Thursday, January 29, 2015

Video: Timelapse Over the Aletsch Glacier

The Aletsch Glacier is the largest in the Alps, and it makes for an amazing backdrop to this beautiful timelapse video. The scenes shown in this short clip were taken over several years and are a compilation of the best shots from photographer Markus Eihenberger. I think you'll find them breathtakingly beautiful.

ALETSCH ARENA DAY & NIGHT from Markus Eichenberger Photography on Vimeo.

Video: Rock Climbing in Israel is Illegal, Meet the Man Trying to Change That

I wasn't aware that rock climbing was illegal in Israel, but thanks to this video from EpicTV we get to meet the man who is hoping to change that. His name is Ofer Blutrich and he is working to raise awareness within the climbing community of the prohibition of the sport in his country. He freely admits that he knows Israel has a lot of other problems that it is facing, but he is trying to convince authorities there that repealing the ban on climbing could be good for the tourist economy, particularly since there are some good spots to climb there. It is an interesting story, and there are plenty of great climbing shots in the video as well.

Video: Clouds Over the Grand Canyon

This video comes our way courtesy of the National Parks Service. It is a short timelapse shot of the Grand Canyon that was just posted yesterday. The clip condenses 30 minutes of realtime down to just a single minute of video that shows the amazing cloud cover that enveloped the Canyon. As you can see, the clouds formed below the rim, creating an eerie sight for anyone who came to catch a glimpse of the magnificent landscapes there.

Lance Armstrong Admits That He Would Dope Again

Lance Armstrong is back in the news once again this week thanks to an interview he gave to the BBC. In that interview Lance talks openly about life after his ban from professional cycling – or competing in any sports for that matter – saying that the fallout from his confession to doping throughout his career has been "heavy." But the part of the interview that continues to make headlines is when the former seven-time winner of the Tour de France admits that he would "probably do it again" in regards to using performance enhancing drugs while racing. This quote has of course let many shaking their heads, particularly if it is taken out of the context of the interview. But if you step back and take a look at what Lance is saying, his words really should come as much of a surprise.

During the interview Lance is asked if he had to do it over again, would he still use PEDs. His answer was "If I was racing in 2015, no, I wouldn't do it again because I don't think you have to," In that statement Armstrong is saying he'd ride clean if he were part of the peloton today, because the sport is cleaner in general But he goes on to follow up that sentence by saying "If you take me back to 1995, when doping was completely pervasive, I would probably do it again."

The sport of cycling has come a long way since Armstrong dominated the Tour back in the late 90's and early 2000's. It is indeed cleaner, although it is far from perfect. But when Lance was winning races testing for EPO and other banned substances was either primitive or nonexistent altogether. Practically everyone who was riding at the time was using some kind PED to get ahead. When most of the peloton was taking part in the practice, riders had little choice but to either get with the program, or be completely left behind by the sport.

Winter Climbs 2015: Summit Push Begins on Nanga Parbat

The last time we checked in on the teams on Nanga Parbat they were hunkered down in Base Camp waiting out poor weather. Reportedly high winds, heavy snow, and extremely cold temperatures had fallen on mountain, and there was nothing they could do but wait for a weather window. Apparently conditions have started to change, as the Russian squad on the Rupal Face has now launched a summit bid.

According to Russian climb the team of Nickolay Totmjanin, Valery Shamalo, Serguey Kondrashkin and Victor Koval sent an SMS message sent earlier in the day indicating that they have started to go back up the mountain. The message was short, and to the point, simply saying "We begin to climb up." That text message follows one sent yesterday that indicated that the team had re-opened the route  the route from 3600 meters (11,811 ft) to 4600 meters (15,091 ft). That section of the climb was no doubt choked with snow from the recent storms.

Previously we knew that the Russians had established a series of camps up to 7100 meters (23,293 ft). That would put them within striking distance of the 8126 meter (26,660 ft) summit, although there is still a great deal of altitude to be gained in that push. If they hope to put up the first winter ascent of Nanga, it will still require a herculean effort on their part, no to mention a prolonged break in the weather.

