Friday, April 29, 2011

Catlin Arctic Survey 2011: Heading Home!

The 2011 Arctic Season, what little there was of it, is quickly grinding to a halt, as the Barneo Ice Station closes for another year, and several last minute expeditions had to be scrubbed. As anyone who follows these polar adventures know, this was a particularly strange and challenging year, with no one making the full journey to the North Pole. But the severe, and at times odd, weather conditions didn't prevent the Catlin Arctic Survey teams from doing their job for a third straight year.

For the past two months, the survey teams have labored away in the Arctic. One of those teams stayed at an ice base that was constructed specifically for the project, while the other team traveled by skis from the North Pole to Greenland. Both teams spent time collecting important data on how climate change is affecting the Arctic and the healthy of the ice there. That data will be used in research that will potentially give us insights into how changes at the North Pole can have an effect in Europe and North America as well.

According to their latest blog post, the Catlin Arctic Survey team is now packing up their gear and preparing to head home. The scientists and researchers at the Ice Base expect to be evacuated from the ice this weekend, provided the weather cooperates. With most of their work done, and their ice core samples and other data packed away, the group took time out to celebrate the Royal Wedding today.

Meanwhile, the Explorers team doesn't quite have it so nice. Over the past few days, they've been struggling with finding a route towards their final destination, and as they go, they're encountering more and more open leads, that is to say, large sections of open water. That has required them to don their immersion suits, climb into the frigid waters, a swim across the water, pulling their gear in inflatable rafts behind them. As you can imagine, this is a time consuming, and tiring, process that has left them physically drained at this stage of the expedition.

Despite the conditions, which have included nasty weather and total whiteouts, the team remains strong and focused, with good spirits. They're still heading south of course, and hope to reach their destination soon.

Nat Geo Adventure Announces Spring/Summer Gear of the Year for 2011

Our friends over at National Geographic Adventure have posted their picks for Gear of the Year for Spring/Summer 2011. As the weather heats up, we all need different gear for our outdoor activities, and the items on the list reflect a different approach for the new seasons.

As you would expect from a list like this, there is a little of everything, including backpacks, tents, clothing, and more. One of the items making the list is the Osprey Hornet 46 backpack, which receives high honors for being lightweight and flexible, something that I noted when I reviewed the Hornet 32 awhile back. It's no secret that I'm a big fan of the convenience and comfort that comes with the Osprey packs, and this one is definitely no exception.

Also making the list is the Stretch Cohesion jacket from Mountain Hardwear, which gets the nod for its many multisport uses. The Marmot Plasma 30 sleeping bag was a hit thanks to its comfort and lightweight, while the Salewa Alp Trainer hiking boot earned a spot on the list for it all around quality and design, not to mention comfort, on the trail.

This is just a sampling of the gear that made the cut however, as there is plenty of other footwear, gadgets, and other items as well. For instance, there are both DSLR and point-and-shoot cameras on the list, as well as a great outdoor watch. The iPad 2 gets a mention as well thanks its more svelte design and all around usefulness as a travel companion, something I whole heartedly agree with.

So, if you've got some spare cash burning a hole in your pocket, and you're looking for some new gear for your warm weather adventures, take a look at what Nat Geo recommends, and maybe you'll find an item that is exactly what you're looking for.

Himalaya 2011: Record Number Of Visitors To The Everest ER Tent

The Outside Blog has an interesting post up this morning regarding current conditions on Everest's South Side, where the doctors in the Everest ER tent are on pace to see a record number of visitors this year. In a recent post to their blog, one of the docs says that they have seen 276 patients already this season, which they call "a blistering pace set to break all previous clinic visitation records."

While that may sound like there is some terrible virus working its way through BC this year or that the climbers are taking bigger risks, the Everest Docs have a different theory. They believe that after spending several years in Base Camp, where they have more than earned a reputation for reliable and high quality care, that the teams are coming to rely on them more. Some of the teams may have even left their own doctors behind in favor of using the established docs who have been a part of the Everest ER squad for awhile now. Either way, the med tent is definitely busier, and the patients are receiving consistently better care than they have in the past.

In the same blog post, the docs say that they've had to treat several cases of HAPE/HACE, but all of the climbers who have had to be evacuated were feeling find when the rescue chopper came. They've also had reports back that after they've been taken from BC, the patients have recovered nicely as well.

They've also had to deal with their first case of frostbite, suffered by a Sherpa who took his glove off at Camp 1 where the winds were howling at 100 mph (160 km/h). That incident prompted them to post some great advice on how to avoid frostbite when caught on in the cold. That list looks like this:

-Stay well hydrated and well fed to enable your body to generate heat!
-Avoid alcohol, which can impair your sensation (and judgment!)
-Avoid smoking, which will constrict your blood flow
-Don’t climb/trek under extreme weather conditions (wind, very cold)
-Avoid tight fitted clothing (eg no wrinkles in the socks)
-If your clothing/socks/gloves get wet from snow/rain or perspiration, DRY them quickly – including boot insoles
-Wear mittens rather than gloves in extreme cold and a liner glove underneath if you need quick temporary access to fingers (e.g. photography)
-Never ignore numbness – as an old professor once told me – 'if you feel your fingers and toes getting numb and you ignore it, that numbness might be the last thing you ever feel!' Numbness is a sign that you may be getting into trouble. If it doesn’t resolve by increasing activity, you need to get somewhere to take off your gloves/boots and rewarm yourself.
-Avoid rubbing frostbitten areas – beating on them only increases the chance of injury and doesn’t help them rewarm faster.
-IF you or your buddy has frostbite, get somewhere warm, but only rewarm the injured area if there is no chance it will refreeze. The quickest way to rewarm is to submerge in warm water (~104F, or the warmth of a hot tub, test the water first with a thermometer or an uninjured body part – a frozen hand can’t determine if the water is too hot!) 
–keep the area padded and protected against further heat loss. 
-Research suggests that a dose of ibuprofen may help prevent some of the inflammatory problems that result from frostbite
-Get to a doctor as soon as possible if there is frozen tissue or if normal sensation doesn’t return after rewarming. New treatments, like some antiinflammatories and clot-busting drugs are TIME sensitive - and are only effective if given within 24 hours of thawing.
Great advice straight from the doctors that I thought was worth sharing considering that many of us visit areas that get cold enough to induce frostbite, something I wouldn't want to wish on anyone. Keep these in mind the next time you're heading to a Pole!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Elephant Ivory Project Update: Samples In Hand, Team Heads For Home

It has been a couple of weeks since we had any kind of update on the Elephant Ivory Project, the expedition that is being conducted by Trip Jennings and Andy Maser, who are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in an effort to put a halt to the illegal ivory trade. Trip and Andy went to the Congo to venture deep into the bush, where they hoped to collect plenty of samples of elephant dung that they could use to build a "DNA map" of the region. That map could hold the key to shutting down poachers, as DNA samples could potentially allow us to trace the ivory trade route.

When we last checked in with the boys, there were having a hard time finding the samples they were looking for. They team had ventured deep into the jungle, and while they found evidence that elephants had been in the area at one time, there were no recent signs of the herds. Fortunately, a second team had managed to collect five samples from distinct elephant families, but at that point, Trip and Andy hadn't collected anything yet.

In their latest update however, it seems things have changed. While it was indeed looking grim for a time, the two young explorers, with the help of the chief a local tribe, managed to track down some elephants and collect some dung themselves. In fact, at one point, they had more opportunities to collect samples than they could handle, passing up on some to ensure that they were getting unique DNA for their project. With these new samples, along with ongoing collections from the other team, Trip and Andy now have enough DNA to begin the next phase of their project.

