Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Climb Everest in Virtual Reality on the Oculus Rift

Let's face it, most of us are never going to be able to climb Everest. Not only is it extremely difficult, requiring years of experience and training, it also happens to be prohibitively expensive too. But, thanks to the miracles of modern technology, we can now all catch a glimpse of what it is like to stand on the highest point on the planet.

A company called Sólfar Studios, working in conjunction with another firm called RVX, have created a virtual reality experience that allows owners of the Oculus Rift VR headset to climb to the summit of Everest. The software offers Oculus owners a chance to take in the views from the mountain, without actually having to travel to the Himalaya or acclimatize for three weeks before starting up.

The new Everest VR experience is actually an updated version of one that Sólfar created for the HTC Vive headset last year. But, Oculus users get a couple of additional features, including the ability to climb up the Lhotse Face and a new "god" mode that takes them above the Himalaya themselves for a bird's eye view of the tallest mountains on Earth.

I don't own either of these VR headsets so I can't comment on what this virtual climb of Everest is like, but having used the Oculus Rift in the past, I can tell you that it provides a very compelling and realistic experience. We do get a glimpse of the technology at work here in the video below however, which is no substitute for actual VR, but it does serve as a preview of what to expect. This is especially true if your browser supports 360º video, allowing you to pan around in all directions. Check it out to catch a glimpse of this tech in action.

Ueli Steck Training in Nepal Ahead of Spring Everest-Lhotse Attempt

The spring climbing season in the Himalaya is still well over a month from getting under way, but already some of the world's top climbers are preparing for the challenges ahead. Take Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck, who is getting ready for what could be the most difficult undertaking of his illustrious career. And to prepare for that expedition, Ueli is already in Nepal and training for what he expects to be a major undertaking.

This spring, Ueli hopes to summit not only Everest, but its neighbor Lhotse as well. While it is a bit unusual to bag both summits in a single season, it's not completely unheard of with other mountaineers completing that challenging in the past. But, Ueli will attempt to nab both summits in a single go, first topping out on Everest before returning to Camp 4 for a brief rest, and traversing the narrow ride that connects the two mountains, and going straight for the summit of Lhotse as well.

Steck will be joined on this venture by climbing partner Tenji Sherpa, and to prepare for their expedition the duo have already been training in Nepal. Ueli and Tenji recently summited the 6180 meter (20,275 ft) Island Peak. Additionally, while training in the Khumbu Valley, Ueli has also been doing a lot of running, saying that he has covered a distance of 150 km (93 miles) and a vertical climb of around 12,000 meters (39,370 ft).

After spending three weeks in the Khumbu, Ueli will now head home for another three weeks of training in the Alps, before returning to Nepal to attempt the Everest-Lhotse traverse. My guess is that he'll be back in the country early in the season, do some more acclimatization in the valley ahead of the start of climbing season, and will be ready to take on the challenge as early as he can. We've seen Ueli dash up to the summit of Everest before, staying well ahead of the normal crowds, and he is likely to do that again. In fact, a few years back he was amongst the first to summit, following behind the rope fixing team as they installed the lines to the top. I wouldn't be shocked to see him do the same thing again in an attempt to avoid the crowds that would surely slow him down from his normal amazing pace.

It won't be long now and we'll begin to see more stories of training and final prep work for the start of the season. By the first of April, the teams will begin arriving in Kathmandu and things will get really interesting. Right now, it's the calm before the storm, and we still have a winter ascent of Everest to watch closely too.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Video: Take A Wild Ride on the GoPro Winning Mountain Bike Line of 2016

At the end of 2016, GoPro invited mountain bikers from across the globe to share their favorite rides from the past year, promising to pick a winner for their favorite line. The winner, which can be viewed below, was submitted by Stevey Storey and was filmed as he bombed down a trail in British Columbia. This first person ride is fast and wild with a little bit of everything, including narrow, twisty singletrack; obstacles to avoid, and even places to catch some air. This is pretty much a dream trail for most mountain bikers, so sit back and enjoy.

