Saturday, December 2, 2017


Vanessa O'Brien (Photo courtesy AAC - NY Section)

Vanessa O’Brien, First American Woman to Summit K2, is AAC Guest of Honor

Vanessa O’Brien, was guest of honor at the American Alpine Club - New York Section dinner in New York on Nov. 11. On July 28, 2017, at the age of 52, she succeeded in her three-year mission to become the first American woman (and first British woman) to summit the so-called Savage Mountain located on the China-Pakistan border, the world’s second tallest peak at 8611m/28,251 feet. The summit push, involving 11 other climbers, including six Nepali Sherpas, lasted 16 hours and was met by deep snow, horrific winds, increasing precipitation and extreme cold.

After being stretchered off K2 in 1953 with frostbitten feet, American climber George Bell (1926-2000) famously wrote: “It’s a savage mountain that tries to kill you.” In fact, K2 is a mountain known for killing one out of every four that reached its summit peak.

O’Brien estimates total Everest summits at 7,600, while K2 has only been summited 386 times. Of that, only 18 women have survived the climb to the top. In fact, O’Brien says about three times as many women have gone into outer space than have stood atop K2.

O’Brien says she’s in awe of the climbers of the 1930s and 40s. “These were climbers who just climbed. They went up. They didn’t know about the Death Zone, didn’t know about high altitude pulmonary edema.

“Winning in the alpine climbing game may include merely surviving,” she said. “I had to do this for country and I had to do this for women.”

A previous attempt was thwarted by avalanche. “When a mountain has excess precipitation it avalanches,” she told the 100 dinner attendees. “That’s what mountains do. Like a wet dog that shakes. The problem is when you’re on it, in the way.”
Speaking of her historic 2017 expedition, she said, “It was very gracious that the mountain allowed us to summit.”

Opening speaker was high school teacher Greg Morrissey, who was a 2017 AAC Live Your Dream grant recipient for his work bringing outdoor recreation to today's youth. Their Global Opportunities Scholarship enables financially restricted high school students to participate in travel adventures.

“I usually address 16-year-old boys, so it’s great to address people who are actually awake,” he joked.

The AAC dinner was sponsored by the law firm Proskauer. The Arc'Teryx Soho store sponsored a K2 trivia contest.
In a related story, it’s not too soon to consider applying for the American Alpine Club Live Your Dream Climbing Grant, powered by The North Face. The grant funds $200 to $1,000 to individuals or small teams in pursuit of their personal climbing dreams.

The emphasis of the grant is on projects that have significant positive impact on grantees' progressions as climbers, as opposed to cutting-edge or exploratory objectives. The two-month application period is open February 1 through March 31 each year. Recipients will be announced in May.

For more information:


Eclipse Glasses Donation Program

Brilliant idea: Astronomers Without Borders and Explore Scientific are collecting eclipse glasses to be sent to schools in South America and Asia when eclipses cross those continents in 2019. As long as the paper frame is in good condition, the lenses were made to last. The filter material is required to not degrade according to the latest ISO standard.
If you have glasses you want to send in, mail them to:

AWB Eclipse Glasses Donation Program
Explore SciExplore Scientific
1010 S. 48th Street
Springdale, AR 72762

For more information:

First Bud on Mars

Houston, We Could Have a Problem

Budweiser is sending barley seeds to the International Space Station to advance its bid to be the first beer on Mars.
Anheuser-Busch, the brewing company behind the "Great American Lager," announced details about its experiments bound for Earth orbit. Twenty barley seeds will launch on board SpaceX's next Dragon resupply mission to the space station, where they will be subjected to microgravity for 30 days and tested for germination.

First announced at the South by Southwest conference in Austin last March, the Budweiser experiments are the first step in the company's long-term commitment to have beer available for the first astronauts on Mars – whenever they might get there, probably by the 2030s.

Read the story at:


“Space exploration is a force of nature unto itself that no other force in society can rival.”

– Neil deGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist, author, and science communicator.


