Explorer Ben Saunders gears up for North Pole speed run


This fantastic video provides a glimpse into the equipment and preparation necessary for a solo speed run to the North Pole. Ben Saunders, a world class athlete and explorer, will attempt to break the North Pole speed record on his 487 mile journey from Cape Discovery in Canada. No stranger to the pole, Saunders has seen his share of polar expeditions and will be setting out completely unsupported. He was the last solo explorer to reach the pole in 2004 from Russia.

Aside from polar bears and -50 degree weather, Ben must contend with the most dire of hurdles – equipment failure. His last two expeditions to the top of our world were stymied by such setbacks. For this trip, called North 3, he has provided this video to showcase the gear and tech that goes into a solo polar exploration. Shotguns for bear defense and custom made meals for snacking are two of the gear staples for this polar adventurer.

From bensaunders.com:

Ben Saunders is a professional endurance athlete and a pioneering polar explorer. He is one of three in history to ski solo to the North Pole (from the Russian side of the Arctic Ocean, in 2004), the youngest to do so by more than ten years, and holds the record for the longest solo Arctic journey by a Briton (1,032km). Ben is an Ambassador for The Prince’s Trust and a Patron of the British Schools Exploring Society, and is an acclaimed public speaker (the TED conference called him a ‘master storyteller’). He has been a global brand ambassador for Land Rover since 2009.

Ben Saunders – North 3 from Ben Saunders on Vimeo.

Ben Saunders – Living on Ice from Ben Saunders on Vimeo.

Is Prince Harry going to the North Pole?

Britain's Prince Harry hopes to go to the North Pole this springBritish Prince Harry has always had a bit of an adventurous spirit. The young man has served his country in Afghanistan and is currently training to become an Apache helicopter pilot. But if the 26-year old has his way, he may be off on an adventure of entirely different kind, as he is currently training to go to the North Pole on foot with a group of disabled vets.

The expedition is called Walking with the Wounded, and features four soldiers who were injured in the line of duty for their country. They’ll be joined by two other army officers and a polar guide, who will be tasked with getting the entire team safely to 90º North. According to AOL News, Harry is Patron for the expedition and is keen to join the trek himself, provided he is granted a special leave from his military duties.

The plan is to get underway in late March, setting off from a remote point in Siberia. From there, the team will simply head north until they reach the top of the world. But this is a trek that is fraught with peril as North Polar explorers must deal with extreme cold, inclement weather, miles of desolate terrain, and ice that is continually breaking apart do to climate change. Not to mention the chance encounter with a hungry polar bear.

The expedition is expected to take about a month to complete, with the team hoping to arrive by April 23rd. That’s cutting it mighty close for Harry however, who will be expected at his brother William’s wedding, which is scheduled to take place on April 29th.

It’ll be a few weeks before the prince knows if he’ll be allowed to go on this journey or not, but I for one hope he gets the chance. This sounds like an expedition for a good cause and a true adventure of a lifetime.

[Photo credit: Walking with the Wounded]

Ten Great Adventure Travel Destinations For 2011

Top adventure travel destinations for 2011With another holiday season behind us at last, it is time to start looking to the year ahead and firming up our travel plans. If you haven’t already made your preparations for 2011, and you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous this year, then perhaps we can suggest a few destinations that might meet your needs.

Last year, when we shared our list of top adventure travel destinations it was populated with a few countries that are commonly recognized as offering outstanding experiences for the adventure traveler. Places such as Nepal, Tibet, and Peru, which are widely considered to be classics of this type of travel. For this year’s list, those places have been sent to the Adventure Travel Hall of Fame, making room for some up and coming destinations to get some much needed recognition.

So, without further ado, here are my picks for the top adventure travel destinations for 2011.

The United States
This may seem like an odd pick to begin the list with, but hear me out before dismissing it. The U.S. is one big, diverse place, with plenty to offer any traveler, let alone those looking for adventure. No matter what your outdoor pursuit or adrenaline inducing addiction, you’ll find an excellent place to pursue it here in the States. Enjoy mountain climbing? Then head to Colorado where you’ll find 53 peaks in excess of 14,000 feet in that state alone. Is mountain biking your thing? Then make the journey to Moab, Utah, home to some of the best trails in the world. Into kayaking? Great! What’s your flavor? Whitewater? Flat water? Sea kayaking? It doesn’t matter, you can do it all right here in the U.S., where there are plenty of forests, deserts, mountains, and rivers to roam. If you’re coming from abroad, you may be surprised, and a little overwhelmed, with all the options. And if you’re from the U.S., perhaps you’ll be reminded of the magic of domestic travel too.

