January 2007 – Volume Fourteen, Number One
EXPEDITION NEWS, now in its 13th year, is the monthly review of significant expeditions, research projects and newsworthy adventures. It is distributed online to media representatives, corporate sponsors, educators, research librarians, explorers, environmentalists, and outdoor enthusiasts. This forum on exploration covers projects that stimulate, motivate and educate.
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STUDENTS TO WITNESS MARCH OF THE PENGUINS
Five New York City high school students (one from each borough) will be going to the bottom of the world on a once-in-a-lifetime expedition to Antarctica. New York philanthropist Harold Snyder is sponsoring the students to participate on the “Students on Ice” expedition in order to gain a better understanding and respect for the natural world, and witness first hand the impacts climate change is having on the earth's polar regions.
According to a press conference at The Explorers Club in New York on Nov. 29, the Antarctic expedition is organized by Geoff Green, a veteran of 66 Antarctic expeditions, and his award-winning organization Students on Ice.
“With the International Polar Year fast approaching and the world's attention focused on the many dramatic changes happening to the world as a result of climate change, there is no better time to lead an international group of students to the Poles,” says Green.
The New York participants will join 70 other students, 15 scientists and educators from around the world. Next December, they will board the specially designed ice breaker MS Polar Star in Ushuaia, Argentina, and sail south to the Antarctic. The students will use inflatable zodiacs to visit wildlife settings and international research stations. Hands-on research activities and seminars will include such subjects as marine biology, oceanography, history, and climate change. (For more information: StudentsOnIce.com)
Giant Squid Filmed – In March 2001 we wrote about an expedition attempting to see a giant squid alive in its natural habitat. Now comes word that a Japanese research team has succeeded in filming a live giant squid - reportedly for the first time - and says the elusive creatures may be more plentiful than previously thought.
The team, led by Tsunemi Kubodera, filmed the squid at the surface as it captured the creature off the Ogasawara Islands south of Tokyo last month. The female squid measured about 24 feet long and died while it was being caught. It was not fully-grown and relatively small by giant squid standards. The longest one on record is 60 feet, Kubodera said.
The squid was captured using a smaller type of squid as bait and pulled into a research vessel "after putting up quite a fight," said Kubodera, a researcher with Japan's National Science Museum. "It took two people to pull it in, and they lost it once, which might have caused the injuries that killed it," he said. Kubodera said whales led his team to the squid. Judging by the number of whales that feed on them, there may be more giant squid than previously thought.
American Tops 63 Unclimbed Tibetan Peaks in 23 Days – Climber and fitness expert Sean Burch returned to the U.S. last month from Tibet where he reached a reported record 63 summits of previously unexplored and unclimbed high-altitude peaks in 23 days. Burch netted over 100,000 feet of vertical gain in the midst of facing mountaineering hazards such as avalanches, crevasses, extreme weather, and rockslides. Burch also confronted unforeseen obstacles such as dremo (wild bears), wild dogs, and a botched robbery attempt at knifepoint by nomads. The peaks ranged in altitude from 16,000-19,000 feet, and Burch spent an average 16 hours a day climbing for the 23 days.
Burch, who has established Guinness world records on Mt. Everest, the North Pole, and Mt. Kilimanjaro, was climbing in an unexplored region of the Chang Tang in Tibet. Burch also spent time in the villages to grasp the fundamental human rights issues currently facing Tibet. Back in the U.S., Burch is raising awareness and funds for the non-profit organization ASK (The Association for the Support of Children with Cancer).
When asked why this expedition appealed to him, Burch responded, “The attraction of reaching the summit of an unclimbed peak is comparable to Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon. No one has ever been there before. This is true 21st century exploration.”
