Monday, November 24, 2014

Nepal Backtracks on Everest Permits, 2014 Climbers No Longer Need to Return as a Group

What a difference a week can make. Last Monday I posted a story about how Nepal was honoring the cancelled permits from the 2014 Everest climbing season, but had put a stipulation on their use that would cause many to be unable to climb on the permit that they actually paid for. But now, the Himalaya country has backtracked on those restrictions and is providing better opportunities for the climbers who saw their dreams of scaling Everest dashed this past spring.

As I'm sure most of you know by now, the spring climbing season on Everest was cancelled following a massive avalanche that left 16 Sherpas dead. It was the worst accident in the history of the tallest mountain on the planet, and the aftermath left many of the men and women who work on the mountain angry, confused, and demanding better compensation. At the time, the Nepali government made the decision to close things down, while they looked for ways to defuse the situation. That decision sent hundreds of foreign climbers home, unsure of their future on Everest.

Eventually Nepal's Ministry of Tourism announced that it would honor the climbing permits for five years, giving most of the mountaineers an opportunity to return to Everest, and attempt to climb the mountain once again. But the preliminary announcement indicated that all the climbers listed on a permit would need to return together in order to take advantage of this plan. Those that were unable to come back with their teammates would see their opportunity forfeit, and would have to pay for another permit on future attempts. This meant that if a single member of a team went back to Everest, and used his or her 2014 permit, all the other climbers listed on that document would no longer be able to use that permit themselves.

This was of course a confounding stipulation, as it would be almost impossible for a full team to reassemble to try Everest once again. Fortunately, someone in Nepal saw this as a problem, and was successful in changing the rules. Now, any climber who was on a cancelled permit from the spring 2014 climbing season can use that permit at any time over the course of the next five year. They no longer have to return with their previous team, and they can sign on to any expedition they choose.

I applaud the Nepali government for making this change to the regulations that will give climbers on 2014 permits more freedom to choose when they'll return. This is how the system should have worked in the first place of course, but it is good to see that someone saw the injustice in the previous plan, and made a move to adjust it. Hopefully now, more climbers will have an opportunity to go back to Everest over the next five years, and attempt to climb the mountain.

The spring 2015 season is still months away of course, and yet we continue to find plenty of things to talk about in regards to Everest. I have a feeling the run up to the start of the next climbing season is going to be an interesting one.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Video: Two Lands - Greenland and Iceland

This short video gives viewers a glimpse of two of the most iconic, adventurous, destinations on the planet - Greenland and Iceland. The timelapse images depicted here are beautiful and awe inspiring, providing us with some insight into why these two cold, challenging, places hold such an allure with adventure travelers and explorers the world over.

Two Lands - Greenland | Iceland from SCIENTIFANTASTIC on Vimeo.

Video: The Ridge

Shot in Denali National Park this past spring, this video gives us a dramatic look at a long, and treacherous, mountain ridge. The slow, meandering pace of the clip gives the mountains an almost sinister quality, as if it is daring viewers to just try to traverse its difficult route. But the images are also beautiful and inspiring, reminding us that the dangerous places of our planet are also worth the effort to explore. Sit back, and soak this one in. It says a lot, without saying anything at all.

THE RIDGE from Forge Motion Pictures on Vimeo.

Video: New Documentary to Take Viewers on Epic Traverse of Remote Canadian Mountain Range

This video is a teaser trailer for a new documentary entitled Colours of Edziza. The film follows a diverse team of friends and adventurers as they trek through a remote mountain range in the Tahitian First Nation region of British Columbia in Canada. This part of the world remains largely untouched by outside influences, and the team discovered a land that is as rugged, as it is beautiful. Along the way, they also discovered how to work together to overcome the challenges they faced on their traverse of two different mountain ranges.

The filmmakers for this amazing looking documentary are hoping to complete their project, and have launched an Indegogo campaign to raise the funds they need to finish the film. As I write this, they have raised about $10,000 CAD for the project, and are looking to get to $25,000 CAD. I think after watching the trailer, you'll see that this is an interesting adventure doc that deserves to be seen. If you agree, perhaps you can help out a bit with their goal.