You may recall that earlier in the season Polish climber Tomek Mankiewicz and his climbing partner Elisabeth Revol from France, were able to reach 7800 meters (25,590 ft) but were turned back du to high winds. We'll just have to wait to see if the Russians have more success.

Meanwhile, reports indicate that Spanish climber Alex Txikon has reached Base Camp on the Diamir side of the mountain. He arrived there a few days back, and like everyone else he is waiting for the weather to clear. He has established his campsite and is preparing to head up the mountain – along with climbing partners Muhammad Ali Sadpara and Muhammad Kahn. No word yet on when they'll begin their acclimatization rotations, but I'd expect that to start happening soon.

Finally, there has been no recent updates from Italian climber Daniele Nardi, who is probably in BC at the moment as well. He has completed his acclimatization rotations and should soon be ready for a summit bid of his own. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and he can launch his bold solo attempt.

That's all for now. I'll post more news as warranted.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Video: Timedrift - Alpine Settings Captured in Timelapse and 4K

You'll be hard pressed to find another timelapse video as beautiful as this one. Shot in and around the Italian and Swiss Alps, it features some beautiful alpine images that are simply breathtaking. This is two minutes and forty-five seconds of pure bliss for anyone who loves the mountains. And if you're fortunate enough to own a 4K monitor, the entire video is available here in that format as well. Enjoy!

TIMEDRIFT | ALPINE 4K TIMELAPSE from Martin Heck | Timestorm Films on Vimeo.

Video: Altai - The Road and the River

This past summer, expedition kayaker Chris Korbulic traveled to the Altai Mountains of Russia to explore the wilderness and paddle the rivers found there. This short film shares that adventure with us, delivering some amazing images from that remote place, mixed with some impressive paddling on rivers that are seldom seen by outsider. Chris and his team discovered some epic whitewater along the way, with massive waterfalls, narrow canyons, and some truly wild destinations. This is a truly great piece of filmmaking with some breathtaking shots on and off the water.

Altai - The Road and the River from chris korbulic on Vimeo.

Video: Mountain Biking Norway

This far too short video gives us an amazing glimpse of what it is like to mountain bike near the Fjords of Norway. The footage was shot in the incredible looking Romsdalen Valley, which looks to have some amazing trails for riders to explore. The clip appears to be a promo for Visit Norway that is meant to entice visitors to the region. I'd say it will be fairly successful judging from what I've seen here.

Antarctica 2014: Final Team Safely Back at Union Glacier

Yesterday I noted that the final Antarctic ski team had reached the finish line at Hercules Inlet after skiing for 74 days straight. Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel, along with guide Are Johnson, had set out from the Ronne-Filchner Ice Shelf back in November and had managed to traverse the Antarctic continent via the South Pole. By the time they wrapped up their journey yesterday they had covered 2045 km (1270 miles), pushing through the last 45 km (28 miles) in a grueling 18 hour dash to the end. The trio had been racing against the clock to catch the last plane out, and fortunately they had made it just in time.

When they reached Hercules yesterday the trio of skiers were exhausted, weak, and hungry. Low on supplies, all they could do was crawl into their tent, rest, and wait for a plane to come pick them up. That happened earlier today when they were plucked from the ice and flown safely back to the camp and Union Glacier. According to their final dispatch they arrived just in time to enjoy a fine pancake breakfast. Something I'm sure was greatly appreciated.

Stéphanie, Jérémie, and Are now await a flight back to Punta Arenas, Chile, which will bring an end to their Antarctic adventure. That flight could come as early as today depending on weather conditions. Their departure from the frozen continent will bring an end to the current season there, as the weather will now take a turn for the worse, making travel impossible. But as I write this, other explorers and adventurers are already planning for the next Antarctic expedition season, which will get underway in November of this year.

The 2014 season was a relatively quiet one compared to recent years. But still, there were some terrific milestones achieved. In addition to the impressive traverse from this trio, we also saw Frédérick Dion kite-ski to the Pole of Inaccessibility before continuing on to the South Pole as well. Frédérick would eventually traverse the continent too, using the wind to pull him along. Equally impressive was Newall Hunter's efforts in the Antarctic. He managed to complete a solo-ski to the South Pole before heading over to Mt. Vinson to summit that peak while he was in the neighborhood. Not a bad effort on his part either.

