Thursday, March 30, 2017

Video: Climbing Big Walls in Madagascar

Earlier today I posted a story about three Belgian climbers completing a free ascent of the Central Tower in Torres del Paine. Two of those climbers were Sean Vilanueva and Siebe Vanhee, both of whom you'll find in this video as they travel to Madagascar to climb big walls in that country. While there, they discovered a completely unclimbed line on Tsaranoro Atsimo and set out to see if they could make the first ascent. This is the story of that expedition.

Video: Enduring the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc Trail Run

The Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc is considered one of the toughest trail running events in the entire world, drawing hundreds of competitors from across the globe on an annual basis. In this fantastic short documentary we get an inside look at that race courtesy of our friends at Columbia Sportswear and Teton Gravity Research. As with most long-distance endurance events, the race is a blend of agony and joy, with runners pushing themselves to their absolute physical limits over the course of the 103-mile (165 km) route. Along the way they pass through three different countries – France, Italy and Switzerland – as they take on some of the toughest and most beautiful terrain the Europe has to offer. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

Gear Closet: Fjällräven Vidda Pro Trekking Trousers

My recent trip to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia wasn't just about sailing between those destinations and hopping a zodiac to shore to play with penguins and seal pups. Both places also afforded some excellent hiking opportunities as well, especially on South Georgia where I was fortunate enough to get the chance to trek a part of Shackleton's route across the island, ending at the old whaling station in Stromness. This of course gave me the chance to test more gear in the wild, which is one of the side benefits of visiting a wild and remote place in the Southern Ocean. 

One of the items that I took with me on the trip was a pair of Vidda Pro Trousers from Fjällräven. For those not familiar with the company, it is a Swedish brand that has been making excellent outdoor equipment for more than 50 years. In Europe, Fjällräven is very well respected and established, but here in the states it remains a bit more off the radar. But, I had always heard that its hiking pants were some of the best in the business, and I was eager to see if they lived up to this lofty reputation. 

Made from Fjällräven's own proprietary G-1000 fabrics, the Vidda Pro have been a staple in the company's line up for nearly two decades. After putting them on and taking a few hikes in them, it is easy to understand why. Comfortable and form fitting, without being restrictive, the pants are extremely durable. I wore them in all kinds of weather conditions on my recent adventure, including bright sunny skies and in cold, windy conditions with sleet and snow, and they came away completely unfazed by the experience. They passed over rocky trails, through mushy bogs, and down cold streams without missing a beat, and after the mud, grime, and sweat were washed away, they looked completely brand new. 

Himalaya Spring 2017: Kilian Jornet Returns to Attempt Everest Speed Record

This past fall, Spanish mountain runner Kilian Jornet traveled to the North Side of Everest to attempt to set a new speed record on that mountain. Those efforts were thwarted early on due to horrible weather conditions, and Jornet pulled the plug on that attempt, vowing to return at a later date. Now, we know when he'll be back and what his plans are for the year ahead.

According to reports, Jornet will now travel to the Himalaya this spring where he will move ahead with plans to climb and descend the world's highest peak in under 24 hours. Apparently he was having difficulty obtaining permits to return in the fall, so has elected to give it a go during the busy spring season instead. How this will impact his approach to the climb remains to be seen.

During the autumn Himalayan climbing season, Everest is all but abandoned making it much easier for Jornet to use his now-famous fast and light style. But during the pre-monsoon season, he'll have to contend with other climbers that will be along the route too. Presumably he'll be making his record-setting attempt from the North Side in Tibet once again, as the crowds are usually much lighter from that side of the hill. He will acclimatize in Nepal before hand however before heading to the mountain.

Everest is the final stage of Jornet's Summits of My Life project, which has seen him set speed records on peaks all over the world, including Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, and Denali. He hopes to complete that pursuit by adding one more record to his resume.

In addition to tackling Everest in the spring, Jornet has also signed up to compete in a host of ultra events, including the Mont Blanc Marathon in June, the HardRock in Colorado in July, and Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in September, amongst others.