Video: How the U.S. National Parks Are Attempting to Lure More Minority Visitors

The national parks in the U.S. are some of the most dramatic and breathtaking landscapes found anywhere on the planet, and as such they draw millions of visitors each year. Unfortunately, most of those visitors are white, with few minorities sprinkled in here and there. But the Park Service and its partners are trying to change that by creating a more inclusive atmosphere for everyone. In this video, we see how those efforts are being conducted with the hopes of getting more people of color to experience the outdoors as well.


Gear Closet: Garmont 9.81 Speed III Light Hiking Shoes

Looking for some new hiking shoes as spring starts to inch a bit closer? Looking for something lightweight, but stable, that can offer plenty of protection for your feet? If so, then the Garmont 9.81 Speed III hiking shoe just might be what you're looking for. Recently, I've had the chance to give these shoes a go, and now find myself wearing them almost daily. Although, I wasn't sure that would be the case when I first put them on.

While I had met with Garmont over the past couple of summer Outdoor Retailer shows, this was the first time I'd actually gotten the chance to test a pair of their shoes. I always liked the style and design the company's boots displayed, but good looks don't always translate into a comfortable fit. Still, I was very intrigued with what I saw, and was eager to put them to the test. So, when my test pair of the 9.81 Speed III arrived, I eagerly put them on to get a feel for what they were actually like.

I was immediately impressed with how good they felt on my feet. The polymer heel inserts and EVA midsole gave the shoe a stiff – but comfortable – ride that offered a solid level of protection without much bulk. The wide toe-box was great too, especially when wearing a thicker sock, while the mesh upper was durable and breathable at the same time. The 9.81 Speed III felt a bit like a nice cross-over shoe, straddling the line between a trail runner and a light hiker. For my money, that's not a bad space to fill.

But then, I started to walk around in them and my perception of the shoes soon changed. You see, while I really liked they way they looked and felt, as I wore them around the house and while taking the dog for a walk, I started to notice that the shoes were rubbing against my ankle, creating a bit of a hot spot. I soldiered through, keeping them on my feet for a few hours, before giving up and reverting to something in my closet that wasn't causing me pain.

Three Trekkers to Walk the Length of the Great Himalaya Trail

Three trekkers are about to embark on a serious adventure that will take them across the length of Nepal, walking through the highest mountains on the planet as they go. Next weekend, the trio will set out on a journey led by World Expeditions that will see them hiking the entire length of the Great Himalaya Trail, covering more than 1700 km (1056 miles) as they go.

Made up of a number of smaller trails that have been intertwined, the GHT allows hikers to walk through the highest mountain range on the planet as they traverse Nepal from end to end. The trek is expected to take 152 days to complete, starting on February 26 and ending on July 27 of this year. The hike begins in eastern Nepal in the shadow of Kangchenjunga, and ends in the far western region of the country. Along the way, hikers will pass all eight of Nepal's 8000-meter peaks, including Everest itself.

During the trek, the hikers will stay in small mountain villages or camp along the route. They'll be greeted by locals, many of which don't see visitors all that often. The trail will take them deep into the heart of the Himalaya, to some of the most remote and wild places on the planet, with sweeping vistas, deep ravines, and beautiful peaks abound.

Walking the length of the GHT is a dream trek for many, and so far it hasn't been accomplished by too many travelers. But, World Expeditions has been supporting this trek for six years now, making it a reality for those who have the time and interest to do it themselves. If you're interested in making the hike they can help you sort out the logistics and get you on the trail. You'll find the full details on the company's Great Himalayan Trail trekking page, with info on how you can join next year's edition of this hike.

For me, this would be one of those top bucket-list journeys that I'd love to take at some point. It would be a fantastic trip through one of my favorite parts of the world. 152 days on the trial is a long time, but the experiences you would have along the way would certainly be life changing. The GHT can be hiked independently of course, but there are still some logistical challenges to overcome. Having someone help iron those out would make everything go a bit smoother.

Winter Climbs 2017: Everest Expedition Back in Kathmandu, Vow to Return to Base Camp

It has been a strange and turbulent week for Alex Txikon and his climbing partners. This time last week, the Spaniard, along with Nurbu and Chhepal Sherpa, were waiting for weather window to open to make a push to the summit. But when good conditions failed to materialize, they found themselves retreating to Base Camp to escape brutal winds and cold temperatures. But on the descent, Chhepal was injured by a falling rock, which forced the entire team back to Kathmandu, with the expedition apparently coming to an end. But Alex has vowed to return and says that his dance with Everest is not over just yet.

