Monday, July 17, 2017

On the Road Again: Tokyo Bound!

I've been mostly home over the past month and a half, save for a few short trips here and there. But, the next couple of weeks will be busy ones, as I leave for Tokyo, Japan tomorrow morning and will return on Sunday, July 23 just long enough to do some laundry, collect my thoughts, and repack to travel to Outdoor Retailer on the following Tuesday. It's a grueling job, but someone has to do it. Right?

It is going to be a crazy schedule for sure, but it should be a fun one as well. But, it means there will likely be limited updates to The Adventure Blog while I'm on the road. I'll still keep an eye on some of the big stories that are developing – including potential summits on K2 – and I'll have some articles posted on the two days leading up to the start of OR, but otherwise news is likely to be scare through July 31.

But, I'll be back before you know it, and we'll resume our regular coverage of the outdoor adventure and exploration world. Until then, don't forget to schedule some time for a few adventures of your own. After all, that's ultimately what we're all about around here.

Back soon!

Video: Alex Honnold Interview on the Jimmy Kimmel Show

At the end of last week, rock climber Alex Honnold appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel show here in the U.S., giving a large, mainstream audience an introduction to a man that many of us have been following for years. In the interview, Honnold talks about his recent free solo up El Capitan in Yosemite of course, but also how he got started in climbing in the first place, what his mom thinks about his exploits, and much more. Definitely worth a watch if you haven't seen it, as its nice to see Alex in a relaxed environment like this one.

Video: Footage of the Massive Crack on the Antarctic Ice Shelf Prior to Iceberg Breaking Away

Last week we shared the story of a massive iceberg breaking off from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in the Antarctic. The creation of the 1 trillion ton iceberg didn't come as a surprise, as researchers have been following a huge crack as it developed along the ice shelf over the course of the past few months. Now, we have footage of what that crack looked like as it grew and spread for miles, eventually giving way altogether. As you would expect, it is quite the sight. Check it out in the video clip below.

Kilian Jornet Wins Hardrock 100 with Dislocated Shoulder

By now, it's hard for any of us to be surprised at the things Kilian Jornet pulls off while training, competing, or climbing in the mountains. But this past weekend, the trail runner/mountaineer added yet another chapter to his growing legend when he not only one the Hardrock 100 trail race for the fourth straight year, but he did so with a dislocated shoulder.

Heading into the race, Jornet was once again the favorite. He as been running well this year, despite taking time off to travel to the Himalaya where he managed to summit Everest without oxygen within a span of five days, and set a new speed record in the process. But, it looked like his fourth title might be in jeopardy early on when he fell 13 miles into the race, dislocating his shoulder. Jornet says that he was able to pop it back into place on his own. Later, he received some assistance at an aid station, where the arm was wrapped in a sling, but he received no medication.

For most of us, such an injury would have been enough to put us out of the competition, but for Jornet it was just another challenge to overcome. In the end, he managed to complete the 100.5 mile (161 km) course in a time of 24 hours, 32 minutes, and 32 seconds. That was enough to finish ahead of Mike Foote, who shadowed Kilian much of the way, but ended up finishing in second place 23 minutes back.

Summer Climbs 2017: K2 Reminds Teams Why it is 'The Savage Mountain'

The Pakistani climbing season is continuing at a steady pace, with most of the attention now shifting to K2 as the end of the season creeps into sight. Most of the teams still climbing in the Karakoram have now shifted their attention to that mountain, and while some are preparing for the first summit bids of the season, they're getting a reminder of why it has been labeled "the Savage Mountain."

Late last week a major avalanche occurred high on the Abruzzi route of K2, potentially wiping out Camp 3 and the fixed ropes above 7315 meters (24,000 ft). It is unclear how much damage the avalanche inflicted, but the guides there believe that C3 may be completely gone. If so, they'll need to rebuild the campsite and potentially fix ropes once again before anyone can go higher. That also means shuttling gear back up the mountain, which can be an arduous task, even for Sherpas use to operating in those conditions.

