Monday, April 24, 2017

Video: A Relaxing Hour in Yellowstone

Have you had a rough start to your week? Did Monday come way too quickly? Perhaps this video can help. It comes our way courtesy of National Geographic and is just over an hour in length. I'm sure that sounds way too long, but it is an hour of life in Yellowstone National Park, which is always a place worth visiting, either virtually or in real life. So, if you're in need of a bit of relaxation, sit back and soak it all in. You won't be disappointed.

Video: Alex Megs Completes First 5.15 Climb in Canada

Rising rock start Alex Megos has just completed an epic and historic first ascent in Canada. The German rock climber has completed a route that he calls Fight Club, which is rated as a 5.15b on the Yosemite Decimal System. For those that don't know, that's hard. Really, really, hard. In the video below, you'll learn more about this climb and what it took for Alex to complete it. It was quite an impressive accomplishment as you can probably imagine.

Himalaya Spring 2017: Kilian Jornet Reveals Plans, Sherpa Injured on the Everest

It has been a very busy couple of days since I last shared any updates from the Himalaya. The spring climbing season is proceeding pretty much according to plan, with teams now settled in their respective base camps across the region and now diligently working away at becoming acclimatized. This particularly true on Everest, where the squads are stretched out from BC to Camp 2, and everywhere in between. This is all part of the process of course, and later in the week I'll provide a more detailed update on where some of the bigger teams currently stand, but in the meantime we have some other news that is of particular interest.

I know a lot of people have been waiting to hear what Kilian Jornet is up to this spring. We know that he intends to go for a speed record on Everest, and that due to permit issues on the North Side he was forced to move his expedition up from late summer as he had originally planned. But other than that, we haven't heard a lot of details. Over the weekend, that changed some.

In an email sent out to members of the media yesterday, the Spanish mountain runner indicated that he would first travel to Cho Oyu with partner Emelie Forsberg where the pair will attempt a summit on that 8201 meter (26,906 ft) mountain. This will serve as acclimatization and training for Kilian, who now intends to head to the North Side of Everest in mid-May to attempt his speed record. The benefits of doing it from that side of the mountain being smaller crowds and a more direct route that doesn't include the Khumbu Icefall.

Jornet just left for Kathmandu yesterday after competing in one last race before setting out to the Himalaya. He and Forsberg will likely spend a few days in the Nepali capital before heading out to the mountains.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

On the Road in Oregon

I've been home just three days, but its already time for me to hit the road again. This time, I'm off to Oregon to spend a few days paddling with some fellow journalists on a sponsored trip from Oru Kayaks. This time, I'll only be gone until the weekend, and should resume regular updates next Monday.

I first wrote about Oru Kayaks back in 2012, when the company launched its first foldable boat. Since that time, I've always been intrigued with how their kayaks performed out on the water, since they promise to give paddlers the speed and agility of a hardshell with the convenience of an inflatable. In a few days, I'll get a chance to find out for myself, as we'll be paddling a 47 mile (75 km) stretch of river in one. That means I should have some good stories to share when I get back next week.

In the meantime, I hope everyone has a great end of the week and has some good adventures of their own planned. Spring is here in the northern hemisphere, and its time to be outside and enjoying it. If you haven't taken advantage of the shift in seasons just yet, now is the time for sure.

When I get back, we'll get caught up on everything happening in the Himalaya. Considering how the season has gone so far, there should be plenty of interesting things to talk about.

Nat Geo Celebrates National Parks Week With 10 Big Adventures

This week is National Park Week here in the U.S., which is dedicated to recognizing the amazing places that have been set aside as protected spaces for the public to enjoy. Those locations include iconic destinations like Yosemite and Yellowstone, as well as some lesser known spots like the Dry Tortugas and Isle Royale. To help us celebrate the occasion, National Geographic has posted a list of the top 10 national park adventures, giving readers a seres of challenges and epic activities, all of which take place inside one of the parks.

