic Crossing In Sea Kayak

Yesterday our friend Jon Bowermaster, who happens to write for as well, posted a great story on that site about a paddler who completed the first ever crossing of the Atlantic in a sea kayak. The journey took just shy of 99 days to complete and covered 3352 miles.

Way back in October, Polish paddler Aleksander Doba set out from Dakar, Senegal with his sights set on arriving in Fortaleza, Brazil. Jon points out that that is a distance of just 2000 miles or so, if you travel in a straight line, but thanks to high winds, especially in the first two months, and drift from ocean currents, Doba wasn't able to travel in a straight line, or anything close to resembling such. Those high winds and currents helped to tack on the extra 1300+ miles of paddling.

Doba is no stranger to long distance paddle either. Amongst his other achievements in a kayak are a 2,600-mile paddle around the Baltic Sea in 1999, a 3,300 mile journey from Poland to Norway back in 2000 and a 1,200 mile circumnavigation of Lake Baikal that was completed just last year. Jon notes that the Pole paddles a 23-foot long sea kayak "with monster roll bars and a pair of flotation cabins at either end."

As if reading about Doba's accomplishments in a kayak weren't inspiring enough, he also happens to be 64-years old. Pretty impressive accomplishment at any age, and even more so after 60. I hope I can be anywhere close to that active when I'm that age.

Well done Aleksander!

South African Safari In Kruger National Park

Last week I shared some thoughts on my recent trip to South Africa where I able to watch future safari guides in training under the watchful tutelage of an organization called EcoTraining. Earlier today, I posted a story on about my recent trip to Kruger National Park that takes a look at some of my safari experiences there and how they compared to the Serengeti, which I visited a few years back.

First off, as I note in that story it is impossible to recommend either Kruger or the Serengeti over one another. They are both fantastic settings, each with their own draw and plenty of wildlife to see. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at both places, and that's saying something, because the Serengeti is perhaps my favorite place I've ever visited.

That said, the two destinations offer a very different safari experience to say the least. The Serengeti is much more open, with grasslands stretching to the horizon and rolling landscapes that offer prime vantage points for spotting the wildlife. Kruger, on the other hand, has lush green forests, dense underbrush, and plenty of green foliage to block your views. The result is a much more challenging experience for not only spotting the animals but getting quality photos as well. The flora made it quite fun to go on bush walks however, something I never had the opportunity to do on the Serengeti.

In terms of wildlife, Kruger matches up well with the Serengeti for the most part, although there is a lot more of it on the plains between Kenya and Tanzania. I saw all the usual animals on my safari, although certain ones were in short supply. For instance, there were few giraffes in the region I was in, and wildebeests were small in number as well, which is a sharp contrast to the Serengeti where they number in the hundreds of thousands. Still, Kruger had plenty of buffalo, antelope, baboons, monkeys, and zebras to fill your needs. We spotted hippos within minutes of crossing into the park as well, and a chance encounter with a baby lion will remain one of my favorite moments from any of my journeys.

I did note a big distinction between the elephants of Kruger and those on the Serengeti. In Kruger they seemed more aggressive by a wide margin. On more than one occasion we came across a larger breeding herd, with plenty of little ones in tow, and the parents were definitely not afraid to show their displeasure with our presence so close to the family. Our vehicle was even charged twice, one of which was a very close call. On the Serengeti, the elephants barely even acknowledged our existence and never made a threatening move towards us at all. Kruger has an over abundance of elephants as well, and even in the dense foliage they are easy to find, but the Serengeti has large herds to match and probably overall larger numbers.

The bottom line is that I feel privileged to have gotten the opportunity to visit both places, and they are both beautiful and amazing. If you're headed to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro, than do yourself a favor and tack on a safari for the end of you climb. You'll be happy you did. If, on the other hand, you want a more laid back experience, South Africa might be your destination of choice. It offers up a more cosmopolitan experience with plenty to see in do in the larger cities, a thriving wine country, and the chance to have a great safari experience as well. If you simply can't choose, then maybe you should do what I did, and visit both!

