Friday, December 02, 2016

Video: Alive in the Himalaya

To wrap up the week, take a three-and-a-half minute journey to the Himalaya in northern India courtesy of this video, which captures the amazing landscapes of that part of the world in spectacular fashion. Shot during a three-week journey from Himachal Pradesh to Kashmir, the clip gives us a glimpse of the towering mountain peaks, the lush forests, and remote valleys that are found there. But more than that, it shows us the people and culture that exist there, not to mention one adorable pup. I'm not particularly wild about the narration at the beginning, but once it gets going, the video is mesmerizing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Alive from Alessandro Rovere on Vimeo.

Video: Yab Yum - Searching the Mayan Underworld (Part 3)

Today we have the third, and final, installment of a series of videos we've been sharing all week long that take us into the Yucatan in Mexico in search of some of the world's deepest caves. The series has followed explorer Robbie Schmittner and his team as cave dive into some amazing settings, where they discover remnants of the Mayan civilization that occupied the area centuries ago. In this episode, the crew descends into Yab Yum, a giant sinkhole where they make discoveries that date back to the last ice age.
(Note: If you've missed the first two parts of this excellent series, you'll find them here and here.)

Gear Closet: Char-Broil Portable Grill2Go X200

One of the biggest challenges for any camping trip is creating tasty meals while on the go. This can be especially difficult if you're backpacking into remote backcountry, where you're looking to travel fast and light. But, if you're car camping instead, and weight is not an issue, your options open up tremendously, giving you the ability to cook tasty meals no matter where you go. That is exactly the case with the new Char-Boril Portable Grill2Go X200, which is a surprisingly great cooking option for camping, overlanding, tailgating, or even just the backyard.

Obviously there have been portable grills around for quite some time, and many of them bring a lot to the table (pun intended!) in terms of how they perform. But what helps set the X200 apart from the crowd is that it is a portable infrared grill, which is something I hadn't come across before. For those who don't know, infrared grills use metal and ceramic pieces to allow them to heat up much faster and cook at higher temperature levels. This means the grill is ready to go much more quickly, and food prep doesn't take nearly as long.

In this case, the Grill2Go is powered by small canisters of propane fuel, which are of course a breeze to fire up and get cooking, even in colder temperatures and windy environments. It is quick, fairly efficient, and makes grilling a simple affair, which is usually what you want when you sit down to make a meal outdoors.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin Evacuated From the South Pole

The legendary Buzz Aldrin is reportedly resting comfortably and recovering in a New Zealand hospital today after being evacuated from the South Pole yesterday for medical reasons. The 86-year old former astronaut and second man to walk on the moon, had been visiting Antarctica as a tourist when he took ill.

Aldrin was traveling with White Desert luxury tours and had hoped to visit the South Pole research station while in the Antarctic. Fortunately, he did make it to 90ºS before he became ill. Doctors say that he began collecting fluid in his lungs, which prompted the evacuation. While he is being kept in the hospital for observation, he is said to be doing fine and should have a full recovery.

Despite his age, Aldrin continues to be very active, and is a tireless advocate for exploration – particularly in space. He has been a major supporter of plans to go to Mars, and has spoken frequently about the importance of continuing to push boundaries beyond our own planet. He recently visited NASA for the unveiling of a new astronaut exhibit at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, before he left for Cape Town, South Africa to join the White Desert tour.

On November 28, Buzz and the rest of the group he was traveling with set out for the frozen continent on an itinerary that was expected to last about a week. But Aldrin took ill during the journey, with his condition getting worse as he reached the Pole. Once there, the decision was made to evacuate the moonwalker, and a specially equipped LC-130 aircraft was dispatched to fly him back to the coast where he caught another flight to New Zealand where he is now recovering.

I've always been a big admirer of Buzz Aldrin. Sure, Neil Armstrong got all the credit for being the first man to walk on the moon, but Buzz was only a couple of steps behind him. On top of that, Armstrong retreated from public life, seldom making appearances in his later years before passing away in 2012. But Buzz has always been a larger than life figure who isn't afraid to speak his mind or tell you his thoughts on any subject. He has used his position in the public eye to promote science and education, and has remained a staunch supporter of exploration in all its forms. Even now, at the age of 86, when most people are looking to slow down, he's still traveling to remote places on our planet. I hope that when I reach his age, I'm still half as active and vital as he is.

