In a remote, far-flung cor­ner of Myan­mar the Himalayas end. Unlike the famous peaks in neigh­bor­ing Nepal, these mighty sum­mits are unknown to even hard­core moun­taineers. The rea­son is sim­ple: They are very dif­fi­cult to access. Just to reach the region requires an expe­di­tion of high order, and Myan­mar has with­held a self-imposed exile from inter­na­tion­al trav­el­ers for decades, mak­ing access even more dif­fi­cult. That’s why these peaks receive such scant traf­fic, and why, even in this mod­ern age, their true height is just an estimate.

This video doc­u­ments the elite team Nation­al Geo­graph­ic assem­bled to solve this alpine mys­tery. While moun­taineers have reached the sum­mit, no one has ever tak­en an accu­rate mea­sure of its height. It is cur­rent­ly believed to be 19,295-feet high. But as the team dis­cov­ers, there are ample rea­sons why Hkak­abo Razi has elud­ed def­i­n­i­tion for centuries.

Click here for more incred­i­ble photos.


Jill Hein­erth can proud­ly claim the title as the the world’s top under­wa­ter cave explor­er. She has dived in places no oth­er peo­ple have—including under deep Antarc­tic ice­bergs and through incred­i­ble under­wa­ter wrecks—and helped designed the first ever 3D map of an under­wa­ter cave. She’s also con­sult­ed for Hol­ly­wood and has pro­duced a num­ber of doc­u­men­taries and books. 

We talked to Jill about the dan­gers and rewards of extreme cave div­ing and why she keeps going back for more.

Jill photographs a fellow diver during an exploration project with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Photo by Jill Heinerth
Jill pho­tographs a fel­low div­er dur­ing an explo­ration project with the Nation­al Oceano­graph­ic and Atmos­pher­ic Admin­is­tra­tion (NOAA). Pho­to by Jill Heinerth

The Clymb: How did you get start­ed in diving?

Jill Hein­erth: I want­ed to dive from my ear­ly child­hood, but grow­ing up in Cana­da, there were few oppor­tu­ni­ties that my fam­i­ly was aware of. I final­ly took a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion class dur­ing uni­ver­si­ty and com­plet­ed my open water div­er cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in Tober­mory Cana­da at Fath­om Five Nation­al Marine Park.


The Clymb: And how did things move from “reg­u­lar” div­ing to the extreme div­ing you do now?

JH: Almost imme­di­ate­ly I took the bull by the horns and moved rapid­ly through oth­er div­ing class­es and con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion. I was dri­ving up to Tober­mory most week­ends and with­in a cou­ple of years began instruct­ing scu­ba at the entry lev­el. I had such a pas­sion for div­ing that I soon sold my adver­tis­ing busi­ness in Toron­to and moved to the Cay­man Islands to dive full time. In the back of my head I knew I could find a way to com­bine both my pas­sion for div­ing and my cre­ative tal­ents. I got hooked on cave div­ing and moved to Flori­da to live in the most pop­u­lar region for cave div­ing in the world. It was in Flori­da that I began work­ing in film and tele­vi­sion projects asso­ci­at­ed with tech­ni­cal and cave diving.


The Clymb: You are an expert in one of the most dan­ger­ous sports in the world. Is that dan­ger part of the excitement?

JH: Most peo­ple assume that I must be an adren­a­line junky. I real­ly don’t think the sur­vivors in my sport fit that descrip­tion. I am actu­al­ly very risk averse. For me, cave div­ing and explo­ration are a great puz­zle. I love it when some­body asks me to do some­thing that has nev­er been done before or go some­place that has nev­er been explored. It’s not about the adren­a­line, but more about putting the pieces and the team togeth­er to make it hap­pen safely.


 

Preparing to descend on the deepest dives ever conducted on Bermuda. Photo by Nic Alvarado
Prepar­ing to descend on the deep­est dives ever con­duct­ed on Bermu­da. Pho­to by Nic Alvarado

 


The Clymb: Can you talk about a trip or cir­cum­stance when you’ve felt you were in danger?