Some of the adventures that Nat Geo recommends include searching for a great stargazing spot in Death Valley, scuba diving in the Channel Islands, and camping in the backcountry in Denali. Other options include climbing, hiking, horseback riding, and paddling through other top parks in the U.S. system, including some of most famous and popular places that the Park Service oversees. Of course, I won't spoil them all, and let you find out for yourself, with each adventure paired with an equally great photo from a National Geographic photographer.

As a huge fan of the national parks, I always enjoy reading lists like this one. I've been fortunate enough to visit a lot of these places, but there are still a few more that I need to get to at some point. If I had to choose a favorite, for me it would probably be Yellowstone. My recommendation for a big adventure there would be to go in winter, when it is peacefully empty, the landscapes are covered in snow, and the wildlife has all come down from altitude. There won't be any bears, as they're all in hibernation, but it is time when you can truly enjoy the primal nature of the park.

What is your favorite national park? Do you have any major adventures to share from your time there? I'd love to hear about them. Leave a comment below!

Video: Get a Whale's Eye View of Antarctica

As part of a research project to study and protect whales in the Southern Ocean, researchers have attached noninvasive cameras and sensors to some humpbacks. This has allowed them to track the animals and learn more about their habits. It has also allowed them to capture footage like that found in this short clip, which follows a whale as it zips through the water just off the coast of Antarctica. It is a unique and beautiful way to get a look at that part of the world as only a whale sees it.

Video: The Atacama Night Sky in Timelapse

The Atacama Desert in northern Chile is the driest place on Earth. It also happens to be one of my favorite places on Earth. It is an amazing destination filled with stunning landscapes and fantastic opportunities for adventure. The Atacama is also home to the most breathtaking night skies I have ever seen in all my travels. This video gives us a glimpse of this special place and what it is like there at night. Nothing can truly prepare you for the sights that you'll discover in the desert, but this clip comes about as close to anything else that I've found, save going there yourself.

ATACAMA from Adhemar Duro on Vimeo.

North Pole 2017: Skiers Shoot and Wound Bear Near the North Pole

It has been a relatively quiet and non-eventful season at the North Pole. With no full distance skiers on the ice, the expeditions to the top of the world have been limited to first and second degree ski journeys to 90ÂșN. But, just as the season is starting to wind down, comes some disturbing and potentially dangerous news out of the Barneo Ice Camp.

According to an update posted to the Barneo Facebook page, a team of skiers on their way to the North Pole encountered a polar bear while en route. That isn't completely uncommon, as the bears have been known to stalk explorers in the Arctic. One of the skiers was carrying a gun and felt threatened enough to shoot the bear, which is pretty unusual for these kinds of circumstances. Usually just firing into the air is enough to scare off most bears that wander too close. In this case however, the skier in question pointed the gun directly at the animal and shot it. The bear then limped off, wounded but not fatally so.

Nearly everyone knows that a wounded bear is a dangerous one, and there are now reports of others in the area seeing bear prints and blood on the snow. The animal appears to still be following teams as they make their way north, and could cause a potential safety hazard to others. To make matters worse, the guide for the group that shot the bear – Dirk Dansercoer – failed to inform the Barneo team, which could have warned North Pole skiers to be more vigilant while on their way to that destination.

At the moment, the incident is still under investigation, which is made all the more challenging since Dansercoer has already depart the Arctic for the season. Hopefully the teams that are still skiing will stay safe as they wrap up the remainder of their journey.

Encountering polar bears is one of the challenges that comes with travel in the Arctic. The creatures live and hunt in that environment, and nearly every veteran explorer of that part of the world has at least one or two tales to tell of encountering the massive animals in the wild. Guns are often carried to scare them away, but rarely are they used to actually shoot the creatures. This is a very rare case where the bear was actually shot for one reason or another.

In other news, Barneo is getting close to wapping up for the season. According to ExWeb, the team there has begun breaking camp and disassembling unused tents, packing gear, and so on. That means that the season is nearly at an end. That may be a good thing with a wounded bear in the area.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Video: Spring Cleaning with Pro Kayaker Dane Jackson

We all have our approach to spring cleaning around our homes, but pro kayaker Dane Jackson has taken it to another level. He recently traveled to my backyard in Tennessee to spend some time on a river there cleaning up trash and other debris to help make it a better environment for everyone. The early spring trip meant cool weather and fast water, but the results were pretty great. Jackson was able to help motivate a number of other paddlers to come out and join him and work to clean up the area. Check out their efforts in the video below.

