Thursday, November 23, 2017

The 2017 Black Friday/Cyber Monday Outdoor Gear and Adventure Travel Deals Rundown

Here in the U.S. we are celebrating Thanksgiving today. It is a day to reflect, enjoy a much needed break, spend some time with our friends and family while eating a traditional meal. It is also the calm before the storm, as tomorrow marks the official start of the holiday shopping season with the arrival of Black Friday, which is closely followed by its online equivalent – Cyber Monday – next week. As usual, there are a number of major outdoor brands and adventure travel companies hosting significant deals, and I thought this would be a good time to share them.

So, without further adieu, here you go!

Gear Deals: 

  • The North Face has already launched its sale, taking 40-60% off everything in its online outlet store and 25% off other select items
  • Mountain Hardwear is running a Pre-Black Friday Sale with items at 25% off, with more undisclosed discounts to come heading into the weekend. 
  • Columbia is also offering 25% off almost everything on its site and customers who spend $125 get $30 gift cards too. 
  • Under Armour is running sales of up to 40% off select items all weekend long making it a good time to stock up on fitness and workout gear. 
  • Goal Zero's sale doesn't officially start until tomorrow, but you can get a preview of what to expect by clicking here. Shoppers will find a number of items on sale at good prices, including substantial savings on Yeti Power Stations, Nomad solar panels, and more.
  • Outdoor gear manufacturer Kathmandu has all of its gear on sale for 30% off for Black Friday.
  • Sunski sunglasses is offering up to 35% off its entire stock for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. On Giving Tuesday prices will return to normal, but 25% of revenue will go to a select charity as part of 1% for the planet
  • Otterbox is offering 25% off select products, including their awesome Venture Coolers, which are seldom discounted. 
  • Leatherman has a variety of promotions including 50% select multitools, 20% off its Skeletools, Wingman, and Sidekick lines, and $50 gift cards with orders of $300 or more.
  • LifeProof has its rugged smartphone cases on sale for 25% off (excludes iPhone X) and has doorbuster sales on a variety of other items. Customers who buy a case will also get 50% off a LIFEACTIV accessory. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving! (and #OptOutside)

Just a quick note to wish all of The Adventure Blog readers from the U.S. a Happy Thanksgiving. Hopefully you'll all be enjoying some great food and beverages, not to mention quality time with the family, over the next few days. This is a good opportunity to rest, relax, and prepare for the final month of the year as well as the busy holiday season ahead.

A couple of items of note. First, the blog will be most quiet the rest of the week. I plan on publishing a round-up of some of the top outdoor gear and adventure travel deals for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sometime in the next day or two, but other than that I intend to enjoy a bit of down time myself to spend time with friends and family and concentrate on some other projects. Don't look for any major updates until the start of next week.

Also, for the third year in a row all of the REI stores will be closed on Black Friday, which really isn't much of a story anymore. But, the company's continued push to get us all to #OptOutside instead remains an inspiring and fun way to spend the day after Thanksgiving. I would like to take this opportunity to do the same and encourage anyone reading this to head out on an adventure this Friday. Go for a hike. Take a bike ride. Go camping. Do any of the outdoor things that you love. In the end, you'll be happy you did, and chance are the crowds won't be anything like what they are at the stores. There is still plenty of time to go holiday shopping. Have some fun instead!

See you next week!

Video: The Joyineer - A Humanitarian and Mountaineering Mission to Peru

For 14-year old Lilliana Libecki - daughter of Mike Libecki – the great joy in life comes from making the lives of others better. She and her dad have conducted humanitarian missions to a number of places across the world, bringing lights, power, and technology to places that didn't have those basic things before. In this video, we join the Libeckis' on an expedition to Peru where they first focus on installing a computer lab in the town of Pashpa before turning their attention on bagging a couple of high peaks in the region too. As we head into the long Thanksgiving weekend here in the States, this video will remind you of the things we should all be thankful for and restore a little faith in humanity along the way too.

Video: Autumn in the Alps

Travel to the Austrian and Italian Alps in this beautiful video that gives us a glimpse of the seasons in transition in these majestic mountains. From the changing colors of the trees to increasing amount of snow on the peaks, the hints are there for the season yet to come. And yet for now, autumn still lingers, and it should be savored while it lasts.