This being Kilian, he also plans to attempt to set a new speed record for running a tough route through the Lake District in the U.K. as well. The path covers 119 km (73 miles) and feature 43 hills with a combined elevation gain of 8700 meters (28,543 ft). The current record for the route stands at 13 hours and 53 minutes and was set back in 1982. That makes it ripe for being beat.

Of course, Jornet is likely to show up in a few other events and projects as well. As usual, we'll be following his exploits closely. Especially as he prepares for Everest.

Belgian Team Free Climbs Central Tower of Torres del Paine

Three Belgian climbers have completed the incredibly difficult feat of free climbing the 1200 meter (3937 ft.) El Regalo de Mwono route on the Central Tower of Torres del Paine in Patagonia. Their accomplishment is already being heralded as one of the biggest achievements in climbing in recent memory, as the trio faced not only an incredibly technical ascent but braved unpredictable weather along the way as well.

Alpinist says that the climb began back on January 31, when Nico Favresse, Siebe Vanhee and Sean Villanueva O'Driscoll first touched the rock. The carried with them enough supplies for 15 days on the route, which is rated as a 5.13b. True to big wall climbing, the men established portaledges along the route, moving higher as they completed certain sections. The weather was dicey at times, but they were able to eventually reach the top, completing the third overall ascent of the Central Tower along El Regalo de Mwono.

When they reached the top, there was still one section of the climb that they hadn't ben able to free, but 15 days had passed and the team was low on supples and needed to catch a flight. The weather looked uncooperative so they prepared to descend from the tower and head home. But, on the 19th day the skies cleared, giving them one last chance. It was then that Favresse was able to climb that last pitch (also rated 5.13b) and complete the full ascent at last.

The three men ended up missing that flight, but something tells me that they're okay with that. In the Alpinist article linked to above, you'll find more details on what the climb was like and an interview with Favresse himself who discusses the aspects of the route and compares it to others he has climbed. He also provide details on overcoming the final crux, the team's nutrition strategy, and more.

In terms of big wall ascents, this is about as impressive as it gets, and definitely a major accomplishment during a season that saw lots of expeditions get their hopes dashed in Patagonia. Congratulations to Nico, Siebe, and Sean on a job well done.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Video: A Life of Climbing with David Lama

Austrian mountaineer and sport climber David Lama is one of the most talented climbers on the planet. He has shown his ability to tackle challenges on rock, ice, boulders, and mixed routes too. That's because he literally started in the sport not long after he could walk, and now he shown his ability to tackle incredibly difficult ascents all over the world. In this video, we learn the origins of Lama's climbing skills and we follow him through his most impressive accomplishment to date – completing the Compressor Route on Cerro Torre in Patagonia. Here, you'll discover what drives him and learn more about his approach to climbing. As with many talented alpinists, the greater the challenge, the bigger the reward.

Video: Reflections on Climbing Everest by Mountaineer Alexander Barber

As we get ready for the start of the spring climbing season on Everest, I thought I would share this video from mountaineer Alexander Barber. Last year, Barber set out to climb Everest solo and unsupported, without the use of bottled oxygen. After finding success on other 8000 meter peaks in that style, he ran into trouble on his ascent of Everest. As you'll see, he contracted HAPE, which severely impacted his healthy on the way up. If you've ever wondered what pulmonary edema looks like in a climber, this video will help you to understand it more fully.

Gear Closet: The North Face Apex Flex GTX Rain Jacket

If traveling through the Southern Ocean recently taught me anything, its that the weather there can be incredibly unpredictable and can change quickly. That makes it a great environment for testing gear, and it was the perfect place to put the new North Face Apex Flex GTX rain jacket through its paces. The jacket hit the store shelves while I was away, but fortunately for me I had an advance sample to take with me. It proved to be an excellent travel companion, and became my go-to shell for all kinds of different types of weather.

Believe it or not, the Apex Flex is The North Face's first ever soft fully-waterproof soft-shell rain jacket. The company has made hundreds of different jackets over the years, but this one is marks a milestone in terms of performance and comfort. That's because it pairs incredibly soft stretch-woven fabrics with a Gore-Tex layer to provide a fit that isn't restrictive in anyway, but can repel the worst conditions imaginable.