This past weekend was suppose to be the final round of acclimatization rotations on the Abruzzi, with some teams heading up to C4 before returning to Base Camp for a rest ahead of the first summit bids. But, once again poor weather conditions reared their ugly head, with high winds and heavy snow preventing anyone from going above C2. That means that now, a few days after the avalanche, it is still unclear how much of Camp 3 remains and how much was swept off the mountain.

At this point, all of the teams are pretty much ready to go, but they're waiting for a proper weather window. That could happen later this week, as the forecast calls for improved conditions in the days ahead. But, the upper sections of the mountain are still covered in deep snow, some of which may be unstable. Avalanches are likely to be common over the next few days, but hopefully things will settle after that.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Video: A Sea to Summit Ski Expedition on Mt. St. Elias in Alaska

If you're looking for a great video that follows an impressive expedition, look no further. In this clip, we join Janelle and Mark Smiley, along with Jed Porter, as they travel to Alaska to climb and ski Mt. St. Elias. The mountain is known for having one of the longest vertical ski runs in the entire world, as the peak rises 18,008 feet (5488 meters) from the sea. On this journey, the trio actually skied more than 13,000 feet (3962 meters), which is an impressive amount of vert on a single run. Check it out below.

Mt St Elias - A sea to summit expedition from Mark Smiley on Vimeo.

Video: Sri Lankan Navy Rescues Elephant Swept Out to Sea

Here's an amazing video of a daring rescue conducted by members of the Sri Lankan navy rescuing an elephant that was swept out to sea. While elephants are excellent swimmers, this one was fighting currents and was having a difficult time making it back to shore, to an operation was conducted to make sure the animal survived. It's a pretty amazing story and great to see unfold. Hats off to the team that made the rescue.

Tour de France Recap Week 2: Ladies and Gentleman, We Have Ourselves a Race!

As we entered the second week of the Tour de France, it appeared as if there wouldn't be much in the way of drama. As has been the case for three of the past four years, Chris Froome was in yellow and his Sky Team looked like it was in complete control of the race. Froome's primary challengers – namely Nairo Quintana and Richie Porte – hadn't put up much of a fight in the first week. Quintana looked tired from his recent ride in the Giro and Porte was lurking right up until he crashed out of the race last weekend. It seemed another Froome win was almost a sure thing, provide he didn't make a mistake.

But things can change fast in Le Tour as we found out yesterday. That's when on the final climb up Peyragudes that we finally saw something we hadn't seen out of Froome before. The defending champ cracked, allowing Italian champ Fabio Aru to pull away and claim the Yellow Jersey for his own.

It was a surprising result that opens up the drama for the days to come. In fact, we saw the battle continue today, with Froome testing Aru on several occasions, and proving to the field that he is still the man to beat. Other riders who have been aggressive and riding well include Roman Bardet who now sits in third place behind Aru and Froome, and Rigoberto Uran, who is perhaps the surprise of the race so far, hanging in fourth. Dan Martin has also been racing incredibly well, and would be amongst the leaders had he not been caught up on the crash with Porte on Sunday. That account took a minute off his time, sending him down the rankings.

15 Great Pieces of Gear for Summer Backpacking

Looking for the very best gear to take on your summer camping, hiking, or backpacking trip? Your in luck, because Backpacker magazine has put together its list of the 15 best pieces of gear for use in the summer season with products designed to perform well, while also keeping us cooler and drier in hot weather.

You'll find a little of everything on this list, starting with coffee to get your day started and ending with a lantern to keep the campsite illuminated at night. In between, you'll discover Backpacker's picks for sunscreen, energy bars, shorts, shoes, hats, and more. You'll find gear from brands we all know and love, and a few that you may not have heard of before. You'll also find an excellent warm-weather backpack, sunglasses, and even a tripod for your smartphone, complete with a remote control.

Personally, I love the focus of this list, which not only says it has summer gear for use in our outdoor adventures, but delivers on that promise too. Many summer gear guides simply offer the best new gear being released during that season, but Backpacker's actually offers products that are highly functional for use in the heat.

Check out the entire list here.