Get well soon Buzz. We're not ready to say goodbye to you for a very long time yet.

Mike Horn's Pole 2 Pole Expedition is About to Truly Get Underway

If you've been reading my updates from the Antarctic so far this season, you've probably seen me mention Swiss explorer Mike Horn on more than one occasion. That's because not only does he have an impeccable adventure resume ( climbed four 8000-meter peaks without oxygen, explored the Arctic during the winter, swam the length of the Amazon), but he is also about to embark on one of the most ambitious expeditions of all time. Horn is attempting to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe north-south (rather than east-west), passing through both Poles along the way. And soon, he'll launch the first critical phase of that journey, which will see him traverse Antarctica on foot.

Currently, Mike is aboard his ship the Pangea just off the Antarctic coast. According to his dispatches, he and his crew are slowly making their way through the ice to his drop-off point on the Antarctic continent. Remember, most of South Pole skiers are dropped off at Union Glacier, prior to flying to their starting points at Hercules Inlet, by the professional crew at ALE. In Mike's case however, he's sailing independently as part of his round-the-world journey.

The Pole 2 Pole expedition – as Mike calls it – has been a long time coming. I first told you about his plans back in 2014, but it has taken two years to get this adventure truly underway and off the ground. The journey began when the South African-born explorer set out from Monaco back in May, and began sailing out of the Mediterranean Sea and down the coast of Africa.

Along the way, he spent some time exploring the Namib Desert and visiting the Okavango Delta, before traveling overland to Cape Town, where he dove with sharks and conducted research on those ocean-going predators. Now, he has ventured across the Southern Ocean on his way to the Antarctic. Once there, he'll don a pair of skis and pull a sled across the frozen expanse just like all the other skiers heading to the South Pole. But after he reaches 90ºS, he'll continue on to the coast once again (possibly to Hercules Inlet) where Pangea will be waiting to pick him up.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Video: Ethereal - Iceland by Drone

This beautiful video was shot over some of the most spectacular landscapes in Iceland. You'll see snowcapped peaks, tranquil rivers, flowing waterfalls, and much more. But, what was most striking to me was the incredible skies that can be seen over the various shots. There are colors in the clouds that are rare and fleeting in most places, but here they are natural and breathtaking. Sit back and enjoy this three-minute clip, which features some of the best footage I've seen in some time.

Ethereal: Aerial Motion Timelapse in 4K60 from Henry Jun Wah Lee / Evosia on Vimeo.

Video: Just Breathe - Searching the Mayan Underworld (Part 2)

Today we return to the depths of an underwater cave in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, where explorers Robbie Schmittner and his partner Toddy Waelde continue to explore the sunken Maya underworld. This time out, not everything goes as planned however, and we see the challenges of trying to assist a diver who runs into trouble while deep within these caves. Scary stuff for sure.
(If you missed part 1 of this series, you'll find it here)

Adventures in the Caribbean: Opportunities Abound on Nevis

Yesterday I shared my experiences hiking and biking on Nevis as part of a series of posts based around my recent visit to the Caribbean island, which is extremely accessible both on foot and bike. But those opportunities for adventure were just the tip of the iceberg, as there are still plenty of other things to do there for those who prefer to be a bit more active while visiting this little slice of paradise. In fact, I think you'll find a surprising number of adventurous things to keep you busy.

This being the the Caribbean, both snorkeling and diving are certainly two great choices for keeping you occupied. In fact, the island has a five-star PADI certified dive center located near Oualie Beach, and there are plenty of great spots to hit the water located not far from shore. In fact, their are abundance of dive sites that sit within a 5 mile radius of Nevis, which means it doesn't take long to reach them, and they usually aren't very crowded.

As you would expect, these dive sites offer visitors a chance to spot hundreds of different tropical fish, as well as sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, and other aquatic animals. There are a number of large coral reefs in the region as well, which provides some excellent opportunities to explore those ecosystems as well. There are even several ship wrecks not far off the Nevis coast, which are always interesting and attract a lot of sea creatures as well. One such dive includes a tug boat that is submerged in just 20 feet of water, which makes it very easy to reach and swim around as well.

In addition to good hiking and biking on Nevis, you can also choose to explore the landscapes there on horseback. Travelers can elect to take a ride along historic trails that wander through some of the villages on the island, while passing by the remnants of plantations that date back to the 17th century. And for a romantic end to then day, considering taking a ride on the beach at sunset. The views are spectacular and sublime.