Video: How Adrian Ballinger and Emily Harrington Climbed Cho Oyu in Just 14 Days

Somehow I missed this video when it came out a few months back, but it's still incredibly interesting and relevant now as the climbing season ramps up on the Himalaya. Last fall, Adrian Ballinger and Emily Harrington climbed Cho Oyu (8188 m/26,863 ft) in just two weeks thanks to some revolutionary training methods. This clip shares how they did it and takes us along on the expedition. It is fascinating stuff and a look at what could be the future of mountaineering.

LIGHTNING ASCENT - Climbing Cho Oyu (8,188m) in 14 Days from Louder Than Eleven on Vimeo.

Gear Closet: Altra King MT Trail Running Shoes Review

If you're in the market for a new pair of trail running shoes this spring, and you're looking for something lightweight and very comfortable, I have a suggestion for you. The new King MT from Altra pairs the company's trademark natural fit with a flashy new design and a grippy sole, to deliver an excellent new option for runners. Provided you don't mind a minimalistic approach to cushioning.

It's no secret that I'm a big fan of Altra's products. In the past, I've tested the company's Superior 2.0, Lone Peak 3.0, and the innovative StashJack jacket, which has become a mainstay on spring runs. In each case, I came away impressed with the durability, quality, and design of each of those items, and in the case of the footwear, the fit and comfort level as well. Altra uses a more natural foot shape when developing their shoes, and as a result they feel much better on my feet. This translates to enjoying my workouts a lot more, as I stay much more comfortable over extended distances.

I am happy to say that the King MT holds true to form and feels fantastic on my feet too. The wider toe box on the front of shoe provides my toes with the space they need to splay out and move naturally while running. This helps maintain better footing when moving across uneven terrain and allows me to move more agilely as well. This leads to a great sense of confidence on the trail, allowing me to move faster too.

The King MT comes with a Vibram MegaGrip outsole that holds its traction nicely on a wide variety of surfaces. Add some 6mm lugs mix as well and you really have a shoe that was made for running in what would otherwise be awful conditions. I've taken these shoes on snow, mud, and silt and have been impressed with how secure I feel on all of those surfaces. The last thing you need out of a trail running shoe is a sole that won't grip the ground properly. You have nothing to worry about in that regard with the King MT.

The Top 50 Adventures in the World According to Elite Traveler

Here at The Adventure Blog we're always on the lookout for exciting new opportunities to get out and explore the amazing world that we live in. Now, thanks to a magazine called Elite Traveler, we have a bunch of new ones to add to our bucket list. The periodical recently announced its Top 50 Adventures, providing readers with some fantastic suggestions of where to go and what to do on their next active escape.

As you can probably guess by the name of the magazine, Elite Traveler is aimed at a tax bracket that most of us don't fall into. Some of their suggestions for trips and excursions are pricey to say the least. Still, the list offers some enticing opportunities to say the least, many of which can probably be done for less money if you know how to approach the situation. The Top 50 list is broken up into several categories, including three different regions – The Americas, Europe, and the Rest of the World – as well as by categories that break down to air, land, snow, water, and transport. The last of those focuses on excursions that involve driving motorcycles and cars in exotic locations.

With 50 adventures to discover on ET's list, there are a lot of things for you to read about. As usual, I won't spoil to many of the options that make the cut, but I will mention a few just to whet your appetite. For instance, the editors at Elite Traveler recommend touring Chile with Explora, a decidedly upscale travel company. They also suggest going sand boarding on a volcano in Nicaragua, taking a hot air balloon over the Alps,  or shark diving in Fiji. This is just a brief sample of what you'll find here, and like I said, many of the trips aren't cheap but they are definitely awe inspiring.

To read the entire list, and hopefully discover a few new items to add to your list of things to see and do before you die, click here. For me, that list keeps getting longer, which means I had better stick around for awhile.