Summer Climbs 2017: The Challenges of a Double Summit on K2 and Broad Peak

Over the past few years, we've seen an increase in commercial climbing in the Karakoram, most notably on K2, arguably the toughest most dangerous mountain in the world. Part of the strategy for many of the mountaineers who come to that part of the world is to first acclimatize on Broad Peak, make a summit attempt there, then jump over to K2 with an eye on quickly scaling that mountain too. But, this strategy has met with limited success, in part because of the unpredictable weather on K2, where the mountain can go several years without a single summit, thanks in no small part due to the high winds, heavy snow, and crazy conditions.

Alan Arnette has written an excellent blog post that takes a look at the history of mountaineers making double – and sometimes triple – summits in a single season. The article discusses what it takes to complete such a difficult undertaking, and then takes a look at both the Everest-Lhotse and K2-Broad Peak doubleheaders, with the latter being especially important as it is playing out at this very moment in the Karakoram.

So how realistic is it for a climber to summit both peaks within a few weeks of one another? According to Alan's article, it has only been done four times in the past, as compared to 84 successful summits of Gasherbrum I and II in the same season. What makes it so difficult? Arnette goes into detail on that topic too, listing the weather, the timing and schedule of the expedition, as well as the fitness and attitude of the alpinist attempting to pull off such a feat.

After reading the article, it is clear that we shouldn't expect too many of the climbers who summited Broad Peak a few days back to also pull of another summit of K2 in the days ahead. Some may actually be able to do it, but historically speaking it is a long shot.

Speaking of K2, progress is continuing on that mountain as teams prepare for the summit push ahead. A few days back we learned that Camp 4 had been established on the Abruzzi Route, and now we have an update from Česen Route as well. That's where Himex has set up shop and has been slowly but surely working away as well. They have been able to build and supply Camp 3 at 7200 meters (23,600 ft), but as usual, the weather has not been an ally. The team has set a departure date from Base Camp for August 4, so there is still plenty of time on the schedule however.

For now, we wait and watch. The climbers are putting in the hard work, acclimatizing, and preparing, but it remains to be seen if the mountain will cooperate. We'll know soon enough.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Video: Wild Kimberley of Australia

Travel to Western Australia in this video to visit the Kimberley region, a vast stretch of wilderness that has few inhabitants, only a handful of settlements, and miles of open territory running from the Indian Ocean to the very heart of the continent. This timelapse clip shares glimpses of some of the striking landscapes that can be found there, including some impressive shots of the night skies.

Wild Kimberley from Juergen Freund Visuals on Vimeo.

Video: Mountain Biking Through an Abandoned Mine

What do you do if you discover an old, abandoned mine while mountain biking through the backcountry? Why, explore it by bike of course! That's exactly what Kilian Bron and his friends did when they had that exact same scenario present itself to them while out on a ride recently. The result is a great video that follows them into the depths of the Earth while on their bikes. Check it out below.

Gear Closet: Lowa Alpine Pro GTX Hiking Boots Review

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Lowa boots, having tested and reviewed several of their products in the past, including the awesome Renegade Ice GTX. With that in mind, you can imagine how excited I was when I recently received a pair of the new Alpine Pro GTX models to try out as well. This boot is Lowa's new flagship product for use in alpine environments, and promises to deliver a new level of performance for the company, which already has a legacy of fantastic footwear for use in the mountains.

The Alpine Pro GTX was designed to be a minimalist mountain boot, which is to say that it is built to be lighter and more comfortable than the competition in this market space. But, we're still talking about footwear for use in rough and tumble alpine conditions, so a pair of these shoes still tips the scales at 3.6 pounds (1650 grams). That may sound like a lot for anyone who doesn't venture far off the beaten path and usually walks in trail running shoes. But for serious trekking that is a fairly lightweight boot, and it shows out on the trail, keeping your legs and feet happier on longer excursions and remaining nimble while scrambling over rough terrain too.

Lowa has armed the Alpine Pro with a Vibram Alp Trac outsole that provides excellent traction and grip on a variety of surfaces and offers an expanded climbing zone for those tough descents. The lugs are aggressive, but not overly large, and offer a self-cleaning profile that helps to keep mud and other debris from collecting along the bottom. As with most boots however, that only goes so far, and thick, dense mud will still collect on the boots if conditions are particularly nasty.