Examining Adam Ondra's Dawn Wall Climb

It has now been a week and a half since Czech climber Adam Ondra made history by completing the second free ascent of the Dawn Wall in Yosemite. While his expedition didn't get nearly as much media attention as Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson's first ascent back in 2015, Ondra's climb was certainly followed closely by the outdoor and adventure crowd. Now, we're already starting to look back on his accomplishment and trying to give it its fair place in history.

National Geographic Adventure has an interesting article up entitled "How Adam Ondra Crushed Yosemite's Hardest Rock Climb." This story tries to put things into perspective by comparing Ondra's ascent to that of Caldwell and Joregeson, who spent 7 years scouting the wall and 19 days trying to link all of the pieces together to get to the top. In contrast, Ondra was able to do it in just 8 days, although he himself says that he benefited greatly from following in his processors footsteps.

That said however, it should be noted that Caldwell and Jorgeson had years of experience climbing in Yosemite Valley. For Ondra, this was his first visit to that iconic place, and yet he was able to adapt to it fairly quickly. In a little over a month he went from never touching rock in Yosemite, to scaling its most difficult face. Along the way, he also became the first person to lead each of the 32 pitches on the Dawn Wall as well. Tommy and Kevin took turns doing that, while Adam mostly went it alone. He was joined by climbing partner Pavel Blazek, but he was only there to belay Ondra.

In the Nat Geo article Ondra is quoted as saying “What Tommy and Kevin did was even much more impressive than what I did." He goes on to add, “I arrived with all the information, they told me the beta, and all I had to do was climb.”

A Mysterious Expedition with a Telepathic Tribe in the Amazon

Looking for a really interesting story to read this morning? Then look no further than this article from National Geographic. It tells the tale of a famed explorer by the name of Loren McIntyre, who worked with Nat Geo in the past on various projects. He was known to be a dedicated, hardworking guy who could "surmount all obstacles with ease," according to one editor. He journeys took him all over the world and sent him on many adventures. But one such expedition turned out to be stranger than most.

McIntyre spent a lot of time in the Amazon region of Peru, exploring its many mysteries and plumbing deep into its depths. In fact, he was the man who discovered the headwaters of the mighty Amazon River, which begins as snow melt in the Andes, that then pools into a small lake – now called Laguna McIntyre – before spilling down the slopes of the mountain to begin what eventually forms the largest, longest, and most powerful river in the world.

That expedition was a significant one of course, but it isn't the subject of Nat Geo's article. Instead, the story focuses on an expedition that McIntyre made back in the 1960's. One that he seldom talked about. It seems that at one point, the explorer set out to reach an uncontacted tribe living in the rainforest called the Mayoruna. He began the journey by being dropped off on a Amazon riverbank, and following the tribe into the jungle. But, along the way he became lost and couldn't find his way back to his pick-up point. He ended up living with the tribe for two months, and he says that during that time his companions were able to communicate with him telepathically.

As it turns out, neither McIntyre nor the members of the tribe spoke any common languages, which would typically lead to some problems, particularly over a two-month span. But the explorer claimed that the elders of the tribe were known amongst its members to be able to speak what they called "other language." McIntyre himself would later call it "beaming."

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Video: Places of Fear - Searching the Mayan Underworld (Part 1)

A few days back I shared the trailer for a new series of short films coming our way from GoPro that followed a team of divers as they plunged into a cave on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico in hopes of finding the largest cavern in the entire world. Now, we have part one of that series which gives us an introduction of an entirely new kind of exploration – underwater, in mysterious caves, where there are remnants of the Mayan civilization yet to be discovered. It is a fascinating look at this incredible place that will definitely leave you wanting more. I'll have part two tomorrow.

Video: Expedition Alaska Adventure Race Trailer

Last year, I was fortunate enough to be a part of the team that organized and ran the Expedition Alaska Adventure Race, a 300+ mile (482+ km) multi-sport, multi-day race that attracted 20 teams from across the globe. It was an amazing event with some of the best endurance athletes on the planet taking on a course that ran through some remote and rugged areas. The entire race was filmed by a dedicated and tough team, and a full-length documentary about the event has now been completed. It will be making the rounds of the adventure film festival circuit and will eventually be available to purchase as well.

