When I first read Nat Geo’s profile on David Lama, I might have easily been steered into believe this guy was a one hit wonder. To look at the Cerro Torre, one of the most notorious peaks in Patagonia, you don’t have to be a climber to grasp its difficulty. And you can understand why the first guy to free climb it would get a lot of attention. Its 3,600 foot ascent up the northeast ridge is a ridiculous, technical, near vertical climb amid “creaking granite flakes held in place by ice.” The story is so well covered by Fitz Cahall, I won’t recap it here. But it’s impressive as hell.
David Lama ascends Cerro Torre. photo: Peter Ortner.
And Lama is no one hit wonder. Take a look at his blog (David-Lama.com) and you’ll see an ambitious career unfolding, from Patagonia to the Karakorum. With lots of shorter climbs – Chamonix and Ticino – thrown in between. What I like about the guy is his contrition at having let a film crew bolt Cerro Torre on his first attempt back in 2010 and his rigorous embrace of pure climbing since. He’s young still, but he’s a guy to watch and despite his impressive climb, I personally believe he’ll go much further.
My only question is for Nat Geo: how do you nominate David Lama and not his climbing partner Peter Ortner? They climb as a team. They go everywhere together. Presumably, David isn’t carrying Peter up these mountains. So why just one of them? If we learn anything through climbing, it’s the importance of the team. The bonds that form when you put your line and life in your partners’ hands. From the dozens of teams I’ve interviewed or heard speak, yes, the mountain is the goal, but the team IS the adventure. And if we’re celebrating adventurers, shouldn’t we celebrate both? Don’t forget to vote!
It’s always fun to write about Felix Baumgartner. Probably because I get into so many arguments about him. People call him a daredevil, a nut, an adrenalin junkie, the Red Bull dude. Anything but a serious explorer. I wrote about him in October, just prior to his historic skydive from 128,000 feet (39,014m) on Oct. 14, 2012. A jump in which he also became the first human to break the sound barrier without a vehicle.
I watched the event live that morning, and although the Red Bull Stratos videos have been edited down to pure heroics, I can tell you there were a couple of minutes during the free fall, it did not look good. As he fell through the sound barrier (well over 800 mph) Felix was tumbling wildly out of control, arms and legs flailing. A hurricane will rip the roof off your house at 120 mph. A tornado will rip it off its foundation with winds at 300 mph. Nobody had any idea what 800 mph winds would do to the human body. If Felix didn’t tuck in and regain control fast, he could have been ripped apart…
Obviously, we all know the ending. It was picture perfect. A man in a space suit soaring out of a cloudless sky, dropping to his knees in gratitude. Fists held high. It was awesome. But now he’s up for Adventurer of the Year and if you’re gonna vote for him, you probably want to know this wasn’t just a Red Bull media stunt. To me, it wasn’t. But maybe you need to see a little more about Felix to be convinced…
Felix is way more than some guy who pulled a stunt. He worked for 12 years to achieve what he did. Because he was so well monitored, we know all kinds of things about the human body under extreme G forces. We know NASA has at least one model to study for how to get humans back to earth, should their spacecraft fail. And for the 70 million+ people who have seen the jump, there’s a whole new generation of explorers who just got an eyeful of possibility!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when a guy does something this far out on the edge, we just don’t know its importance when it happens. But the willingness to GO that far is something we can all respect. Hope to meet him someday. Can’t wait to see what he does next.
We begin our look at National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year with Renan Ozturk. I have not met Renan, other than to shake his hand at his movie premiere in Telluride last year, but I am a big fan. Not only does he climb with the best, but his filmmaking skills rock. Haunting, evocative, intensely personal glimpses into the expeditions he and buddies go on.
Karma Tsering, one of the oldest Sherpas of the Khumbu. photo by Renan Ozturk.
If you can, take a look at the film he and Jimmy Chin and Conrad Anker made about their Return to Meru (also known as “The Shark’s Fin” for its crazy, bladed ascent into Himalayan mythology). Not only did these guys return after a grueling defeat just short of the summit, but Renan signed up for the return only six months after a near fatal skiing accident that fractured his neck, and left him almost immobilized. So we get two big comebacks in his movie. The team’s. And his. I can’t tell you which was more powerful. Both were huge. And are probably a good part of why Renan was nominated this year.
But to think of Renan as just a mountain climber, even a great one, is to miss the point of his chops as an artist. His awesome ability to translate shooting, climbing, painting into a visceral experience for the rest of us. Life – as Renan – isn’t necessarily heroic. But it’s always engaging.