Completely wind and waterproof, the Apex Flex not only looks good, but feels great when you put it on as well. I personally like the more fitted cut of the design, which hugs the body nicely and stays out of the way when things get active. While wearing it on South Georgia Island and in The Falklands, I used it with various base layers, insulating layers, and even a down puffy, and it worked well in conjunction with all of those items. In fact, it was a mainstay jacket that I wore on numerous hikes, visits to penguin colonies, or whale watching out on the deck of our ship. During that time, it survived rain, sleet, and snow, and even kept me comfortable in winds approaching 50 mph (80 km/h).

American Team Enters Volvo Ocean Race

Later this year, a new edition of the Volvo Ocean Race will kick-off from Alicante, Spain, where several sailing crews will begin a difficult journey to see who can be the fastest to race around the world. The event is a brutal one, demanding determination, grit, and fortitude to see it through to the end, as the teams cover more than 46,000 nautical miles (85,192 km/52,935 miles) as they cross four different oceans and visit six continents along the way. To say this event is a unique blend of adventure and endurance challenge would be an understatement.

While I was away sailing the Southern Ocean an co-sponsorsed American and Danish team threw its hat into the ring for this year's race. The Vestas 11th Hour Racing will be taking part in their second consecutive Volvo Ocean Race, with experienced skippers Charlie Enright and Mark Towill leading the way. The two men are now working on building a competitive crew, and plan on making several trans-Atlantic crossing in April and May to serve as training sessions prior to the October 22 launch of the round-the-world race.

Enright and Towill served as the skipper and race director for Team Alvimedica in the 2014-15 edition of the Volvo Ocean Race. They hope that experience will prove helpful this year as they set out to challenge the other teams that will depart from Alicante in a few months time. So far, there are three other crews entered in the event. They include the Dutch team of AkzoNobel, the Dongfeng Race Team from China, and Mapfre from Spain.

North Pole 2017: Construction of Barneo Ice Camp Nearly Complete

The 2017 Arctic exploration season may have been a bust as far as full-distance expeditions to the North Pole are concerned, but there will still be plenty of activity in that part of the world in the days ahead. As usual, the Russian ice camp at Barneo will play a crucial role in providing logistics to the Arctic from that side of the ice this year, with the station reaching a major milestone today.

For those that don't know, Barneo is a temporary base that is built on a moving ice flow in the Arctic each year. It serves as a launching point for a number of expeditions to the North Pole and the surrounding area. The camp not only serves as a gateway for researchers and explorers, but also for adventure travelers looking to complete a "last degree" journey to the top of the world as well.

Construction of the base began last week with a flyover of the Arctic finding a large enough ice flow to serve as the location for the camp in the days ahead. After that, a team of paratroopers landed on the ice and began construction of a blue ice runway. That same team also cleared the way for the construction of a temporary station there, which will soon begin receiving visitors. The location of this year's Barneo camp is 89º44’N, 065º47’E.

As of today, 1200 meters (3937 ft) of runway has been cleared, which is enough for the first flights to begin delivering supplies. That will help in finishing the last remnants of work prior to the arrival of the first teams, which will likely begin in the next few days.

If you've followed the Arctic expedition season in the past, you probably know that Barneo has faced some challenges in recent years. For instance, last year the ice on the runway cracked several times, first forcing the base to relocate and later to rebuild the landing strip altogether. The team behind the temporary camp also faced political issues with Norway. Their crew and supplies usually funneled through Svalbard on their way to the Arctic, but there was a dust up last season when a team of Chechen special forces soldiers moved through Norway on their way to the North Pole for training. This caused a political incident and it appeared as if the Norwegians would force the Barneo team to relocate to Franz Joseph Land for their logical needs. Fortunately, all of those issues seem to have been resolved, and operations are once again flowing through Svalbard.