The sole also offers a lower profile when compared to other boots of this kind, which is particularly helpful for getting a good feel for the ground underneath. Personally, I prefer a boot that allows me to feel more connected with the trail, as it helps me to maintain footing and remain safe when passing over difficult or dangerous terrain. These boots deliver that feeling quite nicely, making them a good choice for mountain excursions.

Japanese Blogger Further Discredits Amelia Earhart Photo

Remember that photo that was revealed last week that purportedly showed Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan on a dock in the Marshall Islands after the famous aviator went missing? A few days after it was revealed, experts immediately began poking holes in the story, but now it seems that it can be put to rest once and for all. A Japanese blogger has discovered the image in the national archives of his country and according to his findings, it was published nearly two years before Earhart embarked on her fateful flight.

According to National Geographic, Japanese history blogger Kota Yamano wrote a post on July 9 on his search for answers regarding the photo. Apparently he visited the National Diet Library and did a simple search for "Jaluit Atoll," which is the only text that accompanied the photo when it was found in the U.S. national archives. Yamano says that “The photo was the 10th item that came up,” in the search results, which showed that it was published in the book The Ocean's "Lifeline": The Condition of Our South Seas, which was published in October of 1935. The caption of the photo mentions the lively port and the ships that often stopped by there.

This should put an end to the speculation of whether or not it is Earhart and Noonan in the photograph, although they mystery of what happened to them remains. The History Channel probably wishes they had done a bit more research before creating a special on the Earhart story that centered around the photo however. That program aired this past weekend, with the main assertion being that the two missing explorers fell into Japanese hands and died while in custody, something that the Japanese have denied on more than one occasion.

According to Yamano, it took him less than 30 minutes to find the photo and learn more about its origin. I guess the lesson here is that we should all do our homework and a bit of research before racing toward a conclusion that we already think we know. Meanwhile, the search for Earhart, Noonan, and their missing plane will no doubt continue.

Christian Maurer Wins 2017 Red Bull X-Alps

That crazy adventure race unfolding in the Alps that we've been following for the past couple of weeks isn't over just yet, but we do have a winner.

Recently, I've posted a few updates on the Red Bull X-Alps, which I find to be one of the most unique competitions on the planet. In the event, racers trail run and paraglide across Europe, starting in Salzburg and ending in Monaco. Over the course of the race, they must pass through a series of checkpoints, by first running to the top of a mountain, then deploying their paraglider, sailing from the summit and traveling as far as they can, before doing it all over again. While in the field they must also be completely self supported, carrying everything they need to survive on their backs.

Today, the first two competitors crossed the finish line, with Swiss racer Christian Maurer arriving in Monaco first, followed a few hours later by French athlete Benoit Outters. It took Maurer, who has won this event in the past and was clearly the man to beat all along, 11 days, 23 hours, and 23 minutes to cover the entire course, which is 1138 km (707 miles) in length.

One of the more unique rules of the X-Alps is that after the first 48 hours, the last place racer is eliminated from the event, with another to follow every 48 hours after that. This has the effect of whittling down the field and giving the competitors an incentive to keep moving and staying ahead of everyone else. The race also has a tight cut-off for the finish too, which is at 10:53 AM tomorrow morning, local Monaco time. Right now, there are four or five other athletes who are scrambling to try to beat that cut-off, but it is unclear how many of them will actually make it. As many as six could cross the finish line, which would be a record for the event.

Congrats to Maurer for claiming victory in Monaco. You can learn more about the Red Bull X-Alps, and follow the remaining racers live, on the race's official website.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Video: The Joy of Free Climbing in Yosemite

There is no question that Yosemite is the premiere destination for rock climbers the world over. In this video, we travel to that amazing valley to join Jorg Verhoeven and Katha Saurwein as they take on two epic routes there, all the while sharing their thoughts on what it is like to climb in the most iconic place on Earth. This short documentary puts those feelings in perspective.

Video: A Mountain Bike Descent in the Dolomites

Take a scary and exhilarating ride with three mountain bikers as they make a fast and wild descent down through the Dolomites in Italy. It is a highly technical, nail-biting affair, that will most likely leave you very happy that you're watching it at home and not from the seat of a bike. Crazy stuff.

