Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Video: Blessed in the (Australian) West

There is no question that Australia is a country blessed with amazing outdoor environments. From sprawling deserts to dense rainforests to wild coastlines, Australia has it all. This video takes us to the Australian west where we get a beautiful look at some of those places. If you haven't been "Down Under" yet, this will give you a little more incentive to go.

Blessed in the West from Thurston Photo on Vimeo.

Video: The Amazing Story of Alex Lowe and Conrad Anker

The discovery of the remains of Alex Lowe and David Bridges on Shishapangma has made headlines across the mountaineering community and beyond. That revelation has brought to the forefront Alex's friendship with Conrad Anker, and they way the loss of his friend changed Anker's life forever. This video from Outside TV provides the background on that story which remains extraordinarily touching even for those of us who already know it.

Gear Closet: Travel Tech From iClever

As someone who travels frequently for his job, I'm always on the look out for new items that can help make my life on the road more convenient and enjoyable. That often takes the form of some new tech gadget that is designed specifically with travelers in mind. Recently, I received a number of products from a company called iClever that definitely meet that description, delivering some great features at prices that are very affordable. Here's some thoughts on what I tested.

USB Wall Chargers (Prices Vary)
When traveling these days we usually carry a variety of tech gear with us. Everything from smartphones to tablets to digital cameras, not to mention portable game systems, e-readers, GPS devices, and host of other items. While each of them are wonderful for helping us to stay informed and entertained while on long flights or spending time in a tent, those gadgets are only useful as long as they can hold a charge. Fortunately, practically everything these days is charged using USB cables, and iClever offers some excellent wall chargers to help keep your technology up and running.

I received the 4-port BoostCube and 2-Port BoostCube, both of which function pretty much identically, other than the number of gadgets they can charge at the same time. Both of the chargers have SmartID technology that automatically detects the fastest speed your device can be charged, and adjusts the wattage provided accordingly. They both also have the ability to provide 2.4 amps per port, which means your gadgets will be powered up as quickly as possible. Similar devices from competitors often split the power between ports, increasing charge times as a result.

Men's Journal Gives Us a Three-Year Plan for Climbing Everest

For a lot of people, climbing Mt. Everest is the dream of a lifetime. But thinking about everything that goes into preparing and planning for such an expedition can be overwhelming. Fortunately, Men's Journal is here to help, giving us a three-year plan to making Everest not just a dream, but a reality.

MJ's article was actually written back in 2014, with the plan of reaching the summit of Everest in the spring of 2017. But, if you ignore the precise dates, and focus just on the plan itself, the schedule can remain the same. And fortunately for all of us, the training starts in May.

The first stage of the Everest prep plan is to start getting into shape. The article says that you should start getting ready by building a strong fitness base of cardio, strength, and balance. Over the course of the three year program, that will be the focus of getting your body ready for the challenges of the Himalaya.

Next up, you'll also need to start seeing how your body does at altitude, so the plan is to bag a 14er, or a fourteen-thousand foot peak. This will not only allow you to put your fitness gains to the test, it'll let you build leg strength and lung capacity. With its 53 different 14ers, Colorado is a natural destination to bag one of these mountains, but there are plenty of others around as well.

Himalaya Spring 2016: 5 Questions for Ueli Steck and David Göttler

One of the most interesting expeditions that is currently taking place in the Himalaya is Ueli Steck and David Göttler's attempt to summit Shishapangma along a new route. The two men made headlines over the weekend when they discovered the remains of Alex Lowe and David Bridges along the route they plan to ascend, but for those of us who have been watching their progress, there was other important news, namely that they have now completed their acclimatization and are simply waiting for a weather window before they begin their fast, alpine style ascent. Before that happens, German journalist Stefan Nestler has sent five questions to the dynamic duo as they wait in Base Camp, and their answers are very interesting indeed.

