Kayaker Attempting Amazon River Speed Record

The Amazon RiverThis past Saturday, Texas native West Hansen set off on what is sure to be an epic adventure in South America. The avid paddler from Austin launched his attempt to set a new speed record for kayaking the length of the Amazon River, a waterway that runs more than 4400 miles (7081 kilometers) in length. The entire expedition is expected to last several months.

Hansen began his journey on Mount Mismi, a snow-capped peak located in a remote section of the Peruvian Andes. The 18,363-foot (5597-meter) mountain has been identified as the most distant source of the Amazon with the Rio Apurimac, one of the prime tributaries for the river, beginning on its slopes. As it rushes down the mountain, the water picks up speed and power, creating dangerous Class V and VI+ rapids. West will need to successfully navigate those treacherous waters in the early days of the expedition.

Reading the early updates on Hansen’s Amazon Express website, it seems that low water flow at the headwaters have made it tough going over the first few days. At times there hasn’t been enough water to even paddle, forcing him to portage around certain sections. Carrying gear and a kayak through lush rainforests isn’t easy either, which only serves to cause further delays.

The relative calm won’t last long, however, and the volume of water will most definitely pick up. Before he reaches the slower, more tranquil waters of the Amazon itself, West will have to run the dreaded Acobamba Abyss, a 40-mile (64-kilometer) stretch of river that is amongst the most difficult whitewater on the planet. The section flows through a towering slot canyon that once paddlers enter, there is no escape or turning back. He’ll have to successfully navigate Class V+ rapids on a river of no return, relying on his skills as a paddler to successfully make it out the other side.

That will simply be the start of what promises to be quite an adventure for Hansen and his support crew. He doesn’t offer up a definitive estimate of how long it will take to complete the journey, which will pass through both Peru and Brazil on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Regular updates should provide plenty of insights into his progress, however, and it should be fun see what he discovers along the way.

Search For Amelia Earhart Begins In South Pacific

The search for Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan is onIn the beginning of June we told you about new research that seemed to indicate that famous aviator Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan not only survived a crash in the South Pacific back in 1937, but also made numerous attempts to radio for help. Armed with those findings a search team launched an expedition earlier this week with the aim of exploring the tiny atoll that they believe was the final resting place for the duo.

Earhart and Noonan went missing on July 2, 1937, while attempting to circumnavigate the planet by airplane. When they last made radio contact they were searching for Howland Island where they were planning on refueling for their flight across the Pacific. They never arrived at Howland and what exactly became of them remains a mystery to this day.

Historians and scientists have theorized that Earhart’s Lockheed Electra actually went down on a tiny atoll known as Nikumaroro, where she and Noonan proceeded to send radio messages for several days before the ocean claimed their aircraft. It is that small island, which is part of the nation of Kiribati, that this most recent search party is now en route.

When they arrive the team will use a robotic submersible to search for the missing airplane in the waters just off Nikumaroro and they’ll comb the island itself for more clues to Earhart and Noonan’s ultimate fate. A recent excursion to the atoll discovered an old jar of freckle cream that was consistent with the brand that Earhart used and researchers are hoping to discover similar clues this time out. They feel that if they find definitive evidence that the island was Earhart and Noonan’s last resting place it can help solve one of the most enduring mysteries of the 20th century.

The expedition is expected to last approximately 26 days, with ten of those days dedicated to the search itself. The team departed from Honolulu on Tuesday and should arrive on site some time next week. After that, we’ll all have to wait to see if they discover anything of interest.

Explorer Mark Wood reaches South Pole, completes first half of journey

Mark Wood travels to the South Pole, next up the North!Back in November, we told you about British adventurer Mark Wood, who was preparing to set out on an epic adventure. Mark was hoping to become the first person to make back-to-back journeys to the North and South Pole on foot, and at the time he was getting ready to travel to Antarctica to start his expedition. Fast forward a few months, and Wood has now reached the South Pole, successfully completing the first phase of his journey.

Last Monday, after 50 days on the ice, Wood officially reached the bottom of the world – 90º South. That was pretty much exactly on schedule for what he had predicted, which is remarkable considering he had to deal with challenging surface conditions, unpredictable weather, equipment failures, and whiteout conditions for much of the way. All told, Wood covered about 680 miles on skis, all the while towing a sled laden with his gear and supplies.

Despite the fact that it has now been more than a week since he completed his journey, Mark remains stranded at a research station located near the Pole. Bad weather has prevented a plane from coming to pick him up, although conditions are expected to improve this week. When they do, he’ll get airlifted back to Chile, where he’ll take some time to reorganize his gear, and recuperate, before immediately flying off to Canada to start the next phase of the expedition.