But, there is still one major hurdle to get over before they can move on, and that is getting those samples back to the U.S. Apparently they have all the paperwork they need to bring them through U.S. customs, but getting them out of the DNC and into Rwanda, where they catch their flight home, could still be an adventure.

If you haven't been following this project, than I'd urge you to take a look at the team's journal. Even if you couldn't care less about protecting the elephants (You should care!), the reports from the field are pretty eye opening. They really do give an interesting perspective on what it is like to live in remote and rural sections of Africa, where bandits still roam the countryside and governments struggle to maintain order. The occasional cholera breakout can't be good either. It is a real look at how many developing nations are struggling to move forward into the 21st century.

[Photo courtesy of the Elephant Ivory Project]

The Three Cups of Tea Controversy Continues

Over the past couple of weeks, the controversy surrounding Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson has continued to roll through the mountaineering community and beyond. It all started when 60 Minutes ran an expose on Mortenson, alleging that he fabricated sections of his bestselling book and that there were major questions about how he ran his charitable organization, the Central Asia Institute. In that piece, author Jon Krakauer spoke out about Mortenson, and published his own story entitled Three Cups of Deceit.

A few days later, Mortenson gave an exclusive interview with Outside Magazine in which he admitted that he had exaggerated certain areas of his book for dramatic purposes, but he stuck by the main themes and elements of the story, in which he says that on a 1993 expedition to climb K2, he became lost in the Himalaya and wandered into the town of Korphe. He originally claimed that he was injured and needed assistance, and spent several days there before being helped on his way. The villagers supposedly helped him to get well and then find his way home. The story goes that Mortenson was so moved by their generosity that he vowed to return and repay their kindness by building a school for the children there. That would be the origin of CAI, an organization that would go on to build dozens of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But in the interview with Outside, Mortenson says that he actually only spent 2 or 3 hours in the village, and caught up with the rest of his team later. That was later confirmed by another member of the team. But now, Outside has further evidence to suggest that Mortenson wasn't even near Korphe as he says he was, further calling into doubt his recollection of events. These new allegations were published yesterday in another blog post on Outside Online.

Worse yet, Outside has failed to find any evidence that Mortenson had any kind of mountaineering background before heading to K2, a peak that is so difficult and deadly to climb that it has the nickname of "The Savage Mountain." Mortenson claims that he has climbed a half-dozen Himalayan peaks, but there is little evidence, beyond a trek to Island Peak, that he has ever done so. Even the esteemed Miss Elizabeth Hawley, the keeper of all the records dealing with the Himalaya, has no account of Mortenson reaching the summit of any of the mountains there. And as we all know, if Miss Hawley doesn't say you've climbed in the Himalaya, then you haven't climbed in the Himalaya!

All of this may seem like small potatoes when it comes to some of the other big stories taking place around the world, but Mortenson is a guy who has built his reputation, not to mention his fortune, around  the stories about his experiences in the mountains of Pakistan. Many people have donated money to his organization based on those stories, and the belief in this man. With more allegations against Mortenson coming to light, one has to wonder how far the deceit actually goes.

Ocean Rowing: Roz Back On Land, Hopes To Resume Soon (Updated!)

Ocean rower Roz Savage had to put a temporary halt on her attempt to row across the Indian Ocean a few days back thanks to an equipment failure. She is back on dry land at the moment, and hurriedly working to correct the problem, with an eye on returning to the ocean by as early as this weekend.

While Roz had rowed some 350 miles, due to ocean currents and winds, she was still just 100 miles out form her starting point in Fremantle, Australia, when her automatic desalinization unit malfunctioned. That device is an ocean rowers lifeline, making fresh water daily while out on the ocean. Without it, she faced a very long trip during which she would have to use her hand pump to clean the water manually, which would take upwards of two hours per day. Not a great proposition when still have more than 4000 miles and months at sea to go.

In her twitter feed, Roz says things are back on track, and the weather is looking good, for a weekend re-launch of the expedition. Repairs to her boat are nearly complete and it looks like she should be ready to hit the water, this time setting out from Geraldton. Hopefully, this time everything will go as expected.

Update: Just a quick update to this post to correct a simple mistake. I heard from Roz directly last night, and she told me that her desalinization unit hadn't malfunctioned just yet, but that the locker in which it was kept was taking on water a bit too regularly. She indicated that her return to shore was a preemptive move to fix the problem on her boat, and seal the locker more fully, before heading back out onto the water. She also mentioned that she hoped to get back underway at 10 AM local time Saturday morning.

Good luck Roz, we're all pulling for you!

Gear Box: SteriPEN Sidwinder Water Purification System

In the spring of 2010 I traveled to Nepal and made the trek to Everest Base Camp. A trip like that one requires plenty of gear, including a good pair of boots, a comfortable pack, and plenty of clothing to keep you warm at altitude. But one of the pieces of gear that I found to be the most invaluable was my SteriPEN Journey water purifier. The little electronic device allowed me to drink the local water without fear, which is both more cost effective and environmentally sound.

For those not familiar with SteriPEN's products, they use ultraviolet light to kill off 99.9% of all the harmful bacteria that can live in drinking water. In the case of the Journey, you simply stick the little wand inside your water bottle and stir for a couple of minutes. After the process is complete, you're good to go. The Journey was so effective that I never once had issues from drinking the water, despite the fact that many in my trekking group suffered ill effects.

Since that time, SteriPEN has released a new product called the Sidewinder, which does away with the battery operated light in the Journey in favor of a new system that uses a hand crank to power the light. The system includes a 32 oz water bottle (BPA free of course!), which you fill up with water and then attach to the Sidewinder. After flipping the device over, you are free to start turning the crank.

SteriPEN has made it nearly impossible to screw up the purification process. If you are turning the crank too slowly, a pair of red LED lights turn on to let you know you need to go fast. The instructions say you need to turn the crank at about two revolutions per second, and turning it faster does not speed up the time it takes to complete the process. It takes about 90 seconds to finish, and when you do, the LED lights turn green to indicate the water is now safe to drink.

That's really all there is to it, and much like the Journey, the Sidewinder does an excellent job of getting you water free from all the potentially harmful stuff inside. But just for a bit of added security, SteriPEN included a filter in the box. That filter attaches to the water bottle and further helps to clean the water for drinking. It is a nice added touch and shows the company's commitment to keeping us healthy while traveling.

The Sidewinder has a few decided advantages over the Journey that I used last year. For starters, it doesn't require batteries, which can be difficult to obtain in the backcountry or a foreign land should you run out of juice. It is also super-easy to use, although it does take some practice to get the cranking perfected, and it can be tiring. Consider the Sidewinder a way of working your biceps while on a camping trip though, and you'll be fine.

On the other hand, the Sidewinder is a bit large and bulky, and I can't imagine taking it with me to Nepal, or most other countries for that matter. It is better suited for car camping or for when you're staying in a base camp for some time and won't be lugging it about. Don't get me wrong, the device isn't all that heavy, just a bit on the large side and awkwardly shaped.

Still, the addition of the Sidewinder to the SteriPEN product line definitely fills a niche. The fact that it doesn't require batteries at all will be a big bonus for some, and it works as advertised, purifying your water as needed.  (MSRP: $99.95)

(Both the Sidewinder and the Journey are available from

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Adventurer Prepares To Circumnavigate The Globe Via The Poles

South African adventurer Ray Chaplin hopes to circumnavigate the globe, under his own power no less, in just 80 weeks. But even more impressive is that he will do so via both Poles, and not traveling around the planet in a east-west direction as is typical for these kinds of expeditions. If successful, he'll be the first person to circle the globe in this direction and manner.