We'll continue to keep an eye on the progress of the Barneo camp and some of the more interesting stories that will come out of the base this year. While no one is making a full distance journey through the Arctic this season, there should still be a few expeditions of note to follow.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Video: An Expedition to One of the Deepest Caves on Earth

Think cave diving simply involves showing up at the site, putting on your gear, and dropping in? Think again. In this video, we get a glimpse of the logistics involved in simply reaching the Dark Star cave system in Uzbekistan, which is believed to be one of the deepest on the planet. The team of explorers who recently went to the cave spent hours on a bus just to reach their starting point. They then trekked for two days to get to base camp, located above 12,000 feet (3657 meters). The cave itself has seven known entrances, each of which requires rock climbing skills to reach. In other words, this is no walk in the park. Check it out below.

Video: Exploring the Atacama Desert by Unicycle

We've seen some unique modes of transportation used in adventurous ways over the years, but riding a unicycle remains one of the most unusual. In this video, we follow an adventurous unicyclist as he rides his one-wheeled bike through some impressive landscapes in the Atacama Desert of Northern Chile. These are places I'd love to mountain bike, but I'd prefer to do it with two wheels, thank you very much. Still, it is impressive to watch nonetheless.

Gear Closet: Goal Zero Venture 70 USB Battery Pack

My recent trip to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia in the Southern Ocean were a perfect testing grounds for new gear. While in those wild and beautiful places, I had the chance to put a bunch of new products to the test, and in the coming days I'll be sharing my thoughts on a number of new products that you'll want to have on your radar. That starts today with a look at the new Venture 70 battery pack from Goal Zero, a rugged USB charger with plenty of power and features to help keep your gadgets powered up while on the go.

As most of you probably already know, Goal Zero is one of the leaders in the field of portable power for use in the outdoors. The company has been making lightweight and efficient solar panels for years, and its line of Yeti power stations have been a mainstay in base camps for along time now. Of course, it was only natural that GZ would also get into smaller USB power packs as well, which are more convenient for the average traveler. That led to a line of lightweight chargers that have been in the company's catalog for several years as well, including the Venture 30, a ruggedized USB battery pack that features a 7800 mAh lithium-ion power cell, that is also dust and waterproof too. The Venture 70 is the evolution of that product, sharing many of the same features along with a much larger battery.

Much like its predecessor, the Venture 70 is also ruggedized for use in the outdoors. It's outer casing functions much like an armored shell, protecting it from accidental drops, while also keeping water and dust at bay. For those who want the technical specs, the battery pack is IPX67 rated, which makes it a great option for those of us who venture into remote and challenging places on a regular basis. On top of that, it functions well in cold weather, which I learned on South Georgia. Batteries often take a significant hit in the cold, but this one managed to continue to provide power, even when the temperature took a plunge.

Outside Shares the Best Advice the Magazine Has Ever Given

In 2017, Outside magazine is celebrating its 40th anniversary. To commemorate that event, the adventure mag is posting a series of special articles that look back on its long and storied history. The latest of those stories is available online and it shares the best advice that the editors, writers, and contributors of the periodical have ever given. As you can imagine, there is a wealth of wisdom to be had here.

For experienced climbers, backpackers, and travelers, some of the advice probably seems like common sense. But, in some cases, Outside was providing these insights years before the mainstream crowd caught up with their way of thinking. For instance, the magazine offered ideas on how to ditch your car for a bike nearly a decade ago, but bike commuting has become all the rage in recent years. The pages of Outside have also been filled with nutritional advice too, telling us what to eat, when to eat it, and how to maintain proper calories while out on the trail. You'll find a few pieces of info about that in this article too.

As usual, the "best advice" covers a wide range of topics. The magazine reminds us to "Keep it Simple" for instance, and goes on to explain how to maintain focus on fitness and recovery. You'll also find advice on finding the best adventure partner, cherishing your favorite piece of gear, how to wanter without getting lost, and so much more.

Many of these items have been collected from issues dating back as far as 1978, but the wisdom is just as useful today as it was back then. There is a lot to take in here, but it is a great read and an excellent reminder for those of us who already knew all of this stuff, but may have forgotten it along the way.

Read the entire story here. It may be a major eye-opener for you.