The unexpected return to the Nepali capital came about when news of Chhepal's injury reached the owners of Seven Summits Treks. Fearing for the safety of its employees, the entire squad was recalled to Kathmandu via helicopter, with Alex going with them. Once there, it seems there was a disagreement with how to proceed – or whether or not to continue with the winter attempt on Everest at all. But Alex says on his Facebook page that they are all preparing to return, and that his business has not yet been concluded. 

The most recent update indicates that the team is still in Kathmandu, but that they intend to return to Base Camp very soon. Exactly when they'll arrive back in BC remains to be seen, but the forecast does not indicate that a good weather window is imminent for the coming week, so they may well take their time before heading back up. They'll travel by helicopter once again as well, so it is possible that the conditions could delay the flight too. Still, Alex and company are as determined as ever to reach the summit, so look for them to be back on the mountain as soon as possible.

As I write this, there is exactly one month left in the winter season. That is plenty of time to still make the ascent as Alex has envisioned it, which is without the use of bottled oxygen. But, the expedition has taken its toll. Living on the mountain for six weeks has been a challenge, with brutal weather conditions at times. Worse yet, the Spanish climber says that he has lost 12 kg (26.4 pounds) so far, which isn't great for his overall health either.

We'll keep an eye on the team's progress and post updates as warranted. Right now, the next step is just getting back on the mountain. From there, we'll have to wait to see what happens.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Video: Cape Town by Drone

Cape Town, and the surrounding area, is an incredibly beautiful place, and what better way to explore those landscapes than with a drone? This short clip takes to the skies to give us a bird's eye view of this spectacular section of South Africa. If you've never been there, it needs to be on your list and this will help you to understand why.

Video: Kayaking Along an Underground River

Kayaks can take us to some pretty amazing places that are often unreachable on foot. Case in point, in this video we actually go underground in Mexico to explore a cave with Rafa Ortiz and Leo Ibarra, who discover a waterway that is faster and more turbulent than they expected.

Cloud Walkers - A Documentary About Amputees Climbing Kilimanjaro – Seeks Funding

Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is a bucket-list adventure for many people, and for good reason. The tallest mountain in Africa is both approachable and a great challenge, with many rewards along the way.

Recently, a team of climbers made up of amputees from San Antonio, Texas went to the mountain to try to scale it for themselves. Over the course of a year of training, and during their time on the mountain, they bonded as a group and found strength and inspiration from each other. The team made the trek to the Roof of Africa together and now their story is the subject of a new documentary called Cloud Walkers, which was filmed throughout their extraordinary journey.

But, if you know anything about filmmaking, you probably also know it takes funds to get a project off the ground and get the final product in the can so to speak. So, with that in mind, the filmmakers behind Cloud Walkers have launched an Indiegogo campaign to help make their project a reality. They hope to raise $50,000, which will mostly go to final editing, sound mixing, music licensing, and other expenses.

To get a sneak peek at what this documentary is all about, check out the video below. It gives us a taste of what this journey was about, as well as some of the amazing views and stories that were experienced along the way. To find out more, and contribute to the cause, visit the Cloud Walker's crowdfunding page.

ExWeb Interviews North Pole Skiers Ahead of the Start of the Season

Traditionally, the end of February brings the start of the Arctic Expedition season, although over the past couple of years conditions at the top of the world have prevented anyone from covering the full distance to the North Pole. Not since Eric Larsen and Ryan Waters completed that journey back in 2014 no one else been able to repeat it. As climate change impacts that part of the world, the Arctic ice gets thinner, more challenging, or completely nonexistent. This year, there are two teams who will be attempting that very difficult journey, and over the course of the past week or so, ExWeb has interviewed members of both squads. 

Last week, the site posted an interview with Sebastian Copeland, who along with Mark George, will be one of the teams heading to the North Pole this year. During their chat, Copeland discussed the logistics of skiing to the top of the world, how long they expect to be out on the ice (50+ days), how he and George trained for the upcoming expedition, and his thoughts on the record breaking warmth that has hit the Arctic recently and how it will impact their journey. 