Not to be overlooked, Renan’s paintings are wildly expressive. Part sherpa, part Van Gogh, awesome filmmaker and (apparently) unstoppable climber. What else could you want in an Adventurer of the Year?
Every November, National Geographic unveils their Top Ten list of candidates for their Adventurer of the Year Award. Anyone can vote online and you have until Jan. 16th to do it.
This is not an easy choice. You don’t get on this list for doing anything mediocre. Or halfway. You get there for “remarkable achievements in exploration, conservation, humanitarianism, etc., blah-blah…” We call it kicking some proverbial ass in the adventure world!
What’s great about this list are the awesome stories and images that go along with it. Like me, you probably have no clue what most of these people have done. Trust me, it’s worth finding out.
So, in a first for Xpedition.TV, we’re going to take a look at every one of these awesome men and women. A few we’ve written about before (think: helium balloon & space capsule). One or two I’ve met in person. Others… I guess we’re just gonna find out.
Look for daily posts about each, although that’s probably ambitious. There’s so much to say about each of them!
And vote! Show ‘em some love. Here’s the pantheon, courtesy: National Geographic.
Dean Potter is an easy guy to write about, for all the wrong reasons. Not ‘wrong’ because they’re uninteresting. Far from it. Just wrong because they only scratch the surface of the man. When you do things as extraordinarily as Dean does them, it’s easy to get pigeonholed: Dare devil. Adrenalin junkie. Wild man. None of these reflect the man I met in Telluride last May. A man more visibly centered and at peace with himself than most of the twitchy film goers whispering about him.
Dean Potter photo Andy Anderson for Outside Magazine
If you aren’t familiar with Dean Potter, the mythology goes roughly like this. He’s a rock climber of singular abilities, who made a name for himself in Yosemite free soloing the big walls without protection, and with the kind of unrestrained attack that set records and left jaws hanging. From a young age, he was haunted by dreams of free fall. An impending death from great heights. And he seems to have shaped his life to confound these visions. Which is your first clue that the mettle of this man lies far beneath his outer accomplishments. Whereas most of us run from our fears (or at least shuffle sheepishly away) Dean ran towards his. Full on.
Not long after he began climbing in earnest, Dean encountered a veteran climber of Yosemite, “Chongo Chuck” Tucker who introduced him to the art of slack line walking. Dean took to it with remarkable ability and was soon setting lines over Yosemite’s most formidable outcroppings. Walking a nylon rope over chasms that would make your head spin. If that wasn’t enough – he walked them untethered, with the kind of zero-sum outcome that would stop anyone else cold. But again, these are the wrong reasons to write about Dean. These are the pencil sketches. The outline of a superman. They are not Dean. The fastest climber. The fearless line walker. The man who man who scaled the Eiger and jumped off it, scoring the longest, most resplendent BASE jump on record. Impressive, but they are not Dean. I mean, they are not all of him.
The Dean I met has just turned 40 and although his projects are no less ambitious, HE is less ambitious. He has seemingly settled into an inner peace that belies the dangers of his work. I don’t know him well enough to say where this tranquility comes from, but I sense it is genuine. Whatever demons caused him to attack those mountains with such abandon – seem to have been quieted. And I think I know the road he took to get there.
I think it is well revealed in this video that Xpedition.TV has pulled together, from our interview with him and from existing footage of one untethered line walk. This is a picture of a man confronting not just a physical challenge – but the bigger challenge we all face. On a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis. Can I do this? Do I believe in myself? Am I willing to let go the safety of the familiar if it grants me the possibility to soar? To live life to its fullest?
The more life I witness, the more I can affirm that learning to trust our own inner strengths – “making it happen” as Dean calls it – may very well be the ONLY road to inner peace.
I suggest you do not try this across Lost Arrow Spire. Start with the small stuff. That project you’ve been putting off. That place you need to go. That thing someone told you you could never do. Screw them. You know what I’m talking about. It has already popped into your brain as you read this. Make it happen. There is nothing more powerful than achieving what you feared you could not. Ask Dean.
In about 12 hours – by the time many of you read this – Felix Baumgartner will dive from a platform at the edge of space. His challenge is to become the first human to break the sound barrier in free fall.
It is difficult to overstate the dangers of this challenge. At that altitude (120,000 ft) it is really nothing less than a space mission. With NASA supplying many of the instruments Felix will be carrying in his descent (and our friends at Redbull stepping up to fund the mission). At that altitude, there’s really no margin for error.
