Friday, April 24, 2015

Adventures in Egypt: The Great Pyramid of Giza

One of the biggest draws in all of Egypt is without a doubt the Great Pyramid at Giza. This spectacular monument that overlooks Cairo is one of the most famous destinations on the entire planet, and the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that is still standing. It is an iconic place that finds itself on the bucket list for many world travelers, and rightfully so. But due to that iconic status, it also runs the risk of being a bit of a disappointment. After all, how can a place with such a fantastic reputation possibly live up to all of the hype?

As someone who has now visited the site of the Great Pyramid – and it's two lesser companions – on two separate occasions over the past decade, I can assure you that the pyramids of Egypt are anything but disappointing. For me – a student of history – they live up to all of my expectations, and then some. The mere site of these three massive structures is enough to instill a sense of awe that few other manmade destinations can compare to.

The sheer size and audacity of the pyramids is enough to make them worthy of "wonder" status. After all, it is estimated that the Great Pyramid alone is made up of more than 2.5 million individual stones, each weighing in excess of 6000 pounds (2727 kg). Those stones were individually crafted to fit into the overall structure, and help make it one of the most impressive construction projects ever undertaken. When it was completed in 2560 BC, the Great Pyramid was easily the tallest building on the planet, and it remained so until the construction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1895. That means for nearly 4500 years, it reigned supreme.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Adventures in Egypt: Quiet and Calm in Cairo

Egypt is a country that has always held a certain mystique amongst travelers. In fact, you could make an argument that it was actually the world's first tourist destination. After all, travelers have been coming to this land for centuries just to catch a glimpse of the ancient wonders that exist here. People like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte, just to name a few. But in recent years the country has been making news for other reasons.

In 2011 the arrival of the Arab Spring proceeded the overthrow of a long standing dictatorial government, and ushered in a period of uncertainty and unrest. With protests in the streets of Cairo being broadcast on the nightly news, it appeared that Egypt had descended into chaos. Those images sent many would-be visitors scrambling to other destinations, as security concerns took hold. For a time, the country's famous monuments – including the Pyramids and Sphinx – were empty, as travelers stayed away amidst the turmoil.

But those days are long gone now. Newly elected President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has brought a sense of calm and stability to Egypt, and it is having a positive effect not only on the people that live here, but the tourism industry as well. While crowds are still at a minimum, there is a strong sense of optimism in the air as foreigners begin to return at last.

I've been in the country for five days, and have already gotten a sense that things are both different, and the same since my last visit back in 2005. There is a heightened sense of security in the major cities, and around the famous tourist sites, but there is also a clear feeling that the instability of the past few years is over, and that Egypt is ready to get back to work. That work includes welcoming thousands of travelers to its shores.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Adventure Blog is Back on Hiatus – I'm Egypt Bound!

I have a quick note to post to end the week. I wanted to let regular readers know that The Adventure Blog is going back on hiatus for a couple of weeks while I head to Egypt for a new adventure. I depart tomorrow (April 18) and will return on May 5. During that time I hope to have the opportunity to post about the journey, but I'll have to wait to see what kind of Internet service will be available. Hopefully I can post some regular updates however, so you can get a feel for what I'm up to.

I'll be traveling with a group hosted by G Adventures, who are easily one of the best adventure travel companies that I've ever had the experience of working with. The company has invited me to join one of their regular groups who will be taking part in their Absolute Egypt tour. While there, I will of course see the wonders of this famous country, including the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx, and the Valley of the Kings and Queens. But I'll also be camping in the Sahara, sailing on the Nile, and meeting with locals too.

This will be my second time in Egypt, but the first since the Arab Spring. It will be interesting to see how things have changed since I was last there, and what life is life for the people of this amazing country. The story that I will be looking for is the return of tourism to the Middle Eastern nation. The travel industry is vital to the economy there, but it has been crippled due to unrest in recent years. I've heard reports that the major attractions and monuments have been all-but empty at times, and I want to see if that remains true. 2015 is the year that travelers are expected to return to Egypt, but it is unclear of that has started to happen just yet.