Skis Remain Essential for Polar Exploration - Part II

By Jeff Blumenfeld, editor, Expedition News
(Preview of story appearing in Skiing History magazine, January - February 2018)

In spring 1989,polar explorer Will Steger’s former co-leader on an historic 1986 North Pole Expedition, Paul Schurke, led his own expedition across the Bering Strait, from Anaydr in the former Soviet Far East to Kotzebue in northwest Alaska. It was a project that President George H.W. Bush and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev credited with hastening the opening of the U.S.-Soviet border following the 40-year Cold War.

Bering Bridge Expedition skiing across the USSR – U.S. border, 1989

Using dogs, skis, and traditional 30-ft. kayaks called umiaks, 12 Soviet and American adventurers, including three Eskimos and three Chukchis, visited a string of remote Siberian villages, crossed the International Date Line, and continued the journey to native towns in Alaska.

He recently writes, “Our expedition used extra wide (ed. note: compared to track skis) backcountry skis – 16 pairs of Fischer Europa 99’s with metal edges, and 16 pairs of Exel Arctic fiberglass ski poles, which often doubled as tent poles, antenna masts, and trail markers.”

When asked about the use of polar skis for exploration, Schurke was effusive:

“Mechanical bindings are too prone to ice-up and breakage. Our Berwin strap-on bindings, made of Zytel nylon and invented in my hometown of Ely, Minn., by our friends ‘Wyn’ Hultstrand and his wife ‘Ber’nice A. Hultstrand, accommodated any size snowboot.”

The Bering Bridge boots were made by Red Wing Shoe Company containing waterproof leather from S.B. Foot Tanning Co., both in Red Wing, Minn., according to Schurke’s book, Bering Bridge – The Soviet-American Expedition From Siberia to Alaska (Pfeifer-Hamilton, 1989).

“Simplicity is the name of the game for foolproof gear used for polar travel. With my Berwins, I dispensed with the heel strap and set the front strap for a step-in/step-out fit. That way I could be in and out of my skis in a flash all day long to clamber over pressure ridges, scout routes through a shear zone, or pull sleds over fissures,” writes Schurke.

Stability of sea ice is a constant concern for polar explorers. Because of its elasticity, even sea ice four inches thick is unsafe to walk on, while freshwater ice only half as thick will support a human being. According to Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1986), scarcely a substance on earth is so tractable, so unexpectedly complicated, so deceptively passive – as though “walking over the back of some enormous and methodical beast.”

Schurke continues, “If I happen to slip into the drink while skiing over a hidden snow bridge, I could kick my skis off instantly to pull myself out. Sure, Berwins may have been a tad clunky to ski in, but we weren’t trying to set any ground speed records out there anyways. Plus they allowed us to wear the biggest, badass, warmest boots we wanted and were never prone to icing up and locking to our footwear.”

Expedition writer and photographer Jerry Kobalenko from Canmore, Alberta, has photographed Schurke’s expedition to Canada’s Ellesmere Island and generally praises the Berwin binding, which he’s used on 20 sledding expeditions. In a 2010 online post he writes:

“They allow me to ski wearing soft, comfortable mukluks or kamiks. It's how I can trek 1,000 kilometers and never get blisters. When I see all these novices skiing to the South Pole wearing heavy tele boots and bindings and bemoaning their chewed-up feet and cracked boot soles, I wonder why the hell they're not wearing Berwins.”


Steger Team Crosses Antarctica with Dogs and Skis

In 1990, Will Steger continued pioneering polar exploration with skis and dogsleds, this time 3,741-miles and seven months across Antarctica the long way, from the Antarctica peninsula, past the South Pole, to the Soviet scientific research base at Mirnyy. It would become history’s longest-ever non-mechanized traverse of Antarctica.

It is a commonly held misunderstanding that dogsledders simply hitch rides on their dogsleds as they glide across the ice. In fact, pulling a man’s weight on an already loaded sled is an almost inexcusable waste of valuable dog energy, according to an educational guide to Steger’s Trans-Antarctica Expedition published in 1989 (Meredith Publishing Services).