Himalaya Spring 2017: A New Season Begins on Everest and Beyond

It is that time of year again. As April inches ever closer, climbers, trekkers, porters, and guides are gathering in Kathmandu to begin their annual pilgrimage out into the Himalaya. The spring climbing season in Nepal and Tibet is about to begin, and already the first teams are on their way to their respective mountains. It promises to be yet another interesting year, with potentially record setting numbers on Everest. And while the other peaks in the region will see less traffic, there will nevertheless be plenty of expeditions on those mountains to follow too. So buckle up and settle in, as the next two months of adventure news will be highly focused on the mountaineering world. 

As I write this, the first teams are already en route to Everest Base Camp, and Sherpas have been there for a couple of weeks establishing the campsites that will be home for the next two months. The Icefall Doctors are also already onsite and have been busy building the route through the Khumbu Icefall. They'll stay until the last climber is off the mountain, maintaining and repair that route late into May or even early June. 

This year, we can expect the usual suspects to continue to play major roles on the mountain. That will include teams from Himalayan Experience, Adventure Consultants, Mountain Madness, and others. You'll also see more and more low-cost Nepali operators muscling their way onto the mountain. These locally owned companies have begun to play a much larger role in the past few years, and are able to offer Everest expeditions at much lower rates than their Western counterparts. They'll be bringing large continents of clients with them to the mountain, as interest in climbing the highest peak in the world only continues to grow. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Video: Mountain Biking Patagonia

Take a beautiful journey through the wilds of Patagonia in this great video. We'll head out with pro rider Matt Hunter and friends as the explore this incredible setting from the seat of their Specialized Bikes. What they find, is a place unlike any other, with some unbelievable trails to ride. Having just gotten a glimpse of this place for myself, I can't think of a better way to see this part of the world.

Video: Kayaking Down a Drainage Ditch in a Tandem Kayak

Three years ago I shared a video of kayaker Ben Marr as he paddled down a drainage ditch in British Columbia, setting off a slew of copycats that followed. Now, Ben has returned to that same spot to run the drainage ditch again, this time in a tandem kayak with his buddy Russ Sturges in tow. Check out their antics in the clip below, which demonstrates that like most things in life, having a partner just makes it more fun.


Video: A Profile of Explorer Mike Horn

One of the expeditions we followed closely this past Antarctic season was Mike Horn's attempt to cross traverse the continent solo by kite ski. He was of course successful in that endeavor, and is now pushing forward with the second part of his Pole2Pole journey, in which he is circumnavigating the planet north to south via both Poles. In this video, we get a profile of Horn and his past accomplishment, as well as an inside look at at his Antarctic traverse. If you're not aware of what drives this man, you'll learn a lot more about him here. If you already know Mike and his ambitious journeys, you'll likely come away even more impressed.

Nepal Will Use GPS Tracking to Verify Summit Claims

Another interesting development occurred in Nepal while I was away visiting The Falklands and South Georgia. Just as the spring climbing season inched closer to its start, the government in the Himalayan country announced that it would use GPS tracking devices to improve safety and verify summits on Everest this year, a move that comes amidst increasing scrutiny of the world's highest peak. 

2017 is expected to be a record year for climbers on Everest with dozens already on their way to Base Camp and hundreds more to soon follow. A few of those climbers will be required to wear a GPS tracking device – such as a SPOT Satellite Messenger or DeLorme InReach – while they make their climb. Those devices have the ability to send an SOS signal should the climber – or anyone else that he or she is climbing with – gets into trouble on the mountain. Both devices also are equipped with tracking capabilities that will allow Nepali officials to follow a climber's path to the summit and quickly discover if they actually made it to the top or not. 

Last year, a high profile fake summit case took place when an Indian couple claimed to have topped out on Everest when in fact they never went much higher than Base Camp itself. These GPS devices will help to prevent those kinds of frauds from happening, although not every climber will be carrying one, so the impact is likely to be minimal, at least for now. 

Similarly, the safety features of the device aren't likely to help much either. Most of the time the issue on Everest isn't locating someone who is injured or in trouble, it's getting them down safely. Carrying a device such as these won't help in those situations, although it could potentially improve the reaction time for search and rescue squads by signaling potential rescuers much more quickly. 