While I'm away, there will obviously be a lot going on, particularly with the spring climbing season in the Himalaya. If you're looking for regular news from Everest and the other big mountain, than I'd suggest reading Alan Arnette's regular reports, and dropping by Explorer's Web from time to time too. I'll be trying to follow the unfolding season as best I can as well. I'll be home in time for the first summit pushes on Everest and Lhotse, although some of the other mountains may see some action ahead of the major push on the Big Hill.

While I'm away, stay safe, enjoy some adventures of your own, and hopefully I'll have some good things to share from Egypt soon. If Internet connections are reliable, I will at least post some photos on my Twitter feed at @kungfujedi.

I'll be back before you know it!

Video: A Journey to Antarctica

Antarctica is the most remote destinations on the planet, so most of us never get a chance to go there. But in December of 2014 and January of 2015, filmmaker Kalle Ljung traveled to the frozen continent, and captured some amazing footage from his journey. The 8-minute video below is a compilation of his work that gives us a glimpse of the breathtaking landscapes that can be found there. Ljung says that his journey began in Ushuaia, Argentina and proceeded to Port Williams in Chile, before rounding Cape Horn and crossing the infamous Drake Passage. Over the course of 16 days in the Antarctic, he was able to film some amazing places using a GoPro camera and DJI Phantom 2 drone. As you'll see, the results are spectacular.

Antarctica from Kalle Ljung on Vimeo.

Video: Rey Del Rio Waterfall World Championships - Kayaking Competition at its Most Extreme

Kayaking competitions are nothing new, nor is paddling over massive waterfalls. We've certainly seen both over the years. But when you combine the two, you get the Rey Del Rio Waterfall World Championships, an insane event in which pro kayakers run three massive falls in Chiapas, Mexico, pulling tricks and stunts as they go. The video below captures the insanity of this competition, where some big names in the world pro paddling gathered to take on the waters of the Agua Azul. As you'll see, it was quite the event.

Get Outside and Celebrate National Park Week - April 18 - 26

If you're looking for something to do this weekend, than perhaps a visit to a national park is in order. Tomorrow begins the annual National Park Week here in the U.S., and to celebrate all of the parks are waving their entry fees for visitors this weekend. Additionally, many parks will have a number of activities planned for the week ahead as well, including events to commemorate Earth Day on Wednesday too.

The national parks have been called "America's Best Idea," and rightfully so. These amazing outdoor settings are amongst the best in the entire world, and have spurred numerous other nations to protect their natural landscapes too. Yellowstone became the first national park in the world back in 1872, and Yosemite would follow a couple of decades later. Both remain amazing examples of the natural beauty that can be found in the western United States, and I for one appreciate that someone had the foresight to protect these places.

You will no doubt find plenty of online articles and blog posts providing suggestions on how you could celebrate National Park Week. The National Park Foundation has one here, and your's truly wrote another one for About.com that can be read here. But the bottomline is that over the course of the next week – if at all possible – you should get outside and enjoy a one of these great places. With more than 400 units in the U.S. park system, there is almost assuredly one semi-close to where you live. And to help you locate where they are, the new Find Your Park website will certainly come in handy.

I know there are a lot of readers of this blog who are not from the U.S. of course, but considering that many nations across the planet have designated national parks, now is a good time to visit one of yours as well. National Park Week may be an American event, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't celebrate your parks too. In my experience, if a destination has been designated as a protected park, it probably is a place worth visiting.

As for me, I have to forego my national park visits for a few more weeks. I'm heading out of the country tomorrow, and won't be around to take part in the celebration. But at the end of May I'll be heading out to visit Yosemite, Sequoia and King's Canyon, and I'm looking forward to that experience. Until then, I'll just have to be patient and wait for my chance.

Himalaya Spring 2015: Puja Ceremonies and a Collapse in the Icefall

There as been another setback on Everest that is keeping the climbers in Base Camp today, despite the need to start their acclimatization rotations soon. Earlier in the week it was bad weather that prevented them from getting on the move, but now it is a collapse in the Khumbu Icefall that has delayed the start of the first rotations up the mountain.

Alan Arnette reports that more than 80 Sherpas were in the Icefall this morning as they continued their work to shuttle gear up to Camps 1 and 2. But the collapse of the ice along the route caused all of them to turn back. Apparently there was a traverse over a large crevasse that required four ladders to complete, and the entire thing came crumbling down. The Khumbu Ice Doctors will now have to search for an alternate route through the dangerous Icefall. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the collapse.