Ray has named his expedition SHOVA360, and plans to get underway in August from Table Mountain, in Cape Town. He has broken down the journey into stages, with the first stage covering Africa as he travels north. From there, it is on to the Middle East, then Europe, before moving into the Arctic. If all goes according to plan, he'll pass through the North Pole and begin heading south once again at long last. The next stage of his journey will take him across North and South America, then a crossing into the Antarctic, followed by a traverse of that continent. When he's done there, he'll cross the Southern Ocean back to South Africa, and return home. Remember, he wants to do all of this in 80 weeks, which is fairly ambitious all things considered.

Since he's also doing all of those miles under his own power, that means he'll either be trekking, skiing, or pedaling while on land and paddling, either in a kayak or boat, while at sea. Along the way, Ray hopes to stop at more than 200 World Heritage Sites, while covering more than 66,000km (41,010 miles).

Update: For those wondering the source of this story, I came across it in a link from the Explorers Club tweets yesterday. The original article can be found here. Obviously there are a few discrepancies on Ray's website, and as I've noted, his scheduled of going around the world in 80 weeks seems rather ambitious, but I wanted everyone to be aware of where I found this story.

Himalaya 2011: Annapurna Summit, Aborted Attempt On Lhotse

Earlier today I posted an update on conditions around the Himalaya, particularly on Everest, with weather being the main focus. As I mentioned in that note, the region seems to be colder, windier, and and snowier than normal this time of year. But that isn't stopping some of the climbers, as we have word today of a successful summit on Annapurna and a failed bid on Lhotse.

ExWeb has the details on both stories, with the biggest news being that Italian mountaineer Abele Blanc has topped out on Annapurna. Details are a bit sparse, but for Abele this is the final 8000 meter peak on the list, which he finally conquered after six attempts. ExWeb notes that he even lost his best friend on the mountain back in 2005.

Standing 8091 meters (26,545 ft) in height, Annapurna is the 10th highest mountain in the world. That said, it is considered by many to be the hardest of the 8000-meter peaks to summit, and has highest fatality rate of any of those mountains, including K2.

Congrats to Abele for standing on top at last! Well done!

The other news item of note is that Czech climber Radek JaroŇ° had climbed to Camp 3 on Everest and was attempting a summit push on Lhotse, but elected to retreat due to heavy snow high on the Lhotse Face. As most of you know, the Everest and Lhotse share the same route for much of their climb, diverging at Camp 4, and with the news that the Sherpas have fixed the ropes up to the Yellow Band, located at about 28,000 feet on Everest, JaroŇ° has hoped to make a summit bid. The weather has thwarted that attempt however, and he is already headed back to BC.

Don't Forget To "Ditch The Deet!"

Just a quick reminder of the contest that I launched yesterday in which I'm giving away a little Spring/Summer Survival Kit that includes a SOL Core Lite survival tool, as well as a Natrapel insect repellent wipes, Afterbite Itch Eraser and Ben's Insect treatment for clothing and gear. All you have to do to enter to win is send me an e-mail with the subject line of "Ditch The Deet" to In the body of the message tell me about your outdoor plans for this spring and summer, and why this "survival kit" might just come in handy. On Friday of this week, and for the next few weeks, I'll be randomly picking a winner to send this pack to.

And while you're at it, drop by to enter the contest that Natrapel has going at the moment. On that site, you can upload your favorite photo from your outdoor adventures, and you just might end up winning some other cool swag, gear, or even a trip for four to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Not a bad place to spend a few days this summer!

Good luck to everyone who enters, I've been enjoying the notes that I've received so far!

Himalaya 2011: Snow and Cold Weather Continue On Everest

The 2011 climbing season on Everest is shaping up to be one of the coldest, and snowiest, in recent memory. The weather seems to be the primary focus of discussion even as teams continue their acclimatization process, with many dispatches noting that the weather pattern has remained the same all season thus far. Clear skies in the morning bring cold temperatures, with clouds moving in later in the day, usually dumping snow on the mountain.

The IMG squad posted an updated yesterday saying that a weather front off to the East of the mountain had brought yet more snow, dumping as much as 12 inches (30.5 cm) on the Western Cwm between Camps 1 and 2. Despite that weather however, some of the team members, including Alan Arnette, spent the night at C2, with others waiting in Base Camp to begin their acclimatization rotation.

The Peak Freaks had hoped to climb up to C3 today as part of their process as well, but lead guide Tim Rippel reports in his Twitter feed that that climb was aborted due to the snow. The team had not intended to stay the night at the camp, but simply go up and "touch" it before heading back down to BC for some rest. The snow was reportedly quite deep higher on the mountain, and although the lines are fixed, the team decided to not risk going any higher for now.

The Himex team has laid out their plans for the coming days, and they have quite a busy schedule planned as well. After most of the crew completed a successful climb of Pumori, they are now prepared to have a go at the big hill, but they'll need to acclimatize more first. So, to that end, they plan is to climb up to Camp 2 tomorrow, and spend four nights at 6600 meter (21,653 ft). After that, they'll head up to Camp 3, spend a night there before dropping back down to C2 for one more night. After all that time at altitude, they'll return to BC, on or about May 4th, when they'll begin waiting for a weather window for their summit bid. An ambitious plan to say the least.

Elsewhere, the Field Touring Alpine team is on Cho Oyu, where they've also spend the night at Camp 1 and hope to go up to Camp 2 today. Whether or not they actually do that is dependent on the ropes being fixed to that point on the mountain. They report similar conditions on Cho Oyu as on Everest, cold, windy, and plenty of snow. Want to know what it's like on a Himalayan peak in the high winds? Check out the video below.

Finally, Anselm Murphy checks in today from Kangchenjunga where he reports that the Sherpas ran out of rope while fixing lines up to Camp 3. They hope to return to C2 tomorrow and then continue their work straight away on Friday, which is good news for everyone, as they all seem eager to get up to 7000 meters to finish their acclimatization. Much like everywhere else in the region however, the mountain is experiencing bad weather, with plenty of snow and high winds. It seems that all of the Himalaya are caught up in this same pattern at the moment.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Himalaya 2011: Ueli Shares Details On Shisha Climb

Last week we received the amazing news on Ueli Steck's solo speed climb of Shisha Pangma in 10.5 hours. Since then, we've had a variety of reports on the climb, but we haven't heard from Ueli himself. That is, until today, when he posted details of the climb on his Himalayan Speed website.

Steck says that when he set off from camp he didn't have any intentions of climbing the mountain, but that he was going to climb up to about 7200 meters (23,622 ft) to have a look around and see how he felt. But the conditions were so good and he felt in great shape, that he decided to just keep going up.

Ueli says that he climbed along the British Route, then traversed over the Wieliki Route because of bad rockfall in the night. Eventually though, he ended by exiting on the Spanish Route, although he was more or less just feeling his own way as he went. He did report a lot of snow near the summit, which made things a bit dicy, but still he managed to complete the climb in a very quick fashion.

Check out the video below for more on Ueli's Shisha speed climb. And before anyone asks, no, there still aren't any summit photos released.

Ueli Steck Climbing Shisha Pangma (8027m) from Mountain Hardwear on Vimeo.

Falling Out Of The Sky Never Looked So Good

One of my fellow contributors at Gadling posted the video below this morning. It shows some of the most tranquil and relaxing images of skydivers floating high above the Earth that you could ever hope to see. It was filmed by a team at the Melbourne Skydive Center in Australia, and it almost makes you believe that they are defying gravity rather than hurdling towards the planet at terminal velocity. It is a beautiful video and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Experience Human Flight from Betty Wants In on Vimeo.