Perpetual Change - Autumn in the Alps from 5kdigitalfilm on Vimeo.

Alpinist Denis Urubko on Climbing K2 in Winter

Yesterday I posted a look ahead at some big climbing expeditions slated to take place in the upcoming winter season. Chief amongst them will be a team of Polish mountaineers who will be attempting the first ascent of K2 in winter. That massive peak – the second highest in the world – is the only 8000-meter mountain to be unclimbed during the harshest, most difficult season of all, and it is highly likely that it could remain that way for years to come. That said, the Poles will give it a go, and we'll be following their progress closely.

In preparation for that upcoming expedition, Explorers Web has posted an interview with Russian (now Polish!) mountaineer Denis Urubko, who has attempted K2 during the winter in the past. After spending long weeks battling that mountain, there are few who know it better – particularly in the winter. He has also spent plenty of time on other big peaks, summiting many without the use of bottled oxygen. Urubko even has his own personal take on what constitutes "winter."

In this interview, which first appeared on Alpinismonline, Urubko talks about why more winter climbers come from Russia and Poland, shares his thoughts on an upcoming winter expedition to Everest, and discusses the trend of commercializing the 8000-meter peaks. He also talks about what it means to climb in true alpine style and his preparation and training for winter climbs. Of course, he also touches on K2 and the challenges that it presents, as well as much more.

One of the more interesting aspects of the interview is that Urubko doesn't believe that K2 is the last 8000-meter peak to be climbed in winter. He thinks that winter should be measured by "climate factors" rather than an astronomical calendar, which means that in his mind the winter in the Himalaya and Karakoram actually runs from December 21 through February 28. By those standards, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum I remain unsummited in winter as well, as both were climbed in early March.

The interview also confirms that Urubko will be on the Polish team heading to K2 this winter as well, which means the squad will benefit from his experience on the mountain.

Himalaya Fall 2017: Lhotse South Face Expedition Ends Without Summit

It appears that the 2017 fall climbing season in the Himalaya may finally be over. The last major expedition to an 8000-meter peak is reportedly finished with Korean climber Sung Taek Hong, along with his Spanish partner Jorge Egocheaga, finally calling it quits on Lhotse. The duo have been struggling with tough conditions on that mountain for weeks now, and while we yet to get an official confirmation, it seems in the end the challenge was too great. 

According to adventure sports blogger Stefan Nestler, Lakpa Sherpa – who manages the support team for the expedition – made the announcement on Instagram. That post doesn't share a lot of details, but it indicates that the climbers were unable to reach the summit of Lhotse and have now returned back to Base Camp safely. If that's true, they will now proceed home as it was already announced that the current summit bid would be their last after a previous attempt fell short as well. 

Conditions on Lhotse have been challenging all season long, and the South Face route that Hong and Egocheaga were attempting has only been successfully climbed once before. That combination of challenges made success a long shot from the outset, and yet they pressed forward nonetheless. Heavy snow was a constant obstacle, often measuring waist deep along the trail. High winds made things difficult as well, at one point sweeping tents and gear off the mountain at Camp 2 and 3. To make matters worse, avalanches were common as well, adding another treacherous element to the climb. 

For Hong, this would have been his fifth attempt at the South Face route with no success so far. He and the Spaniard did manage to reach 8250 meters (27,066 ft) on their previous summit bid, which is within striking distance of the summit, but were turned back by foul weather. Whether or not the Korean returns for a sixth attempt remains to be seen, but he has been extremely persistent in his pursuit of this particular route. 

With the Lhotse expedition now wrapped up, there are only a handful of teams remaining in the Himalaya. Those climbers are focused on smaller, lesser known peaks, although there is some potential for interesting news. We'll continue to follow the scene there and report anything of importance, but for the most part the season is pretty much over now. Winter arrives early in the high mountains of Nepal, and most climbers have already beat a hasty retreat. A few will find there way back for a winter expedition here or there, but for the most part the Himalaya will now grow quiet until the spring. And as we all know, the spring is a very busy time indeed. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Video: A Visit to Grand Teton National Park

For the mainstream traveler, Grand Teton National Park is an often overlooked gem. Many pass it by to travel to Yellowstone or Glacier instead. But for those in the know, Grand Teton is a wonderful landscape that is tough to top. Wild, rugged, and teeming with life, Grand Teton has the ability to surprise and delight. This video gives you a taste of what to expect there.