Similarly, the ExWeb interview with Martin Murray discusses his partner as well, who in this case happens to be a dog named Sky. The canine explorer will help Murray pull a sled and will provide companionship on the long days out on the ice. He also talks about logistics, when he'll start (after February 27) and potentially end (first week of May), how long he's been planning this expedition, and how a major expedition works when you have a dog along with you. 

Both interviews are very interesting for anyone who is interested not only in North Pole expeditions, but the logistics of exploration in general. The two teams will set off at the end of February and will begin at either Ward Hunt Island or Cape Discovery in Canada. We'll of course be following these journeys closely once they get underway. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Off to Austin, Texas!

Just a quick note to regular readers to let them know that I'll be on the road the next couple of days, so updates may be a bit sparse. I'm on assignment in Austin, Texas where Yeti Coolers is opening its first retail store, which I'll be covering for a couple of different outlets. This is a bit of a homecoming for me, as I lived in Austin for nine years, so I'm looking forward to seeing how the city has changed since I moved away a few years ago.

That said, I should I have some free time to post a few stories while I'm away, although they may not be as numerous as usual. This is a short trip though. Just two days, so I'll be back on schedule again early next week, before heading out to Denver on another short trip.

We're in a bit of a calm period right now, with the spring climbing season in the Himalaya still more than a month away, and a couple of weeks until the start of the North Pole season as well. But, there are still some stories to keep an eye on, so if anything develops I'll be sure to post the news.

And to my friends back in Austin, I'll see you soon!

Video: Sliding Fire - Skiing and Snowboarding on an Active Volcano in the South Pacific

We've seen a lot of skiing and snowboarding films over the years, but none like this one. In this short documentary we travel to Vanuatu in the South Pacific where we join freeriders Xavier de le Rue, Victor De Le Rue, and Sam Smoothy as they test their skills on the side of an active volcano in a place where there is no snow. As you would expect, it turns out to be quite an adventure in a place that looks like paradise on Earth.

Gear Closet: Yaktrax Run Provides Traction on Snow and Ice

As an almost daily runner, I look forward to heading outside to get a workout in, no matter what the season is. In fact, while it is always nice to hit the road or trail in the warmer months, I also relish getting out in the winter, particularly because I know that most of my runner friends have retreated to the treadmill at the gym or in their homes. Heading out into the cold isn't all that difficult, you simply layer up and get moving, and before you know it you're plenty warm. But, the snow and ice can present an entirely different challenge, making an ordinary workout into a challenge just to stay on your feet. Thankfully, their are some lightweight, effective, and easy to use products that can help us overcome this issue as well, with the Yaktrax Run being one of the best I've personally used.

For those not familiar with Yaxtrax, the company makes a variety of product designed to help us stay on our feet in slick conditions. Their traction devices slip over your shoes, and secure themselves into place, providing a much better grip on a variety of wet and slick surfaces. Think of them as performing the same function as a set of crampons, without the long spikes.

As the name implies, the Run model was designed specifically with runners in mind. Made from high quality, durable rubber, the Yaktrax slide over your running shoes and lock into place using Velcro straps. Once properly installed, they stay in place and don't slide around or come loose, even after putting some serious miles on them. But when you no longer need them, they are also very easy to remove until the weather turns nasty again.

The Yaktrax Run provide improved grip on snow and ice thanks to the company's tried and true design. The back half of the product applies steel coils along the sole of the shoe that helps to keep runners from sliding as they plant their foot. But the front section of the Run have a more substantial rubber sole that includes tiny carbide spikes that can really dig into the ground for added stability. With these in place, you can set out on a run with confidence.

Peakery.com Relaunches with New Design, Mobile Support

Way back in 2011 I posted about a new website called Peakery.com that aimed to become an online community for climbers to share their outdoor adventures, gain information about various mountains, and plan their expeditions to summits great and small. Since that time, the site has continued to grow, and now boasts more than 11,000 members, 336,000 peaks climbed, and 117,000 summit posts. But, as is common with websites that are more than six years old, the owners knew it was time for a fresh coat of paint. They got that recently in the form of a site redesign, which brought some much needed new features, including support for mobile devices.