Burch carefully documented each peak by GPS and photographs, as well as research from interviews with local Tibetans as to the history of each region being climbed. Burch's primary and contributing sponsors for this expedition include Iridium Satellite, Baker's Breakfast Cookies, RBH Designs, and Guayaki. Penguin/Putnam will be publishing his book, Hyperfitness, which contains his training protocol, in April 2007. (For more information: SeanBurch.com)
More Vacation Time Needed for Exploring – It's often said that to be an explorer you have to either be dirt poor and have the kind of job where no one will miss you, or filthy rich with lots of staff to cover for you while you explore the Amazon. But now there's hope for the rest of us: as more and more Americans struggle to catch their breath from longer workweeks and shrinking vacations, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) announced its endorsement of a minimum paid-leave proposal that would protect vacation time in the U.S.
The proposed legislation, sponsored by Work to Live, Santa Monica, Calif., and the Seattle-based Take Back Your Time organization, would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to grant three weeks of time off for anyone who has worked at a job for a year. Unlike 96 other countries, the U.S. has no law governing vacations.
In Europe, citizens get four and five weeks by law; in Japan and Canada two weeks. Without statutory protection in the U.S., vacations are vanishing. (For more information: WorkToLive.info, AdventureTravel.biz, TimeDay.org
QUOTE OF THE MONTH
“I couldn't find another director willing to climb up and down mountains and dangle several thousand feet above the valley floor. The only way you can direct mountain climbing sequences is by being right there with the actors.” - Clint Eastwood quoted in the bonus section of The Eiger Sanction (1975) DVD. In addition to the Eiger, climbing scenes were shot in Zion National Park, Utah; and Monument Valley in Arizona (where Eastwood ascended 600-ft. Totem Pole; it has been closed to climbers since he filmed there). Final photography on the Eiger, considered by alpinists to be more treacherous than the Matterhorn, was at an elevation of 12,000 feet.
Eastwood trained with pros at home in Carmel, Calif., before shooting. “I'd fooled around a little as a boy,” he's quoted on the DVD. “A friend and I climbed rocks maybe 40 feet high. But you know, there isn't much difference whether you're looking down 40 feet or 40,000.”
Old Mallory “Everest” Film Found in Tool Box
In 1991 Bill Warren, at the time a 37-year-old adventurer and singer from Las Vegas, got lucky. He often frequented a Las Vegas swap meet looking for “deals” and on one lucky day he stopped at a vendor's space where he noticed a grey metal toolbox. He opened it up and inside saw five cans of 16mm films all marked on the outside labeling the contents. One in particular caught his eye. It had the words “Everest.” He paid the seller $15 and took the box home.
One week later Warren bought a used 16mm projector and began viewing each film. Turned out the Everest film was in excellent condition and was a complete production of George Mallory's climb to the summit of Everest in 1924. The approximately 15-min. film was, of course, silent and had subtitles.
Now Warren would like to sell the film. He was told by a producer at NOVA TV that it is rare and worth up to $50,000. He would take far less. Warren, who lives in San Diego County, is what you might call a colorful character. For years he was a professional gospel singer, and he says he has sung with Kathie Lee Gifford and Della Reese. He's also been a cruise-ship entertainer and TV producer, and names the late Frank Sinatra as "a friend." But perhaps his greatest love is finding and salvaging shipwrecks, a hobby since the early 70s that became his full-time avocation 15 years ago.
Still involved in expeditions, he has written two books on some of his adventures - one titled Shipwrecks of Great Abaco, Bahamas and the other Treasure Hunter. He is currently writing a book about an island full of guano he claims ownership of named Navassa, 90 miles south of Cuba, and of his suit against America over his ownership rights. He has run unsuccessfully twice for the U.S. Congress.
Warren says he has lead an expedition to Mauritius, Africa, where he found, after three years of research, an English East Indiaman with 17 chests of uncut Indian diamonds sitting in 21 feet of crystal clear water far from shore. Next project is a search for the lost Royal dinnerware located somewhere in the bottom of the Firth of Forth river in Scotland. It was originally made for Henry the Eighth and he has a letter from the Queen of England wishing him and his team good luck in finding it.