GRAND TETON from Rudy Wilms on Vimeo.

Video: How to Make a Thanksgiving Feast While on the Trail

Planning on spending some time on the trail during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday but don't want to miss out on the traditional food? REI has you covered with this short but sweet video that explains how you can go on a backpacking trip and take the Thanksgiving meal with you. So go ahead ant #OptOutside this week. You won't have to give anything up with these simple but clever meal plans.

Gear Closet: Aukey AC-LC2 Budget 4K Action Camera Review

Over the past few years, the action camera market has continued to fragment and become increasingly crowded. Sure, GoPro still dominates with its yearly updates to its Hero line or products, but after that there are a wide array of choices from a several manufacturers, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Below this second tier of action cameras however there is a flourishing third tier filled with budget-priced options that are viable choices for someone who wants to dip their toe in the filmmaking pool without investing a lot of money. For those individuals, the Aukey AC-LC2 Action Camera is legitimate device, albeit one that comes with some compromises.

Before we delve too deeply into what this camera has to offer it is important to understand that it falls squarely into that budget range. Priced at just $58.99 on Amazon, the AC-LC2 delivers a lot of bang for the buck, but it also can't quite contend with the likes of a GoPro Hero for instance. Still, as an entry level model, you'll find a lot to like, and it comes with a ton of accessories right in the box. This makes it an attractive option for anyone looking to buy an action cam without breaking the bank.

The AC-LC2 is capable of shooting 4K resolutions at up to 25 fps, although most of us will probably continue to capture video in 1080p (60 or 30 fps) as that is the resolution at which the camera performs the best. (720p/120 and 720p/60 are also options) Video quality is good, but not outstanding, although for the most part it is crisp, clear, and free of defects. As with most camera of this size, low light performance is definitely a mixed bag, with most of my tests coming out a bit on the muddled side. If you're going to be shooting at night, you'll probably want to have some form of external lighting set up to get the best results possible.

Audio capture is also average at best, with the tiny built-in mic often being overpowered by high winds or other environmental sounds. The audio can also get very muffled when the camera is placed in its included waterproof case, although that is also a common complaint about many other action cams too. Those cases simply aren't built to conduct audio into the mic while still keeping the camera protected from moisture.

Endurance Athlete Sunny Stroeer Sets New Speed Record on Annapurna Circuit

Remember Sunny Stroeer? She's the mountain runner that I wrote about way back in February when she set a new speed record on Aconcagua, topping out on that mountain in just 8 hours, 47 minutes. It seems Sunny is up to her old tricks once again, although now she's setting speed records in an entirely different part of the world.

Stroeer has just completed the iconic Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, setting a new "Fastest Known Time" in the process. The previous mark was established in September of 2016 by Patrica Franco and stood at 4 days 14 hours and 45 minutes. Sunny was able to beat that time by more than 15 hours, completing the route in 3 days, 23 hours, and 39 minutes.

The GPS tracking from Stroeer's Garmin and Suunto Watch shows that she covered 219 km (136 miles) over the time period, racking up 10,300 meters (33,792 ft) of vertical gain, and an additional 10,000 meters (32,808 ft) of descent, giver or take a few meters. Impressive numbers to say the least, particularly at the sub-4 day pace.

Sunny tells me that she hadn't intended to run the Annapurna Circuit when she set out on the course. She was actually in Nepal to lead an all-female climbing team on Mera Peak in October and November. After that expedition wrapped up, she found herself with some spare time on her hands, so she decided to scout the trail starting last Wednesday, November 15. But, as she began her scouting mission, she realized that she was already moving at a rapid pace and elected to go ahead and chase the record. The results speak for themselves.

Major Winter Expeditions Aiming at Big Mountains in 2018

With the autumn climbing season in the Himalaya all but over, we'll now turn our attention to the winter ahead. While there are never a large number of expeditions that take place during that season, the ones that do are usually incredibly interesting to follow. This year looks like it, will be no different as it is already shaping up to be a challenging one.