Now, the curtain falls on the 2014 season and we'll turn our attention elsewhere. It is a bit of a quiet time in the world of outdoor adventure, but the spring Himalaya climbing season looms, and it should be a good one.

Sky Runner Kilian Jornet in The New Yorker

Kilian Jornet's amazing success in the mountains continues to earn him plenty of mainstream press. We've seen the Spanish sky runner garner attention from a number of unexpected sources as word of his exploits has spread to more traditional media outlets. The latest such outlet is The New Yorker, which recently published an excellent profile of the man who is setting new standards for speed on some of the world's most challenging peaks.

The article catches up with Kilian on Aconcagua, a mountain that he summited back in December, setting a new speed record in the process. It discusses his previous speed records on mountains Denali in Alaska and Mont Blanc in France. It even mentions his attempt at Elbrus, which was turned back due to high winds. The New Yorker says he'll give that mountain another go later this year, but at the moment he is squarely focused on training for Everest in the spring. The tallest peak on the planet will bring new challenges to Jornet, not the least of which will be the extreme altitude.

This profile takes us to Aconcagua Base Camp where we get a glimpse of Kilian's routine while on the mountain. His needs are simple as he shares the campsite with his girlfriend Emelie Forsberg, who is an accomplished mountain runner in her own right. The two make their own meals, boil water for tea, and generally keep each other company as they both prepared to challenge the speed records on the mountain. Due to the high altitude of Aconcagua, the tallest peak outside of Asia at 6962 meters (22,841 ft), both athletes had to take their time with the acclimatization process.

The story offers some good details about Kilian's speed record on the mountain, as well as his intentions for the year ahead. In a few months, he'll head to the Himalaya, where he'll be attempting to set a new "fastest known time" on the North Side of Everest. That makes good sense, as the Tibetan side of the mountain is far less crowded than the busy South Side in Nepal. The route is just as challenging of course, but he also won't have to contend with the tricky Khumbu Icefall, a traditional bottleneck for climbers that can cause progress to slow to a craw at times. On the North Side he'll still have to contend with plenty of obstacles however, not the least of which will be the Second Step.

Still, if anyone can set a new speed record on the Big Hill, it'll probably be Kilian. And you can bet that we'll be following his progress closely this spring. We're two months away from the arrival of the first teams in Nepal, and the anticipation for another season is already starting to grow.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Video: Exploring Norway with a Wildlife Photographer

This video takes us on an incredible journey through Norway with wildlife photographer Michael Martinez has he goes in search of the perfect shots of animals in their natural habitat. He finds plenty of wildlife to shoot, but it is the stunning landscapes of Scandinavian country that will leave you breathless. The clip takes us to some truly wild places, with amazing images of those remote destinations. Beautiful.

NORWAY - A WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER'S JOURNEY from Romain Decomble on Vimeo.

Video: The First Ascent of Peixe Porco (9a)

For more than two years climber Leopoldo Faria attempted to complete a project that he calls Peixe Porco, a tough route located near Sagres, Portugal. The climb is rated a 9a in difficulty, which translates to a 5.14d on the Yosemite Decimal Scale. In other words, it is an incredibly hard route that challenged Leopoldo for months. But on March 2, 2013 he was able to overcome it at last. The beautiful video below shows that complete climb, and gives us a brief glimpse of exactly why this is such an tough climb.

Peixe Porco 9a – first ascent from Hands Up Creations on Vimeo.

The Best Gear of Winter Outdoor Retailer 2015

The 2015 Outdoor Retailer Winter Market gear show wrapped up this past weekend. The bi-annual event attracts the biggest gear companies in the world to show off their latest and greatest products, most of which won't arrive on store shelves until this coming fall. As usual, there were a host of interesting products on display, some of which were even truly groundbreaking. In fact, there was so much good stuff to see, that the Gear Junkie had to post his best of show selections in two different articles.

