Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Father and Son Cycle Japan; Iceland is Next

In the summer of 2009, Charles Scott, a middle-aged corporate executive, and his 8-year old son, Sho, left their home in New York City to ride connected bicycles 2,500 miles the length of Japan. Telling skeptical friends, “A child can accomplish a whole lot more than many people think,” the two mapped out a 67-day route that stretched from the northern coast to the southern tip of the mainland, passing through many of Japan’s most famous cultural sites and nature preserves.

Hoping to encourage efforts to combat climate change, they raised money for a global tree planting campaign, received press from around the world, and were named “Climate Heroes” by the United Nations (http://www.unep.org/wed/2009/english/content/climateheroes.asp).

Scott, 42, described the estimated $10,000 adventure as “a celebration of the bond between father and son, and a challenge to contemporary society’s notions of what is reasonable for a child to attempt.” Dismissing fears shaped by “a culture that is increasingly sedentary and mistrustful of the value of discomfort,” the pair cycled through uninhabited stretches of Japan’s northern wilderness, slept in a tent wherever they found themselves, navigated heavily populated, traffic-choked urban landscapes, struggled up and down mountains populated by wild monkeys, took on sumo wrestlers, meditated in a Buddhist temple, held hands in silence at Hiroshima Peace Park, made friends throughout the country, and explored the limits of quality father-son time.

The trip was almost entirely self-funded, with support from Intel which provided a mobile Internet device using their latest Atom processor and a wireless card that allowed Scott and Sho to stay connected and post blog updates throughout the country. Details from the adventure are at www.japanbikeride.com.

Scott and Sho have just announced their next bike adventure, scheduled for the summer of 2011. The pair, along with Sho’s 4-year old sister, Saya, will circumnavigate Iceland, a 1,500-mile (including side trips) fully self-supported trip on two connected bicycles and a bike trailer. They will use press coverage from the ride to encourage action to address climate change. The route and other logistical details are still being developed and they are currently seeking $10,000 in cash and in-kind support. (For more information: www.icelandbikeadventure.com).

Friday, October 22, 2010

Students On Ice Seeks Students, Chaperones for Antarctica Trip

Sure, you can travel to Antarctica on a big, fat cruise liner and pay upwards of $20,000, or you can apply as a chaperone or student on Students on Ice, an award-winning, 10-year-old organization offering educational expeditions to the Arctic and the Antarctic.

The Quebec-based organization has a few openings for chaperones and students to visit the Antarctic from Dec. 27, 2010 to Jan. 10, 2011.

The ship-based journey will explore southern South America, the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding Southern Ocean. It will involve 65 international students, aged 14-18. The students will travel on this transformative adventure together with a team of 25 world-renowned scientists, historians, artists, explorers, educators, leaders, innovators and polar experts. Students on the expedition will develop knowledge, skills, perspectives and practices that will help them to be Antarctic ambassadors and environmentally responsible citizens.

Interested students and teachers/chaperones should contact the Students on Ice office to get more information and an application form, or apply online. The cost is $12,500 USD and includes airfare from New York JFK, accommodations, and all meals and activities. (For more information: www.studentsonice.com, 866-336-6423, apply@studentsonice.com)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

EXPEDITION INK: The Boy Who Conquered Everest

By Katherine Blanc, author, Hay House, 2010

The next time you are facing a monumental task and feel overwhelmed by it, think of Jordan Romero. He’s the thirteen-year-old boy who reached the summit of Mount Everest in May, ably accompanied by his mountaineer father, stepmother and three Sherpa guides.

As well as ice fields, crevasses and boulders, another obstacle that Jordan had to overcome was skepticism from the public. When news of his Everest success was made public, some in the international climbing community balked at the idea of a kid barely into his teens being put into the dangerous circumstances that come with climbing the world’s tallest peak, and others made assumptions about how he got there. But to author Katherine Blanc, whose recently published book for children and young adults, The Boy Who Conquered Everest, documents Romero’s story, the mountain climbing is secondary to the planning, the hard work and training it took to get there.

