December 2009 – Volume Sixteen, Number Twelve
EXPEDITION NEWS, now in its 15th 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.
EXTREME CROSSOVER - CAMEL TREK FROM OMAN TO MOROCCO
Swedish explorer Mikael Strandberg hopes to become the first person to cross the two hottest places on earth: the Sahara and the Arabian Desert, from Oman to Morocco along the southernmost arid routes. Starting in late 2010, his unsupported 7,700-mile (12,467 km) camel trek will take an expected 21 months.
He tells EN that plans are underway to prepare for the hazards en route: sandstorms, mirages, an ocean of dunes more than 980-ft. high, poisonous scorpions and snakes, extreme water shortages, and, "a heat that makes you unable to think clearly or make decisions." The unsupported trek will include two Omani Bedouins in addition to Strandberg, 47. His Bedouin teammates will be traveling without shoes, by camel, and in classic Bedouin clothing in honor of their old ways, which are slowly disappearing, according to Strandberg.
The purpose of the trip is to build bridges of understanding and knowledge between the Arab countries themselves, and also between the Arabic east and the European west.
Just in case you were wondering, he considers desert heat, drought and lack of water much harder than the polar cold. And he should know: for 10 months in 2004, Strandberg explored by canoe and skis the unknown Kolyma River in Northeastern Siberia.
At about 2,200 miles, it was globally hailed as one of the coldest ever in the history of exploration. "I almost lost fingers, toes, my wit and my life," he says of the experience. "Being freezing cold around the clock is a pain beyond description. Still it is easier to survive the cold (than the desert). Snow isolates, gives fluid and your movements render protection."
Approximately $966,000 in sponsorship support is being sought (which would include a documentary), "hopefully split evenly between the Arab and Western worlds." (For more information: Mikael@mikaelstrandberg.com, MikaelStrandberg.com, (+46) 70-5945722)
FILMS INSPIRE CHINESE WOMAN TO CLIMB SEVEN SUMMITS
Lei Wang is an American citizen now living in Boston but born in China's Jiangsu province. She is currently training for a 2010 expedition to Mt. Everest. If she successfully summits, she'll become the first Chinese woman, as well as the first Asian American woman, to climb the Seven Summits, the highest mountain on every continent.
Wang hopes that her example will inspire regular people to challenge themselves to do something impossible. She especially hopes to inspire Chinese people, American immigrants, and women around the world to go beyond their limits. Wang has already climbed Denali in North America, Aconcagua in South America, Mt. Vinson in Antarctica, Mt. Elbrus in Europe, Kilimanjaro in Africa, Carstensz Pyramid in Oceana, and she has skied to the North and South Poles.
A graduate of Tsinghua University in Beijing, Wang came to the U.S. in 1995 to study computer science and later earned an MBA at the Wharton School. She worked for several years in the IT and finance industries and spent little time outdoors. Wang was so intimidated by the New England winter when she first moved to Boston that she barely left her apartment.
Then in 2004, Wang made a decision that would change her life completely. Inspired by the films Touching the Void and Women of K2, she borrowed everything she could find on Mt. Everest from the Boston Public Library. She learned that no Chinese woman had yet climbed the Seven Summits, and she asked, "why not me?" She decided to follow her heart, sacrificing a normal life and career to learn all the technical skills and undertake the physical conditioning needed to reach the highest mountains in the world. In the process Wang has struggled to overcome many physical, ideological, and financial challenges in transforming from an ordinary Chinese girl into a 38-year-old woman just one mountain away from the fabled "7+2."
Wang is seeking sponsorship for her expedition to Everest. Potential benefits for corporate sponsors include naming benefits and expedition product placements, mentions in press releases and publications about her inspiring story, and interviews and speaking engagements for promotion. Lei's positive story and inspiring example have the potential to carry well beyond her trip to the roof of the world. (For more information: email@example.com, LeisVentures.com)
I Want to be Under the Sea – One of the advantages in living in the gravity-deprived flatlands surrounding New York City is proximity to The Explorers Club and its on-going series of excellent public lectures. Last month we wrote about a full-day session lead by mountaineers. In November it was time for undersea explorers to tell their stories. Highlights of a most enjoyable and informative day follow below:
"The world still has many secrets and there will always be people who want to find answers," he said. "People say all the world's expeditions have been done. The people who say this don't dive."