JH: I’ve had numer­ous close calls in explo­ration. I was pinned down by rip­ping cur­rent inside an ice­berg cave in Antarc­ti­ca. I’ve been trapped on the wrong side of a cave div­er that was wedged tight in a body hug­ging restric­tion (the div­er became the cork in the bot­tle that con­tained my life). I’ve been tossed like a rag doll in six­ty foot seas and faced the busi­ness end of a rifle in a remote desert near the Libyan bor­der. But per­haps my worst scare was fight­ing off a bur­glar with an Xac­to knife in my home. In all those cas­es, I learned that you have to stuff the emo­tions back into some recess in your brain and main­tain ratio­nal, prag­mat­ic thought. You have to be able to take a deep breath and say, “emotions…you won’t serve me well right now,” and then get to the busi­ness of sur­vival. You might not know how every­thing will work out, but you can keep tak­ing baby steps towards sur­vival. Just do the next best thing.


The Clymb: Can you tell us what is like to dive under giant Antarc­tic ice­bergs? Is the expe­ri­ence very dif­fer­ent to div­ing any­where else?

JH: My Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Project to Antarc­ti­ca in 2000, allowed me to make the first cave dives inside ice­bergs. It was an expe­ri­ence of a life­time but per­haps one of the most dan­ger­ous things I have done. We trav­eled 12 days from New Zealand across the South­ern Ocean on some of the stormi­est seas on the plan­et. Nobody had ever dared to dive inside ice­berg caves before, so we were re-writ­ing the rules of engage­ment almost every day. On the final day of our project, after nar­row­ly escap­ing a ridicu­lous cur­rent that pinned us down inside a tun­nel in the ice­berg, the ice­berg we had just exit­ed calved and explod­ed. A huge square mile of ice was pul­ver­ized into slush in mere min­utes of destruc­tion. We had only just got­ten out of the water.

There was noth­ing like Antarctica…it was like trav­el­ing to anoth­er plan­et. I would return in a heartbeat.


 

Jill drives a digital wall mapper at Wakulla Springs. Photo by Wes Skiles, Courtesy of the U.S. Deep Caving Team
Jill dri­ves a dig­i­tal wall map­per at Wakul­la Springs. Pho­to by Wes Skiles, Cour­tesy of the U.S. Deep Cav­ing Team

The Clymb: What goes into extreme diving?

JH: Extreme div­ing takes end­less train­ing, lots of redun­dant equip­ment, and a cool head.


The Clymb: How is it dif­fer­ent from the fun sport that so many peo­ple asso­ciate div­ing with?

JH: Tech­ni­cal and explo­ration div­ing takes peo­ple beyond the realm of recre­ation. In recre­ation­al div­ing, you can always just abort a dive and swim straight up. In tech­ni­cal div­ing we are often in over­head envi­ron­ments like caves and wrecks and under an oblig­a­tion to decom­press our bod­ies before sur­fac­ing. If we swam straight up, we could get decom­pres­sion ill­ness or die. In some cas­es, the decom­pres­sion penal­ty can be extreme. My longest dive mis­sion was over 22 hours.


The Clymb: Is it just about envi­ron­ments or is it also about discovery/learning/etc.?

JH: For me it sat­is­fies a yearn­ing curiosity—about our plan­et and undis­cov­ered realms and also the depths of the human spirit…the abil­i­ty to face chal­lenges and embrace dis­com­fort, to explore some­thing that is mean­ing­ful to humankind. I often work with sci­en­tists on impor­tant projects look­ing at issues such as cli­mate change or evo­lu­tion or sur­vival of unique­ly adapt­ed ani­mal species.


 

Jill filming a BBC program where host Richard Hammond followed her team with a tracking device while they swam beneath Florida’s landscape in a network of cave passages.
Jill film­ing a BBC pro­gram where host Richard Ham­mond fol­lowed her team with a track­ing device while they swam beneath Florida’s land­scape in a net­work of cave passages.

The Clymb: Do you use any spe­cial­ized equipment?