The men skied alongside their sleds, averaging three miles per hour to cover at least 25 miles per day. Traveling in pairs, one man remained tethered to the back handle of the sled, while the other led (the dogs like to follow a human).

An iconic image taken during the 1989-90 Trans-Antarctica Expedition. A ski pole basket is visible in the upper right.

For the grueling Trans-Antarctica Expedition, which achieved worldwide fame thanks to four primetime hours of coverage on ABC-TV, and a spread in National Geographic (November 1990), the team took waxless Fischer cross-country skis with two bindings – on cold days, when the men wore broad mukluks, wide, plastic Berwin bindings were used. On days warm enough to accommodate lighter, specially-designed ski boots, the men relied upon Salomon racing bindings. Exel provided the Nordic poles.

Steger, now a prominent spokesperson for the preservation of the Arctic, says of the use of skis for polar travel, “Ski and dogs are the magic ingredient for long distance polar travel. The dogs pull the gear on sleds, while the team member uses skis to efficiently glide across snow conditions that would otherwise be exhausting to plod through, if not impossible to navigate.”

Skiing Roundtrip To the Pole

In the history of polar exploration, no one has duplicated the 1995 feat of Canadian Arctic explorer Richard Weber, a veteran of more than 60 Arctic expeditions, including Will Steger’s 1986 North Pole Expedition, and Russian Dr. Mikhail Malakhov. Together in 122 days, the two adventurers were the first since 1909 to reach the North Pole and return to land – Ward Hunt Island, Canada – without support or resupply.

No food caches were hidden midway, there was no resupply from the air, and no "reverse resupply" - the process whereby dogs or teammates are extracted by aircraft, as was the case with Steger’s 1986 North Pole Expedition. In fact, the Weber Malakhov Expedition had no sled dogs, resorting instead to manhauling the entire journey on skis.

"Going on an expedition to the North Pole, then taking a plane out is like climbing Mount Everest and getting helicoptered off the top," Weber told EN.

It could not have been accomplished without skis. In this case, Fischer E-99 skis, tailor-made Sorel mukluks, and prototype ski bindings made for the Canadian military that were never sold commercially.

Weber says, “Skis require less energy, they slide or at least can be shuffled across the snow. They can be used to bridge gaps and cross thin ice, and they can be used as tent frames. However, efficiency diminishes greatly if the user doesn’t know how to ski. It requires an expert cross-country skier to cross a field of broken ice on skis pulling a sled. Most people are better off on snowshoes,” Weber says.

Days Are Numbered

The use of skis for polar exploration is still being celebrated, as is evidenced by the Google Doodle celebrating Nansen’s 156th birthday and posted on Oct. 10, 2017. It was seen by millions of computer users in the northern hemisphere.

However, at least in regards to the North Pole, human- and dog-powered surface exploration is nearing an end.
Polar adventurer, expedition guide and educator Eric Larsen, of Boulder, Colo., is one of only a few Americans to have skied to both the North and South Poles. In 2014, he and a teammate skied, snowshoed and swam from Canadian soil to the North Pole, possibly the last expedition of its kind due to disappearing sea ice.

The Arctic is heating up, making polar travel nearly impossible, he believes.

“The story of what is happening in the Arctic is really the story of what is happening to our planet,” he writes in his book co-written with Hudson Lindenberger, On Thin Ice: An Epic Final Quest Into the Melting Arctic (Falcon Guides, 2016).
“The difference in the quality of ice compared to my last expedition here (in 2010) was shocking.” Later he adds, “It’s like someone pulled the plug, and all of the ice that was previously held together was now spreading apart.”

Richard Weber poses with the ceremonial South Pole marker during a guided trip.

That’s not the case, of course, on the frozen continent of Antarctica. Explorer Richard Weber said in an email recently, “The surface for skiing in Antarctica is good for skiing. No open water, no thin ice, no bears, lots of light, warmer temperatures, strong sun. I used much lighter skis and I waxed in Antarctica. The skis glide better and with less energy.”