Ultra-running Team Sets New Mark on New Zealand's Great Walks

A few weeks back I posted about the New Zealand 9 expedition, an attempt by a trio of ultrarunners/adventurers to set a new speed record for completing all nine of New Zealand's Great Walks in just nine days. While I was off galavanting around Ecuador the past few weeks, this team of endurance athletes launched their ambitious effort as well. While not everything went according to plan, they were able to successfully complete eight of the Great Walks, and a portion of the ninth, while in the process, setting a new record along the way.

Ben Southall, Luke Edwards, and Patrick Kinsella faced grueling trail conditions, sleep deprivation, logistical challenges, and the wrath of Mother Nature as they ran – and paddled – their way along the Great Walks. The three men pushed themselves to their physical limits, often running distances greater than a marathon on back-to-back, successive days, on dirt trails no less. In the end, it was circumstances beyond their control that prevented them from achieving the nine walks in nine days, although they did manage to complete eight of the journeys in record time.

For those who don't know, the nine "Great Walks" consist of the following: The Rakiura Track (32km/19.8 miles), Kepler Track (60km/37.2 miles), Milford Track (54km/33.5 miles), Routeburn Track (32km/19.8 miles), Heaphy Track (78km/48.5 miles), Abel Tasman Coastal Track (51km/31.6 miles), Whanganui Journey (145 km/90 miles), Tongariro Northern Circuit (43km/26.7 miles), Lake Waikaremoana Track (46km/28.5 miles).

When the team completed the Routeburn Track, they immediately set out for the Heaphy Track to continue their expedition. Unfortunately, extended driving times between the trailheads forced them to run the 78km (48.5 mile) route at night, which presented plenty of challenges in and of itself. They were able to complete that route however, and that wasn't where they faced a roadblock that couldn't be overcome.

Winter Mountaineering 2014: Lonnie Dupre to Return to Denali

Although we will be closely following the efforts of climbers on both K2 and Nanga Parbat this winter, not all of the major climbing expeditions will be taking place in the Himalaya. Polar explorer and mountaineer Lonnie Dupre will be heading back to Alaska in a few weeks, where he'll once again attempt a solo summit of Denali in January, something that has never been accomplished before.

This isn't the first time Lonnie has attempted this climb. In fact, for three straight years we followed his efforts, during which he often flirted with the summit, only to have his efforts thwarted by poor weather. He skipped an attempt this past January to concentrate on other efforts, but is now planning to return more focused than ever.

According to ExWeb, Dupre will begin the expedition on December 15, when he is expected to fly to the Kahiltna Glacier at the foot of Denali, where he'll prepare for the actual climb itself. As in the past, he won't launch any efforts to go up the mountain until at least January 1, the start of the coldest, windiest, and darkest month of the year in Alaska. Whether or not he'll be able to stick to that date remains to be seen. A weather window will need to open for Dupre that will grant him – and the bush pilot who flies him out to the glacier – access to the region.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Video: Nosunvalley - Mountain Biking in Slovenia

I don't know much about the Soča Valley in Slovenia, but judging from what is shown in this video, it looks like a beautiful outdoor destination, with some great mountain biking trails to ride. This short film takes us on a journey through this intriguing landscape on a mountain bike, giving us a glimpse of the amazing mountains, valleys, and meadows that exist there. It looks spectacular to say the least.

Nosunvalley [MOVIE] from Twisted Chick Production on Vimeo.

Video: The North Face - Your Land

This video is a promo clip from The North Face, with a number of scenes of outdoor athletes doing their favorite activities, while strains of the song This Land is Your Land plays in the background. While that song has a decidedly American slant to it, the theme of the video is universal, as are the images that it evokes with outdoor lovers. This land belongs to you and me.

Gear Closet: 5.11 Tactical Stryke Pants

Just a few days before I set out for Ecuador, a box was unexpectedly delivered to my door. Since I wasn't really expecting anything, I wasn't sure what was inside. I opened it up to discover several excellent pieces of gear from 5.11 Tactical, a company that makes great clothing and other items for outdoor enthusiasts, military personnel, and law enforcement agents. While not all of it was appropriate for my trip to South America, I did immediately add their Stryke Pants to my backpack, as I though Ecuador would a perfect place to test them. It didn't take long for me to realize that they were a great addition to my pack, and a vital piece of equipment for my trip.

