Everest Climbers Also Face Dangerous Runway

AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the first summit of Mount Everest, a feat that’s been attempted by thousands of climbers since. Although we all understand ascending the world’s highest peak is one of the most grueling challenges on the planet, few people also know that summiting the mountain is only one risk climbers take; they also often fly in via one of the most nail-biting runways in the world.

Associated Press reports that Tenzing-Hillary Airport is really just a small airstrip carved out of the side of the mountain. There’s just a single, narrow runway – and if the pilot misses it by just a few feet, the plane will hit a mountain. To further complicate things, the airport is surrounded by mountains, meaning once a pilot passes a certain point, there is no choice but to land.

The airstrip was built in 1965 by Sir Edmund Hillary, one of the first two men to conquer Everest, and it is named for him and his climbing partner, Tenzing Norgay. Hillary created the airport to help Sherpas spur development in the area, and ever since many climbers choose to fly into the airport in order to avoid a daylong bus trip from the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu, and five days of trekking.

Since its inception, the airport has claimed about 50 deaths – far fewer than Everest itself, which has seen about 240 deaths. But still, with a track record like that, the runway can definitely be considered high risk. For more on the world’s most dangerous runways, check out this slideshow.

[via Skift]

Video: Daredevil Jumps Off Everest

Since the dawn of time, man has looked to the great mountains and dreamed of jumping off of them. When Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay summited 60 years ago, they didn’t have the equipment to fly off. But today we do. And to celebrate the diamond jubilee of the first summit, Russian BASE jumper Valery Rozov threw himself off the north face in China, 23,688 feet above sea level. It wasn’t the top, but it’s at least the highest BASE jump ever completed.

In the thinner air and colder temperatures of high altitude, Rozov had far less control of his wingsuit, and the flight was a little touch and go. After a minute of flying along the north face of the mountain, he landed safely in the snow on the Rongbuk Glacier at about 19,521 feet of altitude. Chalk up another success for man in our instinctive quest to jump off of things.

Trek To Everest Base Camp To Celebrate The 60th Anniversary Of The First Summit

Experience Everest Bae Camp with the 60th anniversary trekOn May 29, 1953, Edmund Hilliary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to summit Mt. Everest, the world’s tallest peak. Their daring and historic climb ended a decades-long quest to conquer the 29,029-foot mountain and by accomplishing that task, the two men became instant celebrities across the globe. To celebrate that amazing feat, adventure travel company Ace the Himalaya is organizing a 60th anniversary Everest Base Camp Trek that will allow guests to walk in the footsteps of the two legendary climbers and leave a lasting impact on the mountain at the same time.

The 18-day itinerary starts on May 19 when travelers first begin arriving in Kathmandu. They’ll spend the following week trekking through the beautiful Khumbu Valley, passing snowcapped peaks and tiny villages before eventually arriving in Everest Base Camp on May 28 – exactly one day before the 60th anniversary of Hilliary and Norgay’s climb. After camping overnight in BC, the trekkers will spend May 29 contributing to the environmental cleanup in and around Base Camp by collecting trash that has accumulated there. They’ll then wrap up the day with a special celebratory dinner prepared to honor 60 years of climbing on the world’s most iconic peak. The final days of the trek will be spent descending back down the Khumbu Valley and returning to Kathmandu. The itinerary ends on June 5 when the travelers depart for home. Click here for a detailed look at the full schedule.

An Everest Base Camp trek is one of the best adventure travel experiences that active travelers could ask for. The Himalaya are simply breathtaking and the hearty people that live in the mountains are friendly and accommodating. Making the trek to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of the mountain would make for an unforgettable journey. But if you’re looking for the complete Everest experience, Ace the Himalaya also offers a full climbing expedition that will take you all the way to the summit. That one takes adventure to an entirely new level.