This is not uncommon, and is large part of why crossing through the Icefall is so dangerous. This portion of the mountain is incredibly unsteady, and the Ice Docs work all season long to keep the route safe and open. This sounds like it was a major collapse however, so it could take a day or two for them to find a new path. You may recall that this route was described as safer and shorter than the ones used in the past, and hopefully that won't change following this incident.

Alan also says that his team had its Puja ceremony a few days back. The Puja is an important step for any climbing expedition, as no one can start up the mountain until it is finished. During the Puja, a Buddhist monk brings the climbers and Sherpas together to ask permission from the mountain gods to safely pass up Everest, or what ever other mountain they are climbing. Traditionally, the monk will also bless their gear and ask the gods to keep the climbers safe. While it is taken very seriously by everyone, it is also a time to celebrate and have too.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Video: A Journey into Adventure

This fantastic short film is a billed as "A visual poem about the beating heart of adventure that resides within us all." After watching it, I'd say that is an apt description, as it is filled with beautiful images of men and women pursuing their outdoor passions, while a narrator shares his philosophy and approach to adventure. I think many of you who read this blog will find those words to be very inspirational, and will more than likely strike a chord. For us, going to the mountains isn't an escape, it is a place for us to be. Truly wonderful work on this video.

ARRI Journey - Directed by Casey Warren & Danielle Krieger from Casey Warren | MINDCASTLE on Vimeo.

Video: Underwater Explorers Encounter Rare Sperm Whale

While operating a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, a team of underwater explorers had an unexpected encounter with a sperm whale. The
magnificent creature circled the ROV several times before moving on, while cameras aboard the unmanned craft recorded the experience. The video below shares that footage, along with the very excited voices of the team that witnessed the encounter. To say they were thrilled would be an understatement. Amazing stuff to say the least.

Adventure Tech: Recon Jet Heads-Up Display For Outdoor Athletes

Here's a product I've had my eye on for some time, and it is now finally coming to market. Recon Instruments, a company that makes heads-up displays (HUD) for skiing and snowboarding googles,  has announced that their latest product – the Recon Jet – is now available. This wearable computer was built specifically with outdoor athletes in mind, and is designed to provide them with all kinds of information while they run, paddle, and ride.

The Jet is a lightweight set of sunglasses that includes a small HUD that sits at the lower right corner of the eye. The device pairs via Bluetooth with your smartphone to provide a data connection that can track performance, offers access to social sharing, and can capture both photos and video. The Jet also includes onboard GPS capabilities to track distance, speed, duration of workout, elevation gain and loss, and more. It'll even connect with other devices, such as a heart rate monitor, via ANT+ to display information as well. It will even display text messages and caller ID on it's small, but high resolution screen.

Recon has been developing the Jet since 2008, and a lot has changed in the technology world since then. But the designers have been forward thinking in their plans, and have created an SDK that will allow developers to create their own apps for the device. Additionally, the data collected and saved can be easily uploaded to other apps such as Strava and MyMapFitness. The company has even built its own Recon Engage web platform, and apps for iOS and Android as well.

Ocean Rower Anne Quéméré to Challenge Northwest Passage Once Again


Ocean rower Anne Quéméré has announced that she is returning to the Arctic Ocean once again this summer in an attempt to complete the very difficult journey across the Northwest Passage by kayak. Last year, bad weather thwarted her efforts, but she has vowed to go back and finish what she started by covering the entire 3000 km (1864 miles) over a three month period. 

That 2014 expedition to the Passage proved to be an eye-opener for the veteran adventurer. She discovered that it was not as easy as she thought it would be to pass through the ice-choked waters found north of Canada. The weather was surprisingly bad all season long too, with high winds and heavy seas making it difficult to make any kind of progress. She also traveled solo on that journey, and unarmed. Two things that she'll rectify this time out. 

This year, Quéméré will have a companion joining her on the expedition. A Swiss scientist by the name of Raphael Domjan will accompany the her across the passage, and while she will be paddling her kayak, he will be following along in a second boat powered by a small electric motor that will match her pace. Domjan will spend his time in the Passage taking notes and environmental readings as he makes observations about the impact of climate change on the Arctic Ocean. 