Made from Flex-TAC ripstop fabrics, the Stryke Pant features a cut that fits the body nicely, without inhibiting motion in any way. Comfortable to wear, even for extended periods of time, these pants allow you to move as necessary over rough terrain, and in difficult conditions. On top of that, they are treated with a Teflon coasting, that provides protection from stains and dirt, as well as a measure of moisture resistance as well. This is a nice benefit for travelers who like to travel light, as it allows you to carry fewer items with you when you go. In my case, I brought only two pairs of pants on my trip to Ecuador, with the Stryke Pant getting the bulk of the use during active pursuits.

Tactical 5.11 knows their customers well, and when designing these pants they incorporated plenty of pockets and stash points to store all of your important items. In addition to the traditional pockets on the front and back, there are also cargo pockets conveniently located on each leg. Inside those two pockets, you'll find organizational compartments as well, which are perfect for a cell phone, digital camera, a pocket knife, or what ever other items you want to keep close at hand. Both the cargo and rear pockets also feature velcro flaps to ensure a level of security too. Those flaps stay solidly in place, and are nearly impossible to open without drawing the attention of the wearer. This is also a nice feature for travelers, who want to keep their wallet, and other valuables, safe while on the road, although they also come in handy for making sure nothing falls out while you're scrambling up a mountain, or hiking a difficult trail.

Antarctica 2014: Trouble on the Way to the POI

The 2014 Antarctic expedition season is well underway now, with teams of skiers making their way towards the South Pole, and other destinations across the frozen continent. While travel in Antarctica has become somewhat common place in recent years, it is still a very difficult, and in hospitable place, which one explorer found out yesterday. Meanwhile, the next flight to Union Glacier is still on track for tomorrow, as yet more expeditions prepare to get underway.

Canadian kite-skier Frédéric Dion ran into a bit of trouble yesterday, and it could put his entire expedition in jeopardy. Dion set off from the Russian Novo station back on November 11 with the intention of kiting to the Pole of Inaccessibility, which is defined as a point that is located furthest from any coastline on the Antarctic continent. Using his large kites to catch the wind, Fréd has been zipping along quite nicely, covering more than 500 km (310 miles) in a relatively short period of time. With him he has a specially designed sled that can best be described as a kayak on skis, which carries all of his gear and supplies. It is essentially his lifeline while out on the ice, and it is the one piece of equipment that needs to function properly in order for him to successfully reach the POI.

Yesterday, when he contacted his home team, it was with the grim news that the kayak had suffered a 30 cm (11.8 inch) crack, this making it very difficult to continue. Dion immediately initiated an attempt to repair the crack, but it took 5 hours to do so, and he made no progress at all yesterday. He will attempt to continue today, although we'll all have to wait to see if the sled will be able to stand-up to the rigors of the Antarctic.

Winter Mountaineering 2014: K2 and Nanga Parbat Take Center Stage

Earlier this week we turned out the light on the 2014 fall Himalayan climbing season by wrapping up the last couple of expeditions that were still ongoing. Now, there will be a bit of a respite on the big mountains, while most of the attention turns to the spring climbing season on Everest. But before that occurs, the winter climbing season awaits, and in just over a month's time, teams will begin heading to some of the most difficult peaks on the planet in an attempt to summit during the coldest, most demanding season of all.

As of now, there are just two 8000 meter peaks that remain unclimbed in winter, They are K2 and Nanga Parbat. This winter, teams have targeted both peaks in an attempt to knock off one, or both, of these incredibly difficult mountains.