Ethiopia
Top adventure travel desinations for 2011Africa has always held a certain allure for the adventure traveler, with many headed to Kenya, Tanzania, or South Africa for the classic safari experience. But there are plenty of other fantastic destinations on the continent that are worth exploring as well, most of which have a lot less tourism traffic. Take Ethiopia for example. The country is rich in history and culture and offers plenty of options for the active traveler as well. I recommend trekking the Simien Mountains, where you’ll encounter packs of rock climbing baboons en route to the medieval fortress of Gondar or make the journey to Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. Stop by the holy city of Lalibela as well, where you’ll be treated to the amazing site of a series of churches carved from the rock. [Photo credit: Justin Clements via WikiMedia]

Argentina
For travelers looking to go to extremes, it is tough to beat Argentina. The country offers visitors plenty to see and do while exploring a diverse number of unique landscapes. For instance, visitors can go to the Iguazu Falls region to take in the tropical rain forests and then travel south to Tierra del Fuego for a taste of the Antarctic. Backpackers and climbers will find plenty to love in the incomparable Patagonia district and paddlers will be thrilled with the whitewater options as well. The truly adventurous can test their mettle on the 22,841-foot tall Aconcaqua, the highest peak in the world outside of the Himalaya.

Croatia
Over the past decade, Eastern Europe has gone from a very well kept secret to a popular destination for those seeking unique cultures, lavish history, and fantastic art. But the region has plenty to offer the adventure traveler as well, with Croatia leading the pack as the best destination for adrenaline junkies. Travelers who enjoy being on the water will love sea kayaking and sailing on the Adriatic Sea, while those who prefer to be under it, will love to dive the various ship wrecks that are just off the coast. Moving further inland, paddlers will find crystal clear rivers to run, replete with plenty of whitewater while trekkers and backpackers will enjoy the mountain trails that offer breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. Head to Ucka Mountain for a hike through dense forests that eventually give way to a spectacular view of Kvarner Bay.

New Zealand
Top adventure travel destinations for 2011New Zealand earned a spot on our list last year, but it is such a great adventure destination that it deserves another nod for 2011 as well. For many travelers, New Zealand is the adventure capital of the world thanks to its amazingly diverse terrain, which gives rise to some of the best mountain biking, paddling, and climbing options found anywhere. It is also home to what is quite possibly the greatest hike in the world in the form of the Milford Track, a 33 mile trail that runs through the heart of Fiordland National Park while surrounded by some of the best scenery on the planet. The winter months bring great skiing and snowboarding options as well, with Mount Ruapehu, an active volcano cone on the North Island, being amongst the most popular destinations. [Photo credit: Wikikiwiman via WikiMedia]

India
Another large and geographically diverse country, India can lure adventure travelers with a host of options. Want to spend some time on the beach or go diving and snorkeling? Then head to Goa for plenty of aquatic fun. Prefer a mountain trek? Then make your way to the remote northern region to gain access to the High Himalaya, along with its quaint mountain villages and Buddhist culture. For a different kind of hike head to the famed Valley of Flowers to experience more than 300 species of the colorful plants in one location. And for a truly unique adventure, explore the massive Thar Desert on the back of a camel.

Guyana
Often overlooked in favor of more well known South American destinations, Guyana is a great choice for adventure travelers looking to escape the crowds and get off the beaten path. Highlights include jungle canopy tours of the Iwokrama Rainforest Reserve and a visit to the 741-foot tall Kaieteur Falls, which is billed as the tallest sheer drop waterfall in the world. But no trip to Guyana is complete without a trek through the Rupununi region in the southern part of the country. This remote and isolated wetlands area is home to a dizzying array of wildlife including giant river otters, black caiman, anteaters, jaguars, tapirs, anacondas and more. Birdwatchers will find the place especially alluring with hundreds of unique species on display.

Botswana
Top adventure travel destinations for 2011Another destination that returns from our list in 2010 is Botswana, which offers its own take on the classic safari experience. Each year, seasonal rainfalls in Angola drain into the Okavango Delta, swelling it to three times its normal size. This conveniently occurs during the dry season, which means that the region draws vast numbers of animals in search of water. Visitors can take in this spectacular migration in a traditional safari vehicle of course, but the more adventurous will elect to go with a guide on foot or in a dugout canoe. Those two options allow you to get much closer to the wildlife, which include elephants, giraffes, hippos, lions, cheetahs, and so much more. And when you tire of watching animals, head to the Kalahari for a wonderful trek through the desert and a cultural experience with the famed Bushmen that inhabit that region.

Turkey
Straddling the border between Europe and Asia, Turkey has long held an allure for travelers of all types. It is yet another destination with a rich culture and history, and it shows in the variety of ancient ruins and unique structures that dot the landscapes. Trekkers who make their way to Turkey may be overwhelmed with all the options, with the Cappadocia region being the most popular thanks to its low degree of difficulty and unusual landscapes. Those looking for more of a challenge will want to check out the Taurus or Kackar Mountains, which offer much wilder terrain and higher altitudes to contend with as well. Mountaineers will find a variety of peaks to tackle, including the famed Mt. Ararat, the reputed final resting place of Noah’s Ark. Backpackers will love the 300+ mile long Lycian Way, which wanders along the beautiful Mediterranean coast. Sea kayaking, diving, and snorkeling in the waters of the Med will round out a very active visit.