In Part 1 of his "Best of Show" round-up we get a look at a super-comfortable looking new hiking boot from Hoka, an avalanche air-bag system from The North Face, and a versatile new crampon developed by Black Diamond. There is also an ultra-light hammock from Eno, and a new moveable goggle lens design from Julbo, amongst other products.

Part 2 of the "Best of Show" round-up introduces us to a charger for our smartphones that provides power from a candle, as well as a new shoe from Under Armour that incorporates the tread from a fat tire mountain bike. There is also a cool device called the Fogo that incorporates a GPS device and two-way radio into a 1000-lumen flashlight. There is also a new battery pack for your GoPro courtesy of Brunton which not only provides a 400-lumen light, but promises to keep your camera running for 24 hours.

This is just a small taste of the gear that GJ highlighted from the show, and what he spotlights is just a tiny fraction of all of the items that were unveiled at Outdoor Retailer. Some of what was unveiled there will be arriving in your favorite gear shop soon, but much if it is slated for release in the Fall/Winter of 2015. This gives you plenty of time to start saving your pennies for that one item you need to complete your gear closet.

Winter Climbs 2015: No Progress on Nanga Parbat

Poor weather has arrived on Nanga Parbat, stalling out climbing efforts on that mountain, where no less than four teams will be trying to complete the first winter ascent. The notoriously difficult peak has already sent one team home this year, and now it is looking to repel all-comers once again. But there is a little less than two months to go in the season, and teams aren't ready to give up just yet.

We'll start with an update on the team that has departed Base Camp. Polish climber Tomek Mankiewicz is now in the town of Gilgit where he is receiving treatment for an injured leg and broken ribs that he suffered as a result of a fall down a crevasse while making his descent following a summit push. He also has severe frostbite in his toes, which may need to be amputated. He will likely spend a few more days there before he starts his journey home. 

Meanwhile, Tomek's climbing part Elisabeth Revol is already back home in France. There was a bit of confusion in the report about her departure last week, as it wasn't clear if she had left BC for home or had gone back up the mountain to try another summit push. It is now more than clear that she has returned home, doing so without even saying goodbye to the other teams in Base Camp. In a post-climb interview with ExWeb Elisabeth says that she now believes that the mountain is unclimbable for the winter, as poor wether has set in. She and Tomek spent 10 days trying to reach the top and were turned back. With that weather window now closed, she feels that there won't be another one for this winter, which is why she decided to leave.  

Italian climber Danielle Nardi remains in Base Camp on the Diamir Face and is waiting for the weather to clear so he can go back up the mountain. With his acclimatization now complete, he is also ready to stock his high camp with supplies and potentially press on towards the summit. But it has been snowing for several days now, and hurricane-force winds have arrived on the mountain, making it impossible for anyone to climb at the moment. Everyone is stuck in BC and waiting for a weather window to open. 

Over on the Rupal Face, the Russian team of Nickolay Totmjanin, Valery Shamalo, Serguey Kondrashkin and Victor Koval have not updated their progress for a few days. The last we heard, they had climbed up to 7100 meters (23,293 ft) as they established camps up the side of the mountain. Presumably they are back in BC as well and waiting for their opportunity too. 

Finally, two new teams are set to arrive on the Diamir side soon. Alex Txikon, along with two local climbers – Muhammad Ali Sadpara and Muhammad Kahn – should reach Base Camp within the next few days, while the Iranian squad of Reza Bahadorani, Iraj Maani and Mahmood Hashemi are a few days further back. They'll arrive on a mountain that is now displaying the full challenges of climbing during the winter season, and it won't be a warm greeting. 

Antarctica 2014: Final Team Reaches the Coast

The 2014 Antarctic season is nearly over, and the last plane is scheduled to fly out of Union Glacier tomorrow, weather permitting. The final few weeks have not been easy for the last team out on the ice, as they have raced against the clock to get back to Hercules Inlet in time for departure. Their struggle was compounded by poor weather, deep snow, and harsh winds, but today they have completed their journey, and are now ready to head home at last.