Next up on my Safari "Want List," Botswana's Okavango Delta. I would love, love, love to visit that place as well.

North Pole 2011: Killing Time In Resolute Bay

Polar explorer Ben Saunders is still waiting to see if he'll catch a flight out of Resolute Bay tomorrow so he can finally get underway on his solo and unassisted attempt at the speed record to the North Pole. The weather has been a persistent nemesis for everyone traveling in the Arctic Ocean this season, and it continues to keep Ben stuck at the starting line rather than out on the ice where he would rather be.

The window for skiing to the North Pole is already incredibly narrow, and further delays will probably cause Ben to have to pull the plug for safety reasons. I know he is very reluctant to do that, but it just hasn't been a good season in the Arctic so far, and it's unlikely to change in the days ahead. Still, I'd like to see him at least get a chance at the record, rather than just passing time in Resolute Bay

And what does Ben do while he's there? Check out the video below to see how his days have been passed while he waits for his turn.

Ben Saunders - Killing Time from Ben Saunders on Vimeo.

Eric and Sarah McNair-Landry To Kite-Ski The Northwest Passage!

I caught this story this morning while catching up on the latest news over at Explorers Web. It seems the brother-sister team of Eric and Sarah McNair-Landry are gearing up for yet another epic arctic expedition, this time planning to kite-ski across the Northwest Passage, a journey that will cover more than 3000km (1864 miles).

According to the expedition blog, which can be found by clicking here, the siblings reached the end of the Trans-Canada Highway on Saturday, and are now preparing for the real journey, which will trace the 1906 Roald Amundsen route through the Passage. That was the first time that it was actually successfully navigated by anyone following centuries of explorers hoping to discover a way through from the Atlantic to the Pacific north of Canada. The journey will actually begin in Tuktoyaktuk, located in Canada’s Northwest Territories. According to ExWeb, from there Eric and Sarah will travel east through Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, Taloyoak, and Arctic Bay, before finally reaching the finish line at Pond Inlet on Baffin Island.

The MacNair-Landry team is no stranger to adventure. The duo skied unassisted to the South Pole while still teenagers and have also kite-skied the length of Greenland and explored the Gobi Desert by kite-buggy as well. This is another long distance journey to add to their already impressive resumes, and it should be interesting to watch it unfold. There hasn't been any updates to their blog since Saturday, so I assume that they haven't gotten underway yet, but look for them to hit the tail soon. It's going to be one tough trip for sure.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Nat Geo Looking To Fund Young Explorer As Part Of Expedition Week

The week of April 3rd - 9th will be Expedition Week on the Nat Geo Channel, and much like they did back in the fall of 2009, the network is running an online contest that will determine one of two expeditions that they will fund in the near future.

The contest is called Expedition Granted, and it pits Dash Masland vs. Trevor Frost for the ultimate goal of sending them on the project they've been planning for some time. In the case of Dash, that would be off to Hawaii, where she'll do research to help save a species of endangered seal. Frost, on the other hand, hopes to visit Indonesia, where he will work closely with park rangers in an effort to prevent poaching in national parks there.

As of this writing, the voting is actually neck and neck, with Trevor holding a slight lead at 50.6% of the vote versus Dash's 49.4%. Picking which expedition to fund in this manner seems a bit cruel, but I think it's clear who we need to vote for here. Frost's expedition is an important one that will have him working with national parks that have limited resources and have been mismanaged, and as a result, they've seen some of their natural resources taken away from them. He hope to change that by identifying where inefficiencies take place so that they can be corrected. Conservation efforts will be greatly improved thanks to his work.

Dash, on the other hand, simply wants to go to Hawaii to hang out on the beach and enjoy the lovely weather. (Yes, I'm kidding folks!)

You can vote for either one of the two by clicking here.

Oh, and remember that story I wrote about last week where the explorers were heading off to the Congo in an effort to save the elephants there? Turns out that that expedition was funded from the 2009 contest that I referenced above. Yep, Trip Jennings won that online vote, and now he's off tracking elephants in an attempt to stop the illegal trade of ivory. It's pretty cool to see these things come full circle.