While most of the winter climbing expeditions are heading to Nanga, the team that we'll be watching the closest will no doubt be on K2. As previously announced, a team consisting of climbing all-stars Denis Urubko, Adam Bielecki and Alex Txikon, who will be joined by Artiom Braun and Dmitry Siniew, has set its sights on a new route on the toughest mountain on the planet. The team will climb from the Chinese side of K2, up the North Face, along the Northeast Ridge. According to ExWeb, the squad will depart for the Karakoram on December 16.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Video: Sanctuary

If you're looking for a bit of serenity in the middle of a hectic week, this video just might do the trick. It features some lovely timelapse imagery shot in Colorado, Alaska, and Canada over this past summer. When mixed with soothing music, it is three minutes of visual bliss.

Sanctuary from Taylor Caraway on Vimeo.

Video: Climbing Icebergs in Greenland

Since the release of the Hero4 camera last month, GoPro has been sharing videos that demonstrate its use in the field. This is another one of those clips, this time showing pro climbers Klemen Premrl and Aljaz Anderle as they tackle some icebergs near Greenland. The mood of the video is set in the first minute, when they are ascending a wall of ice, only to find that it is starting to crumble around them. The rest of the short documentary shows more of their adventure, and the beautiful landscapes that they operate in.

Gear Closet: Granite Gear Kahiltna 29 Pack

It has been interesting to watch the evolution of the backpack over the past couple of years. Outdoor gear manufacturers have managed to continue to add excellent –and often surprising – new features, without compromising on the size, storage capacity, or overall design of their bags. Take for example the Kahiltna 29 pack from Granite Gear, a versatile technical daypack that feels larger than it actually is, while still managing to deliver on the promise of a comfortable fit that can see you through a full day of adventure in the backcountry, around town, and beyond.

Granite Gear has a legacy of creating excellent technical packs designed for a variety of outdoor activities. The company has sent their gear to some of the most remote places on the planet, including Everest, and the North and South Pole. Over the years, they've continued to refine those products, improving on their designs after every generation. The Kahiltna is a culmination of those efforts, combining years of experience with technical know, to create a pack that is versatile enough to take with you anywhere.

What struck me first when putting on the Kahiltna pack was how well padded the shoulder straps, hip belt, and back panel actually are. For a small daypack, Granite Gear has certainly gone to great lengths to ensure the comfort of the wearer. The thick, plyable padding allows you to carry a heavier load than you would think possible with a 29-liter pack, without straining or struggling in anyway. The back panel does lack a frame system that would allow for better ventilation however, although a series of contours etched into the panel does provide some relief in that area.

Kenn Borek Air Ceases Operations in the Arctic

For years, Kenn Borek Air has supported expeditions to some of the most far flung destinations on the planet. In fact, the company's motto is "Anytime, Anywhere... Worldwide." They may have to amend that in light of recent news involving the airline, as ExWeb is reporting that the company has ceased operations in the Arctic, and will no longer support teams heading to the North Pole. 

In a brief article posted to its website, ExWeb wrote the following:
"Rumour has been confirmed that Kenn Borek Air, operating from Canada, will not be flying any North Pole expeditions to their start points, or pick them up at the North Pole, or anywhere in between for emergency purposes, in the foreseeable future. 
Explorersweb has asked Kenn Borek for a statement, and will publish it as it becomes available."
At this time, that is all that is known about this story, but it still is a significant one. For years, Kenn Borek Air has been the logistical lifeline for expeditions heading to the North Pole from the Canadian side of the ice. The company flew skiers to their starting point, and often picked them up at the Pole as well. In recent years however, very few expeditions were able to reach 90ºN, and thus the pilots for  Kenn Borek were forced to retrieve explorers out on the ice. With the changes that have been occurring in the Arctic over the past few years, that had to increasingly more challenging.

Until we get a statement from Kenn Borek, it is hard to say exactly why this decision was made, but I'm sure the unstable conditions, and added expenses, of operating in the Arctic played a major role. Weather conditions in that part of the world seem to be getting increasingly worse during the traditional Arctic expedition season, making it all the more difficult to operate as well. Safety for both the pilots, and the explorers on their way north, are obviously one of the big concerns.

It seems rather unlikely that another airline will step in to pick up the slack, which means those hoping to ski to the North Pole will have to do some from the European side of the ice. The Russian government handle a lot of the logistics for Arctic explorers on that side of the planet, although there are a few other alternatives as well. In recent years, going to the North Pole on skies has become one of the most difficult endeavors in exploration, and without Kenn Borek, it has just gotten a little more challenging.

