We are down to just a few days left to vote once a day for your favorite Adventurer of the Year. On January 18 at midnight, we will have a new People's Choice Adventurer of the Year. We'd be thrilled if any of the twelve nominees won. So far the race has been tight! It's possible that the standings could change over the weekend, if people really come out and rock the vote every day. As a member of the greater adventure community, it really is your civic duty to thrown down your ballot (once a day) until the voting is done.
As a brief refresher, here's a look at each adventurers' video clips. Hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis, who set a new overall record on the Appalachian Trail, and kayakers Jon Turn and Erik Boomer, who completed the first circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island, were so consumed by their challenges that they did not shoot video. That in itself is pretty bad ass. Mountaineer Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner's footage will be shown in conjuction with an upcoming article in National Geographic magazine.
We'd like to give special thanks to our Adventurers of the Year Advisory Board. They helped us stay on top of the year's brightest adventure accomplishments. We hope you will check out their respective work and organizations.
National Geographic Adventurers of the Year Advisory Board
“What do you do when a polar bear charges you? We found yelling colorful language was more effective than gentle talking,” says 65-year-old writer and Arctic explorer Jon Turk. “The right tone could communicate, ‘You’re bad. We’re just as bad.’”
Turk and pro kayaker Erik Boomer discovered this when, during the final week of their 1,485-mile circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island, a polar bear ripped a hole in their tent—while five other bears looked on.
The journey around the world’s tenth largest island, which took Turk and Boomer 104 days on skis, in kayaks, and on foot, was considered by polar experts to be the last great unattempted polar expedition, so daunting due to its remoteness and dangerous ice conditions. No one had attempted it before this summer.
For Turk, who pioneered big-wall climbs on Baffin Island and engaged in five Siberian expeditions to study shamanic culture, this was his “retirement party,” his last expedition. For the 26-year-old Boomer, who made a name for himself kayaking into the world’s wildest white water, this was the first of what he hopes will be many journeys to the Great North.
“I’m used to taking risks in short bursts, like in a single rapid or waterfall,” says Boomer. “This trip was so long, the risk so sustained and impossible to plan for. Jon is rare. He’s willing to do something where the outcome is unknown.”
In May, the duo began by dragging their 220-pound, 13.5-foot kayaks 800 miles across flat ice. As the ice broke up with the spring thaw, they were forced to jump over cracks and between unstable ice floes. By midsummer, they were able to paddle through slivers of open water.
Though the bears proved to be an ongoing danger—on one day they saw eleven, nine of which were aggressive—unfavorable winds were the greatest threat. Offshore winds pushed sea ice up against the sheer cliffs of Ellesmere’s rugged coast. Getting trapped between the two would mean certain death.
A text message Turk sent during the final leg of the trip summed it up best: “Bears scare us. We scare bears. The wind scares us. We don’t scare the wind.”
Very few mortals will ever willingly plunge over a waterfall. And that's a good thing. Even the best of the professional kayakers suffer serious injuries when they descend waterfalls. Tyler Bradt, the current world-record holder for dropping 186-feet over Washington's Palouse Falls (seen in the video above), just broke his back on the current viral sensation, Abiqua Falls.
Kayaker Jesse Coombs, one of our previous Adventurers of the Year, successfully ran 96-foot Abiqua Falls last spring. It made a media splash then, but has surfaced again now on serveral major news networks. We asked Jesse to paint a picture of what it's like take the plunge (so we don't have to!).
Your last waterfall run just went viral—again! Can you describe what happens from the moment you put in your kayak until the moment you rise from the froth of the waterfall? Jesse Coombs: Once you put in the water above the drop you are mentally and physically committed to running the drop. You have already studied the waterfall and picked out the exact line you want to run. You have mentally and physially practiced the motions and feelings on shore you will execute to have a successful descent.
Now that you are in the kayak, you first need to check your mental space to make sure you are comfortable and energized and ready to make the descent. Then you check that the photographer, in this case, Lucas Gilman, is ready. When he says the light is right and the cameras are ready, it is go time. You check yourself and your equipment one more time and visualize what you will do and what will happen. You take deep, calming breath, and when you are ready you head into the current that will lead you to where you need to go.
“The most intimidating feature for any swimmer, is real swirly, really deep whirlpools,” says professional kayaker and guide Paul Kuthe. “They have a tendency to hold you under water for a long time.”
To exploratory kayakers such as Kuthe, whirlpools sit at the top of the list of why swimming—kayaking parlance for coming out of a boat—through a surging tidal race could be hazardous. As Kuthe and his group of friends began applying whitewater kayaking techniques to sea kayaking, they had to accept that errant paddle strokes would result in swims through some of the ocean’s most turbulent sections.
“Even the biggest tidal races can be caught when they are small,” says sea kayaker Paul Kuthe of the river-like currents, whirlpools, and rapids that tidal shifts can cause in the ocean. “Most can be paddled into when they are completely flat. Then the rapid slowly builds around you. You can scout it out this way.”
Necessary Skills Paddling tidal races—the river-like currents, whirlpools, and rapids that tidal shifts can cause in the ocean—requires mastery of basic sea kayaking skills. Before you drop in, you should be confident with your ability to roll a kayak, know how to re-enter your boat in open water should you swim (fall out of your kayak), and formulate a basic understanding of all the entry and possible escape points inside a tidal race.