The Dakar and her 69-person crew simply disappeared on a maiden voyage from England to Haifa, lost somewhere between Crete and Cyprus. A year later a rescue buoy from the submarine was found, adding to the mystery. Jourdan and his ROV-equipped team located the remains of the stricken sub in May 1999, but without any trace of its crew, presumed to be absorbed into the sea. The sub, which suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure, likely imploded at 600 feet due to the pressure. "I took some comfort in being able to tell relatives that death was instantaneous, quicker than the crew could sense it."
Jourdan, author of Never Forgotten – The Search and Discovery of Israel's Lost Submarine Dakar (Naval Institute Press, 2009), praised the hand-eye coordination of his ROV operators: "Kids today who are good at video games will be great at operating ROV controls when they grow up."
During his talk Jourdan passed around a small vial containing a thimble-sized Styrofoam coffee cup crushed by the pressure of a deep dive - similar to what would happen to unprotected human lungs at that depth.
"A lot of places (we explore) are dark, foreboding, and inaccessible, but they can provide answers … we like to show people the beauty of the planet's plumbing." She says rebreathers are warmer and safer to use than tradition scuba gear, "providing us with greater range to travel with a leaner, meaner package to new locations."
One process is through the use of acoustic telemetry and hydrophones, the process of tracking animals equipped with high frequency transmitters that last 48 hours or less. Today, pop-up satellite tagging is revolutionizing research - spotter planes and chase boats equipped with experienced harpooners affix tags that are programmed to collect and store data every 10 seconds, then pop up to the surface months later. Once on the surface, the data is automatically emailed to the researcher for study.
Skomal, author of The Shark Handbook (Cider Mill Press, 2008), as well as 11 books on aquarium keeping, believes the prevalence of Great White sharks are on the upswing off Cape Cod. "The more pop-up tags we put on sharks the more we learn about where they go when out to sea," he said. "For today's young kids who want to go into shark research, these are the toys they're going to be playing with." Unfortunately, between man's great fear of sharks and the massive Asian market for shark fins, "sharks are low on the list of species countries are trying to save."
We'll Drink to That – It's been on the rocks for the last 100 years, buried under two feet of Antarctic ice. Now the two cases - 24 bottles - of "Rare Old" brand McKinlay and Co. whisky, left behind by Sir Ernest Shackleton in 1909, are to be retrieved. A team of New Zealand explorers heading out in January has been asked by Whyte & Mackay, the company that now owns McKinlay and Co., to get a sample of the drink. The cases were discovered by polar explorers in 2006, but couldn't be removed as they were too deeply embedded in ice. Now the team plans to use special drills to rescue a sample. But what might it taste like? Experts say that it will taste the same as it did 100 years ago if it has been stored upright, in the dark and away from heat (not hard to do in Antarctica).
Extremely low temperatures, like those in the Antarctic, will make the whisky cloudy, but this should fade when it is warmed up, says David Stewart, a master blender at distillers William Grant & Sons Ltd. "If these bottles have been stored upright there is every chance they will be drinkable," he says.
If the team of explorers are unable to retrieve a full bottle, they are hoping to use a syringe to extract some of the contents. "I personally think they must have been left it there by mistake, because it's hard to believe two crates would have been left under the hut without drinking them," said New Zealand Heritage Trust spokesman Al Fastier.
National Outdoor Book Awards Remember Teddy – A new groundbreaking biography on Theodore Roosevelt is the winner of the history-biography category in this year's National Outdoor Book Awards (NOBA). Entitled Wilderness Warrior, the book is by historian Douglas Brinkley.
