ExplorersWeb has been awarded the best Adventure website in the world. What is then the Best of ExplorersWeb?
We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2006. It's difficult to choose the best, as they all contributed in their own way, sharing their story - their very soul in fact - with us and the world.
Theirs have been stories of dreams, frustration, hope, disaster and - sometimes - victory in the eye of the impossible. At times it has been a pain in the butt (why do you all have to go on summit pushes over the weekend?!) but most often a sheer joy to follow the brave explorers of our time.
And yet, there are those who continue to linger in our minds long after their final debrief. We have chosen 8 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in the year of 2006.
By their performance, these expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:
- Self reliance
- Respect towards competition
Out of the hundreds of expeditions, the countdown of the most exceptional begins tomorrow, but starts already today with a special mention to an additional 4:
Special mention: Japanese K2 kids Yuka and Tatsuya
Just over 5 feet tall, the quiet girl resembled a tender Geisha as she reported on her very first 8000er - K2 - bagged at the age of 23! K2 might be my first and last 8000er, she said after summiting. It is too expensive.
Japanese Yuka Komatsu reached the top via the Cesen route on August 1. The summit was a sweet revenge after her 2005 Everest climb with the Japan-China Friendship Expedition: By the time she reached BC the summit team had already been selected; Yuka was not in it and prevented to climb above ABC. "I will never forget how it felt. But the memory also gave me the power I needed to climb K2," she said. Himalayan climbing is not cheap and Yuka worked three jobs to save up for K2, "it was very difficult for me," she said.
Two kids alone for the mountaineer's mountain
Yukas team was the only expedition to climb K2 from the SSE spur and she gave her all to fix ropes and high camps, in order to be allowed a place on the summit team this time. Her hard work finally paid off: On July 28 she set off from BC together with Tatsuya Aoki (21) and Shodo Kuramoto (27). Soon, Kuramoto had to abort; leaving the two kids Yuka and Tatsuya alone to try for the summit of the mountaineer's mountain.
The two climbers used O2 from C3, but ran out of gas shortly after summit very late in the day. 3-4 hours before sunrise and after their headlamps ran out of batteries, the couple halted the climb. They bivouacked at the lower section of the bottleneck; after traversing the section where an avalanche killed four of Russia's strongest climbers only 2 weeks later.
Yuka said that she didn't feel cold at all in the bivouac, in fact; "Mt. Fuji felt a lot colder in winter!" It would be two more days before they reached BC, exhausted but well.
The Tokai University expedition returned to Japan on August 25 and Yuka Komatsu is back to selling climbing gear at ICI Ishii Sports, a huge sports chain in Japan. Focusing on mountains where no climbing fee is required, Yuka still can't forget the panorama from K2's very top, "it was like watching the territory of Gods," she said.
Yuka and Tatsuya stay in our memory for their determination and courage.
Special mention: Serap Jangbu - 14 x 8000ers, the Sherpas' way
Early October, a Japanese expedition summited Manaslu. For Serap Jangbu, one of the guys carrying loads and fixing ropes for their Japanese clients, the peak became 8000er number 9 - and his third only in 2006.
Most Himalayan climbers could only wish for his climbing record, but Serap wants more he wants all 14 under his belt, and perhaps some recognition.
Born into a large family living by the shadow of Everest; Serap's climbing career has not exactly been sponsored by big companies. He is not a motivational speaker and has no favorite charities. This Nepalese climber is working as High Altitude porter for larger teams, mostly Korean.
Serap got no other climbing lessons but the advice from other fellow Sherpas on the various teams. Serap's first 8000+ meter summit was no less than Kanchenjunga's. Serap climbed it with one of the world's foremost explorers - Korean Mr Park - who brought Serap with him to K2 the next year. The young Sherpa summited K2 not only that year (2000), but also 12 months later, again with Park Young-Seok.
Then came Annapurna, Lhotse, Cho Oyu... and an Everest traverse this past spring. On May 11 at 12:30pm we set off from C3 on the north side and reached the summit at 11:00 am, Serap recalled. After half an hour praying for world peace, we continued down the south side. The route was not yet opened, so we managed to reach South Col without fixed ropes. It took us longer than usual due to bad weather conditions," Serap recalled.
"Night caught up with us just below the Balcony and we proceeded down to SC with only one head-lamp. Since we didnt have a tent there, we continued down to C3, which we reached at 2:00 am and, exhausted, we slept in another teams tent. Finally on the next morning we started at 9:00 am and reached C2 by 11:00am. Snow-blind and very tired, we decided to remain there that day and reached BC on May 13.
Serap says that he knew he wanted to climb all 14, 8000ers already in 2001. "If I could have sponsors I would do it!" he says. But the Sherpa might never get the chance to lead his own expedition more likely he will end up becoming the first to summit all 14 8000ers the Sherpa way: working for others.
Serap stays in our memory for his determination, persistence and self reliance.
Special mention: Colin Angus and Julie Wafaei: Human-powered circumnavigation
No sails, no engines - just raw human energy. On May 20, 2006 - after 720 days over land and water - Colin Angus and Julie Wafaei completed the Expedition Canada human powered circumnavigation.