The trio of Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel, and guide Are Johnson, have completed a 2045 km (1270 mile) round trip journey from the coast to the South Pole, and back again. Their expedition took them 74 days to complete, and has left them exhausted, but extremely proud and satisfied with their efforts.  The final dispatch announcing their arrival at Hercules was posted earlier today and it reads as follows:
WE MADE IT !!!
74 days, 2045km. A lot of new records set. 45km in 18hrs the last day... 
A lot more on the blog in the days to come. (Text-pics) just have to sleep a little first.. 
Thanks to all of you who have followed the blog. 
Cheers from Are

As you can see, they had an extremely tough final day skiing 45 km (28 miles) over an 18 hour stretch just to get to the finish line. They are reportedly very low on food and extremely weary, and are now in their tent resting while they wait for a plane to come pick them up. That aircraft will shuttle the team, and their gear, back to Union Glacier where they'll catch another flight out to Punta Arenas, Chile before they head home.

Congratulations to Stéphanie, Jérémie, and Are for an amazing adventure. Their efforts in harsh conditions on the frozen continent are an inspiration to all. Hopefully they'll soon get plenty of good food and have a warm bed to sleep in before returning home.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Video: The Illusion of Light

We've seen a lot of amazing timelapse videos in recent months, but the ones that often stick with me the longest are those that capture the night sky in impressive fashion. This video does that incredibly well, showing us countless stars and the glow of the Milky Way over some stunning landscapes from across our planet. This is a beautiful way to end the day, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Illusion of Lights: A Journey into the Unseen from Goldpaint Photography on Vimeo.

Video: Winter Climbing on Nanga Parbat

As I write this, there are no less than four teams on Nanga Parbat who are attempting to complete the first winter ascent of that mountain. If you've been following their progress over the past few weeks, and have wondered what life is like in the Karakoram in the winter, then have a look at this video. It was shot on 2012-2013 winter expedition tot he mountain, and it will give you a good idea of hat conditions are like there, as well as what it is like to live in Base Camp for days at a time. The music in this clip is a bit much for my tastes, but the images are amazing.

Video: Chasing the Inca on Mountain Bikes in Peru

A few weeks back I shared the trailer for a mountain biking documentary entitled Chasing the Inca. At the time, the full video was available online, but it couldn't be embedded on other websites. That has now changed, and you can watch the full 18+ minute film below. It follows riders Darren Berrecloth, Garrett Buehler, and Chris Van Dine as they explore remote regions of Peru in search of a lost Incan road through the Andes that was once used to escape invading Spaniards. This is a film of that combines both exploration and adventure on the back of a mountain bike, and it is definitely intriguing to watch.

Antarctica 2014: A Race Against Time at the Bottom of the World

The 2014 Antarctic season is scheduled to come to a close this Wednesday, January 28. That's the day that the last plane is scheduled to fly out of Union Glacier on its way back to Punta Arenas, Chile, carrying the remaining climbers, explorers, and South Pole skiers – as well as the support team for their efforts – home at last. While most of those teams are comfortably waiting in camp, another remains in a desperate race against time to get back to Hercules Inlet in time for their flight. And while it looks like they are going to make it, it is going to be close. 

Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel, along with guide Are Johnson, have now been out on the ice for 73 days. They started their journey way back in November, and were able to ski to the South Pole in time for the holidays. Since then, they've been attempting to complete the return trip to Hercules Inlet, where they'll end their epic excursion at long last. The journey back to the coast has not been an easy one however, as they have had to maintain a steady pace the entire time, even as poor weather has hindered their progress, particularly in these final days. 

After spending much of the end of last week in complete whiteout conditions, the trio had better visibility over the weekend, although high winds still made it challenging to proceed. They were able to catch a glimpse of some mountains on the horizon however, which broke up the endless plane of white that they have been staring at for days on end. Deep snow has made it difficult to pick up any speed however, but they still struggled forwards, as they really don't have any choice at this point. 

Yesterday the managed to knock of an impressive 44.8 km (27.8 miles), which leaves them with just 43.9 km (27.3 miles) to go tomorrow. That is a sizable distance to cover on the final day, particularly when the team is reportedly very tired, weak, and hungry. They are starting to run low on supplies, and have been conserving rations for a few days now, which has taken its toll some on their spirits too. 