Himalaya Spring 2017: Kilian Jornet Moves Up Speed Record Attempt as Chinese Play Politics with Permits

As expected, the spring 2017 Himalayan climbing season is delivering all kinds of interesting stories and plot lines to follow. In addition to a record number of climbers on Everest, there are plenty of other expeditions to follow throughout the region. But just as many teams are getting settled into their respective base camps in the mountains, the Chinese have begun imposing permit restrictions that are causing some climbers to rethink their plans and make last minute adjustments to their schedules.

ExWeb has posted more details on the latest move by the Chinese government to impose restrictions on climbing permits in Tibet. In a nutshell, the authorities on that side of the Himalaya have announced that there will be no post-monsoon permits issued for Everest or Shishpangma this year, and only a limited number for Cho Oyu. In addition, the government is also refusing permits to any climber who has visited Pakistan in the past three years as well, causing a number of teams to alter their intended plans for this spring.

We already knew that Kilian Jornet has moved his speed record attempt to this spring, where he'll have to contend with more crowds, and now we know why. Last year, Jornet went to Everest in the late-summer/early-fall, but ended up being turned back due to poor weather conditions. It was expected that he would probably do the same this year, as the mountain is all but deserted during those months. But, since the Chinese won't be issuing permits for that timeframe, the mountain runner is now forced to attempt his speed record in the spring instead.

ExWeb is reporting that the change in permitting has also had an impact on climbers Adam Bielecki and Felix Berg, who were planning to attempt a new route on Cho Oyu. Both men visited Pakistan last year however, so neither is allowed to enter Tibet. Instead, they'll now go to Annapurna in Nepal and attempt a seldom climbed route on that mountain with partners Louis Rousseau and Rick Allen.

All across the Himalaya other teams are now arriving in BC. In addition to large numbers trickling into Base Camp on Everest, others are now getting settled on Annapurna, Makalu, Dhaulagiri, and Kangchenjunga. Most have been acclimatizing in the Khumbu Valley or on smaller peaks already, and thus are arriving in good shape to start their first rotations. It won't be long now and we'll start to receive word of teams moving up as they begin building their high camps, fixing ropes, and generally becoming accustomed to the altitude.

Weather is already playing a part early in the season. Reports indicate that high winds have been common so far, particularly on Everest, Lhotse, and Annapurna. But, that is not unusual for this time of year, and things tend to calm down a lot as the season progresses. Right now, we're about a month away from major summit bids, give or take a week. The plan moving forward will be to slowly acclimate to the conditions and begin preparing for the challenges ahead.

More to report soon.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Video: National Parks Week (April 15 - 23, 2017)

This week is National Park Week in all of America's National Parks, which means free entry into each of those amazing places. To remind us of all of the awe inspiring landscapes that exist within those parks, the National Park Service produced this short (just 35 seconds!) but sweet clip that will leave you longing for a visit soon. Spring is here. Lets take advantage of this opportunity.

Video: Paddling Carnage Rapids in Spain

Spring rains and melt-off always cause rivers to swell and bring some challenging rapids to a lot of waterways. Case in point in this video, in which pro paddler Anil Serrasolses takes us on a tour of Carnage Rapids in Spain. Just how wild and dangerous is this run? Aniol starts the video by saying "I'm pretty stoked I did not drown." That pretty much says it all. Crazy stuff.

Gear Closet: Renogy Phoenix Solar Generator

Need to keep your electronic devices charged while at base camp? Do you often find yourself in remote places but need power for your projects? The new Phoenix Solar Generator from Renogy just might be the solution you've been looking for. This stand-alone power station has everything you need to stay functional in the backcountry, provided you don't mind carrying a bit of extra weight.

Shaped like a briefcase, the Phoenix has been built to be rugged, dependable, and easy to take with you anywhere you want to go. It comes equipped with two 10-watt solar panels and a 16Ah rechargeable battery that is capable of powering just about anything you want to plug into it. The battery can obviously harness the power of the sun to stay charged, but it can be plugged directly into an AC or DC outlet as needed too.