Win A Spring Survival Kit From Adventure Medical Kits and The Adventure Blog

Last week I posted a review of a great little tool called the SOL Core Lite from Adventure Medical Kits. I gave it high marks for being a lightweight knife, flashlight, and emergency whistle combo that you could throw in your pack on any outdoor venture. I also noted that I would be giving a few away in the near future, along with a few other products from AMK.

The Core Lite is just one element to a Spring Survival Kit that we've put together for readers. I've also got Natrapel insect repellent wipes (good for 8 hours!), AfterBite Itch Eraser, and Ben's Insect Treatment for Clothing and Gear. Each of these products should prove extremely helpful in the warm spring and summer months ahead, when the bugs will be returning in force and looking to spoil your outdoor fun. Best of all, none of these items uses Deet, which we all know can be quite harmful.

In fact, Natrapel is running a Ditch The Deet contest at the moment, which encourages us to submit photos of our favorite outdoor adventures (bug free of course!) to their website. From there, photos will be voted on by site visitors, with the winning image being awarded a trip for four to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Runners up will receive gear and other prizes as well. So, dig out your favorite snap-shot, or take a few new ones, and submit them to the site. You and three friends could be off on a fun vacation thanks to your award winning photo!

But I have an even simpler contest for you. To win your own Core Lite tool, Natrapel insect repellent wipes, AfterBite Itch Eraser, and Ben's Insect Treatment for your gear, simply send me an e-mail with the subject line of "Ditch The Deet" to In the body of the message tell me a little something about your outdoor plans for the spring and summer, and why you would need this little "survival kit." On Friday of this week, and for the next couple of Fridays, I'll select winners and ship them off their kit, just in time for the insect invasion of 2011. It's that simple!

Good luck!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Himalaya 2011: Lines Fixed To C3 On Everest South Side

Despite continued cold and snowy conditions in the Himalaya, work towards the various summits progresses on schedule. As the first of May quickly approaches, it seems that it is all about the acclimatization process, building high camps, and stashing gear for the eventual summit push.

Perhaps the biggest news of the day is that the Sherpa teams fixing ropes on Everest's South Side have reached the Yellow Band, located at 28,000 feet. According to an update from IMG, they'll now descend back to Base Camp for a few days of rest before returning to that point on the mountain. My guess is they'll finish the last sections, up to the 8848 meter (29,029 ft) summit on their next go, clearing the way for the commercial teams to follow in a few weeks time.

With the ropes fixed so high up the mountain,  some teams have begun to climb up to C3, including the Peak Freaks who will likely have climbers there as early as tomorrow. Part of their team is at Camp 1 now, and another part is in Camp 2. They'll all "touch" Camp 3 tomorrow or Wednesday, and immediately descend to C2 for the night. Other teams are sure to follow of course, with most spending at least a night at C3 as part of their acclimatization.

Things are progressing a bit more slowly on the North Side, where the weather has been even dicier. Teams on that side of the mountain have gone up to Camp 1, where they've spent a few nights and stashed some gear. Most are back in BC now, awaiting a chance to go higher. On that side of the mountain, a team of climbers from the Chinese-Tibetan Mountaineering Association handles the fixing of the ropes, thus all the teams are at their mercy while they wait for them to finish the job. Last year, they lagged a few days behind their counterparts on the South Side because it took a bit longer for the Sherpa team to complete their tasks. It is beginning to look like that will hold true this year as well.

Over on Makalu, David Morton and Melissa Arnot have completed their Puja ceremony and have started their work on the mountain. You can read their updates on the Born Out There blog. In his latest update David talks about the challenges of sleeping at high altitude, a subject that I found all too familiar while reading his dispatch. In short, it can be a not so pleasant experience.

Finally, Ueli Steck is en route to Cho Oyu, the next challenge in his Himalaya Triple Header. According to his website, he and the team are in Namche Bazaar at the moment, but will be back on the trail tomorrow. With any luck, they'll be in BC on Cho Oyu in a few days time, and we'll start the countdown on his attempt at his next big peak. Any one want to start a pool on how fast he'll go up this mountain?

To see what it is like behind the scenes on Ueli's adventure, check out the video below.

Project Himalaya: Behind the Scenes in Namche from Mountain Hardwear on Vimeo.

Equatoria: The Walk Across Africa Begins Tomorrow!

A couple of months back I posted a story about American explorer Julian Monroe Fisher, who was deep into the planning stages of his Equatoria expedition. The plan is for Fisher to start at the Indian Ocean and travel more than 4000 miles (6437 km) across Africa, completely on foot, until he reaches the Atlantic Ocean. He'll take the first steps on this arduous journey later this week.

Julian will begin his long march in Pemba, Mozambique and will continue heading west until he arrives at Lobito, Angola. Along the way, he'll pass through the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, and Malawi as well. This adventure is being undertaken to not only explore the landscapes of the region that is being crossed, but to also raise awareness of the work of the Mines Advisory Group, an organization that works on a global level to dispose of land mines and other explosive devices left behind from a conflict.

The official website for the expedition lists Fisher's departure time for this Friday, and as you can imagine, he is hurriedly finishing up his preparation for the trek. You can read more about that preparation and what is going on in these final days before he begins on the expedition's Facebook page. That is also the same place you'll find update once he is underway, although Julian tells me he isn't carrying satellite communications gear or a laptop with him, which means we'll only get updates when he arrives in a town that is sizable enough to have Internet access.

The expedition is expected to take months to complete, with most of that time spent in the field, where Fisher can expect to face endless miles of challenging terrain, turbulent weather conditions, and the possibility of coming face-to-face with one of Africa's more dangerous animals, such as lions or elephants. But the experienced explorer has faced those things before, and is more than ready to make this walk across the continent.

Stay tuned for updates.

Gold Rush Mother Lode Adventure Race Joins AR World Series

A couple of weeks back I told you about a great adventure race called the Gold Rush Mother Lode that is scheduled to take place in California from September 8-11. At the time, I mentioned how the race was expedition length, but not grueling long, and that it was a very affordable option for teams that didn't have the time or resources to take pat in one of the longer races happening in North America this year. It turns out that the organizers of the Mother Lode have given us yet one more reason to put this race on the radar, as they announced over the weekend that they are now a part of the Adventure Racing World Series.

What this means for racers is that there is now a second ARWS qualifying event taking place in North America this year, the other being the Raid the North Extreme event which will be held in British Columbia this July. Those who do manage to qualify will be able to compete agains the very best teams in the world at the XPD in Tasmania this October. Traditionally, Untamed New England would also be a qualifier as well, but they've elected to take their show on the road to Switzerland this year.

This is just more proof as to how great 2011 is for both teams and fans of adventure racing. There are so many great events taking place this year that its hard to keep track of them all, and the AR World Series just continues to grow and become more prominent. The inclusion of the Mother Lode into that series is great for the ARWS and for teams looking to go to Australia later this year.

Trailer For Todd Carmichael's Race To The Bottom Of The World

Back in 2008, adventurer Todd Carmichael made a solo, unsupported journey to the South Pole, setting a speed record in the process. At the time, we has a glimpse of the hardships that he suffered on his journey, which lasted for more than 39 days, but we really never had a chance to learn his full story.