Gear Closet: Casio Pro Trek WSD-F20 Smartwatch Review

Last year I had the opportunity to test and review Casio's WSD-F10, a smartwatch designed with the active outdoor enthusiast and adventure traveler in mind. Although I am an Apple Watch and iPhone user, I came away impressed with all of the features the WSD-F10 included out of the box, and the way that Android Wear operates to deliver a smooth, easy to use experience.

Fast forward to 2017 and both Casio and Google have refined their products further, delivering an even better experience for users. Recently I've been testing the new Casio Pro Trek WSD-F20 smartwatch as well, and have found it to not only be a worthy successor to the original model, but an impressive and powerful device in a class all its own.

Like last year's WSD-F10, which remains in the Casio line-up, this new watch was built for use in the outdoors. It is rugged, durable, and can take a lot of punishment without fear of it getting beat up. My test model easily shrugged off everything I threw at it and came away completely unscathed. This helps to provide a nice sense of security and confidence when wearing the WSF-F20 in the field where you won't have to think twice about whether or not it could get damaged. This level of ruggedness is much appreciated of course, but it does make the watch bulkier and heavier than most other wearables on the market and gives it an undeniable "outdoorsy" look that will make it bit less versatile when wearing it in other environments.

The latest edition of Casio's outdoor smartwatch received a number of upgrades, including the ability to run Android Wear 2.0. This introduced such features as stand alone apps, a redesign of the interface, built-in Google Maps, Google Translate, and direct access to Google Assistant. There are even customizable watch faces giving users the opportunity to customize their wearable devices further. This alone makes the new Pro Trek a major upgrade over the previous generation, delivering a lot more power and versatility to the wearer's wrist. The inclusion of these features helps to make this smartwatch a lot smarter.

Massive Iceberg Finally Breaks Off of Antarctica

We've been talking about the possibilities for months now, but it has finally happened. A massive section of the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica has broken off and plunged into the sea, creating one of the largest icebergs ever recorded. According to reports, the giant chunk of ice weighs in at about one trillion tons and covers an area of 5800 sq. km (2240 sq. miles), which is roughly the same size as the state of Delaware.

Climatologists first warned that this large section of the ice shelf might collapse late last year, when a huge crack was discovered in the Larsen C region of the Antarctic. As researchers monitored the situation there, the size of the crack began to grow, and pick up speed. Even now, during the austral winter, the speed of grown was astounding, to the point that a few weeks back it seemed the collapse was imminent, and now it has happened at last.

It is unclear what will happen to the iceberg now. It will now move at the whims of the currents in the Southern Ocean, and will most likely begin to break up over time. It could add to the risk of ships moving through the area, as it is large enough to cause massive damage to vessels not reinforced against such hazards. Scientists say the ice could remain in the waters off Antarctica for decades, while other parts will drift north into warmer waters and eventually melt.

Of larger concern is what the loss of this chunk of ice means to the health of Antarctica. The ice shelf has always served as a barrier against the warmer waters of the ocean, protecting the ends of glaciers. Now, that barrier is gone, and we're likely to see the glaciers there begin to retreat at an accelerated rate, with more ice calving off into the Southern Ocean, which could eventually lead to higher sea levels. Climate change has already had an impact on that process, and now it is probably only going to cause that to happen at a faster clip. The loss of this ice alone has reduced the Larsen C Ice Shelf by 12%.

It should be noted that researchers are quick to point out that temperatures continue to rise in the Antarctic, but that future collapses like this one still seem to be years away.

Summer Climbs 2017: Nanga Parbat Search and Rescue Debrief, Focus Turns to K2

The climbing season continues to unfold in Pakistan, where the focus for some teams has begun to change, while others remain firmly in place waiting for a weather window. And, we get an interesting debrief on a search and rescue operation that continues to unfold.

We'll start today's update on Nanga Parbat, where Alberto Zerain and Mariano Galvan went missing a couple of weeks back. The duo were attempting a summit along the difficult and exposed Mazeno Ridge route when their home team lost contact with them back on June 24. It is believed that they were hit by an avalanche while making their ascent, although no trace of the two men has been found, despite knowing exactly where their GPS tracker turned off.