As usual, I won't spoil all of the questions and answers, but just tell you that Stefan asks some of the things we've all been wondering about, like which one of the two men is the most fit and the fastest. Both Ueli and David are known for being fleet of foot in the mountains, and they say that they are simply enjoying climbing with one another since they know the other is capable of staying with them throughout the expedition.

Stefan also asks them about their unusual acclimatization process (trail running in the Khumbu Valley), the current conditions on the mountain, details on the route they intend to climb, and about their experience in the region one year after the Nepali earthquake. As you can imagine, they have some good things to share on all of these topics. Of course, they are also eager to get started on the actual ascent, which hopefully can happen starting later this week.

Elsewhere, teams on Everest are now starting to retreat back to BC after rotations up to Camp 3 for a round of acclimatization. Despite the fact that there have been a lot of reports of avalanches on the mountain in recent days, it should be noted that there have been no injuries and the route has been repaired where ever these ice slides have occurred. In other words, the season is progressing about as smoothly and normally as it has in the past five years, with teams going about their business quickly and efficiently. If all goes according to plan, they should be ready to make summit bids – weather permitting – sometime around the middle of the month.

That's all for today. More news from the Himalaya as we get it.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Video: Paddling China's Salween River

This video takes us to a remote region of China with Travis Winn, a paddler who visited the same area 15 years ago to make the first descent of the Salween River with his father. Now, he has returned to that same waterway, which is being threatened by damming, to take us on a tour of this amazing part of the world, which is increasingly altered by the industrialization of the landscape.

Salween Spring from NRS Films on Vimeo.

Video: Photographing the Wolves of Yellowstone National Park

The May issue of National Geographic magazine is dedicated completely to the world's first national park – Yellowstone. When preparing to release the issue Nat Geo sent a team of photographers to the park to capture the landscapes and wildlife that exist there. Amongst them was Ronan Donovan who was charged with shooting photos of the wolves that live there. In this video, he talks about the challenges and rewards of that assignment, which was unlike any other he'd had before.

Help Expedition Alaska Crowdfunding Efforts, Get Some Cool Gear

Last summer I was part of the team that put on the Expedition Alaska adventure race, during which we hosted some of the best AR teams in the world on a grueling 400+ mile (643 km) course through the Alaskan wilderness. It was an epic event, held in an epic location, that was both thrilling to watch unfold and rewarding to be a part of.

The race was filmed by a talented crew of faculty and students from the University of Cincinnati, which has a unique and innovative Production Master Class that is taught by CCM Professor Kevin Burke, DAAP Professor Yoshiko Burke and UC/CCM Alumnus and Emmy award-winning producer Brian J. Leitten. That group spent days in the field filming the race, capturing some amazing footage in the process. Now, they're looking to crowdfund a documentary, offering adventure racing fans a look at this amazing event. 

A few days ago, the team behind the documentary launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $25,000 that will allow them to finish the project and produce 4 half-hour long episodes that show the drama and challenge of Expedition Alaska. There are multiple levels of pledges to be had - starting as low as $5 – which deliver some great perks to those who contribute to the cause. Those perks include everything from copies of the finished product, digital downloads of a "making of" documentary, and even some excellent outdoor gear. 

In an effort to help out the cause, I am donating some gear to help raise funds. In fact, there is a special "The Adventure Blogger" perk for someone who is willing to donate $500 to the campaign. If you select this perk, I will send you a mystery gear package that will definitely exceed the amount that you are contributing. You'll also receive all of the other perks that fall below that funding level too. 

The video below is the trailer for Expedition Alaska, and gives you a good idea of what to expect from this project. If you'd like to learn more, check out the Indiegogo page here.  

EXPEDITION ALASKA TRAILER from Hyperion XIII Productions on Vimeo.

Himalaya Spring 2016: Summits on Annapurna, Avalanches on Everest, and More

On top of the big news of the discovery of the remains of Alex Lowe and David Bridges on Shishapangma that broke this past weekend, there is quite a few other updates to share from the Himalaya today too. And with May now upon us, the season is rapidly slipping by with potential summit bids now just a few weeks away.