To get a taste of what Expedition Alaska was all about, and what I was working on up north last summer, check out the trailer for the documentary below. It will give you a sense of what adventure racing is all about, while showing off the amazing landscapes in Alaska. It's pretty epic, and well worth a watch.

EXPEDITION ALASKA TRAILER from Hyperion XIII Productions on Vimeo.

Adventures in the Caribbean: Hiking and Mountain Biking Nevis

Yesterday I posted the first part in a series of stories I'm writing about my recent visit to the island of Nevis in the Caribbean. That article was meant to serve as an introduction to the place, which is rich in history and culture. If you haven't read that piece already, you may want to take a look at it first before proceeding with this one, as it does provide a bit of context. That said, these stories are also meant to be self-contained so readers can enjoy them without needing too much backstory. So, without further ado, here's a bit more about my recent travels in the vary intriguing country.

When most travelers think about a visit to the Caribbean, they usually conjure up images in their mind of white sandy beaches, relaxing in the warm water, and enjoying fruity beverages in the sun. Of course, you can do all of those things on Nevis too, but there is so much more to see and do there that you'll miss out on a lot of you confine yourself to the lovely beaches alone.

For example, the island actually has a couple of unique and challenging hiking trails. As mentioned in my previous story, one of the most difficult is a tough climb to the top of Nevis Peak, which stands at 3232 feet (985 meters) in height. Remember, you'll be starting at sea essentially sea level, so while the altitude isn't all that serious, the amount of elevation gain can make it tough. There are also some ropes involved in getting to the top, and you'll definitely want to take a guide if you go.

Unfortunately, do to scheduling I wasn't able to make this hike, so instead I trekked another route known locally as the "Source Trail." The path gets its name because it passes through some lush cloud forests on the way to the island's main source of fresh water, located high in the mountains there. Now days, a series of pipes have been installed to carry that water to the towns below, but it wasn't all that long ago that the inhabitants of Nevis had to make this hike daily to fetch fresh water for use around their homes. It remains a popular walking path with visitors and locals alike, and is a good way to stretch your legs.

Expedition 1000: Dave Cornthwaite Scoots His Way Around Japan

If you've read my blog with any regularity over the years, you've seen me cover the exploits of British adventurer Dave Cornthwaite on more than one occasion. About a decade ago, Dave came up with the idea of jumpstarting his life by undertaking 25 major journeys of 1000 miles (1609 km) or more by non-motorized transportation. Over the years, this has led him to undertake such excursions as crossing Australia on a skateboard, stand-up paddleboarding source-to-sea on the Mississippi River in the U.S., and paddling from Oslo, Norway to Helsinki, Finland. Along the way, he has inspired thousand of others to embrace a more adventurous, active, and open lifestyle as well.

Fast forward to 2016, and Dave has recently set out on the 12th of his 25 planned expeditions. This time, he has traveled to Japan, where he is riding a kick scooter for 1000 miles. He left Tokyo back on November 17, and is now undertaking a massive loop through the southern Honshu and Shikoku regions of that country. On this particular journey Dave has no set route, but has instead decided to let instinct and fortune take him where he needs to go. Ultimately, he'll return to his starting point in Tokyo on December 19, after having explored yet another part of the world under his own power.

Throughout the course of the trip so far, Dave has been posting regular updates, photos, and videos to his Facebook page. As I write this, he has arrived in Kyoto, where he has been overwhelmed by the history and culture of the place, but even more so by the vast number of tourists visiting the area. Most of his journey has been spent interacting with the locals, learning about the various places he is visiting from their perspective, and experiencing Japan in a more authentic fashion. In that regard, Kyoto seems to have been a bit too much of a tourist trap for Dave's liking.

Throughout the journey he's been spending roughly 5-9 hours on his trusty kick scooter – lovingly dubbed Swifty – making his way from one destination to the next. Nights are generally spent camping in the wild and even soaking in local hot springs. The idea is to immerse himself deeply in the culture, while exploring the countryside in a non-motorized way.

For Dave, this is his first Expedition 1000 excursion in a few years. He says that he hurt his back and left leg in 2013 and has struggled at times to undertake his ambitious efforts. But while hiking through Palestine and Jordan last year the injury got worse, forcing him to use crutches and a therapeutic boot on his foot for awhile. After two months had passed, he discovered that things started to improve dramatically, allowing him to finally get back into action. From that experience, the idea of scooting around Japan was born.