That Everest film could be a great bargain; with a chest of uncut Indian diamonds squirreled away, he probably doesn't need the money. But don't take our word for it. You can reach Warren directly at 760 731 4981 or Sirwilliam5333@aol.com.
Trip Report - The Baiji Yangtze Dolphin Now Thought Extinct
Last month, in the city of Wuhan in central China, a search expedition called the Yangtze Freshwater Dolphin Expedition 2006, under the direction of the Institute for Hydrobiology Wuhan and the Swiss-based Baiji.org Foundation, drew to a finish without any results. During the six-week expedition scientists from six nations desperately searched the Yangtze in vain for this endangered “white-flag” dolphin, the first species in modern times to be erased from this planet's great and ancient Order of the Cetaceans. A 1997 survey counted 13 baiji in the river. None could be located this time around; the last confirmed sighting was in September 2004.
The scientists were traveling on two research vessels a distance of almost 3,500 km from Yichang near the Three Gorges Dam to Shanghai into the Yangtze Delta and back, using high performance optical instruments and underwater microphones to find any trace of the white, nearly blind mammal.
“It is possible we may have missed one or two animals,” said August Pfluger, head of the Baiji.org Foundation and co-organizer of the expedition.” Regardless, these animals would have no chance of survival in the river.” Pfluger adds, “We have to accept the fact that the baiji is functionally extinct. It is a tragedy, a loss not only for China, but for the entire world.”
The expedition had been led by the China Ministry of Agriculture and brought together world-class experts from institutes such as the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Hubbs-Seaworld Institute in San Diego, and the Fisheries Research Agency in Japan.
The fate of the delicate dolphin is attributed to the destruction of their habitat, illegal fishing and collisions with ships. Regarded in China as the “goddess of the Yangtze,” the 20-million-year old river dolphin was one of the world's oldest species. The baiji is the first large mammal brought to extinction as a result of human destruction to their natural habitat and resources.
The major project partners were SGS, Anheuser-Busch, SeaWorld, Ocean Park Foundation Hong Kong and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Other sponsors include Canon, Fujinon, Garmin, Katadyn, KühneNagel, Pictet, Transa, Victorinox and Ziemann. (For more information: August Pfluger, Baiji.org)
In the Footsteps of Scott – A British military team reached the South Pole in late December, becoming the first British troops to arrive there on foot since Capt. Robert F. Scott's 1912 expedition ended in tragedy, officials said. Led by Captain Sean Chapple, the team that included three marines walked and skied 1,740 miles, skirting ice crevasses and facing temperatures as low as 50 degrees F. below zero to reach its goal, according to Royal Navy Lt. Commander Susie Thompson, a spokeswoman for the expedition. She said that as much as possible, the explorers tried to follow Scott's route. Scott and his four-member team died of starvation and exposure on their return.
Scott was beaten to the South Pole by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, but his stirring diary, recovered from the ice six months later and then published, would largely eclipse Amundsen's achievement in the English-speaking world. At press time, after spending several days at a nearby research station, the British team planned on completing their return trip.
Rescue Workers Oppose New Ideas After Mount Hood Tragedy – As the search for three missing climbers on Oregon's highest peak unfolded on national television last month, many questions hung in the air, writes the Los Angeles Times' Sam Howe Verhovek in a story that also appeared in the Dec. 28 Baltimore Sun. Who's paying for all this? Why aren't mountain climbers required to carry emergency locator devices? And what were these men doing on Mount Hood in December?
“… a lot of the ideas offered have been around for awhile - and some are vigorously opposed by those who perform the rescue missions,” Verhovek writes. One idea, making those who get lost pay for their rescue or, perhaps, making their families pay for recovery of their bodies, is rejected by the Mountain Rescue Association, which represents about 100 volunteer groups in the United States, Canada and Britain.
"If people believe they are going to be charged, especially a big charge, they're going to be afraid to summon help," said Glenn Henderson, the association's California regional chairman and a rescue volunteer in Riverside. "They're going to try and get themselves out of a jam. They will delay - and that delay can make the difference between life and death."