Over on Annapurna this weekend it was already summit day for a number of climbers. The first teams topped out on Saturday, with others following suit on Sunday. The weather was reportedly quite good, with low winds and great conditions on the summit. This followed days of less than ideal weather which had kept the climbers stuck in Base Camp, but once the forecast improved, they were on the move quickly, going from BC to Camp 4 over the course of two or three days. That put them in a position to top out over the weekend, with a good weather window holding long enough for everyone to get up and down safely.

All told, 30 climbers managed to reach the summit of Annapurna this past weekend, with 16 of those mountaineers being Nepali Sherpas. Amongst the foreign climbers were Aussie Chris Jensen Burke and Spaniard Carlos Soria, whom we've been following on expeditions for several years. For Soria, this was his 12th 8000-meter peak, and at the age of 77 he is now the oldest to ever summit the mountain.

The Remains of Alex Lowe and David Bridges Found on Shishapangma

There is a lot of news to report from the Himalaya over this past weekend, but I felt this story warranted its own post. One of the big stories to break over the past few days is that the remains of climbers Alex Lowe and David Bridges were discovered on Shishapangma more than 16 years after they went missing there.

Back in October of 1999, Lowe and Bridges – along with Conrad Anker – were part of an expedition to the 8027 meter (26,335 ft) mountain. The three men were scouting their route in anticipation of their ascent when an avalanche struck, sweeping Alex and David away in the process. Anker survived and was joined by other members of the team, who swept the face of the mountain for signs of their fallen comrades. They didn't find a trace of them.

Those of you familiar with this story know what happened next. Anker returned home, grieving for the loss of Lowe who was his best friend. He sought solace with Alex's widow Jenni, and the two eventually married with Conrad becoming the step father to the couple's son. In the years that have followed, Anker has gone on to be one of the most accomplished alpinists of his generation.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Video: Awakening - A Timelapse Journey Through Colorado's Rocky Mountains

We'll finish out the week with this beautiful six-minute video that takes us on a journey through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It is an amazing look at a part of the world that always captivates me every time I visit. Enjoy and have a great weekend!

AWAKENING 4K from Taylor Gray on Vimeo.

Video: For the Love of the Climb

In this video, mountaineers Cory Richards and Mark Jenkins share their passion for climbing in the big mountains and what drives them to take sometimes extreme risks in the high places of our planet. It is an insightful look at why alpinists do the things they do, offering some explanation of what the mountains mean to them. For those who don't understand the mountaineering culture, this might provide a bit of an explanation.

Video: Ripcord Travel Protection for Adventurers

A few days back I posted a story on 5 reasons why you need to use adventure travel insurance, and keeping that idea in mind, I have a video that comes our way via Ripcord Travel Protection, a company I've worked with in the past.  This clip actually gives us a rundown of Ripcord's coverage, which includes emergency evacuations from remote corners of the globe. I witnessed just such an evacuation on Kilimanjaro last year, and Ripcord not only retrieved trekkers from Nepal following the earthquake last year, but has rescued several who were suffering from altitude sickness this year too. If you're someone who finds themselves often visiting wild places, you need to have Ripcord on your radar.

The Last Great March Will Take Explorers Across Simpson Desert and to the North Pole

As the 2016 Arctic exploration season starts to wind down, we now get word of yet another attempt to ski the full distance to the North Pole. Adventurers Sebastian Copeland and Mark George are planning on making that journey in 2017 as part of what they call The Last Great March, a project that also includes a self-supported journey across Australia's Simpson Desert as well.

The two men – who has extensive exploration and adventure credits on their resume – first plan to set out from Ellesmere Island in Canada next February in an attempt to ski 775 km (481 miles) to the Geographic North Pole at 90ºN. They'll travel on skis over the ice, dragging their sleds filled with gear and equipment behind them as they go, with the hope of finishing the journey in under 49 days. Along the way, they'll face unpredictable weather, ice rubble fields, large open leads of water, and possibly even polar bears. If they can actually pull it off, they'll be the first team to complete the full journey to the North Pole since 2014, and quite possibly the last to do so.