All of that said, there isn't much of a reason to be against carrying the trackers either. They are lightweight, fairly unobtrusive, and they do serve a positive function. 2017 is likely to be a test bed for using the devices, with more climbers potentially having to wear them in future seasons to come. The biggest challenge is likely to be keeping them charged and operating while higher up on the mountain, as battery life can be short and they don't do much without power. 

It will be interesting to see how this program plays out. Just having a few climbers carry them isn't likely to change the culture much on Everest, but at least it is a start. False summit claims aren't rampant, but they do happen, and any attempts to prevent that is a good thing. The same goes for any efforts to help make climbing in the Himalaya safer too. If this technology can achieve those goals, than it is a positive step in my opinion. 

Winter Attempt on Everest Ends, North Pole Skiers Cancel Expeditions Too

I'm back from my adventure across the Southern Ocean to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, and obviously have a lot to catch up on. Some major expeditions pulled the plug on their intended journeys while I was away, so before we turn towards new adventures about to begin, I thought it was best to post a recap of a few things that happened while I was away.

We'll start with an update on Alex Txikon's attempt to summit Everest in winter without the use of bottled oxygen. When I left the country a few weeks back Alex and his team were preparing to make a summit bid, even as the clock was ticking. He had been in the Himalaya since early January and with the end of winter looming, the Spanish climber knew that it was now or never.

Unfortunately for him, Mother Nature didn't cooperate and a projected weather window never materialized. High winds hit the mountain while the team was moving upwards, closing off all attempts to get anywhere near the summit. Worse yet, the weather forecast looked gloomy for the days ahead, so Alex made the tough choice of calling it quits – at least for now. Judging from his remarks following the expedition he plans to return to Everest in the future to give another winter summit a go.

Meanwhile, just as I was heading south, two teams planning to ski to the North Pole this year were embarking on their own epic journey's to the north. Sebastian Copeland and Mark George made up the Last Great March squad, while Martin Murray (along with dog companion Sky) were the other team heading in that direction. Both teams cancelled their trips just a few days into their expeditions however, meaning that once again no one will complete a full-distance journey to 90ºN this year.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Heading to the Southern Ocean

I've alluded to it in a couple of posts over the past week or so, but now's the time to announce that I'm heading out on another adventure. This time, I'll be traveling in the Southern Ocean, sailing from Argentina to The Falkland Islands and South Georgia, two places that I am very much looking forward to seeing. South Georgia in particular should be spectacular, not only for the scenery, but the historical elements with the Shackleton Expedition for instance.

While gone, I'll be working on assignment from Popular Mechanics and traveling with Lindblad Expeditions. While this will be wild, and sometimes turbulent, part of the world, I don't think anyone will be feeling too badly for me considering the amenities we'll have aboard the ship I'll be traveling on. Still, this will be an amazing adventure to a remote corner of the globe, and I'm looking forward to all of the opportunities it will afford me. I'm also looking forward to sharing stories of that journey with you when I get back home. Stay tuned, I'm sure there will be a lot to tell.

In the meantime, change is in the air, the winter climbing season is wrapping up, and the spring Himalaya climbing season is ahead. By the time I get back, quite a lot will have changed in the adventure and exploration landscape, and there will be plenty of news to share from this big, wonderful world of ours. It is going to be an exciting time to say the least.

I'll be back before you know it!

Video: This Amazing Video of a Viking Voyage is Made Entirely Out of Paper

The title of this post pretty much says it all. This incredible video tells the story of a wild Viking voyage, which is cool enough in and of itself. But, even more impressive is the fact that the entire clip is made from paper. You'll have to remind yourself of that throughout the short film, which is just a lot of fun from start to finish. Enjoy!

Iditarod 2017: The Race Resumes in Fairbanks Today

Over the weekend, the 2017 Iditarod got underway in Anchorage Alaska, with 74 mushers setting off following the ceremonial start. But, as I reported last week, the regular restart point at the Campbell Airstrip isn't suitable for use this year because of a lack of snow. So instead, the the sled drivers ant their dogs had to be relocated to Fairbanks, where they'll restart the race today.