That is until now. A new film entitled Race to the Bottom of the World is making the rounds, and it appears to offer a very personal look at the struggles that Todd had to over come to reach his goal. You can check out the trailer for the film below and catch two upcoming screenings of it at the following dates and locations:

May 2nd at 2:45pm - The Newport Beach Film Fest - Costa Mesa, CA
May 12 at 7:30pm - First Person Arts Fundraiser - Bryn Mawr, PA

The trailer offers some strikingly beautiful landscapes intermixed with Todd dealing with the challenges of his expedition. As he nears the Pole, his situation became increasingly desperate as food and supplies dwindled, his outside communications tools stopped working, and his stove went out of commission. Dire conditions indeed, and it appears the film will definitely offer an inside look at what polar explores must endure while out on the ice.

It should also be noted that Todd is donating 100% of his proceeds from the film to the Charity:Water foundation, an organization dedicated to bringing clean and safe drinking water to developing nations around the globe. A great cause indeed!

Friday, April 22, 2011

yourLUME Contest Winners Selected!

I wanted to post a late afternoon note to let everyone know that I've selected the winners for this week's gear giveaway contest that was brought to us courtesy of I've sent e-mails to the two winners informing them of their prizes, and I'll be posting their names here once I hear back from them.

I want to thank yourLUME for providing the great gear to give out in honor of Earth Day, which is going on today of course, and I want to thank everyone who entered the contest. I had a blast reading the e-mails, and not only did you come up with some fantastic places to enjoy the outdoors, many of you had very kind things to say about my blog as well. I want everyone to know that I appreciate those comments and you dropping by this page regularly to see what's going on in the adventure world.

Also, don't forget that yourLUME is right in the middle of its 30 Days of Giving campaign, during which time 100% of their proceeds from gear sold, up to a total of $10,000, is going to the Mercy Corps to help with the relief effort in Japan. It has been more than five weeks since the catastrophe there and it will be many months before life truly returns to normal. yourLUME is doing their part to help the cause.

Check back in next week for the start of another cool give away and enjoy the weekend!

Primal Quest To Return In 2012?!?!

Today has been an interesting day. While working away to catch-up on a variety of deadlines, I received a fantastic text from Don Mann, the race director behind the legendary Primal Quest adventure races, and my boss for the past two PQ's which took place in 2008 and 2009. The text simply read:

"Hello Kraig. Would you be interested in doing another PQ in 2012?"
Of course, my emphatic and immediate response was YES!

While the details are still very light, I can tell you that it looks like PQ will be back next year, with a seven day race, to be held somewhere in the Western United States. I know that's not much, but I promise to share more when I get more details myself.

This is, of course, great news for adventure racers, who not only have another fantastic race to look forward to, they'll also get to compete in one of the truly legendary events in the history of the sport. A word to the wise however, you had better start training now, as everything you've heard about the difficulty of the PQ courses is true, and I'm sure that Don Mann will be coming back strong next year.

I can't wait!

World Record Tandem Kayak Drop Caught On Video

I caught this video on The Goat this morning featuring Sam Freihofer and Todd Wells as they go over the 82-foot (25 meter) Metlako Falls, located in Eagle Creek, Oregon, in a tandem kayak. This big drop sets a new record for going over the falls in a tandem boat, and the video catches it all for the rest of us to enjoy.

Is there anyone that you'd go over an 82-foot falls with? Hmm... I'd have to think long and hard on that one!

Outside Gives Us 10 Things To Watch On Everest This Year

The Outside Blog has an interesting list up today of 10 things to watch on Everest this season, featuring a brief run down of some of the fun, and crazy stories from the annual circus that surrounds the world's tallest mountain.

Amongst the items to make the list are Alan Arnette's Memories Are Everything expedition, in which he is climbing to raise funds for the Cure Alzheimer's Fund. Alan is a frequent contributor to the Outside Blog and I have been following his dispatches from the mountain closely as well. Other climbs of note include Edurne Pasaban's no-oxygen climb on the South Side and Nick Rice's attempt to do the same on the North.

A couple of the items on the list aren't actually on Everest, but its neighbor Lhotse instead. Spanish climber  Carlos Soria Fontan is attempting that peak at the age of 72 as his on going effort to climb all 14 of the world's  8000 meter peaks. Similarly, another team of climbers will attempt Lhotse and then ski down the West Face.

At the moment, most of the teams on the mountain are building their high camps and acclimatizing. Some have spent a night or two at Camp 2, and most are waiting for the Sherpa teams to fix the ropes up to C3, C4, and eventually the summit. This is all standard procedure on the mountain, and everything is on schedule for an expected mid-May summit window, weather permitting of course.

Gear Box: Core Lite Survival Tool From Adventure Medical Kits

Adventure Medical Kits has a great reputation for producing a wide variety of excellent first aid kits for just about any outdoor activity. They've got a range of products for the hiker on an easy day trail all the way up to the mountaineer heading for Everest, with pretty much everything you need in between. Personally, I'm a big fan of their ultralight kits, which are perfect for backpackers and adventure racers.

Recently AMK added a nifty little item to their catalog called the Core Lite, a survival tool that is tiny, lightweight, and offers three essential items in one nice package. The Core Lite incorporates an AUS-8 locking blade, a 10 lumen LED flashlight, and a very loud rescue whistle.

Each of those tools can prove quite useful on their own when you're in a bind, but AMK has managed to incorporate them together quite nicely. I was very impressed with the build quality on the tool which feels heavier than its listed 1.38 oz (39 grams) weight, thanks to the sturdy construction. The steel blade locks into place easily and feels solid when being used, and in a nice touch, the designers put the LED light right at the end of the blade so when it's illuminated, you can see exactly what you're cutting.

Speaking of the LED, 10 lumens may not sound like much, but when you're caught in the dark without any light at all, it is surprisingly bright. The Core Lite comes with a sturdy belt clip as well, which can keep the tool close at hand when needed, but it is also handy for attaching it to the bill of your hat when you want to turn the device into a headlamp. The battery of the light is also quite easy to change, although you will need another tool to remove the screw on the outside of the case.

There isn't much to say about the whistle other than that it is quite loud and shrill, which is exactly what you want out of a rescue whistle should you ever find yourself in a position to need it. AMK says that the whistle is capable of putting out 100db of sound, and after a couple of tests, I'm inclined to believe them, as are all the dogs in my neighborhood.

The Core Lite is another great little addition to your back. It is super lightweight and gives you three useful tools in one package. Tools that you would probably want with you anyway. With an MSRP of $25 this is another excellent product at a good price of Adventure Medical Kits that could end up saving your life some day.  (Check out more great Adventure Medical Kit products at

Come back next week for information on how you can win your own Core Lite survival tool, and several other great outdoor products!

New Speed Record Set On The Eiger North Face

According to the Mammut Blog, one of their sponsored athletes, Dani Arnold, has set a new speed record on the North Face of the Eiger, speed up the iconic face in just 2 hours, 28 minutes. The 27-year old Swiss climber shaved 20 minutes off the previous record, set by Ueli Steck back in 2008.

Arnold climbed the Heckmair route solo, passing other teams along the way. Setting out just after 9 AM, he was on top of the mountain by 11:33 AM.  Unlike Ueli's ascent from a few years back, he didn't free climb the Hinterstoisser traverse however, as by spring, the route isn't safe for that kind of approach.

The Eiger is one of the most well known and popular climbing destinations in the entire world. Standing 3970 meters (13,025 ft) in height, the mountain was first climbed back in 1858, although the North Face wasn't conquered until 1938. It took the better part of two days to complete that climb, which makes it all the more amazing that modern climbers are topping out in just 2.5 hours.

No word yet on if Ueli will attempt to reclaim the record. After all, he is a bit busy in the Himalaya at the moment.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Ocean Rowing: The Indian Runner Is Off!