In a blog post announcing the new Peakery, ten of the new features are shared with members of the community, with things like now having the ability to add GPS tracks of your climbs, sharing summit routes, and getting updates on climbing news from your specific region. The site also boasts improved summit logs with more information, as well as better pages for sharing photos. You can even set challenges for yourself, and then check them off as you complete them, while also earning virtual awards for your accomplishments along the way.

But, easily the most important update to the site is that it now features responsive design that makes it accessible on more devices. Site designers say that Peakery 2.0 now has three independent designs, one for computers, another for tablets, and a third for use on a phone. The site also allows you to upload photos directly from your mobile device, get turn-by-turn directions to the trailhead, and more.

If you've been a member of Peakery.com for awhile now, these updates will probably be very welcome indeed. If you're a member that hasn't dropped by the site for some time, perhaps this will lure you back. But most of all, if you're not already a member, go ahead and sign up. You'll find a lot to love on the website, as it is a great resource for climbers everywhere.

Winter Climbs 2017: Txikon Not Done With Everest Yet!

Yesterday I reported that Spanish climber Alex Txikon and his climbing partners Nurbu and Chhepal Sherpa, had abandoned their summit bid on Everest after encountering high winds at Camp 4. At the time, the team was descending back to Base Camp, and it was unclear whether or not they would stay on the mountain or head home, as previously Txikon had said this would be the only attempt at the summit. But now, they're all safely back in BC and it is clear that the expedition is not over just yet.

Once back in Base Camp, Alex sent a Twitter message in which he says that he has not yet given up on the climb, and that he'll wait and see what the days ahead bring before leaving Everest. He also posted a detailed report of the team's summit bid, which includes insights into what they faced while above Camp 3. You may recall that the Spaniard was part of the team that made the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat last year, and he said that was much easier than what they faced on Everest. At times, he and his Sherpa companions couldn't even stand due to the high winds, and with temperatures dropping to -45ºC/-45ºF conditions were brutal. Fortunately, they all made it back down safely, although another member of the team is now going home due to injury.

According to the report, there was an avalanche on the descent that nearly wiped them off the mountain. While Alex came away mostly unscathed, Chhepal suffered a head injury and will depart for Kathmandu today. The team is now down to just five members as this war of attrition with the mountain wears on.

For now, the team will sit and wait, and watch the weather once again. Alex seems determined to give it another go despite his earlier predictions of a single summit push. Despite having to abandon the attempt on the summit, the team did climb back up to C4 and spend another night at C3, which should help their overall acclimatization. If the weather cooperates, they'll make another go of it once they are rested.

Like Alex and his team, all we do is wait for more news too.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Video: Iceland Under a Full Moon

Just when you thought Iceland couldn't get any more beautiful, we catch a glimpse of it illuminated by a big, bright, full moon. Join a group of friends as they go surfing and kayaking in an environment that has to be seen to be believed. Along the way, you'll also get a sense of everything that Iceland has to offer. And chances are, you're going to want to go there yourself.

Iceland under Full Moon from O Z Z O Photography on Vimeo.

Video: Rock Climbing Norway with Magnus Midtbo (Oh! And Alex Honnold Too! Sort of!)

In this video we head to Norway to take on some of that country's big walls with talented rock climber Magnus Midtbo. As you can imagine, the scenery is pretty epic, and Magnus gets a chance to show off his skills on some amazing rock faces. But, the headline for the video also implies that Alex Honnold is along for the ride, which really isn't the case. Sure, he shows up briefly, but then is quickly gone, so don't expect to see these two men doing too much together. Still, it is a nice look at some of the challenges that Norway has to offer.

Just in Time for Valentine's Day Nat Geo Lists the 17 Most Romantic Destinations in the World

World travelers listen up! If you're looking for a place to visit with your significant other, National Geographic is here to help. Just in time for Valentine's Day (Yes, that's today fellas'!) the experts at Nat Geo have given us a list of the 17 most romantic destinations on Earth

As you can imagine, the places that made the cut for this list are all pretty spectacular for a number of reasons. Most offer amazing views, some have a fantastic mix of history and culture, and pretty much all of them have an ambience about the setting that makes them special in very unique ways. You'll recognize some of the usual suspects, but others are a bit more off the beaten path and lesser known, which gives them an allure all their own.