Despite these challenges, it seems that Stéphanie, Jérémie, and Are should arrive at the finish line tomorrow on schedule. It will be a long day, but considering their current pace, they should be able to wrap things up provided unexpectedly bad weather doesn't arrive on the scene. The forecast does indicate that conditions could take a turn for the worse, but at this point that is likely to hinder their return flight more than their final push to the coast. 

I'll keep an eye on the team's progress over the next few days and post updates. Hopefully they'll reach Hercules tomorrow and will be able to get picked-up for a flight to Union Glacier where they can enjoy some good food and warm accommodations. From there, it is just a matter of time before they head back to Chile, and eventually home. 

Polish Explorer Planning Trans-South American Expedition via The Amazon

Polish explorer Marcin Gienieczko has announced a bold new expedition that will get underway on May 1 of this year. The adventurous photographer and journalist intends to cross South America by bike, canoe, and on foot, with his route that will take him to the very heart of the Amazon Rainforest and along the mightiest river on the planet.

Marcin is calling his expedition the Solo Amazon (site in Polish and Spanish), and he will begin the journey with a 750 km (466 mile) bike ride from Lima, Peru to the small town of San Francisco. From there, he'll begin an epic canoe journey that will eventually cover more than 6130 km (3809 miles) beginning at the Apurimac River and the very headwaters of the Amazon itself. He'll then proceed downstream to the Enge, Tambo, and Ucayali before paddling out onto the Amazon. He'll follow the river until he reaches Belem in Brazil, at which time he'll complete his journey to the Atlantic Ocean on foot, running all the way while carrying the Polish flag.

Passionate about photography and exploration, Marcin is no stranger to long distance adventures. His previous expeditions have taken him down the Yukon River in Alaska and the Lena River in Siberian Russia, as well as several other long distance floats in those locations, as well as Canada. In 2009 he even crossed Siberia on foot in temperatures that routinely plummeted to -50ºC/-58ºF. Crossing South America will be an entirely different challenge however, as the unique environments of the Amazon will create obstacles that he hasn't seen on his previous journeys.

While the expedition is called "Solo Amazon," Marcin will have a guide for part of the excursion. In the most dangerous section of the trip – when he'll be passing through a region mainly under the control of drug lords – he'll be joined by Gadiel "Cho" Sanchez Rivera, who accompanied Ed Stafford on his historic expedition to cross the Amazon on foot a few years back. Cho has become the "go-to" guide in the Amazon since those days, and he'll help lead Marcin through some perilous parts of the route.

Marcin says that he is looking forward to the start of the expedition, although he knows that it will be a physical and mental challenge. The journey will be a long and difficult one, but his past experience will help him survive in the wilds of South America. We'll see how he fares when he gets underway in a few months time.

Good luck Marcin!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Video: Breathtaking Landscapes in 4K

There isn't much to be said about this video other than that it is a collection of incredibly breathtaking landscapes captured in timelapse at stunning resolutions. Shot over a two-year period, it is a compilation of amazing shots from beautiful places. This is one you're going to want to sit back and enjoy, preferably at full-screen resolutions. And if you're lucky enough to have a 4K monitor, clips are available from the filmmaker in that format too. This seems like a great way to end the week and send everyone off on their weekend adventures. Enjoy!

Landscapes: Volume 4K from Dustin Farrell on Vimeo.

Video: North America's Fifty Classic Climbs Episode 2 - Ancient Art

The second episode of the new climbing series from EpicTV entitled North America's Fifty Classic Climbs is now available, and this time we're following Mark and Janelle Smiley as they go up Ancient Art, 4-pitch climb that is rated a 5.1 difficulty. Located near Moab, Utah, this climb has an amazing finish, which you'll see in the video. The view from the top looks amazing, and the path to get there is not for the faint of heart.

Video: A Long Hike Through Western Mongolia

In terms of remote and untamed places, they don't come any more wild than parts of Mongolia. In this video we get a good look of the landscapes there as we follow a solitary hiker on his walk across the western region of the Central Asian country. It is a remarkable place for an adventure, and a truly amazing destination.