Hopefully we'll get more information about this development in the near future.

Badwater Ultramarathon Returning to Death Valley

One of the big stories from the ultrarunning world earlier this year was the news that the Badwater Ultramarathon had been barred from taking place in its traditional environment – Death Valley National Park. In an effort to increase safety throughout the park, a comprehensive review of all events taking place within Death Vally was conducted, which included a number of running and cycling competitions. While that review was taking place, the Badwater was forced to use an alternate route for the 2014 event, and for a time it looked like that route could become permanent. Last week however, it was announced that the race will return to its traditional route in 2015, with only a few minor changes to operations.

In August, a report on the findings for the safety review in Death Valley indicated that sporting events taking place in the month of July – when the Badwater traditionally is run – could be permanently banned. That's when the temperatures in the park are at their hottest, and conditions are most dangerous for those participating. At the time the report was released, the future of the ultramarathon continuing in Death Valley looked grim, and it seemed it wouldn't even be able to start in the small town from which is garnered its name.

But now it seems the Park Service has granted the Badwater a reprieve, and the event will take place more or less as usual. The 2015 edition of the race will be held July 28-30, with a route that begins in Badwater Basin, 86 meters (282 feet) below sea level, and ends at the Mt. Whitney Portals located at 2530 metes (8300 ft). Along the way, it covers some 217 km (135 miles) through one of the harshest, driest environments on the planet.

Race officials indicated that the Badwater would have a three-wave start, with runners setting off in the evening. They indicated that participants wouldn't notice any other significant changes to the event, although behind the scenes there has been more bureaucracy and expense taken on by the AdventureCORPS team that puts on the race. Other than that however, it is business as usual for the ultra-event.

It's good to see the Badwater return to its traditional home and route. The event was never in danger of going away, but for decades it has been run along the route from the basin to Mt. Whitney, and it is nice to see it able to continue along that path. I commend the National Park Service for taking safety seriously, but the AdventureCORPS team has been running this race for a long time, and they have proven time and again that they know what they are doing. Safety remains a chief concern of all involved, and will continue to do so as long as the Badwater continues to operate.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Video: A Visual Journey Through Tibet

This video takes us on a visual journey through Tibet, giving us a look at the landscapes, landmarks, and people that make it such a special place. The country has a spiritual tone that pervades every aspect of the place, and it remains a popular destination for adventure travelers looking to visit the Himalaya, the Tibetan Plateau, and numerous other unique and wonderful places. If Tibet is one of the places that you'd like to visit, this video will only encourage those feelings further.

Tibet. from Alex Rivest on Vimeo.

Video: The Milky Way Rises Over Mt. Everest in Timelapse

We've seen some impressive timelapse videos in recent months, and this one ranks right up near the top. It features an amazing starscape, that includes the Milky Way itself, as it rises over Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain on our planet. As you can imagine, this makes for quite a celestial show. Enjoy!

The Milky Way Rising over Mt. Everest. from Alex Rivest on Vimeo.

Adventures in Quito: Hacienda El Porvenir – A Base Camp for Andes Adventures

Over the course of ten days in Ecuador, I have had the privilege of seeing a number of truly wonderful things, while also staying in some fantastic lodges along the way. If you’ve been reading my posts throughout my travels, you have no doubt seen me mention a couple of these great hotels, several of which I have recommended highly. But nothing prepared me for my stay at Hacienda El Porvenir, a traditional mountain lodge that can serve as your base camp for adventure in the Andes.

El Porvenir isn’t likely to impress on first glance, especially if you’ve visited one of the more modern and upscale lodges in the Quito area. But don’t let the exterior fool you. This is a place that will capture your heart, and call you back for future visits. The hacienda has a charm and character all of its own, and a soul that is pure Ecuadorian.