“People thought he was a rich kid who bought his way to the top of the world. Jordan does not come from money. He raised the money for his trips by selling t-shirts and headbands, by holding taco dinners with some of the money going to the trip, by giving presentations to outdoor companies that then sponsored him with equipment rather than funds. He did it the hard, old-fashioned way,” says Blanc, 47, the daughter-in-law of famed cartoon voice Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Barney Rubble)

(When we heard that, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask what it was like at the dinner table. Katherine tells us, “Mel frequently spoke to us ‘in character.’ And since Mel created over 1,500 character voices, you never knew who you might be talking to next.”)

But back to Romero: Not only did the Everest ascent make him the youngest person ever to reach the summit, it also got him one step closer to fulfilling his childhood dream of summiting the highest peak on each of the seven continents. In a three-year period starting just after his tenth birthday, Romero climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in East Africa, both Mount Kosciuszko in Australia and the Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia (to satisfy any sticklers about his credentials), Russia’s Mount Elbrus, Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, then Alaska’s Mount McKinley, before tackling Everest.

While her book is aimed at young adults or kids, Blanc says Romero’s mindset appeals to all ages, including many adults. “’Find Your Own Everest’– that’s become his catch phrase,” says Blanc, a resident of Romero’s hometown, Big Bear Lake, Calif. “As the youngest person to summit Everest, Jordan holds a world record, but he really wants to use the book to urge kids, and adults for that matter, to get outside, put down the video game, get some exercise. … He’s not telling everyone to pursue mountain climbing, just to set your own goals and dream big.”

In January 2011, Romero hopes to climb Mount Vinson Massif, the highest point in Antarctica, the final stop in his Seven Summits quest. His only obstacle is his age – Antarctica requires a climber to be 16, and Jordan is 14. Blanc says Team Jordan is hoping to obtain a special permit, based on his previous climbing record. (For more information: www.hayhouse.com).

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chin Up

The torrential downpour outside on the streets of Manhattan was reminiscent of the Himalaya as 200 climbing fans gathered on the Upper West Side to hear climber and professional photographer Jimmy Chin recount a spellbinding expedition in 2008 to summit what Conrad Anker called “the center of the universe” – Shark’s Fin, a stunning unclimbed blade defining the east face of Meru, a 6,450-meter (21,161 feet) peak located in the Garwhal Himalaya of northern India, high above the Ganges River.

The 19-day experience was harrowing. “Talk about the art of suffering,” Chin said. “You’re either gorging on food getting ready for the trip or starving somewhere.”

The talk began with a photo of Chin as a youngster in a sled. “Despite all my climbing, the coldest I’ve ever been was standing at a bus stop back home in southern Minnesota in a jean jacket on a 30 degrees below zero day. I guess that prepared me for a life of freezing,” said Chin, a North Face athlete from Victor, Idaho.

Later he praised the support provided by Sherpa. “Here we think we’re bad ass climbers and the Sherpa are running rings around us on an expedition, putting up ladders, fixing lines. They’re all super strong. They were born at 15,000 feet.”

The elusive granite feature on Meru, which resembles a shark's fin, is the exemplar of high altitude alpine big wall climbing, characterized by a 1400 meter (4,593-ft.) climb with the final 700 meters (2,297 ft.) an overhanging big wall. Chin, Conrad Anker and Renan Ozturk were pushed back just two pitches from the summit. It was painful watching the team spend five days in a two-man portaledge which resembles a hanging tent. Chin calls it his one bedroom/no bath apartment – a “claustrophobic icebox no bigger than a single bed.”

He continued, “On the fifth day in a portaledge in a storm, you basically run out of things to say.

“One of the great things about climbing is that it’s an amazing vehicle to see the world and experience different landscapes.”

The Never Stop Exploring Speaker Series is a classic touring slide show that had all the trappings – an engaging speaker, a sweepstakes drawing, great music, a poster signing, and schwag such as free magazines, refrigerator magnets and lip balm. It was all part of a multi-city tour sponsored by W.L. Gore & Associates, Outside Magazine, Paragon Sports, Primaloft Insulation, and The North Face.

Heading back outdoors again to hail a cab, the nor'easter pounding New York somehow didn't seem quite so nasty any longer.

Learn more about the Shark’s Fin climb here: http://www.thenorthface.com/catalog/sc-brand/meru.html, www.jimmychin.com/

Friday, October 8, 2010

Blah, blah, blah - Book Talk, Oct. 12, Bethel Library (Conn.)