This morning, Team Indian Ocean 3100 set off from Australia and are now out on the open water, where they'll attempt to set a new record for crossing the Indian Ocean under human power. The team, consisting of James Kayll, Ed Wells, Tom Kelly, and Ollie Wells, now faces 3100 nautical miles of rough seas as they attempt to finish their expedition in under 68 days.

According to their most recent blog post, the boys hit rowed out of Geraldton, along the east coast of Australia, this morning at 6:30 AM local time. Their boat, the Indian Runner, is 29-feet in length and features two oar stations, allowing two men to be rowing at all times. The hull features a carbon fiber shell, and there is room aboard to store all of their food and supplies. A water maker will purify sea water for the team, who will consume up to six liters per day, and solar panels on the roof will power all of their gear, including a satellite tracking system that will keep us informed of their progress.

The team is also competing in the Indian Ocean Rowing Race, perhaps the toughest ocean rowing competition in the world. The race's 3100 mile course ends at the island of Mauritius. Considering that there are only two boats in the race however, and the other one is a two person affair, the only thing they're competing against is the clock. To win that battle, they'll need to reach the finish line in 68 days, 19 hours, and 40 minutes.

82-Year Old Preps To Climb Everest

According to this story, 82-year old Shailendra Kumar Upadhyaya is on his way to Everest Base Camp this week, where he hopes to become the oldest person to ever climb that mountain. The Nepalese man began his trek from Lukla on Tuesday and is expected to arrive in BC next week.

Upadhyaya is the former foreign minister for Nepal, and he says that he wants to climb the mountain to prove that older people can still be healthy and strong enough to achieve such a feat. If successful, he'll break the record currently held by his countryman Min Bahadur Sherchan, who summitted Everest back in 2008 at the age of 76.

As the world's tallest mountain, standing 8848 meters (29,029 ft) in height, Everest will pose quoite a challenge for the octogenarian. He hopes to complete the climb within 45 days, which would put him on course to summit in early June, right before the monsoon moves in for the season. If he does summit, it'll be an impressive feat not just because of his age. According to this story, he has no experience in climbing mountains.

Good luck! You're going to need it!

Final Reminder: yourLUME Gear Giveaway Ends Tomorrow!

Just one last reminder that time is running out to get your entry into the gear giveaway that I'm currently conducting with the folks at yourLUME. Tomorrow, in celebration of Earth Day, we'll pick two winners, one to receive the GoLite Men's Litespeed Backpack and another to take home the Sierra Designs Verde 20 Sleeping Bag.

As I've mentioned all week, entering the contest couldn't be easier. Simply send me an e-mail at with the subject line of "yourLUME." Then, in the body of the message tell me about your favorite outdoor destination or where you would most likely use this gear if you were to win. It's as simple as that. Tomorrow, I'll randomly select a couple of winners, and post them here, along with a mention of their favorite destinations.

The entries so far have included places like Yellowstone and Yosemite, the Himalaya, the Great Smoky Mountains, Kilimanjaro, and many, many more. It has been a real pleasure reading through these e-mail so far, and I have loved every one of them. You all deserve a prize, but unfortunately I only have these two. (For now! Stay tuned!)

Good luck everyone!

The BBC Investigates Three Cups of Tea Controversy

A few days back I posted a story about a damning report from 60 Minutes on Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson. The CBS investigative reporting program alleged that Mortenson took, shall we say generous liberties with his own story, which has sold millions of copies and inspired people across the globe. They also contend that Mortenson's charity organization, the Central Asia Institute, which builds schools and other facilities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, is woefully mismanaged and taking claim for things that it hasn't done. (Watch the entire 60 Minutes clip here)

Now, the BBC has looked into the affair and is trying to get to the bottom of the story themselves. They posted this story yesterday which takes a look at the work of Mortenson and the CAI from the perspective of the people living in the regions that he is trying to help. Unsurprisingly, what they found was a bit of a mixed bag as well.

First of all, the BBC story side-steps any controversy surrounding Mortenson's personal tales and doesn't even touch on the allegations that he has fabricated significant portions about his past. Instead, it goes straight to Pakistan and Afghanistan to discover what the people there think about him and the CAI. The message that they received is that Mortenson has done a lot of great work in the Himalaya, and that CAI may have helped fund and build even more schools than it takes credit for on its website. The people living in the villages where the organization has helped fun projects, seem extremely grateful for the help that they have received, with many crediting Mortenson himself.

But once again, there are also charges of mismanagement and deceit, with some officials, particularly in Afghanistan, saying that CAI hasn't done much of the things they say they have. Some of those comments come off a bit like sour grapes however, as it seems that the organization has sometimes operated without direct supervision from local leaders, which has put them at odds at times. Still, it is clear that Mortenson and his non-profit are not universally lauded even in the countries that he is trying to help.

The BBC story doesn't really shed much new light on the topic, although it was good to be able to read the perspective of Pakistanis and Afghanis whose lives CAI's work has had a direct impact on. 60 Minutes couldn't have done a better job of having those elements in their piece as well.

As I said in the original piece I wrote a few days back, clearly Mortenson and CAI have done some great things in the Himalaya. Even if he had only built one school, that is more than what most people have done to help the people there. CAI has in fact built dozens of schools and helped fund and manage even more. That doesn't mean that there hasn't been mismanagement of the program or that they shouldn't be more transparent with their operations out of respect for the donors however. And why Mortenson would feel the need to embellish his stories remains a mystery as well. He should be proud of the great things that he has accomplished and that ought to be enough.

Thanks to reader Dennis Large for sending me a link to this story. It is much appreciated and I'm happy to see another side of what CAI and Mortenson have done in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Himalaya 2011: More On Ueli's Speed Ascent Of Shisha Pangma

A few days back we received the stunning news of Ueli Steck making a solo speed climb of Shisha Pangma in just 10.5 hours. Over the past few days more details and information about that ascent have begun to trickle out, even as Ueli and his climbing partner, Don Bowie, make their way for their next big Himalayan peak.

An update was posted to Ueli's website,, that contains some more insight into the climb. It seems that Steck attacked the South Face of the 8013 meter (26,289 ft) after getting a weather forecast that was favorable for his ascent. Bowie was forced to stay behind in ABC, as he has not fully acclimatized yet, but Ueli was able to go in his traditional style, light and fast, all the way to the top. His 10.5 hour climb marks the fastest ever ascent of the South Face and the second fastest 8000 meter climb of all time.

Don Bowie has also posted his thoughts on the climb on his website as well, with some personal insights into what happened as well. He says that Ueli had intended to climb with him, but Don encouraged him to take advantage of their present weather window and have a go at it. The forecasts weren't good for a few days later, and in mountaineering terms you have to go for it when you can. With that in mind, Ueli went for it, and the rest is history.

Don and Ueli are no en route to Cho Oyu, an 8201 meter (26,906 ft) peak on the border of Tibet and Nepal. They spent just five days on Shisha, much to the surprise of their support crew, who are use to settling in for weeks at a time. Even the yak herder who brought their gear was surprised to get a call back to BC, as he had barely returned home when it was time to pick up the gear once again.

This is just the latest demonstration of Ueli's versatile climbing skills. I guess there will probably come a time when I stop being surprised at the things this guy pulls off on the mountains, but I'm not sure when that will happen. He is simply an amazing climber, dedicated to his craft, and he'll probably have another great climb on Cho Oyu before heading over to the Big Hill – Everest – in a few weeks.