The intangible desire to explore and challenge the boundaries of what we know and where we have been has provided benefits to our society for centuries. If not at the North Pole, you can be sure skis will still be found in Antarctica, and wherever else there’s a patch of snow or ice to cross, and someplace to explore on the other side.

For one free issue of Skiing History magazine, log onto:


A Mother Belays for Love and Money

Kai Lightner, the 18-year-old climbing phenom, often climbs with his mother who serves as his primary belayer. “There’s no one I trust more,” he tells the 2017 American Alpine Club Guide to Membership. Connie Lightner once told him on a difficult climb, “Go for it. I’ve got you. Think about it like this: I am motivated to keep you safe. Not just because of love, but money. If you fall and get hurt, I will have to pay the expensive doctor bill.”

For her part, she says, “… if you’re a mom belayer who doesn’t mind bringing him and his friends on trips and agree to belay full time, you suddenly become cool.”

See the guide here:

Winners of the 2017 National Outdoor Book Awards (NOBA) Announced

One winner in the Outdoor Literature category of the National Outdoor Book Awards is On Trails: An Exploration, by Robert Moor. "Moor's book," said Ron Watters, the Chair of the awards program, "is a little bit of everything about trails: history, philosophy, science. It's about hiking trails, of course, but Moor goes further, expanding upon the normal concept of trails, and taking us on a roller coaster of an intellectual journey, full of surprises at every turn."

Receiving honorable mention in the Outdoor Literature category is a book about the climbing and river running adventures of blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer. Titled No Barriers, it was co-written by Weihenmayer and Buddy Levy.

Weihenmayer was the first blind person to climb Mt. Everest, the subject of a previous book. No Barriers chronicles his life after Everest which culminates with a kayak journey down the rapids of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. "There was no disagreement among the judges," said Watters. "It is simply a stirring and inspirational book."

Complete reviews of these and the other 2017 winners may be found at the National Outdoor Book Awards website at:

What Men Said About Women Going to Antarctica

• "There are some things women don't do. They don't become Pope or President or go down to the Antarctic." - Harry Darlington, 1947

• "Women will not be allowed in the Antarctic until we can provide one woman for every man" - Rear Admiral George Dufek, 1957

• "Antarctica [will] remain the womanless white continent of peace" - Admiral F E Bakutis, 1965

For decades, there was a ceiling not of glass but of ice, for women in science - the continent of Antarctica.

The apparent moral peril of mixed accommodation was one argument against including women, writes Mary Halton for the BBC News (Nov. 10). Janet Thompson, the first woman to go south with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), had to informally convince the wives of her teammates that she was going as a serious scientist.

Another application was turned down by BAS as "there were no facilities for women in the Antarctic… no shops… no hairdressers.”

Times have certainly changed. View the story here:


Grant Money Available for Young Explorers

Applications are being accepted at The Explorers Club for the second installment of The Rolex Explorer Grants program which will send extraordinary young explorers age 35 and younger into the field and promote the significant role that exploration plays in addressing cutting-edge scientific questions, understanding our environment and the world we live in, and learning more about our history. In 2018, up to five $10,000 grants will be awarded to young explorers.

The program is open to all field science disciplines. Proposals must contain a field science exploration component and address a novel scientific, environmental, or historic question. In addition to demonstrating a spirit of exploration, candidates must put forward a project or research proposal that has a clear scientific rationale, represents original work, and has the potential for significant impact or new understanding. Fieldwork must be completed by February 14, 2019.

The deadline for submission will be 11:59 pm EDT, January 22, 2018. To apply register at:


You’ve made it through Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday. But it’s still not too late to find that most unusual gift for the explorer in your life. Our bots have scoured The Google to find the weirdest gifts out there. Boom. Done. Consider these great gift ideas. Thanks internet.