Immediately after Zerain and Galvan were declared overdue a rescue operation was organized and helicopters were scrambled to the mountain to look for the missing men. As indicated, they found no trace, and further efforts were hampered for several days due to poor weather conditions. Now, we have a detailed "boots on the ground" account of how the search unfolded from Alex Gavan, who was on Nanga Parbat and helped in those efforts.

The search and rescue debrief was submitted to Explorer's Web and is quite lengthy. It shares the timeline of Alberto and Mariano's climb, when they went missing, the details of what followed, and the lengths that the search and rescue team went through to try to locate the missing men. Alex talks about the challenges of getting the SAR effort up and running, including navigating the logistics of working in Pakistan, As it turns out, sorting out the issues of payment and insurance would delay efforts by several days, which are of course crucial in these types of situations. It is a story of frustration, hope, despair, and grief that is worth a read from top to bottom to get an idea of how these situations unfold.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Video: A Trip Down Coastal Oregon

The wonderful coastline of Oregon takes center stage in this lovely video, which gives viewers a chance to see just how amazing this part of the world can be. You'll discover a number of breathtaking locations from both the air and the ground, with towering mountains, crashing waves, and dense forests all on display. Sit back and enjoy this clip. It is a good one.

Clearly Coastal - Oregon 4K from Taylor Gray on Vimeo.

Video: Kiteboarder Hits Humpback Whale

We've seen some videos that feature close encounters with wildlife before, but this one just might take the cake. It shows a kiteboarder zipping along on the surface of the water before he encounters – and hits – a humpback whale. I can't imagine how surprising it must have been to glide right over the back of the giant mammal. That's one obstacle you don't expect to have to dodge while out on the water.

UNESCO Names 21 New World Heritage Sites

Travelers looking to add new options to their bucket lists should look no further than the latest editions to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The organization is charged by the U.N. with deciding which locations around the world deserve the "World Heritage" designation based on both natural and cultural factors and this year it has added 21 new spots to the constantly growing list. These destinations are often favorites with world travelers, who often go out of their way to see these often outstanding locations.

National Geographic has put together a great slideshow of the latest edition to the UNESCO list. Each entry includes a description of the place and a wonderful photo to help readers visualize the place. Handy travel tips are also provided, giving anyone interested in making the journey to any of these places some idea of what it will take to get there.

So what new places were added to the list of World Heritage Sites for 2017? The latest additions are numerous and live up to the high standards set by the judges at UNESCO, with destinations like Taputapuãtea in Tahiti and the ancient city of Yazd in Iran making the cut. The former of those earned its spot for its spectacular natural beauty and the fact that it is home to a historic Polynesian site of worship, while the latter is a place that dates back to the 5th century and holds important religious significance to a number of different faiths, including the Zoroastrians. Other impressive sites include the English Lake District, the Gelati Monastery in Georgia, and Kujataa, an early agricultural site in Greenland.

Whether you want to visit remote locations in wilderness areas, or tour incredible manmade structures closer to civilization, the World Heritage Site list has something for everyone. At the moment, there are 1073 total destinations that have earned this designation, including the 21 new additions. In other words, if you want to see them all, you'd better get traveling.

Check out the new locations here.

Summer Climbs 2017: Summits on Broad Peak

Patience and persistence has won out on Broad Peak, where teams have now nabbed the first summits of the season, while on K2 work continues as squads begin eyeing their first potential summit bids of the year too.

After a long weekend of bad weather on Broad Peak it looked like there might not be any successful summits on the 8051 meter (26,414 ft) mountain. Deep snow and high winds prevented anyone from going above C3, with most dropping all the way back to Base Camp, and some even deciding to pack their bags and head for home. But, what a difference a few days can make. Bolstered by a forecast that predicted calm conditions, a few teams – led by Furtenbach Adventures – headed back up the mountain and were able to top out at long last.

Furtenbach posted the news to its Facebook page earlier today, indicating that the team did most of the trail breaking and rope installation on the way to the summit. This resulted in seven members of the team reaching the summit, including the head guide, three Sherpas, and three clients. The note also indicated that three more teams followed close behind, although it is unclear exactly which other squads were able to complete their climbs as well. The report indicated that although meteorologists predicted windy conditions, it was a calm, beautiful day on top.