And for the commenter who has already been posting anonymously questioning Ueli's time and wondering about summit photos, you may want to stop trying to drum up controversy where there is none. Ueli's reputation is beyond reproach, and his skills are WELL documented. I'm sure that you'll get all the proof you need at some point. As for me, I have all I need in Ueli's word alone.

Can't wait to see what he and Don can do on the other two 8000 meter peaks on their itinerary.

Jesse Coombs Drops 94-Foot Abiqua Falls In Oregon

Here's a great video for aspiring adventure filmmakers. It shows paddler Jesse Coombs making a descent of Abiqua Falls in Oregon, a drop of 94-feet. But that is just the final portion of the video, which spends a good amount of time showing us how the video was shot and everything that the filmmakers had to go through to capture the drop. That included rigging up a zipline above the water for a cameraman as well. Really interesting stuff.

I found the video at the First Ascent blog earlier, and there is more information about how it was made and the kayak descent as well. Read the article here and enjoy the video below.

Himalaya 2011: Everest South Side Climbers On The Move

It seems that it is business as usual on the South Side of Everest, where teams have already been spending the night at Camp 1 and 2, despite high winds, plenty of snow, and even an avalanche or two. This is all part of the plan of course, and an integral part of their acclimatization process that will, eventually, put them on top of the mountain.

Yesterday I posted a report on Edurne Pasaban's perspective of the meeting that went down in BC over the weekend in which the lead guides all came together to figure out a plan for fixing ropes up the mountain. Edurne made it sound like that meeting was a bit of a fiasco, and perhaps some of those feeling came from being an independent climber who was left out of the discussion for the most part. But reading Alan Arnette's report today, we get a bit of a different perspective. Alan notes that Himex leader Russell Brice dropped by the IMG team's camp yesterday to discuss the plan with the crew. They felt that the team leader meeting went very smooth, and that the plan for the rope fixing and logistics was a good one. They went on to say that they felt that intra-team cooperation was at an all time high on the mountain, and there were high hopes for a smooth climb ahead. That is indeed good news for all involved.

It hasn't been all that smooth for Alan however, as the bulk of his report is about his own stomach issues that left him tent-bound for a day and feeling very under the weather. Feeling sick at home is bad enough, but to battle a stomach virus half-way around the world, and at 17,600 feet, is misery. Fortunately, he seems to be bouncing back nicely and it won't have an effect on his plans to climb the mountain.

On another interesting note, Alan also says that the route through the Khumbu Icefall is quite short and, so far, secure this year. The Ice Doctors have apparently built a good route, and the climbers don't have to cross over as many ladders as they have had to in the past. He plans to head up to Camp 1 soon for an over night, as the acclimatization work continues.

Elsewhere, Dave Hahn and his team have been spending plenty of time in the Icefall as they train for the climb and prepare for the rigors ahead. Being one of the first teams at BC, they're a bit ahead of some of the other teams in terms of schedule, and so far it has been smooth sailing. Dave posted a good dispatch on their progress to the Born Out There blog. You can read it here.

Higher on the mountain are the Altitude Junkies and Peak Freaks teams. The Peak Freaks spent the night at Camp 1 last night where they report high winds which brought all kinds of problems for those trying to catch a snooze. That's nothing compared to what has been happening at Camp 2, where the Altitude Junkies are right now. Apparently the winds have been so bad up there that tents have been destroyed or swept off the mountain altogether. The AJ squad will now spend three days at C2 before heading back down to Base Camp.

A variety reports say that it continues to be quite cold and snowy on the mountain. Apparently about mid-afternoon each day, the clouds move in and start dumping snow, which usually lasts into the evening. As a result, there is plenty of the white stuff on the mountain, and the temps are colder too. Still, we're probably about three weeks away from any major summit pushes, so the weather could improve by then.

Reminder: Win Gear From yourLUME and The Adventure Blog

Just a quick reminder that I'm giving away a couple of great gear items this week to help celebrate Earth Day, which is this Friday. The two items that are up for grabs include a GoLite Men's Litespeed Backpack and a Verde 20 sleeping bag from Sierra Designs. Both are great products and would certainly come in handy on your next trip.

To enter the contest all you have to do is send me an e-mail at with the subject of "yourLume." In the body of your message leave me a little note about your favorite outdoor destination or a place you'd love to use this gear. On Friday, I'll randomly select two winners and announce who gets the swag!

Big thanks once again to the folks at for providing the gear for the giveaway. I've mentioned it a few times this week, but the site is an excellent source for great outdoor gear, but is also a social hub for sharing stories from our adventures, posting photos, and finding inspiration for our own future excursions. They also happen to be in the middle of their "30 Days of Giving" promotion, during which time 100% of their proceeds, up to $10,000, is going to Mercy Corps to help provide relief for the victims of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in Japan. So when you get a chance, swing by the site to check out everything they've got going on over there, and maybe even drop them a note to say thanks as well.

As I mentioned yesterday, I've been very happy and excited to read the notes that have been sent my way. I love that everyone has some great outdoor destinations to share and excellent plans for how they would put the new gear to good use. Keep 'em coming and good luck to everyone!

FEAT Announces First Ever FEAT Awards

Regular readers have heard me mention FEAT multiple times on this blog.  It is the fantastic new program that launched last fall in Johannesburg, South Africa with a second event held in Cape Town this past February. FEAT stands for Fascinating Expedition and Adventure Talks, and true to its name, both shows featured South African adventurers given exactly seven minutes to share their experiences with the audience. FEAT was such a success in its inaugural season that there are already plans afoot to expand it in the future, but organizers for the event have made an exciting new announcement that will sure to please other aspiring South African adventurers.

A few days ago FEAT announced the first ever FEAT Awards which are designed to help allow recipients to chase after their adventurous dream, no matter what it is. The application is open to adventurers of all ages and their expedition can be of any length or go to any location. The one stipulation is that they must be South African (Sorry everyone else!) and the adventure must be undertaken by non-motorized means. The award winners will receive R10,000 (About $1500) to help fund their adventure.

FEAT founder Lisa de Speville says, “There are some really good adventurous concepts out there but cash is often a major limitation and so these adventures go un-attempted.” She wants to help change that through the FEAT awards, and some lucky South African is going to get a nice boost to help fund their plans.

It seems that FEAT is just continuing to expand and grow. When I first heard about the concept last year, I thought it was brilliant, and was excited to hear that the first event went so well. That was followed up with another successful show in Cape Town a few months ago, and it seems that FEAT has a lot of momentum going for it right now. The awards are just another great way to tap into an already thriving adventure community that exists in South Africa, and perhaps someone will get an opportunity they wouldn't normally have thanks to some funding from FEAT.

Major congratulations to my friend Lisa for launching this fantastic program and turning it into a resounding success so quickly. Hopefully I'll get the opportunity to see you at a future FEAT event! :)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

60 Minutes Serves Up Three Cups of Controversy

Considering the subject matter of this blog, I'm sure that most of you are familiar with Greg Mortenson and his wildly popular book Three Cups of Tea. For those of you who don't know his story, Mortenson was climbing in the Karakoram a number of years back, and after getting lost there, he wandered into a remote village, where the people treated him kindly, offered aid, and got him back on his feet. He was so touched by their generosity, that he vowed to return the favor by building them a school. He would later launch the Central Asia Institute to help fund that project, and dozens of similar ones throughout Pakistan, Afghanistan, and beyond.

Mortenson rose to international fame thanks to his book, which has been a source of inspiration to many who have read it. In that book he shares a number of miraculous and amazing stories about his experiences in the Himalaya and the people he met there. Three Cups of Tea would go on to be a bestseller and generate plenty of attention and funds for Mortenson's charitable works.