But the expedition to the North Pole is only one phase of the Last Great March project. Sebastian and Mark are also planning of trekking for 520 km (323 miles) across the Simpson Desert, the driest place on the Australian continent. To do so, they'll need to pull specially built carts carrying 400 pounds (181 kg) of gear and equipment, much of which will consist of the water they'll need to survive in this inhospitable place. While out in the desert they'll face intense heat, dehydration, massive sand dunes, and a variety of poisonous snakes.

The goal of The Last Great March is to not only push the boundaries of human endurance in remote and difficult settings but also to record the impact of climate change on these places. It will be interesting to see how these expeditions play out, particularly in the Arctic. We had one team announce a full-distance expedition to the North Pole this year, and that didn't end so well. Will this team have more success next year? We'll have to wait to see.

Himalaya Spring 2016: Annapurna Summit Push is On, Progress Elsewhere

It is safe to say that the spring climbing season in the Himalaya is now in full swing, with teams now focused on acclimatization and preparation for eventual summit bids. For the most part, it has been a relatively quiet season so far, which is a welcome change from the past few years when we've seen everything from brawls on Everest to tragic deaths to serious disagreements between climbers. But so far this year, there has been a sense of calm pervading the entire region, which could lead to a very successful return to form. 

We'll start today's update with news from Annapurna, where several teams are now on the move with the hope of topping out over the next few days. The plan is to reach Camp 4 tomorrow, spend a brief time resting there, and then launching the final push to the top. At the moment, the weather looks like it will be good, with winds dying off as they climb higher. If everything goes according to plan, they should complete the ascent on Sunday, May 1, most likely ending the season on Annapurna for the year. 

Over on Everest, a ladder was expected to be installed along the route up the Lhotse Face that was closed yesterday due to an ice collapse. That ladder will help the teams overcome this new obstacle in a safe fashion and allow them to continue on to Camp 3 as part of their acclimatization efforts. We're also told that the Sherpa team that is fixing ropes up the mountain is progressing nicely, and should finish their work all the way to the summit in the first week of May. After that, it'll just be a matter of when the teams are properly prepared for the altitude and a weather window opens to the summit. Most likely that will occur around the middle of May. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Video: Meet Nat Geo Wildlife Photographer Joe Riis

Joe Riis has one of those jobs we all dream of. He is a wildlife photographer for National Geographic an occupation that takes him to wild and remote places all over the world. In this video, we learn more about Joe and his job, but also discover that even when you lead an adventurous life, there are still plenty of challenges to finding happiness and contentment. This is a clip you shouldn't miss. Particularly if you're looking to lead a more fulfilling life.

Joe from Andy Maser on Vimeo.

Video: Mountain Biking the Albula Haute Route in Switzerland

If you're in need of three-and-a-half minutes of pure mountain biking porn, this video will be just what you're looking for. It takes us to the Albula Valley of Switzerland to ride the Haute Route there, with some stunning scenery serving as a dramatic backdrop. This is the kind of ride that mountain bikers live for, with beautiful single track, snowcapped peaks overhead, and lush forest all around.

Trail Tales - Episode 02: Albula Haute Route from Filme von Draussen on Vimeo.

Gear Closet: Rumpl Down Puffy Performance Blanket

When it comes to warmth and comfort in cold weather conditions, it it hard to beat a good puffy jacket. In fact, they are often so cozy that we're sometimes reluctant to take them off, even when we get inside. But what if you had a warm puffy of another kind to help keep you warm after you've pulled your jacket off? That's the premise behind the Down Puffy performance blanket from Rumpl, which is so comfy that you'll want to buy two just to avoid arguments over who gets to wrap up in it.

Much like that down jacket that you love so much, this blanket is made with 20D ripstop nylon complete with a DWR coating to help repel moisture. That same coating also helps it to resist stains and odor too, something that comes in handy not only at home, but around the campsite as well.

