When Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa first saw paragliders arrive in the Himalaya, he dreamed of flying above the massive peaks of his home—the Khumbu region. After his third successful summit guiding trip on Everest, he viewed paragliding as a simpler, faster, and more graceful way of descending through the peak’s perilous slopes.
In October of 2010, Lakpa borrowed a paraglider, got a few pointers, and launched from a hillside above his home. He promptly crashed into a tree. With his paraglider wing badly damaged, Lakpa set out for the town of Pokhara, considered to be the gathering spot for paragliders, to seek repairs and find a mentor. He ran into Sano Babu Sunuwar, whom Lakpa had met years earlier on Island Peak. Babu repaired the glider and the two men hatched the plan for the Ultimate Descent.
They would climb to the world’s highest point, launch a paraglider and fly for as long as possible, bicycle to a point where streams gathered into rivers, kayak across the Nepali border into India, and paddle the Ganges River all the way to the Indian Ocean. It would be an unprecedented first, but it was the overall combination of sports, audacity, and friendship that drew the duo to the idea. Babu, 28, had no climbing experience. Lakpa, 37, had never kayaked and didn’t even know how to swim.
In April of 2011, the duo had borrowed gear, slapped a basic plan together, and began their ascent of Everest. On May 21, they became the third party to launch a paraglider from the summit and set a new world record of 8,865 meters for free flight in the process. On the Kosi River’s Class V rapids, Babu got caught recirculating in a massive whirlpool in their two-man kayak, while Lakpa floated down river. Once they reached the Ganges, they paddled flatwater through unfamiliar country. They were robbed at knifepoint and had to live off fruit trees. After 850 kilometers, Lakpa and Babu reached the Bay of Bengal. On June 27, they became the first people to complete the descent from Everest’s summit to the Indian Ocean.
“When we arrived on the beach, we were frightened. We were surrounded by giant red scorpions,” says Babu. Later after showing pictures to friends, he would learn that these “scorpions” were in fact harmless crabs.
The Ultimate Descent team earned recognition from the international paragliding community, and the Nepali press hailed them as national heroes. Western adventurers admired their spunk, simplicity, and bare-bones budget. There were no social media campaigns, corporate sponsors, or expedition websites, just the essential ingredients for adventure—vision, creativity, and friendship.
Surfing likes its legends. When the surf media started comparing a teenage girl from Hawaii with the sport’s reigning superstar and 11-time world champion, Kelly Slater, some of the passionate fans of the sport labeled it as hype. Carissa Moore made the first step toward proving the doubters wrong this year when she became the youngest person ever to win the world title. Her aggressive but fluid riding turned heads. Later his month Moore will be the first woman in the modern era to compete in the men’s Triple Crown of Surfing. Not bad for a 19-year-old.
In 2010, the then 18-year-old Hawaiian began making her case for greatness when she was accepted onto the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) Women’s World Tour. Moore won two events, earned a nod as Rookie of the Year, and graduated from high school. She was just getting her bearings on surfing’s center stage. By 2011, Moore crushed the female competition in surfing’s main events. During the ASP World Tour, she placed first in three events and never placed lower than third to win the overall title. In her two years on the tour, she’s already raked in $225,000 in purse money and attracted top-notch sponsors such as Red Bull, Roxy, and Nike.
Even though the women’s ASP World Tour ended early due to lack of sponsorship dollars, Moore’s season continued when she got wild card slots to surf alongside the world’s best male surfers on the male tour at the Reef Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa and the Van’s World Cup of Surfing at Sunset Beach, both on her home turf of Hawaii. The events are in November.
“I’m kind of nervous, but I’m also really excited,” says Moore. “I’m being realistic about what is going to happen. The guys I’m surfing against have a few more years and more experience on me, so I probably won’t make a heat, but if I do, great. That would be awesome.”
Travis Rice’s father was in the ski patrol at Wyoming’s Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. And like many dads, he raised his son to follow in his ski tracks. Fortunately for snowboarding, things didn’t go as planned.