It turns out however, that he may not be exactly telling us the whole truth. Over the weekend, the long-running CBS television series 60 Minutes ran an expose on Mortenson with fellow author Jon Krakauer, who wrote Into Thin Air, offering up some thoughts. You can watch the whole segment on YouTube by clicking here, embedding has been disabled unfortunately. In a nutshell, Krakauer, and others, say that Mortenson has embellished some of the details of his story to make them sound more dramatic and impressive. That some of the things he claims happened to him in his books are, at best, stretches of the truth, and at worst, outright fabrications. There are even some indications that the funds that are raised by CAI are not being spent properly and that the organization lacks transparency in how it operates. There are even some questions as to the number of schools that have been built. We do know that Mortenson and his team have indeed built schools in Central Asia, but it seems the number could be exaggerated.

These revelations have caused some disillusionment throughout the adventure community, with many people wondering what the real story is. In the interview, even Krakauer acknowledges that Mortenson has done great things in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but wonders if he puts it all in jeopardy with his exaggerations of the truth and potentially shady handling of funding. It also doesn't help that Mortenson refused to be interviewed for the segment, and at one point is caught on camera looking like a deer in the headlights.

Yesterday, ExWeb weighed in on the topic, posting this story that comes out in defense of Mortenson and takes a few shots at Krakauer in the process. UpaDowna also posted some thoughts on the story, which you can read by clicking here.

So? What are your thoughts on this brewing controversy? Do you buy Mortenson's tale? Krakauer says "It's a beautiful story. And it's a lie." Others in the interview seem to take the same stance, seeming to indicate that Mortenson has, at the very least, taken some liberties with the truth. Does that change the way you feel about him in any way? After all, he has still done a lot of good in those poor Central Asian nations.

For me personally, I still respect Mortenson for the great work that he continues to do in Pakistan and beyond. But I have to question is motivations for stretching the truth the way he has, not to mention the way he seems to be earning quite a bit of money off of the Central Asian Institute. A non-profit, charitable organization should be more up front and forth-coming with how they use the funds that we donate to them, and at the moment, that doesn't seem to be the case. Still, in the end, the organization doe a lot of good, and I hope that doesn't get lost amidst the tall tales.

Update: Mortenson has granted an interview to Outside Online in which he addresses the issues presented by 60 Minutes. Read that interview here.

Himalaya 2011: Base Camp Politics

As the young climbing season continues to unfold, there are a number of milestones that need to be achieved before anyone ever goes to the summit. Well, anyone other than Ueli Steck anyway. In addition to the normal acclimatization process, teams have to build their high camps and stock them with supplies, which is a process that can take weeks to complete. While they're busy doing that, teams of Sherpas will be working the route and fixing ropes to the summit, which eventually paves the way for the commercial climbers to follow along later.

Due to the large number of climbers, even in a down year like this one, fixing the ropes to the summit on Everest is always a delicate affair. In recent years, the larger commercial teams have joined forces and worked together to accomplish that task, spurred on by Russell Brice's Himex squad, which brought a much needed level of organization to the South Side of Everest when the company left the North Side a few seasons back. On the North Side, Brice was the man in charge, keeping track of every aspect of the mountain, on the South he still holds a lot of sway, and has found a way to work the other teams.

On Sunday, a meeting was held amongst the team leaders to discuss the various responsibilities and to decide who would take charge of fixing the ropes. Apparently that meeting wasn't a good one, as Edurne Pasaban reports in a blog post from that day. Edurne, who is a very experienced climber and back on Everest to make a summit attempt without oxygen, describes a scene that sounds chaotic, unorganized, and elitist. She wasn't even invited to the meeting because she is climbing independently, which implies that she should be using her own ropes, which will have to be set by her own team. Whether or not that happens, remains to be scene, but one thing is clear, Edurne didn't feel welcome at the meeting, nor did she feel that it was productive, positive meeting. Her frustrations at the process and her fellow climbers, are easy to see in her words.

To make matters worse, after her team set up camp, they were asked to move out of the way, as their tents were blocking one of the commercial team's yak path. Edurne and her mates dutifully moved out their tents, despite the fact that there was no evidence of a trail nor have they seen any yaks pass through the area.

While some of this probably comes across as sour grapes and easily hurt feelings, it actually sounds a bit like business as usual on Everest. That's what happens when you get some very alpha type personalities, all of whom are use to being in control, trying to work together. That said, I'm sure they'll sort it out and get the work done, albeit with a few bruised egos along the way.

On the North Side, things are a bit quieter. There aren't nearly as many climbers there, and most of the big commercial outfits don't operate there due to the Chinese control of that side of the mountain. But there are still plenty of teams in BC and are preparing to make their climbs as well. David Liano for instance, who ExWeb reports is climbing with Asian Trekking, and is now in ABC on the North Side. ExWeb also says that a Mongolian climber, who was preparing to summit Everest, had to be sent down from BC when he started hacking up blood. The man was suffering from pulmonary edema and he hadn't even left Base Camp yet.

Altitude is a scary thing!

yourLUME Supports Relief Effort In Japan

Yesterday I announced a new contest that I'm running in conjunction with the fine folks over at yourLUME, who were kind enough to provide two great items to giveaway. It turns out, their generosity doesn't end there however, as they are also taking steps to help in the relief effort in Japan as well.

The website is a great resource for outdoor enthusiasts. Not only do they have plenty of good gear on sale at good prices, but it is also an online community where we can swap stories, share ideas, and post photos from our own adventures. The crew at yourLUME has also announced their 30 Days of Giving campaign, which is running from April 6 - May 5, during which time 100% of their proceeds, up to $10,000, will be donated to help the struggling and suffering people of Japan.

And of course, we'll be running the contest that I launched yesterday all of this week, culminating with giving away a GoLite Litespeed Backpack and a Sierra Designs Verde 20 sleeping bag on Friday, which also happens to be Earth Day. To enter the contest, all you have to do is send me an e-mail at with the subject of "yourLUME." Then, in the body of the message simply leave me a note about your favorite outdoor place where you would put this gear to good use. On Friday, I'll randomly select two winners, and share their favorite destinations.

As you can probably imagine, with two great prizes to give away, I received a number of entries yesterday. I have to say, that I have really enjoyed reading through them all, and just as I suspected, you are a really outgoing, adventurous lot! The selection of outdoor destinations has really run the gamut, and I've even found a few new places that need to go on my "must visit" list! Keep 'em coming!

And stay tuned for another giveaway coming very soon!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ueli Conquers Shisha Solo In 10.5 Hours!

So, I had no more than finished writing the post below this one about all the happenings in the Himalaya, when I came across this story over at about Ueli already knocking off Shishapangma! It seems that he arrived in Base Camp last week, and two days later made a summit bid.

According to Climbing, Ueli and Don Bowing made the climb up to ABC, located at 5,800 meters (19,029 ft) on Saturday. Don wasn't feeling ready yet for an attempt, so Ueli made a solo summit bid at 10 PM that night. By 9 AM yesterday morning he was on top of the mountain, and both he and Don were back in Base Camp just 20 hours after they left.

All I can say is WOW! Ueli never ceases to amaze me. While he has been acclimatizing throughout the region in preparation for this Himalayan Hat Trick, it is still amazing to read about his exploits. Keep thi sin mind, it is doubtful that there are even fixed ropes to the summit of Shisha yet, so for Steck to climb solo, and that fast, is simply incredible.

Congrats to Ueli on already taking down the first of his 8000 meter peaks. Good luck with the remaining two.