Initially, it had started as the Vancouver-Moscow expedition - featuring Tim and Colin. The two men cycled and kayaked from Vancouver to Alaska, crossed the Bering Sea in a boat they had bought on eBay, and continued into Siberia with final destination Moscow.
But somewhere midway Colin fell ill, and had to fly back to Canada to be hospitalized. After his return to Russia the team dynamics degraded and the two men decided to continue independently until they reached the outskirts of Moscow, were they were to wait for one another and enter the city together. That didn't happen.
Instead, the drama intensified. Money and gear were withheld, emails exchanged. "Don't let paranoia over my plans stop you from meeting me in Moscow," was just one of the battle lines exchanged between the two explorers - often hitting front pages in Canadian media.
Out of the blue, two girlfriends joined the trips: Canadian Julie and Russian Yulia. Both girls had worked with the expedition all along, caring for logistics and website. The expedition goals were extended and re-arranged, and something of a race around the world commenced.
A long row
Colin took off with Julie to continue the journey through Europe, whilst Tim was joined by Yulia on the Moscow Highway.
Colin and Julie biked to Portugal, where they got a rowboat and equipped it in a rush (drawing experience from Colin's previous self-powered expeditions down the Amazon- and Yenisey Rivers). Ahead; a monster crossing from Lisbon, Portugal to Limon, Costa Rica. Upon September 23, Colin and Julie set out.
After Moscow, Tim pedaled alone to Portugal, where he met with Erden Eruç, who was preparing his rowing boat for a crossing to the Caribbean. November 9, Erden and Tim left Portugal in Erden's rowboat but the two newfound friends had to stop over in Morocco, to escape bad weather and make repairs to the boat. After some time, Erden continued the row alone, and Tim was out of the picture.
4 stormy months later, Colin and Julie hit land and cycled back to Canada.
Colin had traveled a total of 43,000 km by rowboat, bicycle, canoe, ski and foot a voyage that spanned 3 continents, 2 oceans and 17 countries. Julie traveled with him for parts of the expedition, including rowing unsupported across the Atlantic Ocean. So whats next for the couple? The wedding, says Julie. Were getting married in June of 2007.
Colin and Julie stay in our memory for their determination, persistence, self reliance, respect towards competition and honesty.
Special mention: Borge Ousland, Mike Horn: North Pole unsupported through the Arctic night
On March 23 Norwegian Borge Ousland and South African Mike Horn reached the North Pole - unsupported after two months on the ice.
This journey has been so tough that I think it will be a very long time until someone tries to repeat our expedition, said Borge Ousland. The quote was a bit of a stretch - Rune and Torry did twice the distance only years earlier, also starting out in winter - but Borge was right in that it hadn't been easy.
It was in fact the first time an unsupported expedition to the North Pole had been successful from Russia since Rune and Torry's Arctic crossing in 2001. Also from Canada, the NP had been untouched by unsupported expeditions since 2003.
A hard experience for the South African - even with the help of a veteran Norwegian
The two skiers departed from Cape Arktichevsky on January 22, in full Arctic night. The trip was relatively warm but dark, and negative drift worked against the expedition. Severe cold hit towards the end, as is common in the transition between winter and spring.
Ousland went well but Mike Horn was another story. After his previous Polar Circle circumnavigation where a logistic team frequently met up with him to re-supply with medication, gear, food, and various means of transportation - the NP unsupported, off season trip would prove a very different experience for the famous South African; even with the help of a veteran Norwegian polar skier.
According to the latest issue of National Geographic, Mike insisted on going to toilet inside the tent, even using a cooking pan lined with plastic bags for the purpose. He fell asleep on watches and had a hard time keeping pace with Borge during the day. Repairs were Borges job (as Mike had sensitive fingers).
Mike hated pills - when his nose was frostbitten he covered it with mucus. He suffered from frostbite in his fingers and finally got seriously ill in the last days of the trip, in an infection that spread to his entire body. He wouldn't take antibiotics until Borge made him. "I was there to learn," Mike admitted to NG.
The team hoped to reach the Pole in time to see the sun rising on the ice for the first time in six months. "We will try to arrive before the 23rd of March, which is the first day of spring and when the sun begins to appear above the horizon at the North Pole," Borge told ExplorersWeb in an interview prior to departure.
The skiers missed a full Arctic winter expedition by only a few days - considering their difficulties it was surprising they made it even that close to their schedule. In spite of it all though, the two had dared to embark on an expedition outside the normal season and made it to the pole - as a team. Mike and Borge stay in our memory for their determination, persistence and comradeship.
Story corrected on January 2, 2006: Serap Jangbu and Park were the first climbers this year to step on the upper slopes of Everests south side after they summited. But they were not the first persons to summit Everest from the north side.
Previously, a team of six Sherpas working for HiMex fixed ropes to the top and thus and achieved the first summit of the season. The Sherpa team led by Phurba Tashi summited Mount Everest at 15.05 hours, April 30.
Further climbers summited Everest ahead of Serap Jangbu and Mr. Park such is the case of Georgian climber Bidzina Gurdzhabidze (May 10) and Americans John Bagnulo and Dave Watson (May 11).
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