What about equipping climbers with cell phones, satellite phones and emergency locator beacons? Verhovek reports rescue officials worry that these solutions carry their own danger. Some rescue officials refer to this more bluntly as the "triple-A card problem" - meaning that having a call-for-help plan in one's pocket might make one more likely to take risks. Cell phones often don't work in remote areas, and batteries can be vulnerable to extreme temperatures. Personal locator devices - which are activated by the user in an emergency, sending a distress call that can be tracked by satellite - could emerge as standard gear for climbers. But the reality is that in mountain disasters, it is sometimes impossible to deliver help even if rescuers know exactly where the problem is.
When 48-year-old Kelly James of Dallas placed a cell phone call to his family on Dec. 10 from a snow cave just below the 11,240-foot summit on Mount Hood, he might have been beyond saving, believes Verhovek. At press time, it is not clear what happened to his fellow climbers, Brian Hall, 37, of Dallas, and Jerry "Nikko" Cooke, 36, of Brooklyn, N.Y. Authorities say there is virtually no chance the two are alive.
The incident raises the question of whether the men should have been on the mountain at all. And whether their plan for a one-day "rapid ascent" ¬- a strategy that places a premium on carrying a minimal amount of gear and food ¬- cut the margin for error too close.
Despite the accidents, mountaineering groups say that climbing has gotten safer. The American Alpine Club said in a 2005 report that the average annual number of reported climbing accidents declined from a peak of 168 in the 1980s to 159 in the 1990s and 139 so far this decade.
"The vast majority of people who get lost or hurt and need help are not mountain climbers," said Charley Shimanski, a former executive director of the American Alpine Club. They are hikers, people out for a long day trek or perhaps an overnight camping trip,” he tells the L.A. Times' Verhovek.
"So really, if you're talking about requiring people to carry cell phones or personal locator beacons, then you really shouldn't be talking just about the thousands of climbers on big peaks," Shimanski said. "You should be talking about the hundreds of thousands of people who go hiking."
The Alps Opens in March – Nine years after the record-breaking release of Everest, MacGillivray Freeman Films will premiere a new mountain adventure, The Alps, in March. It features climber John Harlin who returns to the Eiger, determined to climb the mountain that took his father's life. Says director Stephen Judson, “He (Harlin) has had unfinished business with the Eiger for 40 years. He has to confront his demons and climb the Eiger, to free himself from its shadow - and to honor his father.”
Judson continues, “The Eiger may be Europe's deadliest mountain, but on this climb, the physical challenge pales next to the emotional battle John must wage.” The Eiger is steeper than Everest, and it's a relentless climb - a mile high, almost straight up, without a break. The Eiger is also much more prone to falling rocks, which have proved fatal for many climbers (including a cameraman filming The Eiger Sanction in the mid-70s).
MacGillivray Freeman has also announced plans to film veterans of the Everest 1996 tragedy for a March 2009 film titled, Return to Everest. New expedition members will include medical researchers conducting experiments on how the human body copes with extreme conditions.
Mallory Film Planned – Speaking of Everest, a leading American producer is making a movie about the life of George Leigh Mallory. Paul Heller, whose films range from the 1989 Oscar-winner My Left Foot to 1973 Kung-fu classic Enter the Dragon, will shoot the new film, titled In High Places, in Tibet and around the Indian Himalayan resort of Darjeeling, where most of the Everest expeditions used to start before Nepal opened up its routes in the 1950s. The modest $7 million independent picture will focus on Mallory's three expeditions to Everest in 1921, 1922 and the final 1924 attempt when the 38-year-old mountaineer was last seen "going strongly for the top" by geologist Noel Odell.
"The story of Mallory has a lot of mystery and history and that is why we decided to tell his story to the world," said Jamling Tenzing Sherpa, son of Tenzing Norgay and production manager of the film's unit in India.
Heller, who has a history of making high quality films with a modest budget, said he was confident that debut director James McEachen would do justice to Mallory's story. "James is a climber himself and has come up with a brilliant screenplay and has quite a few documentaries to his credit," he said.