Since the duo will be kayaking, they will stop and camp on shore most nights. That means they'll run the risk of encountering a polar bear, a creature that Quéméré had a few brushes with last year as well. This time out, they'll go armed with shotguns to scare the bears away. Massive and powerful, a hungry polar bear can be a real threat to a person in the arctic, and Anne and Raphael will not underestimate that threat in 2015. 

No stranger to oceanborn adventures, Quéméré has successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a rowboat in the past, and even crossed the Pacific in a prototype boat using a kite for propulsion, spending 78 days at seas. She has also kayaked in the ice waters off Greenland, and has last year's experience in the Northwest Passage to her credit as well. 

The two will set out for Tuktoyaktuk in Canada in June, with the crossing starting shortly there after. 

North Pole 2015: Thomas Ulrich Begins Solo Ski Expedition to Canada

It has been a busy week at the North Pole, where the Bareno Ice Camp continues to serve as a temporary base for researchers, explorers, and adventurers. This year's camp has been open for a couple of weeks now, which means it is nearing the end of its lifespan, but it will continue to see steady arrivals, and departures, until the Arctic season ends before the end of the month.

Work has begun to repair the aircraft that had its landing gear damaged upon arrival to Barneo back when the camp first opened. As you can imagine, that isn't an easy task when you're located just one degree off the Pole. The plane has obviously been out of commission for most of the season, and as a result the support flights out of Longyearbyen in Norway have been forced to use just one aircraft this year. Two flight crews have been aboard those flights, and that plane has been flying almost non-stop to deliver people, fuel, and supplies to base. Add in nearly a week delay in flights due to weather, and the crews have been struggling to keep up.

One of the biggest pieces of news to come out of Barneo in the past couple of days is that polar guide Thomas Ulrich has reached 90ºN with his team of clients. They has skied the last degree to the North Pole after starting out at the Ice Camp last week. Those clients were plucked from the ice by a Russian helicopter, and flown back to the base, where they then made their way home. But they said goodbye to Ulrich at the top of the world, as he will now proceed to ski solo to Ellesmere Island on the Canadian side of the ice. This expedition will serve as a tune-up for his even bigger plans for 2016, when he hopes to traverse the entire arctic – via the North Pole – completely solo and on foot.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Video: Earth Porn Vol. 3 - The Alberta Badlands

In this latest edition of the Earth Porn video series we travel to the Badlands of Alberta, Canada where we see landscapes that are starkly beautiful in their simple settings. Ariel footage takes us through a series of open flatlands and canyons, giving us a bird's eye view of the countryside, which is awe inspiring with its diversity and complexity. This short clip is mesmerizing in so many ways, and is a good reminder of just how amazing our planet truly is.

EARTH PORN // VOL 3 // BADLANDS (AERIAL ALBERTA) from Christiaan Welzel on Vimeo.

Video: Climbing a New Route in the Canadian Rockies with Raphael Slawinski

At the moment, mountaineer Raphael Slawinski is in Tibet preparing to attempt a new route up Mt. Everest. But in this video, we travel to the Ya Ha Tinda Range in the Canadian Rockies, where he put up a new route as well. The five-minute short film is a good introduction to Raphael, and his approach to climbing. It also has some spectacular shots of the scenery he passed through on his way to the top. This is a beautiful mountaineering film, with some good inspirational words from a man we'll be hearing a lot about this spring.

Raphael Slawinski - Surpassing - A film by AliasCinema. from ARC'TERYX on Vimeo.

Adventure Tech: Garmin Virb X and XE Action Camera Challenges GoPro

We all know that the GoPro cameras are the kings of the action cam category, but that doesn't mean there aren't worthy challengers to that crown. In fact, when I reviewed the Garmin Virb Elite camera a year ago, I found it to be an excellent alternative to the GoPro hegemony, offering up some excellent features that had yet to be implemented in Hero line.

But a lot has changed in a year, and GoPro continues to refine and improve their cameras. Last fall, the company released its Hero 4 line, improving an already great product with some excellent new options. But Garmin hasn't been standing still either, and earlier this week they announced an outstanding new addition to the Virb line-up in the form of the X and XE models.

The new Virb cameras come with a completely redesigned body that more resembles a traditional action cam. Previously this product was elongated in shape, but now it is a bit more rectangular, making it easier to grip. The body is ruggedized as well, and built to take the inevitable punishment we'll throw at it in our outdoor pursuits. It is even waterproof down to 50 meters right out of the box, without the need to add an additional housing.