JH: One of my spe­cial areas of focus is the use of rebreathers. These devices recir­cu­late your exhaled breath rather then dump­ing it in the form of bub­bles. The gas is sent through a breath­ing loop to a scrub­ber that removes car­bon diox­ide from the mix and adds minute amounts of oxy­gen that have been metab­o­lized by the div­er. It is the same tech­nol­o­gy that is used for mak­ing space­walks. We also use under­wa­ter scoot­ers called “div­er propul­sion vehi­cles (DPVs)” as well as high­ly tech­ni­cal cam­eras, map­ping devices, and oth­er sci­en­tif­ic sam­pling gear that can tol­er­ate the under­wa­ter environment.


The Clymb: You’ve earned some very impres­sive acco­lades, includ­ing being induct­ed to the Women Diver’s Hall of Fame and receiv­ing the Wyland ICON Award. Can you tell us a bit about these and oth­er prizes/mentions you’ve won?

JH: I was induct­ed into the Women Divers Hall of Fame in 2000. I’m real­ly proud of the orga­ni­za­tion that focus­es on offer­ing schol­ar­ships and train­ing grants to young divers look­ing to find their way in the under­wa­ter world. I am most proud of receiv­ing the first Medal for Explo­ration from The Roy­al Cana­di­an Geo­graph­i­cal Soci­ety. The medal rec­og­nizes life­time con­tri­bu­tions to explo­ration and I think it might have been the first time my par­ents real­ly under­stood that what I was doing with my life had real merit!


 

Jill photographs her partner as they exit a deep crevasse that leads to a cave system beneath a huge Antarctic iceberg. Photo by Jill Heinerth
Jill pho­tographs her part­ner as they exit a deep crevasse that leads to a cave sys­tem beneath a huge Antarc­tic ice­berg. Pho­to by Jill Heinerth

The Clymb: Of all the dives you’ve done, what would you con­sid­er the best/most excit­ing one you’ve ever done? What made it so special?

JH: That is a real­ly tough ques­tion…. Every dive has spe­cial mem­o­ries. I think per­haps the most life chang­ing project for me was the U.S. Deep Cav­ing Team Wakul­la Project. We made the first accu­rate 3D map of a cave sys­tem. The project was very deep and required some rev­o­lu­tion­ary thought. The team com­prised of 150 vol­un­teers who did every­thing from build tech­nol­o­gy to offer safe­ty div­ing sup­port. I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to com­plete some div­ing goals that had nev­er been achieved by a woman…and per­haps less than a hand­ful of men. But what was far more impor­tant was the new under­stand­ing that I had with my water sup­ply. We not only mapped the cave in three dimen­sions, but we linked it to the sur­face topog­ra­phy accu­rate­ly. You could lit­er­al­ly walk over the sur­face of the earth and under­stand what was below your feet…a major drink­ing water sup­ply con­duit for the State of Florida.

After that, I began to focus all my atten­tion on projects that helped peo­ple bet­ter under­stand how what they do on the sur­face of the land would even­tu­al­ly be returned to them to drink. I have a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to spread this “water lit­er­a­cy” as I call it and use my adven­tures to help peo­ple under­stand where their water comes from, how they might be pol­lut­ing it, and how they can pro­tect it for future generations.


The Clymb: Can you tell us a bit about the SEDNA Epic Expe­di­tion, its goals and how you got involved with it?

JH: The Sed­na Expe­di­tion began with a goal to cre­ate out­reach oppor­tu­ni­ties that helped peo­ple under­stand the issues of glob­al cli­mate change and how they were rapid­ly chang­ing the Cana­di­an North faster than almost any­where else on the plan­et. We also want­ed to cre­ate out­reach oppor­tu­ni­ties that helped the indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties of the north to bet­ter con­nect with their water resources. In 2014, we held a proof of con­cept expe­di­tion with an ulti­mate goal to snorkel the North­west Pas­sage as a relay of all women swimmers.

We trav­eled up the coast of Labrador and cut across the Davis Strait to Green­land and then on to Ice­land. Dur­ing the project we devel­oped the safe­ty pro­to­cols and tech­niques that would be need­ed to tra­verse the North­west Pas­sage in the future. I was the offi­cial under­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­ph­er on the project and was also brought along because of my cold water and expe­di­tionary expe­ri­ence. I helped train many of the women in aspects of dive tech­nol­o­gy as well as expe­di­tion man­age­ment and safety.