The main house that makes up the lodge belonged to the same family for six generations. About 15 years ago, they decided to convert it into a hotel, first starting with some very basic accommodations that are not unlike something you’d find in hostel. Over the years, they have expanded the operations, and added on additional rooms and buildings, allowing for El Porvenir to meet the needs of more guests. Those additions include incredibly comfortable suites, family rooms, and options for singles and couples. The result is that the lodge pretty much has something for everyone – and every budget.

The entire hacienda covers more than 1000 hectares (2470 acres) of prime real estate on the edge of Cotopaxi National Park. In fact, on clear days, the massive volcano can be easily seen from the hotel itself. Other prominent peaks throughout the area are visible as well, giving El Porvenir some of the best views in all of Ecuador. All of that land is put to good use as well, as guests can book horseback rides into the highlands, hit custom made mountain biking trails, or go hiking on self-guided or full-guided tours. If you like staying active on your travels, and like to stay at a place that can provide several forms of adventurous pursuits, this is definitely the place for you.

Antarctica 2014: The Antarctic Expedition Season is Officially Underway

The Himalaya climbing season may have come to an end while I was gone, but the 2014 Antarctic expedition season is just getting underway. The first teams hit the ice last week, and after a few delays due to weather, have now started to make their way towards the South Pole, or other objectives on the  frozen continent. Over the next two months or so, we will have a steady stream of updates from the bottom of the world, as these explorers make their way across the highest, driest, and coldest desert on the planet. 

The first person to hit the ice this year was Canadian Frédéric Dion. He is attempting to reach the South Pole of Inaccessibility via kite-ski, and has already started to make good progress toward that goal. For those that don't know, the POI is the point that is furthest from the coast, making it an incredibly remote, and inhospitable place. Frédéric set off from the Russian Novo station on November 11, and has already covered more than 350 km (217 miles) in just a week. In contrast, those who are skiing to the South Pole will have struggled to cover 112 km (70 miles) over that same period of time. The expedition hasn't been without incident though, as just yesterday he set his tent, and himself, on fire while making his morning breakfast and hot chocolate. Fortunately, there was no major damage, and is off and running again today. 

Meanwhile, South Pole skiers Are Johansen and Stéphanie and Jérémie Gicquel have launched the first expedition out of Union Glacier. They spent the first few days tent bound as they waited for the weather to clear up, but finally hit the trail along the Messner Route on November 15. They have been making steady progress as well, covering upwards of 16.2 km (10 miles) per day since they left from the coast. Johansen is severing as the guide for the team, while the Gicquel couple focus on skiing to 90ºS. 

Himalaya Fall 2014: The Season is Over

It has been a long, and often difficult, fall season in the Himalaya, where poor weather, unstable conditions, and challenging routes have made for a less than successful year in the big mountains. While I was away in Ecuador, the last remaining teams wrapped up their expeditions, and the season has come to a close at last. But before we close the book on another year in the Himalaya, I wanted to post a couple of updates on things that took place over the past couple of week.

Before I departed for South America, we were watching Lhotse closely, waiting for new from the South Korean team that has been struggling for two very long months to make progress on that mountain. In the first week of November, the team set off on a summit push, installing Camp 4, and hoping to move to the top of the 8516 meter (27,940 ft) peak. According to ExWeb, the climbers reached as high as 7800 meters (25,590 ft) before they were once again turned back by high winds and poor conditions. One of the team members was also said to be in deteriorating health as well, which eventually forced the abandonment of the entire project.

One other expedition that had been ongoing was the attempt by Canadian climbers Jason Kruk and Ian Welsted to summit Nuptse along the South Face. The duo spent four days on their summit push, but were forced to turn back after encountering conditions that prevented them from reaching the top. Later, Welsted feinted on the trail and had to be airlifted out to safety. He seems to be in good condition, and all is well, but it did put a scare into Kruk for a time. The episode took place on November 3, and was the result of fatigue after living above 5000 meters (16,404 ft) for five weeks. The boys are home now, and doing much better.

This report brings a wrap to the 2014 fall Himalaya climbing season, and now all eyes will turn towards the spring, when Everest will sure dominate the scene once again. Considering how unusual the past few seasons have been on the Big Hill, I suspect we will not lack for drama once again in 2015.