Stuffed with 600 fill duck down insulation, the Down Puffy is incredibly soft, warm, and comfortable, without being overly bulky. In fact, it is highly packable, which makes it easy to carry with you anywhere. It even comes with a nice stuff sack to help compress it down to a small footprint when you need to stuff it into a backpack, duffel, or piece of luggage. And since Rumpl uses Dry Down water resistant fill, you literally can take this with you to the backyard, the cabin, or a tent in the backcountry without fear.

Adventures in... Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia isn't a destination that typically ranks high on the list of places for adventure travelers to visit, but my friend Richard Bangs recently shared his experiences there, which included visits to museums and historical sites, camping in the Empty Quarter, and a dizzying array of other wonders, both modern and ancient.

Richard describes the Kingdom as the "hardest place in the world to visit," but yet he finds plenty of friendly, accommodating people that welcomed him. Along the way he had the opportunity to explore some truly amazing places, including the Lost City of Qaryat Al Fau – the remains of a civilization that dates back to 1 B.C. – and the tombs of Qasr Al Farid, which are carved out of a single giant sandstone monolith in the desert.

Most visitors to Saudi Arabia come on a religious pilgrimage, although there is a tourism sector there that is growing slowly. The country has very restrictive visa restrictions, which include requiring visitors to have a sponsor before they arrive. Most visa are issued for business purposes only, with general tourism still remaining mostly off limits. In fact, the only company that currently offers regular tours of the Kingdom is Mountain Travel Sobek, which Richard is a co-founder of.

Read more about his adventures in Saudi Arabia in this article from HuffPo, and if you're looking for something a little closer to home, Richard also has details on what he calls "far and away, flat out, the West's best road trip."

Himalaya Spring 2016: Lhotse Face Closed on Everest, Annapurna Summit Push Begins

More news from the Himalaya today where the spring climbing season continues to unfold at a quick pace. But today we learn that acclimatization efforts are at a standstill on Everest, while teams on Annapurna are once again on the move.

The big news of the day is that the Lhotse Face on Everest is closed due to the collapse of an ice ledge on the mountain. The collapse occurred along the route from Camp 2 to Camp 3, where some teams were already moving up as part of their latest round of acclimatization rotations. All teams have reportedly retreated to C2, where everyone seems to be safe. Thankfully, there doesn't appear to be any casualties.

The collapse occurred this morning local time in Nepal. The teams there are now examining their options for climbing higher, which could involve using ladders to climb over the chunks of ice or a longer route that goes around the area where the collapse occurred. It will probably take a couple of days to sort things out, as ladders would need to be carried up the mountain to be put into place or any potential detours will need to be scouted before teams attempt to go around.

In other Everest news, it has also been reported that a Sherpa collapsed in Camp 1 today. He was immediately treated for altitude sickness, placed on oxygen, and evacuated to Lukla. Now that he is at lower altitude, he is expected to recover completely.

Elsewhere, over on Annapurna a new summit bid is now under way. Teams have started to move up this morning with the hope of topping out on Sunday, May 1. About 30 climbers, including 10 Sherpas, have begun to move up, with Aussie Chris Jensen Burke and Spaniard Carlos Soria amongst the group. If all goes according to plan, they should reach C4 by Saturday and launch their bid that evening with the plan of summiting on Sunday morning. Hopefully the weather will hold, allowing them to safely get up and down.

That's all for now. More news as it comes in.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Video: A Look at the Hardrock 100 Trail Race

The Hardrock 100 is one of the toughest running races in the world, covering 100 miles (160 km) of tough trail and featuring 33,000 feet (10,058 meters) of climbing. It runs from Silverton to Telluride in Colorado, crossing the San Juan Mountain Range in the process. In this video, we get a good profile of the event, which holds a special place in the hearts of many endurance runners from around the world. After watching this, you'l start to understand why.