When it comes time to charge up your smartphone, tablet, laptop, camera, or other gadgets, you'll find a multitude of ports at your disposal. In addition to having a standard AC wall outlet, the Phoenix also comes with a DC port like the one found in your car and four USB ports too. Its ability to accept so many different items at one time is one of the real strengths of this product, making it a good solution for use in a wide variety of environments ranging from the mountain to the backyard.

Ueli Steck's Groundbreaking Expeditions Called into Question

Controversy has once again reared its ugly head in the world of high alpine mountaineering. Last week, while I was away in Idaho, an article was published in Wider magazine that calls into question the exploits of Ueli Steck, widely viewed as one of the most talented and influential climbers of his generation. The article is in French, but Google Translate makes it easy to get the gist of what is suggested.

In a nutshell, an organization called the High Mountain Group is questioning some of Steck's claims, particularly his impressive solo ascents one Shishpangma in 2011 and Annapurna in 2013 because both of those climbs lack much evidence to support Ueli's assertions that he not only reached the top of both peaks, but did so in his trademark fast and light status. Those two expeditions lack any kind of photographic evidence, nor is there GPS tracking that indicate where he was on the mountain, despite Ueli wearing a GPS watch, carrying a handheld GPS device, and bringing along a satellite phone.

Without any of those type of proof of his ascent, Steck is now being put into the same level of scrutiny as famous fabricators like Tomo Cesan and Cesare Maestri, both of whom faked photos in an attempt to claim summits when they had not achieved them. Now, it is gotten even more difficult to try to get away with making false summit claims since technology makes it so easy to verify any mountaineering efforts.

Himalaya Spring 2017: Record Year on Everest Confirmed

In the months leading up to the start of the spring climbing season in the Himalaya there was a lot of speculation that it would be a record-setting year throughout the region, but on Everest in particular. After two tragic and incredibly bad seasons in 2014 and 2015, last year marked a triumphant return to form in Nepal. Now, more climbers than ever are on their way to the world's highest peak, and of course that is sparking some serious concerns.

According to an article in The Himalayan Times, 41 expeditions from 44 countries have applied for permits to climb Everest this year, which adds up to 376 foreign climbers on the mountain, with more expected to come. That alone doesn't sound too high when you consider about 550+ summited last season. But, as Alan Arnette points out, those are just the foreign climbers, and when you factor in the Sherpa support teams, the number actually rises to about 730 in total.

Alan also says that approximately 200 climbers will be on Lhotse this season as well, which will add to the congestion on the route up. Everest and Lhotse share much of the same route, only splitting off in opposite directions as the teams near the top. That route will be extremely crowded come mid-May, when summit bids traditionally begin. So much so, that current estimates are at about 1000 climbers in the Khumbu Icefall and climbing in the days ahead.

This will obviously cause traffic jams on the mountain. It could also lead to potential problems should the weather take an unexpected turn. That is a lot of people who will potentially be making their attempts on the summit at the same time, and since teams have often tried to get out in front of one another to avoid these problems, we could see some groups setting out early to take advantage of weather windows. Needless to say, its going to be a very interested spring on the Nepali side of the Everest.

Monday, April 10, 2017

On the Road in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

After spending a few very nice weeks back home following my trip to the Falklands and South Georgia, it's now time to hit the road once again. This time I'm not going quite so far, but it will still be an interesting trip. Today, I head out to Coeur d'Aline, Idaho to attend the AdventureElevate conference put on by the Adventure Travel Trade Association.

The conference will officially begin on Wednesday of this week, but tomorrow we'll spend a day of adventure outdoors first. Then on the following two days I'll get to network with others in the outdoor and adventure travel industry discussing topics that are important to all of us. I'll also be meeting with a number of different representative of travel companies and destinations too with the chance of potentially working together in the future.

While I'm away this week, I'll be keeping a close eye on some of the developments in the Himalaya as the season begins to get underway. I'll also watch out for any other major breaking stories in the outdoor and adventure world too. It is about to become a very busy time, and if anything exciting happens, I'll be sure to share. But most likely I'll be back early next week to get caught up before leaving again a few days later on a kayaking trip in Oregon.