Get Your Trip-of-a-lifetime Paid For!
Tuesday, October 12
6:30-8:00 pm
Bethel Library Lobby

Sponsored by the Bethel Public Library Board of Directors.

Travel the World without breaking the bank! Sounds too good to be true, especially in these tough economic times? Our guest speaker Jeff Blumenfeld will share his knowledge and expertise and give some advice on how to achieve it. A member of the Explorers Club of New York and former chair of the organization's Public Affairs Committee, Mr. Blumenfeld will provide tips on how to generate cash or in-kind support for your next big adventure.

Registration is requested for this program. Register at the Reference Desk or call (203) 794-8756 ex 4

Monday, October 4, 2010

Remembering the 1986 Polar Sewer Pipe, er, "Capsule"

Polar explorer Paul Schurke turned on the Wayback Machine and recounted this story from 1986, and the fortuitous recovery of the so-called Polar Capsule. You can also see the entire story here:


Luck o’ the Irish finds the “Polar Time Capsule”

The 1986 dogsled trek that Will Steger & I (Paul Schurke) led to the North Pole was oddly fraught with inexplicable curiosities and encounters. Perhaps the most unlikely upshot involved a humble piece of plumbing pipe. Enjoy this bonified ‘believe it or not’ tale!

Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge photo

Standing on Top of the World

National Geographic deemed our epic 1986 dogsled trek to the North Pole “a landmark in polar exploration” because we did it WITHOUT resupply. Everything needed to sustain our 50 dogs & 8 team members in temps that reached 75 below zero, was carried with us — some 7,000 pounds of food, fuel and gear. When we reached our goal, all but a few pounds of that food (oatmeal!) had been consumed. As we awaited our ski plane pick-up at the Pole, we had only one thing to leave behind at the top of the world: a “polar time capsule.”

It stemmed from a whimsical idea Will Steger & I had months before. While training with our team in Ely, MN, we took a 4″ x 2′ section of plastic plumbing pipe, painted it blaze orange, affixed screw caps to both ends, and invited each team member to place a memento in it. If we reached the Pole, we’d leave the capsule behind for posterity.

It’s contents included a Boy Scout scarf, a beaded Indian belt, a letter to Santa Claus that a school child had given us, a small lace prayer circle, a 10 Kroner bill and a scroll with the story of our journey and the names of our team members and our hundreds of volunteer & sponsors.

On May 1, after a 2-month, 1,000-mile trek across the Arctic Ocean, we reached the Pole — frostbitten and battered but giddy with excitement. Our celebrations included a little dance around the top of the world during which I ceremoniously pitched the time capsule over my shoulder into a jumbled heap of ice. “Well,” laughed Will, “there’s something we’ll never see again!”

Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge photoUpon our return home, our expedition sponsor, Du Pont company, had a whimsical idea as well. To capitalize on the international media fanfare prompted by our success, they posted a press release offering a $5,000 reward for recovery of the capsule. Considering that it been set adrift among 5 million square miles of ice at the most remote spot on the planet, it was a safe bet.

But a funny thing happened. Nearly three years later, in February 1989, Irish carpenter Peadar Gallagher was on a Sunday stroll along the Atlantic Ocean beach in County Donegal. He spotted an odd bit of flotsam. Curious as to what it contained, he took it home and cracked it open. Unbeknownst to him, he’d found the time capsule. The one item inside that remained legible, was a Polaroid photo of our team bearing the words “National Geographic Society.” He reported the find to the American Embassy in Dublin which in turn helped put in touch with NGS and Du Pont officials in Washington D.C. “We were shocked,” said Du Pont’s Robert Slavin upon learning that the capsule had survived a 2,100 mile ocean journey. “After three years, we had simply forgot about it.”

Will with battered capsule

Then expedition marketing wizard Jeff Blumenfeld had another whimsical idea. To generate more media fanfare, plans were made to offer Gallagher an all-expense-paid first class vacation to New York City if he’d appear at an international media event to receive his check. But when Blumenfeld phoned Gallagher to alert him to the significance of his discovery and his reward, he got an unexpected response. No way, no how, said Gallagher. He had no interest in going to New York. He wouldn’t budge. So a forlorn Du Pont exec schlepped to Gallagher’s home to present the check and retrieve the capsule.