So which destinations earned a spot on this list? As usual, I won't spoil the fun of finding out for yourself, but some of the highlights include the French Riviera, Bruges, Belgium, and Hamilton Island in Australia. Of course, the images that accompany the description of the places are all outstanding and will only increase your desire to visit these places even more. And as usual with any far-flung destination, there should be plenty of adventure to be had along the way too.

The 17 romantic destinations were paired down from a much longer list that is part of National Geographic book The World's Most Romantic Destinations, which is filled with even more suggestions of where to go and what to see with your Valentine. Speaking for myself, quite frankly I can't think of anyone I'd rather explore the world with. 

View the entire list here

Woman Sets Record for Fastest Person to Visit Every Country on Earth

An American woman named Cassie De Pecol has set a new world record for visiting every country on Earth in the fastest time ever, completing her whirlwind adventure in just 18 months and 26 days. Over the course of that time, she managed to see 196 different nations, averaging about one new destination every three days or so.

Cassie's round-the-world journey began back in July of 2015, and while she of course wanted to sample every culture on Earth, she had other plans in mind as well. De Pecol began traveling as an ambassador for the International Institute of Peace Through Tourism, and often met with dignitaries to discuss sustainable tourism as well. She remains committed to that goal even after her recent return home, and says that she'll plant trees to help offset some of the carbon footprint from her journey. "If you say, fly from Bangalore, India, to Colombo, Sri Lanka, you end up killing one tree during that flight, the goal is to plant two trees, for regenerative tourism, not just sustainable tourism," De Pecol told CNN.

While undertaking this goal of seeing the world, Cassie flew more than 255 times, which causes some to call her a hypocrite. She recognizes that criticism however and says that she has plans to plant trees in over 50 countries as part of her sustainable tourism efforts.

De Pecol faced more than a few challenges in visiting every country on Earth. Not the least off which was her American passport. U.S. citizens are not welcome in every country – including North Korea, Syria, and Turkmenistan. But, she found creative was to gain legal entry into all of those places, adding their stamps to her passport as she went.

Her other big challenge was funding the project. When she first started planning, she estimated that it would take $198,000. She managed to save $10,000 of her own, and raised the rest of the cash she needed by gathering sponsors. In the end, she was able to complete the trip, and in record time.

While reading this story, a couple of things came to mind. First, I'm pretty sure I could travel around the world for a lot less than $198,000, so I'd like to see how she came up with that budget. The other things is that my style of travel isn't one where I'd want to knock off a country every three days. I know she had other goals in mind, and that it wasn't about going on a leisurely trip, but I certainly would have liked to have spent more time in each of those places, speed record be damned.

That said, it is pretty amazing that she managed to get into all of these places, and I'm impressed with her persistence and dedication.

Winter Climbs 2017: Is It Over on Everest?

Yesterday, I posted an update on the progress of Alex Txikon and his team, who have been attempting a rare summit of Everest during the winter months, and without supplemental oxygen no less. When last we checked in, the team's summit bid had stalled out due to high winds, and they were forced to retreat to Camp 3 to seek shelter. Now, comes word that they are descending back to Base Camp, and that the expedition may be over.

As reported in that previous story, Alex, along with Nurbu and Chhepal Sherpa had reached C4 at 7950 meters (26,082 ft). But when they got there, the discovered that the winds were so strong that they couldn't even pitch their tents, so they elected to turn around and head back down to C3 to rest. At the time, the plan had been to wait for better weather to make the final push to the top. The winds were expected to remain strong through today, but good weather was in the forecast for later in the week. But now, the forecast may have shifted and the team seems to be heading back to BC.

According to ExWeb, Alex and his companions started back down the mountain this morning with the intent of going all the way back to Base Camp. Once there, they'll weigh their options and decide what to do next. There is a good chance however that they will elect to call off any future summit bids, as when they set off on this attempt the Spanish climber indicated that this would be their final push. If that's the case, it may be just a matter of a few days before they pick up their gear and start the trek home. On the other hand, they may decide that they have enough stamina, determination, and supplies to give it another go, provided the forecast looks promising.

For now, we'll have to wait to see how things proceed. We should know more in another day or two. It has been a long winter in the Himalaya for Txikon and his team, but they have also been climbing very strong and things have looked promising. Perhaps they're not quite done yet.