Specialized and McLaren Introduce Hot New Bike, I Drool Uncontrollably!

Yesterday Specialized and McLaren introduced a new bike that they say is the lightest, fastest, and most aerodynamic road machine ever built. It also happens to be the kind of bike that looks great as well, with speed written all over it.

Constructed from carbon fiber, and designed to take on the winds of the open road, the new Specialized Venge has a carbon fiber frame that weighs in at just 950 grams, or just a shade over 2 pounds. It's origins date back to a rejected design from 2009, which saw the bike company asking the car company, McLaren, to help them improve the design. The results are an 8% increase in speed and better resistance to drag not just from headwinds but also a cross wind as well. Something road cyclists struggle with on a regular basis.

The new bike is already being ridden by a few riders in a race this weekend, and it will be used by Alberto Contador and Mark Cavendish this season. It comes in two models, the S-Works Vernge, which will set you back $4000 for the frame alone, with a ridable version starting at $8700, and the McLaren Venge which starts at $8000 for the frame and will go as high as $15,000 for a complete package.

To find out more about this impressive looking bike, check out this story at The Adventure Journal and the Official Venge page as well.

I want one!

North Pole 2011: Explorer Hopes To Become Youngest To The Pole

16-year old Parker Liautaud is gearing up for his second arctic expedition in as many years. The young man attempted to become the youngest person to ski to the North Pole last year, but saw his efforts thwarted by negative drift, bad weather, and other factors beyond his control. In the end, he came up 15 miles short of his goal, but this year he's back, and looking to finish what he started.

Parker will leave for the arctic in about two weeks, where he'll be attempting a Last Degree ski expedition to the North Pole. But this young man has much grander designs than just grabbing a record for the youngest person to stand at 90ºN. He is also working hard to raise awareness of global climate change, and the impact that is having on our planet, while also hoping to inspire other young men and women to do extraordinary things.

This year, Parker, and his guide Doug Stoup, will also be working in conjunction with the University of Alberta. On their way to the Pole they'll be measuring the thickness of the snow that they find along the way, and will record that data to share with researchers at the university. The hope is that the data collected will help scientists to understand the impact of climate change on the Arctic Ocean, both in the short and long term.

Be sure to follow Parker's progress when he gets underway in a few weeks. He is an impressive young man who seems focused and determined to reach his goal. Even more impressive though is his desire to use  this expedition for bigger things, namely to further his cause and to inspire others to get off the couch and contribute as well. I hope that he succeeds in reach the North Pole this year. He certainly has worked hard enough to deserve it! Look for updates on Parker's website, Facebook page, and Twitter account.

Good luck Parker!

North Pole 2011: Yet More Delays For Ben

The weather delays are starting to get very serious for Ben Saunders, who is Resolute Bay and hoping to catch a flight to Cape Discovery soon so he can begin his attempt at a speed record to the North Pole. He had been hoping to get out on the ice yesterday, but a blog post last night indicates that the weather woes continue. Ben says that he talked to his pilot yesterday to get an update and the pilot indicated that the Arctic Weather Centre, located in Edmonton, is now saying that the current conditions might not clear until Monday or Tuesday of next week.

This news puts a serious crimp in Ben's plans to say the least. He says that if he is dropped on Tuesday, which is still very much in question, he'll have just 36 days to reach the Pole before the last plane of the season departs. That's not giving him much room for error, and considering the speed record is just a shade over 36 days, he'll have to be at the top of his game.

The weather reports indicate that conditions are absolutely horrible at the moment. Fresh snow is being dumped on the area by the foot, and blizzard conditions permeate the area. So even if the weather window opens for Tuesday, it is likely that conditions over the coming weeks could continue to be extremely bad, which could slow progress even further. But I think at this point, Ben would be willing to take his chances just to get on the move and at least try to go the Pole.

Any further delays will likely put an end to the expedition for this year. Saunders is an amazing athlete and has plenty of experience in the Arctic, but he also knows when to play it safe and when to press on. This could be another case of factors beyond his control causing him to scrub an expedition. Lets hope not though. I'd like to see him get a crack at that record as well.