Legendary paddler Mick Hopkinson kayaking the Kokatahi River, New Zealand. Photo by Ben Jackson
By Tetsuhiko Endo from Murchison, New Zealand
Mick Hopkinson is one of the pioneers of whitewater kayaking. Hailing from Yorkshire, in the industrial North of England, he spent the 70s traveling the world looking for the fiercest, most remote whitewater he could find—an ambition that took him to Switzerland, Austria, Nepal, the Karakoram, Baltistan, and Ethiopia, to name a few. According to Canoe and Kayak magazine, the documentary he and the late Mike Jones made of their first descent of the Dudh Khosi, Canoeing Down Everest, remains the most watched paddling movie of all time. Few people on Earth have as much experience and knowledge of rough water as Mick.
I showed up to his house, which doubles as the New Zealand Kayak School, armed to the teeth with questions, but few of them interest him much. Instead, he talks politics, testosterone, socialism, guns, the British class system, and the future of rivers almost uninterrupted for over an hour. All I can do is set my tape recorder down and hold on for the ride.
Photograph by Mark Watson, Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race. See more photos like this in our Ultimate Adventure Bucket List. A roundup of the latest adventure news from around the web.
Triple Crown in Sight For Blind Hiker? Expeditions News reports that blind hiker Trevor Thomas, 41, plans to attempt to thru-hike the 3,100-mile Continental Divide Trail. This will be a follow up to his successful thru-hikes of the Appalachian and Pacific Crest. So what are you doing this spring? (Expedition News)
64-Year-Old Finishes Trans-Atlantic Solo Paddle After 99 days and 3,320 miles, hexagenarian Polish adventurer Aleksander Doba finished his solo paddle from Dakar, Senegal, to Acarau, Brazil. Others have kayaked across the Atlantic before him, but Doba is believed to have pulled off the longest-ever solo-kayaking voyage in his customized, 23-foot sea kayak. (Grind TV)
12,500-Mile All-In Trek Underway Samuel Gardner is now 32 days into his epic hike, which includes the Triple Crown (Pacific Crest, Continental Divide, Appalachian Trails) plus one more, the North Country Trail. He hopes to finish in a year. (Adventure Journal)
Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race Surges It may be the world’s hardest expedition race in the world’s most stunning place for adventure. And it’s happening right now. It’s also one of the trips featured on our Ultimate Adventure Bucket List. (The Adventure Blog)
Lonnie Dupre Thwarted From Winter Summit on Denali Minnesotan explorer Lonnie Dupre had to turn back at 17,200 feet when the weather turned bad on 20,320-foot Denali. He plans to return next January to try again for the first solo winter summit of the mountain. (The Adventure Blog)
By Andrew Tolve; Photograph courtesy Chris Korbulic
The Itanda Falls in eastern Uganda are a treacherous, quarter-mile run of rapids lined by dense jungle and heaving with Class VI whitewater from top to bottom. Hendri Coetzee, the South African kayaker killed by a crocodile on the Lukuga River in December 2010, considered this “big water kayaking in paradise.” The 35-year-old had a home in Jinja, just upriver, and had run the falls hundreds of times, including on his legendary trip from the Nile’s source-to-sea in 2004.
This past Saturday, January 8, more than 200 friends and family joined at the falls to pay tribute to Coetzee’s memory. A wooden raft filled with flowers and prayer flags, poems, hearts, and photographs, was ferried to the middle of the river at sunset, lit on fire, and set free in the rapids.
“He used to call this the center of the universe,” recalls Pete Meredith, one of Coetzee’s closest friends and the memorial’s organizer. “It was close to the heart of Africa, at the source of the Nile, the people were so friendly, and the water was amazing. This is the way he would have wanted to go.”
Many of those attending the memorial stayed until sunrise sharing stories of Coetzee, an adventurer who, in the era of Google Earth and GPS, proved there were still many beautiful corners of the world left to be explored. He had kayaked all around Africa and internationally, often alone and on lines no one had dared (or thought) to go before. And he did all this with a humility and total disregard for fame or fortune.
“Hendri was a student, and a teacher, and a devotee to his church of exploration,” says Chris Korbulic, one of the two American kayakers with Coetzee when the crocodile struck. “His exploration and adventure were his self-expression, and he didn’t need to go further with it by telling everyone about it.”
Celliers Kruger, one of Coetzee’s close friends and sponsors, recalls that Coetzee routinely turned down new kayaks in favor of an old, scratched up E Solo; insisted on learning Swahili so he could communicate with villagers during his adventures in the Congo; and pursued a degree in psychology between expeditions, not for the shiny degree but to sharpen his personal observations on life.
Coetzee once wrote me in an email, when I was hoping to feature his latest solo adventure in 2009, “As much as I like people thinking I am brave (and I do), it just seems so tasteless and used up, man survives crocodile, savages, and malaria to complete world’s hardest river bla bla bla ... Fact is people live here, 50 million of them, more than half women and children. I am not saying it can’t be dangerous; there are many ways to die here, maybe more than in other places. But the fact is it doesn’t make you Superman to survive here. Grandma is doing it.”
This spirit, in an age when exploration is so often motivated by the attention it will receive, was refreshing and important and will be missed by all those in the adventure community.