Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Explorer Will Steger Sets Off on 1000-Mile Solo Expedition in Arctic Canada

Will Steger is no stranger to traveling in the remote, wild places of our planet. His adventure resume includes leading the first dogsled expedition to the North Pole back in 1986, a 1600-mile (2574 km) south-to-north journey across Greenland, and the first ever dogsled traverse of Antarctica, an epic journey that covered more than 3740 miles (6018 km) in a seven month period from 1989-90. But, the polar legend says that his next expedition may be his toughest yet as he sets out tomorrow to trek through a seldom-visited part of Canada completely on his own.

The 73-year old Steger will set out from northern Saskatchewan on a 1000 mile (1600 km) solo expedition that will take him across a section of Canada simply known as the "Barren Lands." This remote and rugged place in the Canadian Arctic is said to be a treeless, open expanse filled with snow and ice. And while the calendar will now officially say spring when he set out, he expects to face temperatures in the -40ºF/C range as he embarks on the trip, which he expects will take about 70 days to complete, ending in early June on the shores of Baker Lake near Hudson Bay in the northern Nunavut Territory.

To stay well provisioned out in the wilderness, Steger will pull a custom-built sled/canoe that will be loaded with about 200 pounds (90 kg) of supplies and gear. In the early days of the expedition he'll manhaul the sled as he would were he skiing to the North or South Pole, but as temperatures warm up he should be able to paddle the canoe at times as well.

In order to complete the journey on schedule, Steger will have to average about 14 miles per day, which is a fair serious pace for hauling so much gear over rugged ground. Fortunately, the Barren Lands are mostly flat, with just a few hills here and there, so he won't face much in the way of elevation change. His biggest challenges will come from potentially falling into frigid water, so he'll wear a drysuit for those times when he is crossing frozen lakes and rivers.

The experienced adventurer says that this will be his most challenging expedition to date. While he has spent months at a time out on frozen sections of the planet, this is the longest journey he's ever undertaken in solo fashion. He says that he doesn't expect to see another person while traversing the Barren Lands, and may not even see a single tree from the time he starts to the finish in June.

There is no questioning the validity of Steger's exploration credentials. As I already mentioned, he's a legend in the polar exploration community. But at the age of 73 to still be undertaking such a journey is wildly impressive. It should be fun to follow along with his progress and learn more about this wild and desolate place in northern Canada. Watch for updates to his Facebook, Twitter, and website.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Video: A Speedrider's View of the French Alps

This video takes us to the French Alps where we get a first-person perspective of what it is like to speedride through those iconic mountains. What's speedriding you ask? It is a combination of paragliding and skiing that allows participants to fly down a mountain, clearing trees and crevasses, while touching down momentarily to shred through the snow. We've shared videos of the sport before, but this one offers some particularly terrifying views. Buckle in, it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Video: Explore a Massive Penguin Mega-Colony in the Antarctic

Recently, researchers visiting the Antarctic stumbled across a massive penguin colony that they didn't even know existed. Located on the Danger Islands, to the west of Antarctica itself, this colony is home to 1.5 million birds, making it the largest mega-colony we've found yet. In the video below, you'll get a chance to see what a mega-colony of this size actually looks like, with a stunning number of birds happily living on the island with one another.

Gear Closet: Fjällräven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Review

On my recent trip to Arctic Europe I was outfitted for the journey by Swedish brand Fjällräven, who hooked me up with some incredible gear to keep me warm, dry, and comfortable in the cold conditions. Over the course to this entire week, I'll be sharing my thoughts and reviews of the majority of that gear and letting you know why it should be in your gear closet as well. Most of the products I tested fell into the company's new Bergtagen line, which is a complete system built specifically with mountaineers in mind. That makes this gear a bit on the pricy side for the average consumer, but for the mountain professional, the guide, the avid adventurer, or explorer, this is the equipment you're going to want to have at your disposal, as it delivers amazing performance in the absolute worst of conditions.

I'll start this series of reviews with a look at the Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket, which falls into the active shell category when it comes to outdoor apparel. That means that it is the article of clothing that sits the closets to the elements when working as part of your layering system, so it has to be able to repel water, wind, snow, and other weather conditions in order to keep the wearer warm and comfortable at all times. The Eco-Shell can do that without breaking a sweat, and brings plenty of other nice performance features to the table too.