Moving On - A Hike in Western Mongolia from Just Greg on Vimeo.

Adventure Tech: The North Face's New Virtual Reality Experience

It's no secret that fewer people are heading outdoors these days, with a particularly sharp decline amongst young people. Researchers believe that the rise of technology, including smartphones, tablets, and video games, has helped to erode interest in outdoor pursuits, as many now prefer to stay inside with their gadgets rather than go for a hike or on a camping trip. But The North Face has come up with an interesting new way to possibly spur interest in the outdoors once again, and with an ironic twist, they're using technology to do so.

At the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market convention,  currently taking place in Salt Lake City, the gear company introduced the Virtual Outdoor Project, which uses virtual reality video footage – specifically created for the Oculus Rift – that was shot by the wizards at Camp 4 Collective. Reportedly, the result is an immersive experience designed to create a sense of being outdoors in some incredibly wild and remote area.

For those not familiar with the Oculus Rift, it is a virtual reality headset that has become the talk of the tech world over the past year or so. With high resolution video screens and head-tracking technology, it creates an incredibly immersive experience that allows users to experience an environment that exists 360º around the viewer. In other words, tilt your head to the left and you'll see what is happening in that direction. Turn around completely and you'll see things that are taking place behind you.

According to the Stephen Regenold of the Gear Junkie, the video experience that The North Face was sharing at Outdoor Retailer transported viewers to Yosemite National Park to experience a difficult rock climb up a route called "Separate Reality" from the eyes of the climber himself. The VR film included amazing views of the surrounding landscape, and captured the experience of what it was like to be scaling a big wall. At one point, the climber even loses his grip, falling down the rock face momentarily until his protection arrested the drop. The experience for Stephen made his stomach drop however, as the virtual reality environment simulated the plunge a little too closely. Later, the video even followed some BASE jumpers as they plunged off a cliff, capturing their fall in in "360 and 3D" as well.

North Face intends to roll out this VR project to its retail stores sometime this year. That means if you have a store in your area (Mine just opened!), you'll be able to drop by and give it a go yourself. The hope is that by bringing a virtual outdoor experience to customers, they may inspire more people to actually get outside themselves. Int his case, virtual reality may spur interaction with actual reality.

Call me a pessimist in this regard, but my guess is that it will probably spur consumers to actually want to buy an Oculus Rift or similar product, rather than actually go spend some time int he wild, but we'll see.

Antarctica 2014: Tough Going for Final Antarctic Team

As mentioned earlier in the week, the 2014 Antarctic season is swiftly drawing to an end. One team remains out on the ice, struggling to reach the finish line before the last plane prepares to fly out. Their deadline is now January 26, which is Monday, and covering the final miles over the next three days isn't going to be easy.

The team of Are Johnson and Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel have been out on the ice for 70 days now, and have long since reached the South Pole and began their return trip to Hercules Inlet along the coast. At this point, fatigue has set in and they are doing their best to cover the remaining distance as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the weather isn't being all that cooperative however, and yesterday they skied in white out conditions. In fact, in their most recent update, it was revealed that they couldn't see more than 3 metes in any direction at all. As a result, they struggled to cover their required distance, reaching 35 km (21.7 miles) over 11.5 hours, while battling sastrugi along the way too. 

Today doesn't look like it will be much better either. The trio expects to be skiing in a whiteout once again, and have prepared themselves for another tough go. Conditions are expected to improve however, so there is a literal light at the end of the tunnel.

Still, even with better weather, the last stretch is going to be a tough one. As of now, they have to average 43.5 km (27 miles) over the next four days to arrive back at Hercules in time. That isn't impossible, but it is going to be very difficult. To make matters worse, they are also starting to get low on food too, which will have an impact on the final stage of the journey as well. 

By the time they are finished, the team will have covered approximately 2300 km (1430 miles) and will have become one of only a handful of squad to make the journey to the South Pole and back under their own power. With any luck, the next time I post an update on their progress, they'll have finished.