"No doubt about this one," said Ron Watters, chairman of the National Outdoor Books Awards. "It's a winner. Not only is Brinkley's book well written and impeccably researched, it sheds new information on Roosevelt's work to protect our nation's outdoor heritage." The winners of this annual award program represent some of the finest outdoor writing and artwork being published today. The awards program is sponsored by the National Outdoor Book Awards Foundation, Idaho State University and the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education.
Awards are given in ten individual categories. Complete results and reviews can be found at: noba-web.org
QUOTE OF THE MONTH
"Some of us climb, I believe, as a way to bring order and control to our personal universe. But climbing also has a way of yanking hard on our chain to remind us that there is a limit to how much we can control. At some point, no matter how stubborn, talented, or hard working we are, we step out of our world of personal control. And we enter one of cosmic caprice." - Susan E. B. Schwartz writing about the American Alpine Club New York section 30th annual dinner on Nov. 14 (Source: Inclined, the blog of the American Alpine Club).
The Last Flight
By James Clash
New York, N.Y.
Travelers who like to experience a brief taste of adventure, whether it's riding in zero gravity, rappelling off a cliff, descending a zip line, or climbing Everest with a guide, often overlook how dangerous these pursuits can be. New York journalist James Clash, 54, author of Forbes' To The Limits (Wiley, 2003), was in South Africa last month to ride along in a supersonic jet with famed pilot Dave Stock. The plane crashed 16 hours later, killing Stock, father of two. Clash shares his experience with Expedition News.
Thunder City, Cape Town's private air base at which thrill-seeking tourists pay thousands of dollars to experience supersonic and aerobatic maneuvers in ex-military aircraft, recently lost one of its veteran pilots. Dave Stock's English Electric Lightning 2-seat fighter jet (ZU-BEX) developed hydraulic problems during maneuvers at the 2009 Overberg Air Show Nov. 14. He managed to steer the aircraft clear of the crowd, dump fuel and attempt to eject. After three tries he said, "Ejection seat failure," and crashed. An investigation has been launched into what happened with the hydraulics system, the lifeblood of an airplane-and why the canopy release/ejector seat failed.
Since the mid-1990s, hundreds of wealthy tourists have flown commercial programs at Thunder City without incident in venerable British aircraft including the Strikemaster, Hawker Hunter, Buccaneer and Electric Lightning. The most expensive ($17,000 per ride) and only supersonic flight offered there is in the Lightning, considered the crown jewel of the British Cold War-era air fleet.
Reportedly this is just the second fatal accident at the complex founded by entrepreneur Mike Beachy Head and co-owned by British billionaire John Caudwell. (The other was in 1995 when two pilots crashed in a Canberra performing aerobatics not authorized in that aircraft.)
Stock was considered one of South Africa's best fliers, having logged more than 15,000 hours in the air. An ex-South African Air Force test pilot, he held numerous vertical-climb speed records. In 2006 he attempted to break his own Electric Lightning dead stop to 9,000 meter record of 102 seconds, with Sir Richard Branson aboard, only to fall short by two seconds when an afterburner on one engine failed.
On a personal note, Stock flew this reporter supersonic from Thunder City to Overberg just hours before his crash, performing a full dress rehearsal of aerobatic moves scheduled for the next day. He did things in that aircraft (and to my stomach!) I couldn't believe.
After our flight the affable Stock, 46, told me, "You may not realize it now, but in a week you will understand this was a life-changing experience." At the time I'm sure he had no idea exactly how that would play out, nor did I.
When I heard this news, it was as if someone had punched me in the stomach. I guess when your number is up, it's up, and when it isn't, it isn't-but this has really made me think. My prayers go out to Stock's two children, Gareth and Greg, and to his ex-wife Debbie.
Five-Month Arctic Journey is Ready for its Close-Up
After a relatively smooth start to his 8,500-mile, five-month voyage through the Arctic last summer, filmmaker Sprague Theobald, 58, and his team of filmmakers, sailors, and divers were hit hard by an ice floe that trapped their boat in ice for days. The ship was locked in ice and driven by strong currents towards a rocky coast where they thought they would have to abandon their ship and their mission.