Made from waterproof, yet still highly breathable, hardshell fabrics, the Eco-Shell can shed water even if the rain is coming down in buckets. It's DWR coating prevents the moisture from penetrating the jacket's out defenses, while still allowing warm air from inside to escape. As a result, it keeps you drier and warmer in cold temperatures, allowing you to stay out longer without slowing down. Better yet, those fabrics are made from recycled fluorocarbon-free materials, which makes them good for the environment too.

Volvo Ocean Race Begins Stage 7, Heading Back to the Southern Ocean

The seventh stage of the Volvo Ocean Race got underway yesterday in New Zealand, with all of the teams setting out on what promises to be another tough and demanding stage. This time, the ships will need to cover 7600 nautical miles (8745 miles/14,075 km) as they race from Aukland to Itajaí, Brazil. The route will take them around the infamous Cape Horn in South Africa and through the Drake Passage as they navigate the Souther Ocean before turning northward across the Atlantic.

Stage 7 is the longest and most coveted section of this year's race by far. The teams will get bonus points for being the first to round the Cape, and they'll get double points for arriving in Itajaí first too. That's because race organizers know that they're going to have to earn it, navigating the rough seas and unpredictable weather of the Southern Ocean while en route. In addition to the big winds and big waves they'll find at the bottom of the world, they'll also have to watch out for icebergs too.

Strategy and swiftness will combine in this stage with the teams having to avoid major storms and pick just the right route. There will be plenty of opportunities for the ships to pick different courses, with bold captains looking for potential options that could make or break their ambitions of winning the stage and the race. Navigating the Horn is never an easy thing to do and picking the right route  north will play a crucial role in who reaches Brazil first. In other words, it should be a particularly interesting and fun stage to watch.

After sitting out the last stage due to damage to the ship, Team Vestas 11th Hour as returned to race this section. You may recall that Vestas was involved in a collision with another vessel on their way into Hong Kong during stage 5 and as a result suffered some damage. The ship couldn't be repaired in Hong Kong itself, so it was sent to New Zealand instead. Now that it is seaworthy again, they are back in the race, and ready for the wild route that sits ahead.

You'll be able to follow all of the action on the Volvo Ocean Race website. The webpage does a great job of keeping us informed of how things are proceeding, offering excellent photos and video as the stages transpire. The next leg should be an amazing one to follow, as the teams face their biggest challenges yet. 

Himalaya Spring 2018: Ice Doctors Head to Everest, China Adds Rules to North Side

We're still a couple of weeks away from the 2018 spring climbing season in the Himalaya truly ramping up, but logistically speaking things are already being set in motion. In Kathmandu a number of operators are collecting gear and supplies in anticipation of their clients arriving soon, while climbers around the world are at home putting the finishing touches on their planning. As usual, we'll be watching the proceedings closely over the next couple of months as the new season unfolds.

On the South Side of Everest in Nepal things officially got underway late last week when a 10 person team set out from Namche Bazaar for Base Camp. Eight of those individuals make up the famed Ice Doctors, whose job it is to create and maintain a safe route through the Khumbu Icefall, while the remaining two serve as cooking staff for the team.

The Ice Doctors are expected to arrive in BC early this week and begin their survey of the area. Their first task will be to scout the icefall itself and look for the best route to cross it. They will install ropes and ladders that the climbing teams will eventually use to pass through this dangerous and unstable section of the climb which is amongst the most treacherous sections of the entire route. Once established, the docs will stay on the mountain until the end of May ensuring that the route remains open and is safe for the entire season. They'll also fix the ropes all the way to Camp 2 in preparation for the arrival of the commercial teams in a few weeks time.

Meanwhile, over in Tibet the Chinese government is anticipating a growing number of climbers attempting Everest from the North Side in the years to come. Because of this, officials are now introducing important new regulations to help maintain the environment on that side of the mountain. There has been a major clean-up effort underway on the South Side for nearly ten years, but in Tibet so such efforts have existed so far. But as the Chinese prepare to invest millions of dollars to develop Everest as both a climbing and tourist destination, they are also looking to improve the conditions there as well.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Adventure Podcast Episode 10: Our Favorite Adventure Books

The latest episode of The Adventure Podcasts now available to download and listen to on your favorite platform. As usual, you'll find it on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Stitcher, as well as for direct stream at the bottom of this post.