[Photo Credit: Kraig Becker]

Inside The Urban Underground: Exploration Gets Personal

New Yorker Steve Duncan was so desperate to pass his college math class, he crawled through a tunnel to finish it. A computer assignment was due the next day and the software to finish was inside a building closed for the night. In a moment of desperation, Steve came up with a crazy plan: he could sneak inside. Having heard from a classmate about a collection of well-known tunnels connecting the university’s buildings, he resolved to convince the friend to guide him. After escorting Steve to the tunnel entrance, the friend offered vague directions, wished him luck and promptly left. As Steve recalls:

“He took off in the other direction and … here I was absolutely alone – it was terrifying and eye-opening, because every building on campus was connected by these tunnels. I passed the math class, but what always stuck with me was that first moment of being alone in the dark and being absolutely terrified but realizing that if I could face that, I had access to every part of the campus.”

Duncan had educational goals in mind when he entered the underground tunnels that night, but his experience kick-started an interest in an activity he continues to practice to this day: urban exploration.

Urban explorers seek to investigate the centuries of infrastructure created (and sometimes abandoned) by modern civilization: disused factories, historic bridges and unknown tunnels entered using legal, and sometimes illegal, means. The reason they do it is not as easily defined. Urban explorers come from a range of backgrounds, ranging from urban planners to historians to preservationists to architecture lovers, photographers and just plain old thrill-seekers all of whom are often lumped together under the banner of this general term. Just in New York alone, there’s the founders of the website Atlas Obscura, Nick Carr from Scouting New York and Kevin Walsh from Forgotten New York, along with countless others living around the world. These individuals, taken together, are less a community than a loose network of individuals united by a common love: re-discovering and investigating the forgotten and sometimes misunderstood detritus of modern day urban civilization

Yet the popularity of urban exploration confronts an interesting dilemma facing many 21st Century travelers: now that so much of what we seek to “discover” has been Google mapped, investigated and written about ad nauseum, how is our relationship with the concept of exploration evolving? And what does it tell us about the future of travel?

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Steve Duncan – Urban Historian, Explorer and Geographer
It’s been over a decade since that math class first brought Steve Duncan underground, but he’s continued to evolve his approach to urban exploration from his home base of New York City. Styling himself as an “urban geographer” and historian, Duncan continues to direct his energies towards understanding the unseen layers of infrastructure that constitute our urban environment – namely the sewers, bridges and subway tunnels of the Big Apple.

In more recent years, Duncan has gained increasing attention for his adventures, including a week-long expedition through the sewers under NYC with Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge and a short documentary made by filmmaker Andrew Wonder that follows him as he visits New York’s off-limits subway stations and climbs to the top of the Queensboro Bridge.

But Duncan’s urban adventures aren’t undertaken merely for thrills – they’re a means to an intriguing end. In fact, Duncan cares less about being the first to rediscover forgotten places than taking a fresh look at the urban environments we inhabit. Despite the fact more than 50% of our world’s population now lives in cities, Duncan notes, much of today’s travel media continues to focus on outward-looking explorations of far-flung places perceived to be “exotic” – for instance, the wild jungles of Borneo or the ancient temples of Jordan. Steve believes his own adventures constitute an equally exotic form of adventure – a new inward-focused method of exploration.

As he notes, “I’m not interested in going to places nobody’s been before, [but rather] I’m interested in how we shape places.” This life-long history lover views exploration not as a means for public recognition but rather as a way to better understand his personal passion for the ever-changing nature of cities. Whether or not he can “claim the place” as his is irrelevant – he’s more interested in understanding. As he tells it, “All exploration to some extent is personal. It doesn’t matter if someone’s been there before. If it’s new to you, it’s still exploration.”

Taken together, Duncan’s adventures constitutes a kind of inward-driven “time travel” – a concept in which the worlds of history, the growth and decay of cities and adventure travel merge together to define a new opportunity all of us as travelers can take to re-examine the everyday world around us as a source of curiosity.