Bravery, experienced nautical maneuvering, and a dash of good luck freed them from the ice and landed them safely on the other side of Canada's Northwest Passage. The crew then navigated the unforgiving Bering Sea and is resting safely in Alaska.
Theobald, an Emmy-Award winner, set out from his home in Newport, R.I., in June to brave the Arctic for his second time in two years. This time he returned with 250-hours of high-definition video footage-including underwater shots, surreal landscapes, active glaciers, wildlife, and historical landmarks such as the gravesites from the doomed Franklin Expedition of 1845.
Theobald interviewed Inuit elders, other sailors attempting the Passage, politicians, and conservationists from the region regarding changes and issues in the Arctic. "The documentary will show the beauty and power of the Arctic and what the world risks losing if it's not properly cared for," Theobald said. Among the crew were his son and two stepchildren.
Theobald will produce his fifth full-length documentary of the experience called The Northwest Passage for broadcast in the near future. (For more information: NorthwestPassageFilm.com/arctic)
Climber Fights Against Toxic Chemicals
Three decades after leading a charge against the use of toxic chemicals in consumer products, Arlene Blum is back in the fight. In the 1978 she headed the first all-woman expedition to the summit of Alaska's Mount McKinley and worked as an assistant professor of chemistry, according to the Wall Street Journal (Nov. 14-15). After publishing papers on the use of two carcinogenic chemicals used as fire retardants, Blum's research helped persuade federal regulators to ban the use of Tris in children's sleepwear.
In 2006, after she scaled mountains around the world and became a successful lecturer, motivational speaker and raised a daughter, she was shocked to learn that the dangerous chemicals she had succeeded in getting removed from children's sleepwear in the 1970s were still being used to treat furniture and other products. In 2008, the Berkeley, Calif., resident formed the Green Science Policy Institute, a sort of environmental think tank providing scientific research on dangerous chemicals to government, industry and non-governmental organizations. Her new efforts, she tells the Journal, have helped stop the use of hundreds of millions of pounds of toxic chemicals in consumer products.
Blum was the first American woman to attempt to climb Mount Everest, and led the first all-U.S., all-woman team to the summit of Nepal's Annapurna I. During the climb - which the group financed by selling t-shirts with the motto, "A woman's place is on the top" - two women from her team made the summit, but two others died trying. That experience is recounted in her first book, Annapurna: A Woman's Place (Sierra Club Books, 1998).
Fighting Terrorism With Schools
Climber and author Greg Mortenson deserves all the publicity he can get. The organization he founded, the Central Asia Institute, has built 91 schoolhouses in the mountains of rural Pakistan, serving 19,000 students - 75 percent of whom are girls, according to a story in Parade magazine (Nov. 22). Mortenson writes, "Young women are the developing world's greatest agents of progress. Just one year of schooling will dramatically raise a girl's later economic prospects, and where girls get to fifth grade, birth rates and infant mortality plunge.
"Teaching girls to read and write reduces the ignorance and poverty that fuel religious extremism and lays a groundwork for prosperity and peace."
The Fourth Part of the World
by Toby Lester, Free Press, November 2009
Reviewed by Robert F. Wells
For every major era of humankind, there has been a "great unknown." For us living among TV sets, Velcro and microwave ovens, it's Space. We know it's "out there"... but we don't really have a clue what's out there.
Ever since our ancestors evolved from "hunter-gatherers," people have stretched their views of territorial boundaries. Cave to cave... across the next river... over the far mountain... settlement to settlement. Distant lands have shed their secrets. In the old days, news traveled slowly, if at all. Early aborigines had no clue about early Africans. Spear chuckers chasing mammoths had no clue? Who knew?