A decade ago and unheard of at the time, Rice arrived at Snowboarder magazine’s Superpark contest at Mammoth Mountain, launched a now legendary backside rodeo across a 117-foot gap jump, and left a star. Since then, Rice has developed into the best all-around snowboarder in the world: He is equally capable of showing up to win a slope style event in Aspen as he is in pioneering a first descent in the remote Darwin Range on the tip of South America. The 29-year-old makes use of all the tools in a snowboarder’s quiver—big-mountain tenacity, acrobatics, and snow and mountain sense, often in a single descent. And 2011 was the apex so far in Rice’s career.
Filming for the highly anticipated film The Art of Flight, which he co-produced with Brain Farm Digital Cinema’s Curt Morgan and Chad Jackson, Rice took the staggering aerial tricks usually reserved for the relative safety of the manicured, avalanche-controlled terrain parks made popular by the X Games and the Olympics, and applied them to the big mountains. In these peaks, a fall could mean tumbling down a vertical face or being swept into a gaping crevasse. Rice performed them all while under the watchful eye of director Curt Morgan’s superslow motion camera.
The movie, whose trailer went viral, marked the final stage of snowboarding’s crossover into the mainstream. It generated excited retweets from 50 Cent and Justin Timberlake and large movie industry players—such as Dolby Laboratories and Skywalker Ranch—teamed up with Morgan.
While the tricks and big-mountain lines mixed with cutting-edge cinematography inspire “ahhs” from wide-eyed audiences, ultimately it’s Rice’s enthusiasm for pushing the limits of his sport that resonate. In 2011, Rice made an entire generation of young skiers consider buying a snowboard.
“Experiencing the world through endless secondhand information isn’t enough,” says Rice. “If we want authenticity we have to initiate it.”
“In the moment, it felt like we were failing every day. We weren’t good enough. We weren’t strong enough. It’s part of the artistic process,” says ski filmmaker Nick Waggoner, director of Sweetgrass Productions. Twenty seconds into Solitaire, his South American ski odyssey, it’s clear that the 25-year-old Waggoner has disproved the idea that the only way to make a better adventure film is with a bigger budget.
Shot on foot, horseback, riverboat, skis, and paragliders over the course of two years, Solitaire explores South America from the Amazon jungles to the Cordillera Blanca and from the Altiplano all the way to wind-raked Patagonia. Waggoner and his co-producers Michael Brown, Zac Ramras, and Ben Sturgulewski chose the Andes for its extreme conditions—fickle snow, horrible winds, and powerful landscapes. No helicopters. No chalets or ski lodges. Shooting the film required living and working out of tents in relentless rain and snow sometimes for weeks in a row, traversing broken glaciers just to see the peaks they would then climb and shoot, and flying paragliders from 17,000-foot mountains while filming. Each shot was earned by hiking thousands of feet in predawn darkness.
“This was complete immersion in the environment,” says Waggoner. The enormity and risk of what they were about to attempt hit home on the very first day of filming on location. The New York City native and Ramras arrived in South America to the news that their friend and the film’s intended star, extreme skier Arne Backstrom, had fallen to his death from 18,897-foot Nevado Pisco.
“This was no longer a cute little ski film,” says Waggoner. “This movie became about the dark place between failure and success.”
Fortunately for us, that uncertainty makes a beautiful, intriguing film through the focus of Waggoner’s lens. When it comes to the art of adventure, heart, resolve, and imagination trump a million dollars every time.
Two years ago Scottish street trials rider Danny MacAskill was just a guy working a nine-to-five job as a mechanic in an Edinburgh bike shop, crafting his vision of what was possible on a bicycle in the hours after work. In March 2009, he took a risk and left his job to pursue riding full time. A month later his roommate, Dave Sowerby, released a video of MacAskill leaping, flipping, and balancing across Edinburgh’s famous buildings, parks, and back alleys on his bike. No one had seen riding like this before.