This week we thought we'd tackle a fun topic and share our picks for our all-time favorite adventure books with both Dave and myself brining some great suggestions for listens. Some of the books you've no doubt heard of, others might be a bit of surprise. Hopefully there will be some new ones that you might not have heard of before that you can add to your library. We also talk about the latest adventure news with updates on the Iditarod, a new speed record on Kilimanjaro, and more. And as always, we wrap things up with our weekly gear picks, with both of us bringing some excellent – yet pricey – items to the table.

As always, thanks for listening. We hope you enjoy what you hear. Don't forget to drop us a note on Facebook, Twitter, or email if you want to offer feedback, ask a question, or make a suggestion on a topic you'd like to see us cover.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Iditarod 2018: Joar Ulsom First to Nome!

We have a winner in the 2018 Iditarod sled dog race. In the overnight hours, Norwegian Joar Leifseth Ulsom sped into Nome, claiming victory in the race. It is the first win for Ulsom, who first raced in the Iditarod back in 2013 when he was named rookie of the year. He has never finished lower than 7th place, and claimed 4th last year.

The win breaks the stranglehold that the Seavey family has had on the race over the past six years. During that span, Mitch Seavey has won twice, while his son Dallas has gone home with four wins. Currently, Mitch is running in third place out of White Mountain, the second to last checkpoint before reaching Nome. Nicolas Petit is in third, out of Safety and making his way to the finish line.

Ulsom takes home a prize of $50,000, which is a decent sum for a little more than a week's work. But, that's down from the $71,000 that Mitch Seavey took home last year. That is in part because of the pullout of key sponsors like Wells Fargo, which have left the future of the race somewhat in doubt.

While the Norwegian was claiming victory in Alaska, Dallas Seavey is currently leading the Finnmarksløpet, the longest dog sled race in Europe. That event is held in Norway, and covers approximately 1200 km (745 miles). They younger Seavey elected to participate in that race as a protest to a doping scandal from last fall that left some in doubt about how he handles his dogs. It would be fitting however if Ulsom won in Alaska, while Seavey took the victory in Norway, setting up an epic showdown next year.

The Iditarod finished up faster than even I expected. I thought it would take the better part of today before anyone would reach Nome, but Ulsom pushed on through the night and his dogs moved with swiftness over the final miles of the race. We should see several more racers reach the finish line today as well, although others will be straggling in well into the weekend and beyond.

Congratulations to Joar on a fantastic and decisive win.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

On the Road: Riding eBikes in San Diego

Another quick note to let everyone know that updates will likely be few and far between for the remainder of the week. I'm on the road starting tomorrow and until Friday as I travel to San Diego to test out a new line of electric bikes. Most of the information will still be under embargo for a bit yet, but I do know I'll be riding as many as four new ebikes from Yamaha, including a couple of cruisers, a mountain bike, and a road bike. I'll definitely share more information when I can.

In the meantime, I'll be keeping a close eye on a few unfolding events and will post a few updates here and there to share news and information. The Iditarod will be winding down in the next day or so, and a new Adventure Podcast should be released tomorrow as well. I'll share those stories for sure, and others if anything major happens.

I"m only on the road this time until Friday, so regular updates will resume next Monday again. As always, thanks for reading and I'll be back soon. In the meantime, get outside and have a few new adventures of your own.

Video: A Look Inside a "Game of Thrones" Themed Snow Hotel in Finland

Probably the most asked about aspect of my recent adventures in Arctic Europe has been my stay at the Game of Thrones themed Lapland Hotels SnowVillage. Lots of people have asked what it is like to stay there (think snow glamping!), how cold it was (not so bad!), and what it looked like inside. I shot this video from the interior to give you a sense of what to expect. Some of the images are a bit washed out due to the color of the lights, but you'll get a good sense of what it is like to wander the halls. The room at the end of the clip is where I spent the night with a giant owl carved in the wall overhead. All in all, it was a great place to get some sleep, and the Game of Thrones theme was great for fans of the books and show. As you'll see, the artists that made the hotel went to great lengths to deliver on the atmosphere.

Iditarod 2018: Lead Mushers Jockey for the Lead Heading to Nome

The 2018 Iditarod is shaping up to be one of the most competitive and closest finishes in the history of the race. The lead mushers have now passed through the checkpoint in Elim, which puts them just 125 miles from Nome. And as we turn towards the finish line it is looking like a three-man race, with the end-result far from settled.

As of this writing, the lead has changed once again with Norwegian Joar Leifseth Ulsom now in the lead. He's followed closely by Nicolas Petit, who had been out front over the last few days. Stalking just behind the two leaders is defending champ Mitch Seavey, who could still overtake his rivals during the stretch run to Nome.