You can follow his progress over the next few weeks on Dave's official Facebook page. It is sure to be inspiring, amusing, and down-right fun to watch the remainder of the trip unfold.

Himalaya Fall 2016: More Nepali Peaks Climbed Without Permits

Last week I posted the story of American climber Sean Burch, who is under investigation in Nepal for climbing as many as 31 peaks without obtaining a permit first. It turns out, he may not be the only one who has thumbed his nose at authority in the Himalayan country. Today we have word that three Spaniards have also made first ascents of two mountains there without first obtaining permits as well.

According to The Himalayan Times, Santi Padrós, Oriol Baro and Roger Cararach claim to have summited Mt Karyolung (6530m/21,423 ft) and Mt Numbur (6958m/22,828 ft) earlier this month without government permission. The three men reportedly organized and planned the expedition completely independently, and were doing so in honor of a fallen comrade. They dedicated the two ascents to Domen Kastelic, a Slovenian climber who perished on Mont Blanc recently.

Unfortunately, as Burch has learned, climbing a mountain in Nepal without the proper permits is a serious offense, and officials there are now investigating the trio's claims. If they are found to have violated the laws, the three men will face a ten year ban from climbing in Nepal, and a substantial fine. The law stipulates that anyone climbing without a permit must pay "a fine equal to twice the royalty fixed for Mt Everest." The cost for climbing Everest currently stands at $11,000.

While Everest is obviously the crown jewel for climbing in Nepal, obtaining permits for smaller mountains below 7000 meters (22,965 ft) cost just $700 apiece. Expeditions are also generally required to have an assigned liaison officer as well, and are encouraged to employ high-altitude porters, although some independent teams go it completely alone.

According to The Times, all three of the climbers made it to the summit of Karyolung back on October 31, but Padrós says he topped out on Numbur on his own. Both mountains were climbed along completely new routes, as the team said they were looking to explore the region and scout it for potential new climbs in the future. Instead, they decided to summit a couple of mountains while they were in the area as well.

What exactly will happen to these three men remains to be seen, but one thing is certain. Nepali officials don't like to not get paid, so it seems likely they'll face that impending fine and suspension. The government isn't going to take these kinds of reports lightly, and will probably make examples of them to prevent future incidences as well.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Video: Bike Rider Balances on Narrow Beam 200 Meters Up

Add this video clip to the list of things you shouldn't try at home folks. It features pro rider Fabio Wibmer as he rides along a very narrow beam 200 meters (656 feet) up the Koelnbreinsperre Dam in Austria. Needless to say, it is a scary sight to behold and no one will blame you if you catch yourself holding your breath as he inches along. I prefer my bike tires to stay more firmly planted on the ground, but I can definitely salute his skills.

Video: Reminder - Hippos are the Most Dangerous Animals in Africa

It has often been said that hippos are the most unpredictable and dangerous animals in all of Africa. That is further underscored by this video in which a man was driving across a bridge near Kruger National Park in South Africa when he came across a hippo. The massive creature didn't take too kindly to anyone else being there apparently, as it promptly turned an charged the truck. The results are pretty impressive. And scary.

Adventures in the Caribbean: A Visit to Nevis

One of my favorite things about getting to travel regularly is discovering new places and learning about all of the amazing things that they have offer. Such was the case recently when I traveled to the Caribbean island of Nevis, a place that you wouldn't think would be a home for outdoor adventures, but nevertheless has much to offer those looking for a nice blend of active pursuits and relaxation.

This wasn't my first trip to the Caribbean. In fact, quite the contrary. I've been there several times, and have always enjoyed the beautiful water, fantastic landscapes, laid-back atmosphere, and the culture and history. Nevis didn't disappoint in any of those departments for sure, but one of the things that I liked best was that the island was quieter and less "touristy" than some of the other places I've visited in the region. You won't find any massive resorts lining the beaches there, nor are there gigantic cruise ships pulling in on a daily basis, expelling passengers into Charlestown or any of the other villages on the island. Instead, you'll get a unique – more authentic – experience that allows you to explore everything that Nevis has to offer at your pace.