I'm sure I'll have plenty to share from all of these experiences in the future and you can follow my social media outlets (Twitter - Facebook - Instagram) for ongoing updates. Back soon!

Video: The Trek to Everest Base Camp

Earlier today I posted an update from the Himalaya on the progress of the climbing teams there. Most of those teams are now en route to Everest Base Camp on the South Side of the mountain. If you've ever wondered what that trek is like, or what the mountaineers see on the way, this video is a great example of that experience. It was shot last year in April and should be a good representation of what is happening in the Khumbu Valley at this very moment. Having made this trek myself, this video brings back some great memories. This is a special, beautiful part of the world and I recommend that everyone visits it at some point.

Video: Beautiful South Africa by Drone

If you want to know why I love Africa so much for a travel destination, all you have to do is take one look at this video. Shot using a DJI Mavic Pro, this short but sweet clip provides an amazing look at an amazing country. From landscapes to wildlife to breathtaking sunsets, this has it all.

SOUTH AFRICA - A Mavic Tale from Rind-Raja Picture Company on Vimeo.

Outside Gives Us the 40 Most Important Pieces of Gear Ever Designed

Outside magazine continues its 40th anniversary celebration with a new article that takes a look at the 40 most significant tools and toys ever designed for use in the outdoors. Essentially, this list consists of the most iconic pieces of gear that the magazine's editors have seen over the course of its existence, and as you might expect it is filled with some amazing products, most of which changed the industry.

Some of the items earning a spot in the line-up include the DJI Phantom Drone, which pretty much revolutionized outdoor filmmaking over the past few years, especially when paired with a GoPro Camera, which also made the cut. Other important breakthroughs in gear include Sierra Designs DryDown, which ushered in the era of hydrophobic down jackets and sleeping bags, as well as the MSR WhisperLite Stove, which is lauded for making backpacking stoves incredibly lightweight and more efficient.

As usual with a list like this one, I won't spoil too many more of the items that make the cut, but with 40 pieces of gear making the list, there are still plenty to be discovered. If you've been an outdoor gear nut over the past few decades, chances are you'll recognize a lot of the products on Outside's list, and more than likely have owned your fair share of them too. For us old guys, this is a fun walk down memory lane as we recall some of these items with great fondness.

On a personal note, I'm very much enjoying Outside's 40th anniversary articles, which have also included the 40 Most Iconic Places on the Planet and the 40 Most Important Pieces of Advice the magazine has ever shared. If you've missed either of those, they are definitely worth a look too.

Check out the full list of iconic products by clicking here.

Himalaya Spring 2017: Teams Arriving in Base Camp on Everest

For the past couple of weeks I've been posting a number of pre-season updates from the Himalaya, essentially setting the stage for the next couple of months of climbing in Nepal and Tibet. But now, its time to get down to business with most mountaineers now having arrived in Kathmandu and are either preparing to head to their respective mountains or are already en route. Some, are even now arriving in Base Camp, particularly on Everest.

The most prominent squad to reach EBC at this point is International Mountain Guides (aka IMG). The company's first team reached Base Camp last Friday and are now settling in, while they await the arrival of two other IMG teams that are still further down the Khumbu Valley and trekking up to that location. The climbers who are already there have been spending the past few days getting settled and resting up, while also working on their skills in a special obstacle course that was set up to prepare them for what they'll face on the mountain, especially as they cross through the dreaded Khumbu Icefall.

The first team has also gone through its Puja ceremony, which involves a Buddhist lama and several monks asking the local mountain gods to protect the climbers as they prepare to head up the mountain. During the ceremony, the mountaineers all receive blessings, as does their gear. They also ask for safe passage up and down the mountain as well.

While the Puja may sound like a superstitious ritual, it is also tradition on Everest and other Himalayan peaks. The Sherpas in particular are reluctant to step food on any mountain without first getting the blessings from the lama, and over the course of the next few weeks, every team will have their own ceremony in anticipation of the start of the climb.