PANGBOCHE MONASTERY PUJA by Maxe Lowe
PANGBOCHE MONASTERY PUJA by Maxe Lowe
Pang­boche Monastery Puja by Max Lowe

The avalanche on April 18th that swept through the Khum­ba Ice­fall region killing 16 Sher­pas was the dead­liest day in the mountain’s his­to­ry. In an effort to help the Sher­pa com­mu­ni­ty cope with their tremen­dous loss, edi­tors from Nation­al Geo­graph­ic and Out­side mag­a­zine have estab­lished a col­lec­tion of pho­tographs from ten pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­phers who have worked exten­sive­ly with the Sher­pa peo­ple, and put them up for sale in order to raise mon­ey to sup­port the Sherpas.

You can view the col­lec­tion of pho­tographs here. 

100% of the pro­ceeds from your pur­chas­es will go direct­ly to the Sher­pa com­mu­ni­ty. Fifty per­cent will go direct­ly to fam­i­lies affect­ed by acci­dents in the moun­tains, and the oth­er fifty per­cent will go to long-term com­mu­ni­ty assis­tance. Togeth­er, the fund will help the Sher­pa com­mu­ni­ty tran­scend the grief and pain this avalanche has left in its wake. 

national-geographic-birdsYou know a crow when you see one. You’ve got the adult bald eagle down, too. But did you know there are more than 900 oth­er birds in North Amer­i­ca? Let this field guide from Nation­al Geo­graph­ic be your source to learn­ing a few more of them. Take it into the field and stalk the majes­tic, jester-look­ing wood duck in its wet­land envi­rons. Bring it with you on a canoe trip down the Penob­scot Riv­er as you search for Great Blue Herons hunt­ing her­ring in the shal­lows. Or just study the 3,000+ illus­tra­tions at home and learn about the fas­ci­nat­ing migra­tions, plumage, and tax­o­nom­ic order of the hun­dreds of birds that call our con­ti­nent home, too. 

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It’s that time of year again; time for the 2014 Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Adven­tur­er of the Year Award. For the past nine years, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic has cho­sen exem­plary explor­ers from a breadth of pur­suits rang­ing from human­i­tar­i­an com­mu­ni­ty builders to solo polar explorers. 

For a com­plete run­down of this year’s 2014 hon­oree nom­i­nees go here.

Then, after watch­ing the inter­views, read­ing the sto­ries, and decid­ing on a favorite, go vote for who you think should be the 2014 Adven­tur­er of the Year.

Vot­ing clos­es Jan­u­ary 31st, 2014. 

National Geographic Road Atlas

It’s late at night and you’re dri­ving on a For­est Ser­vice road look­ing for the trail­head. You could find it if you had cell ser­vice, but you don’t because the whole point of the week­end trip was to get into a wild land where tech­nol­o­gy couldn’t reach you. Now’s the time you wish you could reach beneath your seat and pull out this adven­ture atlas from Nat­ty Geo.

With over 120 years of expe­ri­ence, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic is the ulti­mate advo­cate for explo­ration. And this handy 144-page, spi­ral bound atlas will help you find your way to where your adven­tures begin. The detailed maps of all 50 states, Cana­da, and Mex­i­co include scenic routes, his­toric sites, recre­ation info, and points of inter­est. It has a durable plas­tic out­er shell to shed cof­fee spills and can with­stand count­less shoves beneath the driver’s seat. 

This atlas makes the per­fect gift to unlock North Amer­i­ca for a friend or loved one and help them start exploring. 

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The Alaskan coast­line is one of the most stun­ning envi­ron­ments on earth. It’s a geo­graph­ic land­scape that lives up to its billing as “The Last Fron­tier.” Remote moun­tains rise from the sea and the wildlife is team­ing, but looks can be deceiving.

Plas­tic garbage con­tin­u­al­ly wash­es up on the beach­es, chokes wildlife, and lit­ters the ecosystem.

On June 6th– 13th 2013 the Alas­ka SeaL­ife Cen­ter sent out a team of sci­en­tists, artists, and film­mak­ers to doc­u­ment the increas­ing amount of plas­tic garbage wash­ing up in this “pris­tine” environment.

