British woman attempting solo crossing of Antarctica

Crossing Antarctica with Felicty Aston33-year old British adventurer Felicity Aston is preparing to set out on an epic journey that is guaranteed to push her to both her physical and mental limits. In just a few days, she’ll set out to do what no other woman has ever done – complete a solo and unsupported crossing of Antarctica on foot.

Felicity’s adventure will begin on the Ross Ice Shelf, where she’ll start a 248 mile trek on skis to the South Pole. For most Antarctic explorers, that would be the stopping point of their expedition, but for Felicity, it won’t even be the halfway mark. Once she reaches 90º South, she’ll start the second phase of her journey – a 683 mile trudge back to the coast, ending at Hercules Inlet. The entire expedition is expected to take roughly 70 days to complete, covering more than 930 miles in the process. During that time, Aston will be completely alone, with little contact from the outside world.

Traveling across Antarctica is no easy task. Felicity will be forced to contend with harsh weather conditions, including extreme cold, high winds, blizzards, and whiteout conditions. Since she’ll also be alone, and not receiving any kind of outside support, she’ll also be dragging a heavy sled behind her at all times. That sled will contain all of her gear, food, and other supplies that will be necessary for her survival while out on the ice for more than two months.

At the moment, Felicity is actually in Antarctica at a base camp located at Union Glacier. She’s waiting for a flight to take her, along with her gear, to her starting point out on the Ross Ice Shelf. She had hoped to be well underway by now, but bad weather and mechanical problems with the aircraft have caused numerous delays to the start of the expedition, but if all goes well, she hopes to get finally hit the trail tomorrow.

Spending 70 days alone, in one of the harshest environments on the planet, takes an incredible amount of strength, both physically and mentally. The next two months will not be easy ones for Aston, but she is about to embark on amazing adventure unlike any other.

Best of luck Felicity!

[Photo credit: Felicity Aston]

Adventurer completes stand-up paddle of the Mississippi River

Adventurer Dave Cornthwaite completes stand up paddle of the Mississippi RiverBritish adventurer Dave Cornthwaite, who we first told you about back in July, has successfully completed his attempt to stand-up paddle the length of the Mississippi River, setting a new distance record in the process. Cornthwaite finished his journey last week when he paddled into the Gulf of Mexico, 82 days after he first hit the river.

Dave’s journey began in Lake Itasca, located in northern Minnesota, on June 19th. From there, he navigated out onto the river itself and started his voyage south, knowing that he had more than 2400 miles to cover before he reached his ultimate destination – the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, he faced some major challenges, including oppressive summer heat, swarms of mosquitoes, snakes, alligators, and a little tropical storm named Lee. As he neared his finish, he was also forced to contend with large ships and barges, which is not easy on a stand-up paddleboard.

Stand-up paddling is a sport that is quickly growing in popularity. Participants stand on a flat, narrow watercraft that is not unlike a surfboard and use a long canoe paddle to propel themselves through the water. In Dave’s case, the board was large enough to carry his travel and camping gear as well, allowing him to travel self-supported for days at a time. It is estimated that it took him 1.3 million strokes and 485 hours of paddling to complete the journey, which officially came in at 2404 miles in length.

With this adventure now over, Dave has already returned home to the U.K. where he is busy plotting his next expedition. The Mississippi paddle was the fourth stage of his Expedition 1000 project, during which he will be conducting 25 separate non-motorized journeys of 1000 miles in length or longer. He has already crossed Australia on a skateboard, kayaked that country’s Murray River, and ridden a tandem bike from Vancouver to Las Vegas. In the future, he plans to ride across Mongolia on horseback, paraglide through the Himalaya, and ski to the South Pole, amongst other things. Along the way, he hopes to raise £1 million ($1.5 million) for charity.

[Photo courtesy: Dave Cornthwaite]

Contemplating the risks and rewards of extreme adventure

Extreme adventure brings high risks and personal rewardsThis past weekend I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Outside in Aspen event held annually in Aspen, Colorado. The three-day festival is a gathering of like-minded outdoor enthusiasts who get together to enjoy some fantastic activities such as hiking, climbing, and mountain biking, while basking in the great spring weather of the Rocky Mountains.

One of the highlights of this year’s Outside in Aspen was a symposium held on the final day, during which a panel of elite adventure athletes discussed the risks and rewards of extreme adventure, something that they were all very familiar with. The hour-long discussion gave them the opportunity to share their own stories and to give the audience a glimpse of why they go to the remote corners of the Earth to pursue the activities that they love.

The panel consisted of kayakers Brad Ludden, and Ben Stooksberry, mountaineer and adventure filmmaker Michael Brown, professional skier Nick DeVore, and three-time Everest summiteer Melissa Arnot. Each of these speakers shared stories, experiences, and thoughts on what compels them to take sometimes substantial risks in order to accomplish their goals. For instance, Arnot had arrived in Aspen straight from a Kathmandu hospital where she had been recovering from pneumonia, which she had contracted while attempting to climb Makalu and Mt. Everest. Similarly, Stookesberry talked about a recent kayaking expedition to Africa, during which one of his teammates was pulled from his boat by a crocodile, and was never seen again.
Sitting in the small crowd that had gathered to listen to the panel, it occurred to me that the risks involved in these adventures were very real and tangible, while the rewards were often more nebulous and personal. Those rewards were something that were far more difficult to explain to people who didn’t “get” why someone would push themselves to the extreme just to reach the summit of a mountain or paddle an unexplored river. The panelists had weighed those risks many times in their lives, and yet they still found reasons to go ahead with their expeditions, saying the incredible sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction was worth the dangers they faced.