Located in the West Indies of the Caribbean, Nevis sits just across the water from St. Kitts. The two sister islands function as a single country in most regards, although the atmosphere is unique to both places. Covering just 36 square miles (72 sq. km), Nevis is home to roughly 12,000 people, all of whom seem friendly, accommodating and content. Most everyone I met during my brief stay on the island were outgoing, happy to meet visitors from another country, and eager to provide the island's famous hospitality. As much as I enjoyed all of the adventurous activities on the island – which I'll get to in another story – it was the wonderful people of Nevis that left the most lasting impression.

The best way get to Nevis is to first fly into St. Kitts and then grab a water taxi over to the island. That is exactly how I arrived, and it was a great way to sample the scenery of both places, which are bordered to the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by the Caribbean Sea. Taking the boat across from St. Kitts to Nevis took about ten minutes, with some lovely views of the water and the towering landscapes along the way.

New Study Finds Massive Collapse of Ice Sheets in Antarctica Almost Inevitable

A new scientific study published yesterday indicates that West Antarctica is going through some dramatic changes at the moment that include major collapses of the ice shelf found there. The study predicts that major shifts in the ice will occur in the years ahead, and it will have profound effects on the frozen continent, and the rest of the world as well.

Last year, a chunk of ice 225 square miles in size broke off from the Pine Island Glacier and slid into the ocean. At the time, researchers were at a loss to explain the phenomenon, but now believe they have discovered the root cause. A massive crack formed in the ice 20 miles (32 km) inland and deep beneath the surface. As the crack widened, the incredible weight of the ice gave way, causing it to collapse altogether and fall into the sea. It was unlike anything that anyone had ever seen in polar regions before. 

As we all know, Antarctica is covered in a massive ice field that is at much as 2555 meters (1.5 miles) thick in some points. That ice is held in place by large glaciers that ring much of the region. But now, those glaciers are in full retreat, particularly along the Amundsen Sea where the waters are warming, which is having an impact on the conditions there. If those glaciers continue to recede, and temperatures continue to go up, the Antarctic ice could melt and run into the sea, causing ocean levels to rise around the world. Worst of all, for many scientists this isn't a question of "if" but more like "when" it will happen. 

Researchers who studied the Pine Island incident say that the collapse of the ice shelf there isn't a new thing, and that it happens ever few years. What has them worried however is that the calving of the glacier started so far inland and so deep beneath he surface. They haven't seen that happen before, and it is an indication of what may be happening across the entire continent. 

The brief explanation for this unprecedented event is that melting due to rising temperatures is now occurring where the underlying bedrock meets the ice. And unfortunately Pine Island isn't the only place where this has been observed, as NASA also spotted similar activity in another part of Antarctica last month. If this becomes a common occurrence as it appears that it could, we are likely to see a dramatic loss of ice across the entire region. Worse yet, the results of the study indicate that it is taking place very quickly. Far more quickly than anyone had anticipated. 

This is just another example of how climate change – man-made or otherwise – is reshaping our planet. It is tough to deny that these things are happening, and while we have taken strides to help limit our impact on these conditions, it may be far too little and far too late. 

Antarctica 2016: More Teams Arrive on the Ice

Yesterday I posted an update from Antartica that shared the progress of the teams that are already out on the ice and making their way toward the South Pole. Those skiers were amongst the first to reach the frozen continent this year, and are now squarely focused on making their way to 90ºS as quickly as possible. But, they aren't the only people who are making that journey this season. In fact, there have been a few newcomers with some interesting stories that have just joined them.

One of the big expeditions to watch this year is from Finnish skier Risto Hallikainen. He intends to ski 2260 km (1404 miles) making the journey from Hercules Inlet to the Pole and back again. Because of a series of delays to his start due to the weather, Risto is now pushing hard to make up for lost time, and as ExWeb reports he even dropped a supply cache for the return trip, even though he hadn't originally planned to do that. This allows him to lighten the load on his sled now, and ensures that he'll still have food, fuel, and other supplies on his way back to his starting point. While he hasn't shared many updates so far, Risto has said that he is struggling with the humidity in his tent, which is making things a bit uncomfortable so far.

Experienced mountaineer and polar guide Ryan Waters is leading a team of three skiers the include Katrina Follows from the U.K., Paul Adams of the U.S., and Scott Kress from Canada. The squad is making good time so far, and are already nearing the 84th degree on their way to the Pole. They're also picking up speed as they climb up to the Antarctic Plateau, covering 11 nautical miles (20.3 km/12.6 miles) for the first time yesterday. When traveling with a group it is easier to make progress and cover longer distances as everyone takes turns breaking trail, and just having companionship can make a big difference.