The big focus for the winter will no doubt be on K2, where the Polish Ice Warrior squad have set their sights on the only 8000-meter peak that remains unclimbed during the toughest, most dangerous season of all.

As we all know, K2 is an incredibly challenging mountain to climb under the best of conditions. But during the winter, it gets considerably more difficult thanks to high winds, heavy snows, potential avalanche conditions, and brutally cold temperatures. To date, it has turned back all attempts, and left a trail of fatalities in its wake.

The Polish team will arrive in K2 Base Camp next month just at the start of winter. They'll want every day of the season at their disposal, as it could potentially take a full three months to complete their objectives. The ten man squad while be led by 67-year old Krzysztof Wielicki, a veteran of numbers Polish winter expeditions dating back to the 1980's, including the first successful winter ascent of Mt. Everest. While he won't be going up the mountain himself, his years of experience and wisdom will help lead the team.

We will of course be following their expedition closely and cheering them on. For many, the winter ascent of K2 is the last major mountaineering objective to be achieved. It remains to be seen if that will happen this year.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Video: Acadia National Park in the Fall

Acadia National Park is one of the most beautiful wilderness regions in the eastern U.S., particularly in the fall when the leaves change to a dozen different shades of red, yellow, and orange. In this video, we travel to Acadia to get a sense of what makes it such a special place. From the beaches to the thick forest, to the tops of mountains, this is a journey through the park that will leave you eager to see more.

Acadia | Maine from 929Media on Vimeo.

Video: These Are the Rangers Protecting the Last Northern White Rhinos in Africa

It is no secret that the rhino is an endangered species in many parts of Africa. Hunted for their horns, poachers often brutally harvest that part of their anatomy and then leave the creatures for dead. It has gotten so bad that the Northern White Rhino is down to just a handful that yet remain. In this video, we meet the rangers who care for and protect these animals, keeping them safe from poachers, often at the risk of their own lives. It is is powerful story to say the least.

Video: A Wind Powered Adventure Across Tanzania

The video below is just a brief teaser for an upcoming adventure film set to debut on Red Bull TV on November 24, but considering its intriguing premise I felt it was worth sharing. The documentary will follow adventurer Jerrie van de Kop as he attempt to traverse the African country of Tanzania using nothing but wind power. The journey begins on Zanzibar Island and ends on Kilimanjaro, with Jerrie using a variety of wind powered methods of transportation in-between. The expedition, which appears to have its share of ups and downs, was done in an effort to promote "global cooling" as way to reverse the impact of climate change. Check it out below.

Nat Geo Shares All the Gear We Need for Winter Adventures

Winter is only a month away here in the northern hemisphere, and while that means that some people will hole up inside their warm houses for the season and wait for spring, many of us still prefer spending some time outdoors. To help those folks out, National Geographic has provided an excellent list of all of the gear you need to spend time outside this winter.

Each item on the list is accompanied by a suggested adventure in which you could use it. For instance, if you want to go hiking in Arches National Park in Utah, Nat Geo recommends bringing the Keb Eco-Shell Jacket from Fjällräven. Heading to Acadia to do some winter camping instead? Bring the Big Agnes Copper Hotel tent to sleep in. Other suggestions include skis and paddling gear for use in the parks too.

The article also has an "adventure gift guide" attached with ten individual items that would make welcome gifts this holiday season. Those suggestions include a point and shoot camera, a smart-lantern for use around the campsite, an excellent travel backpack, and more.

If you've been looking for some new gear to take with you on you winter adventures, there are some solid suggestions on the list. I would have liked to have seen more choices provides for layers, boots, snowshoes, and other common winter equipment, but there are some good nuggets to be gleaned from what Nat Geo shares here. And if you're looking for the right gift for the outdoor adventurer on your list, there are definitely some products here that I'd appreciate under the tree this year.

Check out the full story here.

Antarctica 2017: Antarctic Ghurka Hits the Ice, Maidens Still Waiting

Last week while I was away another plane carried more Antarctic skiers to the Union Glacier camp to begin their expeditions on the frozen continent. Some didn't have to wait long before they were shuttled out to their starting points, while others continue to sit and wait for a weather window that will allow them to get underway at long last.