While the standard X model of the Virb maintains the same tech specs as last year (1080p video @ 30fps), the XE received some nice technical upgrades. It is now capable of shooting 1080p at 60 fps, or even 1440p at 30 fps. That is a nice upgrade of course, but falls short of the 4k video that the GoPro, and some of its competitors, are capable of.

The XE does have a new "Pro" mode that gives the user more manual control over the settings, and both models continue to include Garmin's impressive data collecting capabilities which track speed, distance, elevation, location, temperature, and a whole lot more. That data can than be incorporated directly into your videos using the Virb's free editing software.

All in all, this looks like a worthy update to an already impressive action camera. If you don't need 4k video – which is difficult to edit or watch in full resolution at this point – than the Virb delivers some other impressive features that are certainly worth a look. Check it out in action in the video below to get a better idea of what Garmin has delivered here.


Major Carolina Rivers Expedition Set to Begin April 29

Explorer Julian Monroe Fisher's many travels have taken him to some of the most remote places on the planet where he has had the opportunity to observe indigenous cultures and map little-known landscapes. But with his next project he wants to show that you don't have to go to the ends of the Earth to be an explorer. In fact, you can find plenty of adventure and exploration right in your own backyard.

The Costa Presents Carolinas River - Education and Preservation Through Exploration project is scheduled to get underway later this month. It will consist of a series of ambitious expeditions that are meant to explore the waterways of the Carolinas while documenting the history and cultural heritage of the region. Over the next two years, Julian plans to explore 32 individual rivers in North and South Carolina, both overland and on the water. Through his travels, he hopes to also hopes to bring attention to the environmental threats that these rivers now face.

Over the course of his journey's, Julian will travel by kayak, canoe, and stand-up paddleboard, as well as on foot. When he isn't paddling one of the 32 rivers, he'll be hiking along North Carolina's Mountain to Sea Trail or South Carolina's Palmetto Trail. He'll be joined on these excursions by a documentary film crew from Blue Car Productions that will capture the settings, communities, and ecosystems that he encounters along the way.

One of the more crucial aspects of the project is the role education will play. Julian believes that through education, these threatened Carolina rivers can be saved. To that end, he is establishing ties with a number of schools to create a learning tool that can be used in classrooms. By engaging students in the Carolinas River project he hopes to get the next generation invested more fully in the environment, which in turn will help spread the word about the importance of protecting these waterways. Updates of the journey will be shared via social media as well, giving students an even deeper connection to what is happening.

The first stage of the Carolina Rivers project will launch on April 29 with a special media event at the Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, NC. By that point, Julian will have already started to paddle the French Broad River, considered the third oldest in the world, and will make a stopover to meet with press and the public.

This will be a major project to watch unfold over the next couple of years. Paddling 32 rivers over that period, while also hiking through the Carolinas backcountry, should be extremely interesting to follow.

You can learn much more at CarolinaRivers.com.

Himalaya Spring 2015: Climbers Arriving in North Side Base Camp, Nat Geo Interviews Raphael Slawinski

The start of the 2015 climbing season continues to unfold as expected. Teams are continuing to arrive in Everest Base Camp on the South Side, where they are being greeted by unusually heavy snow that is delaying the start of their acclimatization rotations. Meanwhile, the first climbers are now en route to BC on the North Side as well, as some other notable mountaineers arrive in Kathmandu.

Will start with news from the North Side today. While climbers from the Nepali side of the mountain have been slowly making their way out to Base Camp over the past week or so, those heading north generally have to wait for the Chinese to open the border into Tibet. That has now happened, and the teams who will be climbing from that side of the mountain have begun to cross over and are now making their way to BC as well. Unlike on the South Side however, they can actually drive to the start of their climb, so they generally take a few days to get there by stopping the towns of Nyalam and Tingri for acclimatization purposes.

But North Side Base Camp is quickly becoming a hive of activity, as Sherpas from the major teams have arrived onsite and are quickly getting the camp prepared for the arrival of the climbers. According to reports, there will be roughly people attempting to summit from the Tibetan side this spring, with about 150 Sherpas joining them.
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