While skiing to the South Pole is an impressive accomplishment, traveling to the North Pole is considerably more challenging. The journey will be similar in that Wood will go on skis, once again pulling his sled behind him, but while the Antarctic is ice formed over solid ground, the Arctic consists of giant slabs of ice floating on top of an ocean. As a result, Wood will face much more unstable ground and will have to navigate around or across large areas of open water. That open water has become much more prevalent in open years thanks to global climate change.
Because the ice floats on top of the Arctic Ocean, he’ll also have to deal with the frustrating natural phenomenon known as negative drift as well. This is a condition that actually causes polar explorers to loose ground – even as they travel north – due to the shifting of the ice. It is not uncommon for someone traveling through the arctic to spend all day skiing northward, only to stop for the night, and wake the next day to find that they’re actually further away from the Pole than they were when they went to sleep. It can be very disheartening for the explorers, who sometimes describe the feeling as much like being on treadmill.

The presence of polar bears is another hazard that Arctic explorers must be aware of as well. While those traveling to the South Pole seldom, if ever, encounter any other forms of life, those going to the North must be ever vigilant for bears. Because of this, most skiers add a shotgun to their gear list before setting out, hoping that they won’t have to use it along the way. Polar bears are the largest land carnivores on the planet, and they have been known to stalk humans traveling through the Arctic, bringing yet another element of danger to an already challenging journey.

Mark’s accomplishment of reaching the South Pole on on skis is indeed an impressive one, and while he has now technically completed the first half of his expedition, it’ll only get tougher from here. The North Pole trek is expected to take roughly 65 days to complete, and will be another test of endurance and determination.

National Geographic offers new Student Expeditions for 2012

National Geographic Student Expeditions for 2012High school students looking for something to occupy their time next summer, just received a host of tantalizing new options courtesy of National Geographic. Earlier this week, the organization announced several new trips as part of their Student Expeditions program, which provide young people with the opportunity to experiencing some of the world’s top destinations, while learning about new cultures, building new skills, and making a difference in the community there.

Nat Geo’s student programs come in three different varieties: expeditions, field workshops, and community service trips. The expeditions are two to three weeks in length and focus on exploring the cultures and landscapes of the destination in a very in depth way. Field workshops, on the other hand, are shorter, usually 11-12 days, and offer students the opportunity to stay in a more central location, while taking part in daily active excursions into the surrounding area. The community service programs take place in a local community, with the participants spending roughly 30-40 hours, over a 14-15 day period, on a service project there.

Some of the new options that fall under the Student Expeditions umbrella for 2012 include community service projects in Tanzania, Peru, and Cambodia, as well as field workshops in Sicily, Buenos Aires and the Grand Canyon. Additionally, aspiring photographers will want to sign up for a new photography workshop to be held in London and led by one of National Geographic’s top photographers. These new options join a host of existing trips that can take aspiring explorers to Alaska, New Zealand, the Galapagos Islands, and beyond. To review all of the opportunities, click here.

The National Geographic Student Expeditions are a fantastic way for high school students to not only explore the world, but also get amazing insights into these destinations that you can’t find elsewhere. As you would expect, the trips are always led by very knowledgeable guides, and a Nat Geo expert joins the students for at least a portion of the trip as well. For example, on the Tanzania Expedition, the travelers are joined by wildlife photographer Pete McBride, while those on the Galapagos trip get to spend time with biologist and filmmaker Greg Marshall. The other options all offer similar experiences, which are simply invaluable to impressionable young people who are eager to learn about our planet.

Interested students or parents can learn more about the expeditions and how to apply by clicking here.

[Photo Credit: Erika Skogg]

Antarctic skier evacuated from the ice

An Antarctic skier had to be evacuated from the iceAn Antarctic skier on an expedition to the South Pole became seriously ill last weekend, prompting an emergency evacuation from the ice. The story underscores some of the potential dangers with adventure travel and the issues that can arise when visiting a remote destination.

Kathy Braegger traveled to Antarctica to join a group of four other adventurers who are making their way from the Ronne Ice Shelf to the South Pole on foot. The journey was expected to cover more than 550 miles of ice and snow and take upwards of six weeks to complete, but just a few days in, Braegger took ill, requiring an emergency airlift off the continent.

Normally if we get sick on a trip, it is fairly easy to find basic medical assistance or, if it is a particularly serious issue, a hospital. That obviously isn’t an option when you’re in the Antarctic, which is one of the most remote places on the planet. Fortunately, a company called Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions handles much of the traffic coming and going from the frozen continent and have dealt with similar situations in the past. The ALE team sprang into action, sending a plane to land on the ice, pick up Baregger, and successfully airlift her back to Punta Arenas, Chile. The last report said she was receiving plenty of care and already on the road to recovery.

From the team’s report on the the incident is unclear exactly what caused Braegger to get sick, but considering where she was traveling at the time, it could have been any number of things. For instance, most people don’t realize that Antarctica has the highest average elevation of any continent on Earth, which means altitude sickness can be a real problem. Factor in the lower atmospheric pressure and thinner air that is present at the Poles, and any physical activity can be become very demanding there. Of course, the incredibly cold temperatures, howling winds, and frequent blizzards don’t help to facilitate easy travel there either or staying healthy either.

Undaunted by the fact that one of their teammates needed an emergency exit from the ice, the rest of Kathy’s team, which is being led by Polar explorer Richard Weber, have continued on with their journey to the South Pole.