Even after Vikings ventured, Irish explored and early Chinese fleets sailed, news of discoveries lay basically undiscovered. A rather gifted soul named Ptolemy spent most of the 2nd Century A.D. spouting gibberish about geography-even drawing fantastical maps. In the ensuing centuries, cartography blossomed-proving those with the best maps to be the richest, strongest and wisest. Needless to say, just about everyone of any rank spent gobs of money swiping maps from anyone who had them. Empires were built upon them. Trade of spices and precious metals thrived on them-not to mention the dreaded slave trade. Have maps?... will travel... and prosper.
So, what is this book all about? The 4th part of the world? Here's a clue, up until the late 1400's, just about everyone thought the world consisted of three parts -Europe, Asia and Africa. It wasn't until a rather unlikely mapmaker and his buddies in a tiny town produced the "Waldseemuller world map of 1507" that The New World took on a name. Their pick: America-a rather lilted version of Amerigo, the given name to a Mr. Vespucci, a Florentine merchant who happened to flit around the same areas as Columbus. Needless to say, Admiral Columbus and his relatives were peeved. Injury! Injustice! Soon, mapmakers everywhere were differentiating North and South America- and before long, the ink dried in people's minds.
The Fourth Part of the World touts itself as "the epic story of the map that gave America its name." Actually, I think this title does serious slight to the book. It's much more than that. For anyone who's into how maps came to be, this is a fascinating history of man's geographic evolution.
The author has done what seems like years of research letting readers sample the earliest maps... and tracing historical context as ships and mountain climbers explored further. Each unknown was accompanied by stories of monsters. People were told they would fall off the ends of the earth. (By the bye, it was pretty much assumed that the world was round by the time the Santa Maria weighed anchor in 1492.)
The Pacific Ocean? A guy named Balboa climbed a mountain in Panama, looked West and must have cried "holy cripes" in Spanish. You'll take a very enlightening tour through the dark ages of Medieval Europe... learn about Prestor John (a mythical Christian King)... walk a little with Marco Polo and the Great Khan... and view an amazing compilation of maps from seemingly everywhere.
For me, Tony Lester comes out of nowhere and truly puts himself on the map. You're going to love him and his first book.
Tomaz Humar Dies in Himalaya
Tomaz Humar, 40, the Slovenian mountaineer recognized as one of the greatest climbers of the modern era, died last month while making a solo attempt on a treacherous Himalayan peak.
Humar went missing on the south face of Langtang Lirung, a notoriously dangerous 23,711 ft. (7227 m) mountain north of Kathmandu and close to the border with Tibet in northern Nepal. A single distress message was received by his support team when he made a satellite phone call to warn them that he had been seriously injured and feared he would not live.
"I have broken my back and leg," he said. "I am afraid it will be difficult for a helicopter to locate me. My pulse is weak and I think I am going to die." He added: "This is my last ..." before the phone link was broken. Humar was married with two children.
Humar shot to fame in 1999 after he achieved the first solo ascent of the vast south face of Dhaulagiri, the world's seventh-highest mountain and rated one of the very deadliest.
Dhaulagiri, in central Nepal (26,795-ft./8167 m) has a 40 per cent fatality rate for those who try to reach its peak. Humar's route, which traversed massive vertical slabs of rock and ice, was the equivalent of scaling eight Empire State buildings stacked on top of each other, at an altitude where there is less than half the oxygen than at sea level.
The task Humar set for himself had been regarded by many of his peers as near suicidal. His success won him international fame and the adoration of his countrymen while securing his reputation as one of the world's finest and bravest mountaineers.
His worst injury came in 2000 when he fell backwards into a 10-ft. hole while building a new house (see EN, December 2000). He severely injured both legs and doctors thought that he would never walk again, but within two years, he returned to mountaineering. He made 1,500 ascents in total, 70 of which had never been tried before.