Crack Addiction – In the Dec. 14 Wall Street Journal, writer Michael J. Ybarra recounts his time in Splitter Camp, a three-day crack climbing seminar taught last October by world-class climbers and sponsored by shoemaker Montrail. The clinic is the brainchild of Jim Donini, president of the American Alpine Club and a world-class mountaineer who, although in his 60s, is still climbing hard and putting up new routes on the intimidating rock spires of Patagonia.
“Jim's advice: Climb like a girl – meaning use technique and finesse instead of trying to muscle up a route,” writes Ybarra, who explains crack climbing is where you wedge your body or whatever parts of it you can - fingers, hands, arms - into fissures and inch your way up. “Crack climbers have lousy manicures and many scabs. British author and climber Jim Perrin once compared crack climbing to street fighting.”
How to Find a Sponsor? Chew Gum and Dance at the Same Time – Expeditions have been struggling for funding since the days of Columbus, so imagine our pique when we learned that Seattle's Matt Harding, a 30-year-old self-professed “deadbeat from Connecticut” received sponsorship from Stride gum to perform a silly free-form dance in 39 countries in six months on seven continents. His international boogie in 2005-06, when combined with an earlier unsponsored trip in 2003, has been viewed by over five million people.
Harding says the hardest dance was on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. “I spent nine hours climbing up to the peak,” he tells The Washington Post, “I vomited eight times on the way up and I just had nothing left by the time I got up there.” It just goes to show, there's a sponsor out there for every adventurer if you just look hard enough. (See that voodoo he does so well at WhereTheHellIsMatt.com)
ON THE HORIZON
Uma Thurman and WINGS WorldQuest Honors Five – WINGS WorldQuest, the non-profit organization whose mission is to promote scientific exploration, celebrate extraordinary women explorers, and inspire all women to explore their universe, announced Uma Thurman will serve as the evening's awards presenter to the 2007 WINGS WorldQuest awardees including: SEA: Dr. Terrie Williams (USA) - a marine biologist whose study of Weddell seals in Antarctica revealed the negative impact global warming has on the seal population; and EARTH: Dr. Erin Pettit (USA) - a glaciologist studying climate change in addition to mentoring future female scientists through her Girls on Ice program.
Additional awards will be given in COURAGE: Dr. Constanza Ceruti (Argentina) – the only female Andean high-altitude archaeologist in the world; LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT: Dr. Jane Goodall (UK) - world-renowned primatologist and UN Messenger of Peace; and FIELD RESEARCH: Grace Gobbo (Tanzania) - an ethnobotanist whose research on traditional medical practices and medicinal plants documents knowledge for future generations. The event is March 1 at Cipriani 23rd Street in New York. Tickets are $500-plus per person. (For more information: WingsWorldQuest.org)
Explorers Club Celebrates Polar Places - The Explorers Club Annual Dinner (ECAD), Mar. 17 at the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel in New York, will celebrate “The Importance of Polar Places” and will coincide with International Polar Year. (For more information: Explorers.org)
Banff Tour Begins – The Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour has once again taken to the road. The tour brings films from the annual festival to outdoor and film enthusiasts in about 270 locations around the world.
Each local tour organizer selects films from a menu that covers a diverse range of sports, themes, and styles, allowing the program to be tailored to the particular location. The collection includes films such as Asiemut, this year's People's Choice winner, which follows first-time filmmakers Olivier Higgins and Mélanie Carrier on an 8,000 km cycling expedition across Asia. Pedaling from Mongolia to India, through Xinjiang, the Taklimakan Desert, and the high Tibetan plateau, they discover both a new part of the world and themselves.
The World Tour reaches more than 175,000 people in about 30 countries on all seven continents. Many of the tour screenings have become hotly anticipated events that function as local fundraisers for outdoors groups and environmental organizations. (For more information: www.BanffCentre.ca/mountainculture/tour/)
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