Dylan Thuras – Cartographer of Curiosities

Not all stories of urban exploration involve spending weeks in tunnels under New York City. For Dylan Thuras, co-founder of website Atlas Obscura, a mind-altering childhood trip to House on the Rock in Wisconsin defined his early travel memories. The strange house is part museum and part hall of curiosities, filled with bizarre collections of artwork, carousel rides and giant biological specimens. As Dylan recalls, “the fact that this could be tucked away in the woods in sleepy Wisconsin made me feel like there were these magical worlds all over the place … if I just knew how to look, I would start to find these fantastical places everywhere”

Ever since that moment, Thuras and his co-founder Joshua Foer of Atlas Obscura have dedicated their website to altering travelers’ perspectives of the places worth visiting on their itineraries. To date they’ve built a worldwide, user-driven database highlighting more sites on all seven continents. As an example of the sites Atlas uncovers, Thuras mentions two sites in Florence, Italy – whereas the Uffizi Gallery is probably on most travelers’ radar, Dylan and Joshua also want to help you discover La Specola, the museum of wax anatomical models that contains a specimen of astronomer Galileo’s middle finger.

As Dylan points out, if an attraction isn’t listed on the top ten list in a guidebook “… it is easy to slip into anonymity, obscurity and disappear. I want to give people a sense that there is so much more than those ten things and that they might find that they have a better time if they venture into new territory.”

The style of exploration advocated by Thuras seeks to shift the context of the worlds we already know. That’s a far cry from the conception many travelers have in their heads of an idealized explorer discovering uncharted lands. Says Thuras: “This isn’t [exploration] in the Victorian sense of climbing the tallest mountain, or finding the source of a river … but in the sense that every one of us can find new and astonishing things if we look for them … it doesn’t always have to be about far-flung adventures.”

Urban Exploration – What’s Next?

Duncan and Thuras may appear to occupy different ends of the urban exploration spectrum, but their motivation stems from a distinct similarity. After years of endless exploring, categorizing and searching, both have arrived at the realization that our mundane daily worlds can be unknown places of curiosity and wonder. The challenge of getting there then, isn’t in the physical act of getting there. Explorers like Duncan do face large risks of injury in their wanderings, but it’s not on the scale of Ernest Shackleton, Captain James Cook or Edmund Hilary.

The difference in these explorers’ adventures thus seems to be a mental reframing of what we conceive of as exploration. Their perception of what is worthy of our consideration and interest as travelers is gradually shifting from the physical towards the mental. In the relentless search for finding the most far-flung undiscovered locations on earth, all of us as travelers have neglected to look right in front of our faces at the places we inhabit everyday as worthy of discovery. Unlike Steve Duncan the journey might not require a crawl through a sewer to appreciate, but ultimately it can be just as rewarding.

Sherpa goes for 20th Everest summit, takes Edmund Hillary along

One of the mountaineers who has already arrived in Kathmandu ahead of the Himalayan climbing season is the legendary Apa Sherpa, who holds the record for the most successful summits of the mountain at 19. When the climber announced his plans to return to the Himalaya he made it clear that he intended to break his own record, and claim his 20th summit, while also promoting his Apa Sherpa Foundation. What he didn’t mention was that he had another reason to reach the top of the highest mountain on Earth once again, as he now plans to take the remains of Sir Edmund Hillary to the summit with him.

Hillary, and his climbing partner Tenzing Norgay, rocketed to international fame back in 1953, when they became the first men to stand on the summit of Everest, which stands at 29,035 feet. in the years that followed, Hillary would return often to Nepal, eventually launching a foundation of his own that would build schools and medical clinics for the Napali people that he came to know and love. Through his charitable works, the lives of many people in Nepal were changed forever, and as a result, Hillary was often looked upon as a grandfatherly figure amongst the citizens of that country.

When he passed away at the ripe old age of 88 back in 2008, Hillary’s remains were cremated, and most of the ashes were spread out over the ocean off the coast of his native New Zealand. But one of his dying wishes was to see the summit of Everest one last time. In a press conference held in Kathmandu yesterday, Apa announced that he will fulfill that wish, taking the last of Sir Ed’s remains with him to the top of the mountain later this spring. He also says that he’ll take along a statue of the Buddha and say a prayer for Hillary’s while he is there.

While that mission should be enough of a challenge for Apa, he has other plans as well. He and the rest of the Eco-Everest Expedition will once again be scouring the mountain, bringing down tons of garbage. Last year, the team cleaned up more than 13,000 pounds of trash from the mountain, and this year they’ve set their sights even higher, going for 15,400 pounds. Their efforts are to ensure that the place stays clean and accessible for generations to come.