The video went viral. First friends and then total strangers forwarded it via email and posted it on Facebook. MacAskill’s audacity, skill, and grace spoke to people, even those who had never heard of the obscure sport of street trials, where bicyclists use existing structures to create physical puzzles that are solved by moving from obstacle to obstacle. Some even chalked MacAskill’s mind-bending moves up to a special effects hoax. The video went on to be viewed 27 million times.
MacAskill could have been a one-hit wonder. But when his 2011 short film Industrial Revolutions—which featured him riding through Scotland’s abandoned factories, leaping between train cars, and riding across two-inch beams suspended 15 feet above concrete—generated three million views on YouTube in a month, he proved he wasn’t. What MacAskill can do on a bicycle, his body shifting, pausing, and then exploding upward in a seamless tangle of man and bike, makes us reimagine our daily environments.
Groundbreaking adventure has always made us examine and then redraw the fine line between the possible and the impossible. Like the great performance artist and tightrope walker Philippe Petit, who captured New Yorkers’ attention with his 1974 walk between the towers of the World Trade Center, MacAskill has taken the the landscapes of his everyday and turned mundane into a physical canvas.
Since 2009, MacAskill has used his newfound fame and monetary support to log over 40,000 miles in an RV, traveling across Scotland looking for the perfect trick in the ideal location.
“I never had the goal of being a professional rider,” says MacAskill. “I just wanted to ride my bike.”
Adventurers of the Year 2012: Mountaineer Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner
In the summer of 2010, Austrian Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner was perched on K2’s infamous Bottleneck couloir 400 meters below the summit. She radioed her husband, Ralf Dujmovits, who was hunkered at base camp far below the 8,611-meter summit of the peak on the Pakistan-China border. Through the radio, Dujmovits could hear the shock in his wife’s voice. Moments earlier her partner, ski mountaineer Fredrik Ericsson, had slipped while unroped, tumbled past her, and fallen to his death.
Kaltenbrunner immediately aborted her summit attempt to look for her friend. It was her fifth failed attempt on the world’s most deadly peak. K2 was the final summit remaining in her 14-year quest to become the first woman to climb all 14 8,000-meter peaks without supplemental oxygen or porters.
In 2011, Kaltenbrunner returned to K2, this time to the mountain’s north side to avoid the Bottleneck, where 11 climbers died in 2008. At 6:18 p.m. local time on August 23, Kaltenbrunner reached the summit. “I have never had a view like that. There were no clouds, you could see to Nanga Parbat. I had the feeling that I was one with the universe. It’s still present in my heart,” says the 40-year-old Austrian.
Her fascination with the world’s tallest peaks began when she was in her early 20s. When she was 23 years old, she reached 8,027 meters but not the summit of Broad Peak, also on the Pakistan-China border, which sparked the idea to climb all 14 peaks more than 8,000 meters tall. In 1998, Kaltenbrunner, a professional climber who trains year-round, reached her first summit, Cho Oyu, and began ticking off the peaks, sometimes two in a year. She became known for her calculated patience.
This year on K2, the reminders of a misstep were always present. “Twenty or thirty meters beneath K2’s summit, you can look down and see the Bottleneck. It felt like Fredrik was near,” says Kaltenbrunner. “He was with us in a good sense.”
Adventurers of the Year 2012: Kayakers Jon Turk and Erik Boomer
“What do you do when a polar bear charges you? We found yelling colorful language was more effective than gentle talking,” says 65-year-old writer and Arctic explorer Jon Turk. “The right tone could communicate, ‘You’re bad. We’re just as bad.’”
Turk and pro kayaker Erik Boomer discovered this when, during the final week of their 1,485-mile circumnavigation of Ellesmere Island, a polar bear ripped a hole in their tent—while five other bears looked on.
The journey around the world’s tenth largest island, which took Turk and Boomer 104 days on skis, in kayaks, and on foot, was considered by polar experts to be the last great unattempted polar expedition, so daunting due to its remoteness and dangerous ice conditions. No one had attempted it before this summer.
For Turk, who pioneered big-wall climbs on Baffin Island and engaged in five Siberian expeditions to study shamanic culture, this was his “retirement party,” his last expedition. For the 26-year-old Boomer, who made a name for himself kayaking into the world’s wildest white water, this was the first of what he hopes will be many journeys to the Great North.