One of the new skiers who has just launched his expedition is Scott Sears, a former member of the British Royal Ghurka Soldiers, who is attempting to become the youngest person to ever ski the full distance to the South Pole solo and unassisted. Dubbed the Antarctic Ghurka, Scott flew to Union Glacier on November 15 and was able to be taken directly out to his starting point at Hercules Inlet the following day. He's now three days into his journey and so far has had mostly excellent weather, with blue skies and bright sunlight. There have been occasional high winds, but for the start of his 1100 km (683 mile) expedition to the South Pole, it has been mostly smooth sailing thus far.

The same can't be said for the Ice Maidens, a team of six women who are active and reservist in the British military. They've been sitting and waiting at Union Glacier for more than two weeks now simply because there hasn't been a weather window at their starting location on the Leverett Glacier. Hopefully that will change soon, but for now they continue to sit and wait.

Delays like this one aren't all that uncommon in the Antarctic, particularly early in the season. They can be extremely frustrating nonetheless, as teams are eager to get started. A two-week pause at Union Glacier is somewhat unusual however, although not unheard of it. The weather forecast is starting to improve however, so hopefully the Maidens will get underway soon.

British polar explorer Ben Saunders has faced none of these delays and has already been out on the ice for two weeks. He has started to find his his rhythm and is making decent time across the ice, although he has started to run into the regular challenges that are found in the Antarctic, most notably high winds, soft snow, and sastrugi, all of which can cause serious slow downs and zap the strength from your legs. Soft snow is hard to ski in and sastrugi are very hard ridges of packed snow on the ice that act as speed bumps. Neither are fun to deal with, but Saunders is making the best of his situation so far and is forging ahead with impressive resolve.

That's all for today. I'll continue to keep an eye on the things going on down on the frozen continent and post updates as warranted. The season is truly just getting underway, so there should be plenty of interesting updates to come.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

On the Road Again: I'm Nevada Bound!

A quick note to let everyone know that I will be on the road again for the rest of the week, and thus there will be no updates to The Adventure Blog until next Monday. This time out, I'm heading to Nevada, and while Las Vegas will serve as Base Camp, I won't be spending a lot of time there. Over the course of the next few days, I'll be mountain biking, hiking, off-roading, and climbing at a variety of different destinations in the area. Of course, I'll share some thoughts on those adventures once I get back home and I'll be posting updates to Twitter and Instagram along the way too.

We'll just barely get things cranked back up next week only to have the Thanksgiving holiday appear on the scene here in the U.S. But, we'll make the most of the time and post important updates, videos, and stories while we can. I also have some holiday buying guides in the works, with a few other nice surprises in the wings too.

Stay tuned. I'll be back soon with more information news.

Video: Adventure Not War

This short documentary film is one that should not be missed. In it we join Stacy Bare, Robin Brown, and Matthew Griffin – three captains in the U.S. Army – as they head back to Iraq to where they not only go to heal old wounds, but searching for some adventure along the way. In this case, we'll head up into the mountains with these former soldier to see a side of Iraq that has been seldom showcased in the past. It is a moving, powerful, and revealing film that will resonate with you long after you've finished watching it.

Adventure Not War from Nimia on Vimeo.

Stranded Kitesurfer Uses Third-Generation Apple Watch to Call for Help

Here's an interesting story of how technology and outdoor adventure continue to merge in unique ways. Filmmaker John Zilles was recently kitesurfing off the coast of California near Ventura when he found himself in a difficult situation that could have turned life-threatening. But, thanks to his new Apple Watch Series 3 he was able to call for assistance, even though he didn't have his phone on him at the time.

A kitesurfer for more than 20 years, Zilles recently adopted the technique of adding a hydrofoil to the bottom of his board to help push him further off the water. While still mastering this technique, he wiped out more than a mile from shore, tumbling roughly into the water. To make matter worse the kite lost momentum and came plummeting down as well. Without any way to get the kite back in the air, the 49-year old found himself stranded in waters that are frequented by great white sharks with a long swim ahead of him.

Zilles says he tried for 20 minutes to get the kite back in the air, but to no avail. So, he started to collect all of his gear and began thinking about his long slog back into shore. It was then that he glanced at his new Apple Watch and remembered that it could make phone calls, even without an iPhone.