Ulsom was able to grab the lead when Petit took a wrong turn and veered off the trail. Bad weather has made it a challenge to navigate and Petit went the wrong direction. He was forced to backtrack to get back on the correct route, allowing his Norwegian rival to slip ahead. This development was a sharp reminder that the race isn't over until the musher and his dog sled team reach the finish line. With more than hundred miles to go, this is still a wide open event.

The sleep and rest strategy for the lead teams will play a crucial role down the stretch. At this point in the race, everyone is exhausted so knowing when to push on and when to take break is crucial. There will be some strategic moves made in the final run, but it is beginning to look like we'll have a winner sometime late tomorrow or early on Thursday.

To follow all of the action, visit Iditarod.com.

Want to Join a Trek Across Papua New Guinea for Conservation?

Looking for a grand adventure of your own this year? Have you dreamed of trekking through remote regions of the world? If you answered yes to those questions, we just might have an expedition for you.

Writer, historian, and adventurer James Campbell is looking for six people to join him on a historic trek across the Papuan Peninsula in Papua New Guinea. In June, the team will head to that country to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Buna, which is widely viewed as one of the first major land victories in the Pacific for U.S. forces during World War II. During that battle, American soldiers spent 42 days crossing the region, traversing thick jungles, deep swamps, and 9000-foot (2743 meter) mountains in the process.

Back in 2006, Campbell completed the same traverse in about 21 days. He's hoping to repeat that hike this year in an effort to protect the area that the team will be trekking through. Campbell believes that the government of Papua New Guinea should turn the area into a national park, and he's hoping that the trek will help encourage them to do just that.

Campbell's original trek was completely unsupported, but a company called Getaway Trekking out of Australia now operates int he area. The team at Gateway is also committed to protecting this region, as well as the people and cultures that are found there. To that end, they'll be handling the logistics of the trek.

The journey is expected to take about three weeks to complete. Getaway will handle all of the support needs, and those interested in joining will have to pay their own costs. Their fees will cover all in country transportation, accommodations, food, internal flights, and a porter to help carry gear.

If you're interested, you can find out more information by clicking here or email Campbell directly at bogmoose@frontier.com.

Thanks to Expedition News for sharing this story.

Another British Explorer to Attempt Solo, Unassisted Crossing of Antarctica

One of the last great challenges in polar exploration is a solo, unassisted crossing of the Antarctic. A number of explorers have tried – including Henry Worsley who perished in the attempt back in 2016 and Ben Saunders, who abandon his bid at the South Pole this season. Now, yet another British explorer is preparing to give it another go, targeting the next Antarctic season later this year for his historic expedition. 

Barry "Baz" Gray will start his solo crossing – dubbed Challenge Antarctica – on Berkner Island this November. From there, he'll cross the Ronne Ice Shelf and skit to the South Pole before continuing to the Ross Ice Shelf via the Shackleton Glacier. He expect the journey to take about 85 days to complete, covering some 1200 miles (1931 km) in the process. If successful, it will be the longest solo and unassisted expedition to the Antarctic ever. 

In keeping with the terms "solo" and "unassisted,"Baz will be undertaking the challenge completely alone and will not use kites to help pull him along. Instead, he'll pull his sled filled with all of his necessary gear and equipment behind him as he goes. He will also forgo any outside support, meaning there won't be any supply drops along the way.

Gray is a former Royal Marine Commando who has served in North Ireland, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He has training in mountaineering and polar survival. His bio on the Challenge Antarctica website says that he also enjoys traveling through remote regions with a minimal amount of equipment and gear. Of course, he won't be able to go fast and light in the Antarctic, where all of his gear and supplies will be needed just to survive the grueling journey that he will undertake. 

In addition to attempting a solo crossing of the frozen continent, Gray is looking to raise $300,000 to support The Baton and the Royal Marine Charities. Those funds will go to help other British soldiers, particularly those who have served in combat situations and are struggling with PTSD or other challenges. 

As of today, Baz says that he has completed about 50% of his training, has acquired 70% of the gear and logistics he'll need for the journey, and has about 215 days until he departs for Antarctica. That may seem like a lot of time at the moment, but when preparing for such an undertaking it can disappear quickly. Of course, we'll be following his expedition very closely later this year and keeping tabs of his progress moving forward. 

For more information visit ChallengeAntarctica.com