This is the third time in Iditarod history that the restart point has been moved to Fairbanks, and once again it is due to poor snow conditions on the trail. While Alaska as a whole has seen plenty of snow this year, the area around Anchorage hasn't been getting the necessary dumps of fresh powder to allow the sleds to run efficiently. Up north in Fairbanks, things are much better however and when the race gets back underway today, the dogs will have plenty of snow to play in.

Since Saturday's start was just a ceremonial send-off, there are no rankings yet. As of this posting, it is still about two hours until the race officially gets going, but don't look for the true contenders to start to emerge for a few days. The race to Nome will cover 980 miles (1577 km), and it is as much a test of endurance as it is speed. For now, the veterans will be mostly content to lurk in the middle of the pack, waiting for the right time to truly get going. By Friday of this week we should have a better idea of where things stand, and who will be the teams to watch heading into the Yukon.

You can follow the entire race on the Iditarod website, which posts all kinds of updates on the standings. Keep in mind when you look at those rankings however that they tend to be a bit skewed  until everyone has taken their mandatory 8 hour and 24 hours breaks. Still, if you know what to look for, it is easy to see who is running well and has a good strategy.

"The Last Great Race" should be interesting to follow once again this year.

Winter Climbs 2017: Messner Visits Txikon in Base Camp on Everest

The winter climbing season continues unabated in the Himalaya and elsewhere. The days are now ticking away rapidly, and with just two weeks to go in the season, the climbers on Everest are beginning to eye the finish line with the hopes of making one last summit bid before spring actually arrives. Meanwhile, in Alaska, another expedition is about to truly get underway.

Alex Txikon and his team have been on Everest since early January now, and have had all attempts to summit the mountain turned back due to bad weather. The team has seen its share of bad luck as well, with a couple of members being sent home after suffering injuries. In fact, the entire squad was recalled to Kathmandu a few weeks back, but after spending eight days in the Nepali capital, they returned to Base Camp last week to begin preparing for another summit push once again. They spent most of that time rebuilding the route through the Khumbu Icefall, but did manage to climb up to Camp 1 before going back down to BC.

It has been a very long and difficult season to say the least, and Alex and company are probably more than ready to wrap up this challenge and head home. If they have been feeling dejected in any way, it hasn't come through in their dispatches however, and the Spaniard has always maintained an optimistic demeanor, even when things looked like they were at their worst. Still, today he received a major shot to his morale when legendary alpinist Reinhold Messner paid them a visit in Base Camp. Just judging from his dispatch it is clear how excited Alex was to meet his idol, and it may just be the shot in the arm he needed to finally get him up the mountain.

North Pole 2017: Still Waiting in Resolute Bay

Just a quick update from Resolute Bay in Canada today. That's where the two teams planning on skiing to the North Pole continue to wait for a good weather window to begin their journey. The three men (and one dog!) who collectively make up these expeditions have been in town for more than week now, and continue to wait patiently for the start of their adventures, each knowing that each passing day could make things just a bit more difficult.

Martin Murray, who will be traveling with a dog named Sky, hasn't updated his status since last week, at which time he had sorted and weighed his gear in preparation for departure. But, The Last Great March team of Sebastian Copeland and Mark George shared news of their status yesterday. With nothing to do but wait, the two men retrieved their sleds from the aircraft and made use of their time by pulling them around for two hours in preparation for what they'll encounter out on the ice. Those training sessions will help them to get prepared for the long grueling days they'll face once they are dropped off at their starting point – either on Cape Discovery or Ward Hunt Island, which hopefully will happen sometime soon. They are poised and ready to get on the plane once they are given the green light.

Unfortunately for both squads, each day that they delay is like a clock ticking away. The Arctic ice now melts at a much faster pace than it did in the past, which means that while it is now at its thickest point, it will also be unsteady and constantly breaking apart. That makes their journey all the harder and will have a significant impact on their eventual success or failure.

At this point, it is unclear when they'l be flown out to their drop off points. As is usual with these kinds of expeditions, Mother Nature sets the schedule. Everyone involved will be watching the weather closely, and as soon as they see an opportunity to depart, they'll go. That could come as early as today, or it could be another week. For now, they'll just have to play the waiting game.