Several of the speakers mentioned times when they had taken a look at both the risks and the rewards and elected to not move ahead with their plans. In the case of Arnott, she turned back on both Makalu and Everest this spring because due to illness. Both Ludden and Stooksberry cited whitewater rapids that they portaged around to avoid the inherent dangers as well. each of them noted that those choices were the ones that stuck with them long after they had gone home, often leaving them with a sense of unfinished business.

For many, it is difficult to understand what drives these adventurers to do the things they do, and oddly enough, they didn’t seem to have a complete understanding of it themselves. When asked to explain it to the audience, these adventures would often rambled on with some explanation about challenging themselves or pushing their limits, but in the end, it really boiled down to the fact that they were most happy while out on their expeditions, even if that meant suffering for weeks on end without the creature comforts of home.

Now, happiness is something that we can all relate to. After all, we all want to be happy in our daily lives, whether we’re at work or home or off on some amazing trip. We may not understand all the risks and rewards that go into climbing a mountain or paddling a raging river, but we all know those feelings of happiness and contentment that we get when we’re doing something that we really really love. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if we find those feeling on the top of a remote Himalayan peak or sitting in our favorite comfy chair in the safety of our living room. The important thing is that we do find it, and grab on to it as best we can.

Now that sounds like an extreme adventure.

16-year old looks to become youngest to North Pole

16-year old Parker Liautaud hopes to become the youngest person to the North Pole16-year old Parker Liautaud has set some rather large goals for himself. While many young men and women his age are concerned with getting good grades and who they’ll be taking to the dance on Saturday night, Parker is busy planning and training for an expedition to the North Pole. His second such expedition in fact.

Liautaud is hoping to become the youngest person to travel to the Pole on foot, and in two weeks time he’ll set out for the arctic to do just that. He and his guide, polar veteran Doug Stoup, will make a “Last Degree” journey from 89º North to the top of the world on skis. In the process, he hopes to raise awareness about the growing impact of global climate change on our environment, while also inspiring other young people to go out and do great things as well.

Parker attempted this same journey last year, but came up just short of his goal thanks to a combination of extremely bad weather, negative drift of the ice, and large sections of open water. Despite their best efforts, Parker and Stoup came up 15 miles shy of the finish line, and had to be airlifted to the North Pole via helicopter to catch their plane ride home. This year they hope to finish what they started in 2010.

While on the journey north, Parker and Stoup will be taking measurements of the amount of snow on the arctic ice. That data will be shared with the University of Alberta upon their return with hopes that it will offer insights into the short and long term impact of climate change on the region.

When he sets out in two weeks you’ll be able to follow Parker’s progress via his website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. It should be quite an expedition for the young man.

Explorers look to save elephants, end ivory trade

Two explorers hope to save elephants by ending the illegal ivory tradeTwo American explorers are heading to Africa today to begin an important expedition that could prove vital to the fight against the illegal ivory trade. Their five week long journey, dubbed the Elephant Ivory Project, may help to save herds of those creatures, which have come increasingly under attack from poachers in recent years.

Former National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Trip Jennings and partner Andy Maser are on their way to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they’ll spend the next few weeks backpacking through the bush on the trail of elephants there. The duo hope to collect samples of elephant scat from five distinct herds which will then be used to build a “DNA map” of the various pachyderms of the region. Armed with the DNA data that they collect, they further hope to be able to trace the routes of the ivory trade and cut them off before irreparable damage is done to the DRC’s elephant herds.

Despite laws to the contrary, the demand for ivory is on the rise, particularly in Asia and the U.S. Because there is a great deal of money to be made in dealing in ivory, poachers will take great risks to sneak into protected areas in order to kill elephants and harvest their tusks. This practice has put the large creatures in jeopardy in a number of places in Africa, and the poor countries there often lack the resources necessary to stop these illegal practices.
Jennings and Maser hope to raise awareness of the situation through their efforts, and to that end they will be posting updates to their website throughout the expedition. You’ll also be able to track their progress through the use of their SPOT Satellite Messenger and upon their return, they plan on creating a documentary about their experiences as well.

On a personal note, I recently came back from a trip to South Africa, where the subject of poaching is a major issue as well. I spent some time in Kruger National Park, where poachers focus more on rhinos, but still go after the elephants too. South Africa has recently made the move to increase the sentences and penalties for anyone caught poaching, but it hasn’t seemed to have had much of an impact thus far.

These animals are one of the greatest natural resources that African countries have, and they often play an important role in the ecosystems there as well. The thought that they are slaughtered needlessly is a disturbing one, and hopefully we can find ways to put an end to those actions before they cease exist at all.