“I’m used to taking risks in short bursts, like in a single rapid or waterfall,” says Boomer. “This trip was so long, the risk so sustained and impossible to plan for. Jon is rare. He’s willing to do something where the outcome is unknown.”
In May, the duo began by dragging their 220-pound, 13.5-foot kayaks 800 miles across flat ice. As the ice broke up with the spring thaw, they were forced to jump over cracks and between unstable ice floes. By midsummer, they were able to paddle through slivers of open water.
Though the bears proved to be an ongoing danger—on one day they saw eleven, nine of which were aggressive—unfavorable winds were the greatest threat. Offshore winds pushed sea ice up against the sheer cliffs of Ellesmere’s rugged coast. Getting trapped between the two would mean certain death.
A text message Turk sent during the final leg of the trip summed it up best: “Bears scare us. We scare bears. The wind scares us. We don’t scare the wind.”
Adventurers of the Year 2012: Hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis
“Records are made to be broken,” says long-distance hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis. “It’s not the number. The method and the approach are what matters more at the end of the day.”
For the last 40 years, men have held the Appalachian Trail record. In the last 20, it’s been confined to an elite club of ultra runners who typically covered the requisite 30 to 50 miles per day in an 11- to 13-hour period. Conventional wisdom suggested that breaking the record would mean running faster with the same strategy. And a new record holder would most certainly be male.
Pharr Davis, 28, took the standard strategy and turned it upside down. Moving from north to south, she covered the trail’s 2,181 miles by hiking for 16 hours a day beginning at 4:45 in the morning and walking well into darkness. To stick to an average pace of 47 miles a day, she slept on the trail or at road crossings to eliminate needless commute times to and from the trail. Her husband, Brew Davis, served as the support crew.
Pharr Davis trained by hiking rather than running—and the novel approach worked. By the time she reached the trail’s southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia, she had trimmed 26 hours off the previous record with a time of 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes.
“Exploration can be twofold. It can be going to a new location or it can mean pushing through a physical boundary,” says Pharr Davis. “We were exploring what people thought was possible, for what was possible on the Appalachian Trail, and what was possible for a woman and a hiker.”
Adventurers of the Year 2012: Climber Cory Richards
After becoming the first American to successfully summit an 8,000-meter peak in winter, climber-photographer Cory Richards and his partners, veteran winter climbers Simone Moro of Italy and Denis Urubko of Kazakhstan, were hit by a massive wall of snow and ice churning down the flanks of Gasherbrum II in Pakistan. “Once the avalanche took us, there was no more fear,” says Richards, who documented the whole experience. “You’re dying. You are trying to swim in the snow, stay on top. All of a sudden we stopped and my face was on the surface.”
Taking advantage of a two-day weather window, the three men had started up the peak with the knowledge that they would be descending in dangerous conditions. They climbed without the aid of supplemental oxygen or porters. They struggled through hurricane-force winds, minus 50ºF temperatures, and unstable snow conditions that led to the massive Class 4 avalanche. Moro was able to dig himself free and quickly helped his partners dig themselves out in a matter of minutes.
Equipped with a small HD camera, Richards turned the camera on himself as he broke down, weeping with terror and relief. The raw, unfiltered images offer a rare glimpse into the perilous mental journeys that high-altitude climbers face.
The footage became the backbone of Cold, a film that provides both a glimpse into one of the most inhospitable environments on the planet and an honest reflection on the risks of climbing the world’s biggest peaks. “Seeing someone that scared makes it real for the viewer. I can’t actually watch the film anymore. It’s a little too much,” says Richards. “I thought I was dying. It’s too harsh to put yourself through over and over again. It was very much the defining moment in my life. Period.”
Typically, sea kayakers dream of calm waters and soft tail winds. It’s preferable to navigate around waves and whirlpools. A team of young adventure kayakers redraw the sport’s horizon by seeking out the sea’s most turbulent places–tidal races–and diving right in.