Video: 5 Things to Know Before You Go on an Adventure

Before you set out on your next adventure, you'll want to watch this video. It comes our way from National Geographic, and it shares advice that a team of climbers learned while traveling to Myanmar to climb the highest peak in Southeast Asia. That expedition wasn't an easy one, with lots of challenges to overcome before they ever reached the mountain. But what they learned along the way was invaluable.

Gear Closet: Skins DNAmic Compression Shirt

With as much running and cycling as I do, I've become a convert to the benefits of compression. Not only do I feel like it helps me to perform better out on the road, but recover faster after my workouts as well. These benefits come from the fact that compression gear helps to stimulate the flow of blood to our muscles, while reducing lactic acids as well, bringing some excellent benefits along with it.

One of my favorite companies that provides compression gear for my workout is SKINS. In colder weather I frequently wear a pair of their tights, and during the warmer month I break out the SKINS shorts. Later, I'll even don a pair of recovery tights to help get my legs ready for the next workout the following day. Recently, I had a chance to check out the new DNAmic Compression Shirt as well, and true to form it delivers positive benefits too.

Like SKINS compression tights and shorts, this short sleeve shirt is designed to help stimulate the flow of oxygen to our muscles, helping to improve performance in the process. In particular, this shirt is meant to aid the muscles in our shoulders, chest, and core, providing more power and faster recovery post workout.

Massive Reef Discovered at the Mouth of the Amazon River

Here's a story that is further proof that our world still has a lot of mysteries and surprises to share with us. Scientists have discovered a massive coral reef hidden under the muddy waters at the mouth of the Amazon River in South America. The discovery comes at a crucial stage however, as the region has already been charted by petroleum companies looking to plumb its depth for oil.

Indications that the reef might exist first appeared back in the 1970's when fishermen began catching fish that were more commonly found on and around reefs in other parts of the world. But confirmation of the existence of this particular reef didn't come until recently, when researchers were finally able to prove that against all our knowledge and understanding of the ocean that it was hidden away along the coast of Brazil.

The reef stretches for nearly 700 miles (1126 km), and is more than 3600 sq. miles (9300 sq. km) in size. It is also said to be home to at least 60 species of sponges and 73 species of fish. Even more surprising is the fact that unlike other reefs found around the world, this one appears to be very healthy, and even growing. Climate change has begun to warm the oceans, which is causing coral reefs to die at an alarming rate. But this one is not displaying those same symptoms.

What makes this new reef so amazing is that it exists in a place that it was previously believed one shouldn't be able to survive. While it is submerged in ocean waters, the surface of the Atlantic is covered in fresh water that is dumped in from the might Amazon River. The river also deposits plenty of mud and sentiment into the water, which is typically not conducive to the growth of coral either. On top of that, oceanographers typically find reefs in shallower waters that are warmer and clearer than where this one exists. This has left some scientists to wonder if other reefs are out there in our oceans, just waiting to be found.

Himalaya Spring 2016: 4 Deaths in 5 Days Cast Shadow Over the Himalaya

Despite the fact that the spring climbing season in the Himalaya seems to be proceeding about as smoothly as can be expected following the challenges of the past few years, there are still some dark clouds hanging over the big mountains. The Himalayan Times is now reporting that four foreign climbers have lost their lives in the past five days, breaking the sense of safety and serenity that has hovered over the region so far this year.

Two of the deaths came on Shishapangma, where a Swiss climber named Patrik Mattioli and an Austrian named Jon David Johnson fell from a fixed rope into a crevasse. The accident occurred on April 24 at 6200 meters (20,341 ft) as the two men were climbing up from Advanced Base Camp. They were apparently killed immediately.

Meanwhile, over on Everest, a Japanese climber named Hidenori Hagi passed away in Base Camp on the same day. He was being treated for altitude sickness at the time, but succumbed to the illness. His body was retrieved and flown back to Kathmandu.

The fourth death also occurred in the Khumbu Valley yesterday. An unnamed Korean climber died of altitude sickness while returning from Lobuche Peak. Details on the incident remain sparse, with local officials still investigating the incident, although it seems to be a simple case of HACE or HAPE claiming another life.