Smile Sea Kittens, You’re on Candid Go Fish Cam

GoFish Cam is a wireless underwater camera that sits on your fishing line and works with a mobile app. Anglers can capture action-packed footage, gain insight into the underwater fishing experience, and review and edit video content of sea kittens that can be shared on social media. (, $189.99)

Wait. What? Sea kittens? Yes indeed, PETA has rebranded fish into “sea kittens” so people will leave our finny friends alone. After all, they reason, nobody wants to eat a sea kitten. We’re serious. See:

Friend on a diet? Your gift recipient can learn how to eat with tiny utensils they carved themselves.

10 Creative Things You Can Whittle with a Swiss Army Knife (Besides Your Thumb)

Victorinox Swiss Army Knife Whittling Book, Gift Edition: Fun, Easy-to-Make Projects with Your Swiss Army Knife (Fox Chapel Publishing, 2017) is a hand-sized book that reveals the many unique and also utilitarian items you can whittle with a Swiss Army Knife. It is written by master woodcarver Chris Lubkemann who says, "For the last 25 years I’ve only used a Swiss Army Knife in my whittling.”

Buy this book for your loved one and learn how to whittle sailboats, spoons, keychains, a horse head, and rooster. Lubkemann’s book even explains how to whittle a knife in case, uh, you lose your expensive Swiss Army Knife and need to prepare for the Zombie apocalypse. (, $12.99)

Ted makes the scene at the Sacré-Coeur Basilica on Montmartre

Turn that Teddy Bear into a Parisian Explorer

Furry Toys Tours, based in Paris, is a travel agent that will book your gift recipient’s favorite stuffed animal on a one-week sightseeing tour of Paris. The service will then send daily electronic photos during the whole stay. Two gift packages are available: the Paris Essential Tour (about $119) and the Paris Royal Tours (about $167).

At the end of the trip your gift recipient will receive a hard copy of the trip photos to keep as souvenir and the return of one slightly worn bear covered in poutine. (

Solar, Schmolar. Pint-sized Hydro Turbine Charges Smartphones Day or Night.

Sure, solar is the buzzword these days, but what happens when it rains? Or at night? That’s when your friend or loved one will, well, love you for gifting the Blue Freedom Portable, the world’s smallest and lightest hydro power plant. The turbine and generator covert the power of water in any stream into off-the-grid electricity. Day or night and in any weather. Weighs just 24 ounces. Don’t want to miss a single WTF podcast? Now you won’t have to. (about $357,

(Photo courtesy of

What’s that Smell?

Explorers are an odoriferous bunch and don’t we know it. It’s great to return from an expedition covered in grime said no one ever. The funk of a three-week expedition in the jungle can peel the paint off the wall back home and creeps us right out. Now the explorer in your life has no excuse. No sir. Not with the Road Shower, the world’s first rack-mounted solar shower. It heats up while on the road, ready to deliver a high-pressure hot shower at the end of the day.

Road Shower contains four to 10 gallon to keep people and gear clean. The tank is pressurized at up to 15 psi to dissolve the whole schmegegge of stink out there. (Starting at $299.95,


Wrong Issue of Ski Magazine; Nansen Kept Going

In our November issue, we incorrectly cited the wrong issue of Ski Magazine that contained a story by John Henry Auran about Norwegian polar explorer Bjorn Staib. It appears in the November 1965 issue, not November 1985.

We also incorrectly referred to Nansen’s retirement from exploration in the late 1800s. As late as 1929, one year before his death, he was trying to raise money for exploration by balloon.


Get Sponsored! – Hundreds of explorers and adventurers raise money each month to travel on world class expeditions to Mt. Everest, Nepal, Antarctica and elsewhere. Now the techniques they use to pay for their journeys are available to anyone who has a dream adventure project in mind, according to the book from Skyhorse Publishing called: Get Sponsored: A Funding Guide for Explorers, Adventurers and Would Be World Travelers.

Author Jeff Blumenfeld, an adventure marketing specialist who has represented 3M, Coleman, Du Pont, Lands' End and Orvis, among others, shares techniques for securing sponsors for expeditions and adventures.
Buy it here:

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