When Apple revealed the Series 3 back in September, its main selling point was that it has onboard LTE networking, freeing from the need to carry a phone with you wherever you go. The device can receive text messages, make calls, send alerts, and more, all without the need to be tethered to another mobile device. It was then that Zilles decided to call the harbor patrol and see if they could lend him a hand.

The harbor patrol immediately dispatched a boat, but asked the kiteboarder to give them a call once again when he spotted them on the water. 15 minutes later, he saw them, placed the call, and helped direct them to his location. A short time after that, he was out of the water and safely on his way back to shore.

Sometimes we lament the fact that technology has become so pervasive in our lives. But then there are times like this when you realize what great tools these devices can be. Glad to hear that Zilles came out of this okay and kudos to him for his quick thinking when using his new gadget.

Long-Distance Hiker To Attempt First Female Completion of the "All-In Trek"

Long distance hiker and runner Breanna Cornell has set an ambitious goal for herself. Starting in September 2018, she will set out to become the first woman to complete the massive "All-In Trek," a 12,500+ mile (20,116 km) thru-hike of four of the most iconic trails in North America.

The hike will begin on the 4600-mile (7402 km) North Country Trail, as Cornell walks west to east, starting in central North Dakota and ending in Lake Sakakawea State Park in New York state. From there, she'll travel south to Georgia to begin a thru-hike of the 2178-mile (3505 km) Appalachian Trail. Once that segment of the All-In Trek is complete, she'll move on to the Pacific Crest Trail, covering some 2650 miles (4264 km), once again going south to north. Finally, she'll wrap up the journey by walking the 3100 mile (4988 km) Continental Divide Trail, this time going north to south.

An experienced endurance runner, Breanna hopes to cover about 30-35 miles (48-56 km) per day, and expects to finish the entire journey in about 13-14 months. She is also an experienced winter hiker and camper, so she doesn't expect that the cold conditions will slow her down much on any of the routes. She'll be joined out on the trail by her dog sophie, who is a 4-year old husky-rotweiler mix. If successful, this will be the first time that a woman has completed each of these trails in succession, completely self-supported.

In addition to simply challenging herself with these long distance hikes, Cornell is also undertaking the expedition to raise funds for the impossible2possible organization, an non-profit that uses adventure experiences to educate children about a variety of important topics. To that end, she is looking to raise $30,000 throughout her trek.

This is quite an ambitious undertaking to say the least. Thru-hiking any one of those trails is serious endeavor but stringing them all together back-to-back-to-back-to-back would be an amazing feat. Hopefully everything goes well and Breanna will complete her mission. We'll be keeping an eye out for progress reports next year.

And thanks to my friend Rick McCharles of BestHike.com for sharing this story with me.

Antarctica 2017: Delays, Starts, and Whiteouts on the Frozen Continent

The Antarctic expedition is in full swing now, and with another aircraft scheduled to arrive at the Union Glacier camp tomorrow, we could have even more teams embarking for the South Pole. To date, there has been only one flight out of Punta Arenas, Chile but soon others will follow and things will really start to get interesting.

For the teams who have already arrived in the Antarctic it has been a challenging week. The Ice Maidens, which is made up of six female British active military members or reservists, appear to still be waiting at Union Glacier, even though they've been there for more than a week. They will be attempting to ski from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole, then make a return trip via the Trans-Antarctic Mountains and over the Leverett Glacier and ending on the Ross Ice Shelf. In total, they'll cover about 1700 km (1056 miles) once they get underway, receiving two supply drops en route.

Norwegians Astrid Furholt and Jan Sverre Sivertsen have finally gotten underway on their attempt to follow Roald Amundsen's route to the South Pole and back again. They were dropped off at their starting point on Sunday, and have now started their trek to 90ºS. The duo are looking to cover more than 1900 km (1200 miles) and are using kite skis to help them complete the journey, which they expect to take roughly 80 days to complete.

Their route is a bit unusual in that they will first ski away from the Pole out to Amundsen's camp on the coast, then turn around and head to South Pole, crossing the Axel Heiberg Glacier, climbing up onto the Polar Plateau, through the infamous Devil ’s Dance-floor, and over the Titan Dome at 3200 meters (10,500 ft). So far, they haven't posted any updates from the ice, but I would expect a steady stream of news to start soon.