Doug Stoup, another experienced Antarctic guide, has arrived at Union Glacier along with his client Aron Anderson, who is a Swedish adventurer who also happens to be an adaptive skier and para-Olympian. Anderson is attempting to become the first person to sit-ski to the South Pole in what is sure to be quite an inspiring expedition to watch unfold. The challenges will be many, but he and Doug are prepared to make the journey together. They should get underway today or tomorrow, weather permitting.

Finally, Canadian skier Sébastien Lapierre arrived at Union Glacier yesterday as well, and is now preparing to get underway with his solo, unsupported expedition to the South Pole. He reports that conditions are great and the landscape is beautiful as he prepares to depart for his ultimate goal at 90ºS.

We'll be watching the progress of these explorers in the days ahead as well as the season unfolds. There should be plenty of interesting stories to follow in the days and weeks ahead. Things are just getting started at the bottom of the world.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Video: Norway's Spectacular Lofoten Region Captured by Drone

The title for this post pretty much says all you need to know. In this video clip we travel to the remote and rugged Lofoten region of Norway where we get an amazing view of the spectacular mountains found there. This is five minutes of pure bliss with some stunning shots of a region of the world where few of us will ever get to visit. Definitely a great clip to start the week.

Video: Diving into the Mayan Underworld

This video is a trailer for a much longer three-part documentary to come, but it gives us a great idea of what to expect. The film follows a team of divers – led by explorer Robbie Schmittner – who travel to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico in search of the world's largest cave. They discover an elaborate system of submerged caverns that the Mayans believed was a gateway to the underworld. They also find artifacts and remnants of that civilization that have been waiting to be discovered for hundreds of years. It looks like quite an adventure, and I'm already looking for the full series to hit at a later time.

Himalaya Fall 2016: Avalanche on Ama Dablam Claims Life of Sherpa

Sad news from the Himalaya today where it was revealed that an avalanche on Ama Dablam has claimed the life of a Sherpa and injured a foreign climber. The avalanche was caused by ongoing seismic activity in the region, with a 5.6 magnitude earthquake causing the slide.

The 13-member team launched its summit bid this past weekend with the hopes of topping out on the 6812-meter (22,349 ft) Ama Dablam tomorrow. They were hiking up from Camp II to Camp III this morning when the accident occurred.

Reportedly, heavy snow rolled down the mountain, striking the climbers on the slopes. Most of the team was left with minor injuries, including bruises and scrapes, but Lakpa Thundu Sherpa suffered internal injuries and was airlifted from Camp III to Lukla for medical assistance, but unfortunately he succumbed to those injuries while in the mountain town.

The Himalayan Times also reports that a British national by the name of Ciaran Hill was also injured in the accident. The extent of those injuries has not been revealed, but the climber was airlifted off the mountain and returned to Kathmandu for treatment.

The remainder of the team reached Camp III and are now deciding whether or not they should continue upwards, or retreat to Base Camp and head home. It is not uncommon for a team to pull the plug on their expedition following the loss of a teammate, but for now they seem to be weighing their options.

The fall climbing season is slowly grinding to a halt, and it won't be too long before all expeditions come to an end. Winter weather is approaching the Himalaya, and now most of the mountains will close until the spring. Ama Dablam is often considered a good tune-up peak before trying some of the taller mountains in the area. It is generally considered quite safe, although the altitude can play a role in the health of climbers. In this case, it was an unexpected earthquake – an aftershock of the one that occurred in April of 2015 – that caused the avalanche to begin in the first place. Fortunately, there were no other major casualties nor was their extensive damage in the area.

My condolences to the friends and family of Lakpa Sherpa. Also, we'll keep our fingers crossed that Hill recovers fully from his injuries as well.

China Reveals Plans to Build Hotel, Restaurants at Everest Base Camp

Anyone who follows the mountaineering scene on Everest with any regularity already knows that it has become quite a commercial affair. But, China has decided to take that level of commercialization even further by revealing plans to build hotels, restaurants, and a climbing training center on the Tibetan side of the mountain.

On the Nepali side of the mountain, visiting Everest Base Camp is big business. Each year, thousands of travelers make the trek to EBC just to get a glimpse of the mountain. That isn't the case on the Chinese side of the mountain however, although officials there are hoping to change that. Earlier this year a paved highway running to the Tibetan camp opened, making it easier than ever to reach that point. But, that highway has also cleared the way for other businesses to begin setting up shop as well.

