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 2008.
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: Russian North Pole explorers Matvey Shparo and Boris Smolin
On March 14, 2008 Russian explorers Matvey Shparo and Boris Smolin reached the North Pole after one resupply. Matvey's father, Dimitri Shparo, had led an expedition in the Arctic winter of 1986 so the two men were well prepared.
The skiers used rockets to illuminate large sections of slushy ice; and survival suits for reconnaissance swims. They soon dumped their boat though; "If you can't see where the lead ends you shouldn't get into it anyway," they reckoned.
Approaching the 85-th parallel in total darkness, Russian Feds made a spectacular airdrop of food and fuel to the two explorers: the AN-26 aircraft crew dropped two cargo parachute containers within 70 meters from the teams tent. Well ahead of March 21, the vernal equinox, the duo reached the North Pole eager to meet the first sunrise of the year.
On their arrival, Putin, himself a former martial art champ was pleased: ""I would like to wish you new achievements to the welfare of the Russian science and all the best!" he beamed.
A first winter crossing to the North Pole is a big deal in the world of exploration. Matvey and Boris would have reached a higher award position had it not been that ExplorersWeb have been unable to confirm their starting point. The feat therefore shares an ExWeb Special Mention Award alongside Norwegian Borge Ousland and South African Mike Horn who reached the North Pole On March 23, 2006 - unsupported after two months on the ice. The two skiers departed from Cape Arktichevsky on January 22 and missed a full Arctic winter expedition by only a few days.
Special mention: Russian B.A.S.E. jumper Valery Rozov
Base jumping is probably the most dangerous sport in the world, determined medical doctor and mountaineer Erik Monasterio at ExWeb last year, and ExWeb's favorite base jumper Valery Rozov is challenging the odds like no one else. The jumper combines his flight with hardcore climbs.
In 2004 Valery made a new route on Amin Brakks (5850m) west face in Pakistan, considered the most technically complex wall in the world - and then jumped down. In 2006, Rozov made the first BASE-jump from the Alps' Grandes Jorasses, following a climb on one of the faces hardest routes: The Croz Spur. February 24 last year the Russian X-gamer base jumped off the 1400-m face of Torres del Paine in Patagonia. Previously, Valery also jumped the Big Sail peak in Baffin Island (2002), and Mt. Nalumasortoq in Greenland (2003).
This year time had come for Cerro Torre. The point of jump was located a bit below the "Compressor" route traverse. The flight lasted 1 minute and 20 seconds with an altitude difference of about 1450 meters. Valery said he opened a bit higher than planned, was caught by a gust and bounced up and down for 15 minutes in the last 200 meters before finally and fortunately hitting ground. Due to bad weather and falling ice the team didn't reach the summit, so "Valery's point" is the current standard to make a jump on this route.
Check more images here (scroll down)
Previous - Live and let die on Everest: A study by Forensic Psychiatrist Dr Erik Monasterio
Special mention: Everest seniors Japanese Yuichiro Miura and Nepalese Min Bahadur Sherchan
In 2007, a dangerous study spread like a wildfire in global news. Its conclusion, "On Everest, youth and vigor trump age and experience."
Not only didn't the basic math add up; the study was based on a total of three (!) 60+ climbers, dying on Everest since 1922. Parts of the study claimed there's a 25% risk of dying after Everest summit for people over 60 years old. That number was based on two climbers, out of 10,000 attempts.
It was a classic example of one of the most common mistakes in statistical evaluation of too small sample size. Using the same methods - this year two seniors proved that on Everest, climbing at 70+ is the safest age! Not true of course but telling of the effect of prejudice on our lives - and the importance of examples such as Min's and Miura's.
On May 25 this year, Min Bahadur Sherchan (76) from Nepal became the oldest person to summit Mount Everest. Close behind was Japanese Yuichiro Miura (75) and his team after spending a night at their last camp C5 (8300m).
Yuichiro Miura had climbed Everest before. He skied down the Lhotse face in the 80s and became record holder as the oldest Everest summiteer in 2003 at the age of 70. Also back then, he camped at the rarely used "emergency camp 5" above the Balcony. Holding here provides a shorter distance to the summit but a prolonged stay on this altitude is a serious strain on the human body. In 2003 at age 70, Miura actually stayed several nights in this camp, summitted and skied down a smaller part of the Lhotse wall.
This year Yuichiro Miura summited with two Japanese friends and 3 Sherpas. A Japanese doctor was checking Yuichiro's Arrythmia at a Tokyo office monitoring biometrics sent from Everest including ECG. Commented Dr. Kobayashis the data during the summit push: No significant change and no alarming arrhythmia. Other biometrics data such as heart rate and SPO2 (blood oxygen concentration) also indicate very good condition. Furthermore, the AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) Score that measures the progress of acclimatization seems to be favorable overall." Instead, Yuichiro Miura's son Gota Miura was the one to experience HACE and had to descend.
Yuichiro Miura and his team of two friends and three Sherpa summited Everest May 26 at 7:33 am. Retired soldier Min Bahadur Sherchan was aided by 12 Nepali Sherpa and now plans to open a senior home.
Related story - Alert to senior climbers: Beware of dangerous Everest study
Special mention: American James Burwick and the Anasazi girl
"Arrived in port May 19. All is well. Epic trip. Recovery now. Walking around in the 'daze'." A broken mast and a whale collision is enough for a sailor's lifetime. James survived both plus icebergs and a number of fast rides in just one round around the globe.
It was supposed to be a private thing, "a quiet little personal solo around the 3 capes voyage." But American climber and sailor James Burwick completed the Bermuda to Cape Town shakedown (8000 miles) in 43 days and on his second leg, James hoped to break the existing open 40 record. Except he was going alone and not with a group of racers.
James left Cape Town on January 17, 2007, and sped off for Tauranga, in New Zealand hoping to reach it in less than 38 days - the current speed record across the Southern Ocean for monohull sailing vessels. That's when Anasazi Girl broke her mast, but James managed to take her safely to port in Albany, Western Australia.
After three and a half months harbored in Freemantle, James departed on the last stage of the sailing trip - and ended up June 12, in New Zealand's South Island. On December 14, James Burwick left Auckland again - for a 8300nm crossing to Cape Town via Drake Passage.
He arrived Cape Town around noon day 46, on January 30th 2008 and left again April 14 racing to Bermuda, connecting the dots with the 6500nm left to complete the voyage. It should had been be a smooth sail; but a whale brought James' voyage some final drama.
"Over and over in my mind I hear the boom and feel the boat lift," James reported. "I saw blood on the water. I was going 10 knots and did not slow much but the collision caused the boat to gybe. I believe there were two whales. I also believe I contacted the small one." James worried about the injuries to the whale, but Anasazi Girl had lost her port rudder. James had to learn single starboard rudder sailing; using water ballast for balance and long gybes for a fine-tuned speed.
He did well, at times surfing over 15 kts. Then a sail got tangled, forcing James to climb up the rig out at open sea. But on May 19, the climber/sailor reached Bermuda; a little more than a month since leaving Cape Town and less then a year after setting out on his voyage.
"I used to have sign on my door in the Silverton House," James ended his last note: "It read 'No shoes, no women, no drama."
"Now I have only the no shoes part. Life is good."
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