Sci­en­tists have been try­ing to warn the pub­lic about how the North Pacif­ic Gyre, a sys­tem of ocean­ic cur­rents, rou­tine­ly spews out dis­card­ed lighters, plas­tic bot­tles, shred­ded fish­ing nets, and oth­er detri­tus into this world-class ecosystem.

Now, artists are tak­ing a crack at it.

They call it the Gyre Expe­di­tion. And their intent is to turn ocean­ic pol­lu­tion from an abstract issue into an emo­tion­al issue by cre­at­ing art with the trash they find on the beaches. 

What do you think? Does Alaska’s plas­tic ocean con­cern you?

 You can watch the full video on Nation­al Geographic’s web­site

Joan Blaustein

Joan BlausteinThe mod­ern his­to­ry of the Grand Canyon is per­haps best embod­ied through the life’s work of pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­ph­er John Blaustein. Since his first trip down the Col­orado Riv­er aboard a decked-over dory in 1970, this anthro­pol­o­gy major from UC Berke­ley has built his career tak­ing pic­tures while indulging a per­son­al pas­sion for white­wa­ter adven­ture. First under the appren­tice­ship Joe Mon­roe, a free­lance pho­tog­ra­ph­er with cred­its in Life Mag­a­zine, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, Time and For­tune, Blaustein learned the craft of pho­tog­ra­phy while build­ing his skills row­ing the mighty riv­er with vet­er­an guide Mar­tin Lit­ton. Com­bin­ing his exper­tise in both dis­ci­plines, he cre­at­ed the images for his sem­i­nal trea­tise called The Hid­den Canyon: A Riv­er Jour­ney in 1977. With text by the great essay­ist Edward Abbey, the book, though out of print, is still known as one of the best ever writ­ten on the Grand Canyon and set Blaustein’s long career now span­ning 40 years in motion.

 “I nev­er set out to do the book,” he told the Clymb “But it became the key­stone of my pho­tog­ra­phy. From there I kind of stum­bled from one thing to the next with­out a mas­ter plan.”

Blaustein’s work as pho­tog­ra­ph­er has appeared in pub­li­ca­tions that include Out­side, Sports Illus­trat­ed, Smith­son­ian and many oth­ers. With his book as a port­fo­lio of sorts, he was suc­cess­ful in secur­ing sev­er­al promi­nent cor­po­rate clients such as Apple Com­put­er, AT&T, New York Life and Unit­ed Air­lines. But tru­ly his great­est love has always been cap­tur­ing com­pelling images at water lev­el while on more than 85 trips through the Grand Canyon. It was dur­ing these ear­ly expe­ri­ences while row­ing the Col­orado Riv­er that Blaustein feels most for­tu­nate for hav­ing begun a pas­sion­ate obses­sion that inspires his life to this day.

“I had a lot of good luck. What I mean by that is stum­bling into the Grand Canyon when I did, meet­ing Mar­tin Lit­ton when I did, the fact that he would give me a chance,” Blaustein said. “If ever any­one was a fish out of water as boat­man in the Grand Canyon it was me.”

Now at the age of 66 Blaustein makes at least one plunge down the Col­orado every year. Thrilled by the prospects of dis­cov­er­ing more of its mys­ter­ies he pad­dles for­ward with his cam­era through the Canyon look­ing for that next excit­ing image around the bend.

The Clymb: What can you tell us about the inspi­ra­tion behind what can only described as icon­ic work tak­ing pho­tographs in one of the most spec­tac­u­lar nation­al parks in the country?