The plans for this project include building a training facility for mountaineers hoping to climb the mountain, as well as creating a base for a search and rescue team as well. Both of those operations would be a great addition to either side of the mountain. But, the ambitious long-term goals for the project also include expanding the site with hotels, restaurants, shops, and even a museum.

Chinese officials see this as a way to increase economic growth in Tibet and expand tourism operations there. While altitude is still a concern for anyone wanting to visit Everest Base Camp, on the Tibetan side of the mountain you can avoid a week long hike and go by car instead. The problem is, at the moment there isn't much to see there. If this project comes to fruition, that would change and allow many more visitors to visit the region.

The idea of commercializing the Tibetan side of the mountain is also part of an even bigger plan to raise interest in snow sports ahead of the 2022 Olympics games to be held in Beijing once again. The hope is to change perceptions about the activities that are available within the country and get visitors to realize there are opportunities to potentially ski, snowboard, and snowshoe while visiting China, and Tibet in particular.

There is no announced timeline for when this project will move forward, but it does appear that construction could begin as early as next year. If that is the case, it is possible that we could see a working hotel near the mountain within the next few years.

Antarctica 2016: Slow and Steady Progress on the Frozen Continent

Another week has passed for the South Pole skiers heading across the Antarctic this season. As usual, they face a variety of challenges on their way to the bottom of the world, not the least of which is the weather. But everyone who is currently on the ice is pushing ahead nicely and making steady progress towards their various goals.

We'll start with an update from the six-man British military team that has been skiing for nearly two weeks now. Yesterday they reported "horrendous" conditions as high winds made forward progress, and visibility, very difficult. The winds roared at 40-50 knots (46-57 mph), which caused temperatures to plunge and sap their strength. Add in some very difficult sastrugi to the surface, and it tallied up to an incredibly rough day. Fortunately, things improved today and they were able to knock off a solid 13.6 nautical miles (25 km/15.5 miles) as conditions improved. They also managed to cross the 82nd degree as well, which means they still have 8 more degrees to go before they're done, but they are slowly but surely moving ahead.

In contrast, Emma Kelty reports great weather over the past few days, allowing her to start to get a rhythm on her ski expedition to the South Pole. She says that the sastrugi are making it tough on the legs at the moment, but they are just part of the challenge that anyone traveling in the Antarctic faces. She did have a brief scare in which she thought her back-up stove had stopped working, but thankfully she was able to make repairs and get it operational again. As you may recall, she had a problem with the fuel for her stove early on, which requires a supply drop. That cost her the "solo and unsupported" status she was hoping for, but she continues to forge ahead nonetheless.

Johanna Davidsson has certainly gotten up to speed quickly. She's now been out on the ice for 12 days, and managed to cover 27.7 km (17.2 miles) yesterday. That's a solid pace for this early in the expedition, as most skiers pick up steam as they get closer to their goal. This is in part due to their bodies getting more acclimated to the daily grind, and because their sleds start to get lighter too. But Johanna seems to be cranking out the distances now and is looking very good out on the ice. 

Explorer Mike Horn is continuing to make progress sailing toward Antarctica. He departed South Africa last week aboard his ship the Pangea, and reports ice in the waters but nothing dangerous enough to slow him down. It appears that he's still a few days away from making landfall, at which point he'll attempt to traverse the frozen continent by way of the South Pole. The ship will then pick him on the other side, and he'll start sailing north where he intends to continue his quest to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe in a north-south direction. 

It appears that the climbing season on Mount Vinson is about to begin. Guide Dave Hahn and his team of climbers arrived in Base Camp on that mountain yesterday after a long day of travel from Punta Arenas to Union Glacier and onto the mountain. They'll spend a day or two getting camp set up and rested before they start to head up the mountain, but it appears that operations are now underway to summit the tallest peak on the continent. 

Finally, Italian Michele Pontrandolfo is finally getting some winds to work in his favor. Progress is still slow, but his expedition to kite-ski to the South Pole has begun covering some distances at long last. He still has a long way to go, and faces the real possibility of not reaching his goal as he did last year, but for the moment he seems content and happy to be in the Antarctic. Hopefully he'll get some good winds in the days ahead so he can really start knocking off the mileage. 

That's it for today. More updates as the season progresses.