EN HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE
It wouldn't be the holidays if we didn't print our annual gift guide for the explorer or adventurer who has everything. Here's what to put under their tree this year:
Bernard Dehydrated Water – What desert expedition wouldn't kill for water? Now they can be assured of never running dry with a can of Dehydrated Water from Bernard Food Industries, San Jose, Calif., "the first name in dehydrated water." The directions are pretty simple: Empty contents of can into one gallon of water, stir until dissolved. Chill and serve. It's great for dry martinis, watering cactus, and making dry ice. Why didn't we think of this? I guess we were too busy playing with our Pet Rock. (Prices range from $9.95 to $14.95 on eBay.com)
"Beware of Attack Penguin" – You can't be too careful in the Antarctic. Warn fellow explorers and adventurers with this 3- x 12-in. sign sure to keep visitors on their toes. ($4.95, www.Antarcticconnection.com, the Internet retailer based in Jackson, N.H. that boasts a large inventory of premium Antarctic related products).
Max Headroom – Did we tell you about the time we destroyed a child's bicycle seat when we pulled our Jeep into the low overhang of a McDonald's drive-through? Then there was the time our kayak hit the garage door opener. Won't someone give us an Xtrai Birdseye Overhead Clearance Roof Rack Sensor? It sounds a warning alarm when a racked-up vehicle approaches overhead obstacles. We'd prefer one of these gizmos to having the wife scream about our being such an idiot. ($299, ekxtrai.com)
Coyote Ugly – Rather than buy your friend or loved one soap on a rope, how about dope on a rope? Stock up on Acme Explosives and tell them to head down to New Zealand to get closer to their inner Wile E. Coyote. Billed as the world's fastest adventure ride, your holiday gift recipient will lie facedown on a high-speed, one-person rocket tethered by a 200-ft. cable to a fixed point high above a wide valley. For six minutes they'll experience three G's at 105 mph. This is one ugly ride. (About $138, Experience Queenstown Fly By Wire)
Looking for the Yeti? Start with a Neti – Man, what we wouldn't give for a good nose douche. In India and neighboring areas, flushing the nasal cavity with a water/saline solution is a common practice and part of a daily routine, much like brushing your teeth. Using a traditional Neti Pot is said to provide relief from allergies and sinus congestion. A handy how-to video shows your gift recipient the Aladdin's lamp-looking Neti Pot giving a good shpritz to the old schnozzola. ($7.49, SinusCleanse.com)
Rope 'em In – They're making bath tissue out of recycled paper these days so we are hardly surprised to see these recycled rope bracelets from Alpine Training Services. Where do old climbing ropes go to die? Alpine Training Services grabs a bunch of them for these cool accessories. ($5, www.canyoneeringcalifornia.com). This gift too lame? Then ramp it up with a Paracord Survival Bracelet made of 26 feet of military-grade parachute rope that can support 550 lbs. and unwind in seconds. ($19, SurvivalStraps.com)
Compression Socks Give Your Feet a Boost – Competitors from runners to triathletes to skiers are increasingly turning to compression socks for an edge that helps them recover faster in the process.
CW-X Compression Support Socks, from Wacoal Sports Science Corporation, makers of CW-X® Conditioning Wear, use seamless, variable compression Torex four-way stretch fabric to provide targeted support to increase circulation in the feet and lower legs.
A built-in Support Web™ supports the calf muscles and arch of the foot, and stabilizes the ankle joint. This results in reduced fatigue and quicker recovery from strenuous athletic activity.
You Want to Go Where? – How to Get Someone to Pay for the Trip of Your Dreams – The only book that not only takes you behind-the-scenes of some of the most historic and modern-day adventures and expeditions, but also provides advice on how individuals can fund and arrange their own trips.
Written by Jeff Blumenfeld, editor of Expedition News, it retells the story of explorers familiar to EN readers, including Anker, Schurke, Shackleton, Steger, Vaughan, and many others. It includes tips on communications technology, photography, writing contracts, and developing a proposal that will impress potential sponsors. Available through Amazon.com (also Kindle Edition), BarnesandNoble.com and Borders.com (Skyhorse Publishing, 2009).
Advertise in Expedition News – For just 50 cents a word, you can reach an estimated 10,000 readers of America's only monthly newsletter celebrating the world of expeditions on land, in space, and beneath the sea. Join us as we take a sometimes-irreverent look at the people and projects making Expedition News. Frequency discounts are available.
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