The North Pole
Obviously not a country, but the North Pole is certainly a worthy destination for any adventure traveler, albeit one that requires deep pockets to reach. Make no mistake, going to the top of the world is an expensive proposition, but if you have the cash to do it, there are multiple ways to get there. The easiest way to reach 90º north is by taking a cruise through the Arctic Ocean aboard an icebreaker ship. But for truly adventurous travelers, the only acceptable way to reach the Pole is on skis. A number of adventure travel companies offer “last degree” guided expeditions that travel through the arctic on foot before culminating at the northernmost point on the planet, a place that only a few very lucky people ever have the opportunity to see. [Photo credit: NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Lab]

There you have it. Ten great destinations that will fill your travel itinerary with plenty of adventure in the year ahead. Enjoy!

Blog Your Way To The North Pole

Blog Your Way To The North PoleTravelers with an adventurous side have a great opportunity to score the trip of a lifetime thanks to a new contest from Quark Expeditions, who invite you to Blog Your Way To The North Pole. The contest, which runs until February 15th, 2011, will award one lucky winner a trip for two to the top of the world that is valued at more than $54,000.

Much like Quark’s Blog Your Way To Antarctica contest, which ran last year, contestants are asked to write a short (200-400 word) blog entry explaining why they are the perfect person to be named Quark’s Official Blogger to the North Pole. Entrants are also asked to include interesting travel experiences or places that they’ve been to in the past, as well as a recent photo. Once your blog post has been put on the contest website it will be available for others to read, comment and vote on. Those votes will be a crucial element to winning the contest, as they will help narrow the entries down to five finalists in February. After the deadline for the contest has passed, a panel of judges consisting of a professional travel blogger, Quark’s President, a member of Quark’s Expedition team and a member of the Marketing team, will select the winner from those five finalists to go on the trip.

And what a trip it will be. In June of 2011, the winning blogger, along with their guest, will be flown to Europe for an evening in Helsinki, Finland. From there, it’s on to Murmansk, Russia, where they’ll board the Russian ice-breaker 50 Years of Victory to begin their voyage to the North Pole. That journey can take anywhere from 4 to 8 days depending on the condition of the pack ice, and upon reaching the North Pole itself, they’ll disembark from the ship for a champagne toast and lunch on the ice cap. On the return voyage to port, the ship will swing by Franz Josef Land, a very remote and uninhabited island that is home to polar bears and walruses.

So, if this sounds like your kind of adventure, head on over to the contest website and fill out your entry. Then fire up your Twitter and Facebook accounts, call your friends and family, and start rallying the troops to get the vote out. Who knows, perhaps next summer you’ll be taking an adventurous cruise to the top of the world.

Explorer visits “three poles” in one calendar year

Last Friday, polar explorer and mountaineer Eric Larsen completed a rare fall summit on Mt. Everest. For most climbers, that would be a big enough accomplishment for any given year, but for Larsen, it was simply the third, and final, leg of a major expedition that saw him become the first person to reach both the North and South Pole, as well as the summit of the highest mountain on the planet, in a single calendar year.

Larsen launched his Save the Poles Expedition in November of last year, beginning the long journey across the desolate Antarctic continent to reach the South Pole. On January 2nd, 2010 he accomplished that feat, wrapping up the first leg of his planned expedition. In late April, he followed up his success at the bottom of the world by reaching the top, completing the second stage of the expedition by reaching the North Pole after 51 days out on the ice.

With the first two stages of the expedition out of the way, Larson had just Everest, which is sometimes referred to as the Third Pole, to conquer. Standing 29,035 feet in height, the mountain is a considerable challenge during it’s traditional climbing season, which falls in the spring. But that season also happens to overlap with the annual window to reach the North Pole, so Larsen was forced to schedule the climb in the fall, which has far fewer climbers on the mountain and offers more unpredictable weather. During the spring season it is not uncommon for 500 climbers to reach the summit of Everest from both the Nepali and Tibetan sides of the mountain. This fall, Larsen, along with his two Sherpa guides, were the only people to stand at the top of the world.

The Save the Poles Expedition was designed to raise awareness of the impact of global climate change on the extreme environments of our planet, something that Larsen has now experienced first hand. The explorer now hopes to take that message to the masses as he hits the speaking circuit to share his adventures with others.

Considering the very active year he’s had so far, I think it is also safe to say that Larsen has earned some much deserved downtime on a warm beach somewhere.

[Photo credit: Eric Larsen]