We wanted to write about Felix because many people will misunderstand this mission. They are calling it a stunt. They are saying he’s just an adrenalin junkie. A high altitude Evel Knievel. A thrill seeker and a showman. That his mission has no scientific merit. We say it does!
We say this mission totally has merit. This isn’t some guy goofing around. This is a man committed, since boyhood, to human flight. This is guy who stood at the edge of an airport as a kid and watched skydivers hurtle through the air. This is a guy who learned to BASE jump before it was popular and who has been involved in every aspect of this mission – from recruiting his team of NASA engineers to designing each stage of the test operations.
For guys who truly push the envelope – the ‘merits’ of their mission are not always seen in advance. Was the Apollo moon mission just about getting a guy on the moon? You wouldn’t be reading this on your computer if they were. Apollo technology revolutionized computing. It revolutionized semi conductors, telecommunications, and so much more.
We don’t know what Felix’s jump from 120,000 feet will teach us about flight. About the human body. Or about the shift in consciousness a man undergoes when he truly steps out on a ledge and confronts his mortality.
For anyone wishing to watch this extraordinary mission LIVE, Redbull has Felix strapped with every kind of camera he can possibly carry. It is scheduled to take place Tuesday, Oct 9 at 5:00am Pacific Time. And those 3 or 4 minutes of record-breaking free fall will be all rage in the world of extreme sports. But for those of us – including Felix – looking beyond the thrill for a deeper experience of life, adventure, and the indomitable expression of possibility, we’d say this is your moment too. Your Promethean moment.
We thought we’d open this instagram gallery for Xpedition.TV Think of it as a real time news feed from our favorite adventure-photographers, like Becca Skinner & Shannon Switzer (National Geographic Young Explorers) or legendary climbers Jimmy Chin, Renan Ozturk, and Emily Harrington.
This gallery changes almost hourly, so check back often. You’re bound to find something amazing.
“The Happiest Place: A Journey Across Bhutan” is an upcoming documentary by Ben Henretig that we found on Kickstarter this morning. If you don’t already know about Kickstarter, it’s a place that filmmakers and other artists can find micro-backers to fund some really awesome projects. You’d be amazed by the kinds of things you find there, and actually MAKE HAPPEN for just a few dollars.
This one really hit close to home for me. The story of an expedition, by 5 Americans, across the tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan on a quest to discover the true nature of “happiness.” For those of you who don’t know, Bhutan is the only nation on earth to take an annual survey of its citizens’ happiness and use it to guide policy. Yes, it’s called the Gros National Happiness survey. Yes, it’s been mocked & ridiculed by westerners from Jay Leno onward. But then, how happy are those guys?
Think about this, throughout most of its history, Bhutan split its monarchy into two thrones of equal power. The Deb Raj – responsible for all earthly affairs. And the Dharma Raj – charged with the spiritual well being of the nation. In my book, that’s pretty friggin’ awesome. And Bhutan has been on my list of must-see places ever since I first heard of it.
Ben Henretig and his fellow adventurers got there a little ahead of me. Their film is in the can already. They just need a few more bucks for finishing funds. Anyway, it was a no-brainer for Xpedition.TV to jump in on this project. How could we not? Here’s their pitch:
One of my favorite sites for adventure journalism is James Mills’ “Joy Trip Project.”
I met James last May, when he was covering Mountain Film in Telluride, and he’s a great guy. Easy to talk to. Yeah sure, there are lots of blogs out there, and they’ll tell you who’s doing what and why it’s cool, most with pretty pics to go with. James is a true journalist. He knows how to dig.
Take this podcast he did with climber Jim Davidson, about an accident on Mt. Rainer that killed his best friend and left Jim buried in a crevasse with the body. It’s a tough story. But when you listen, you’ve got to admire the way James coaxes it out of him. It would have been so easy to glide over the surface. Maybe focus on the heroism of the impossible climb out of there. Instead we go much deeper. Into lessons and childhood triggers, into personal guilt, redemption, how he’s lived since. How the whole experience remade his life.
It’s a great interview. When I heard it, I was a little down in the dumps over some business setbacks. When I finished listening, I was calm and focused and determined again. Not pumped up by some easy macho story-lesson. But let’s just call it cleansed of any self-pity I had going that morning.
This is what great adventures do for us. Whether we take them. Or whether we hear about them. Especially through the lens of a good interviewer. Getting the story. It’s one of those arts you’re never aware of, because you’re not supposed to be. But I’m here to tell you, this is a blog you want to visit. These are podcasts you want on your iPhone (there’s like 50 of them on iTunes). Highly recommended for anyone. Hope to hear a lot more about him on Xpedition.TV