Blaustein: I was there. I was cap­ti­vat­ed by the dories, by the riv­er. I feel like I picked up my cam­era and I react­ed to it. I just think the place is mag­i­cal and the con­nec­tion that I devel­oped with the riv­er by being a guide, row­ing those won­der­ful lit­tle wood­en boats and just open­ing my eyes and react­ing to it is just what hap­pened. I am not one of these pho­tog­ra­phers  who writes a lot of flow­ery lan­guage about my pic­tures. A lot of peo­ple do. I don’t, maybe because I’m not artic­u­late enough. I was lucky to be there through the 70s. I’ve done about 85 trips, plus or minus, down the riv­er includ­ing recent ones, any­where between 15 and 21 days. You can do the math. I spent a lot of time at the bot­tom of the Grand Canyon. In the ear­ly days I was a dory guide, which I did from ’70 through ’77 or ’78. In recent years I’ve rowed a bag­gage boat. I do that because I don’t have guide’s license. I don’t have any of the first aid cer­ti­fi­ca­tion, which I would need to row pay­ing pas­sen­gers in a dory. It’s not worth it to me to get all that do one trip a year. So I’m thrilled to do a bag­gage boat, a raft so I can go along on a dory trip. Dur­ing those years in the ‘70s we were just down there learn­ing to run the rapids, tak­ing peo­ple down the riv­er, hav­ing a great time. And oh yeah, I had my cam­era. I was already inter­est­ed in pho­tog­ra­phy. I just had the time of my life shoot­ing what­ev­er I want­ed to on the river. 

The Clymb: You might have adopt­ed any riv­er in North Amer­i­ca. What was it about the Col­orado that was so appeal­ing to you?

Blaustein: I’ll give you a one-sen­tence answer. There’s only one Grand Canyon. As luck would have it, that’s where I end­ed up. I didn’t look at a map and say, “Let’s see, which nation­al park should I go to?” When I grad­u­at­ed from col­lage with lit­er­al­ly noth­ing to do for the rest of my life, I had no idea what I want­ed to do as a career. I was inter­est­ed in pho­tog­ra­phy. But I didn’t have a clue of how to pur­sue that or what to do with it. And this guy named Dave Bohn, with whom I stud­ied pho­tog­ra­phy at Berke­ley, intro­duced me to a guy 15 min­utes from Berke­ley, Joe Mon­roe who was free­lance pho­tog­ra­ph­er. He did Life Mag­a­zine, and he knew Mar­tin Lit­ton through the Sier­ra Club. Dave said to me I’m sure he wouldn’t mind talk­ing to you. It was through Joe Mon­roe that I met Mar­tin, and Mar­tin invit­ed me to go down the riv­er to wash pots and pans as a cook’s assis­tant in 1970.

Short­ly before we left Mar­tin called me up and asked me what I was going to do after our riv­er trip?  I said, “I have noth­ing to do for the rest of my life, why?” So he says he’s think­ing about doing a sec­ond trip down the riv­er and he need­ed a boat­man and asked me to come along. I said, “Mar­tin, you’re crazy, I’ve nev­er been in a row boat!” So to answer your ques­tion, I didn’t pick the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon picked me.

The Clymb: You’ve been down through the Grand Canyon dozens of times in your life, but it doesn’t seem like it’s get­ting old to you. So now at the age of 66 in your mind is there a pic­ture in the Grand Canyon that you haven’t tak­en yet?

Blaustein: Sure. It’s fun­ny the guides that do this over and over again get asked that ques­tion a lot. I think if I weren’t row­ing I would nev­er say it’s going to be bor­ing. I think what keeps me com­ing back is the chal­lenge of the rapids, the white­wa­ter, being at the oars, and the great rela­tion­ship I have with the oth­er guides. I don’t think any­one would ever fin­ish pho­tograph­ing the Grand Canyon. I won’t ever feel that I’ve been there, done that.

Every time you go down the riv­er at any giv­en place, the light is always dif­fer­ent. You’re there at a dif­fer­ent time of day, because the pace of each trip is always slight­ly dif­fer­ent. There’s always going to be cer­tain places where I’ve seen it in board day­light, at high noon with no clouds. I’ll nev­er say that I’m fin­ished shoot­ing the Grand Canyon. I would say that hav­ing spent as much time as I have there and hav­ing shot as much as I have there I can be much more selec­tive than I was at the beginning.

I have the advan­tage of all my years of expe­ri­ence where I can antic­i­pate cer­tain parts of the Canyon that will look maybe bet­ter at cer­tain times of the day and that’s when I’ll be pay­ing more atten­tion. But I think any pho­tog­ra­ph­er will tell you, it’s all about the light and that’s chang­ing all the time. There always the oppor­tu­ni­ty that an area of the Canyon you’ve pho­tographed 5 times before the next time the light could be all that more spectacular.

 The Clymb: After all this time you prob­a­bly have a pret­ty good read on what you need to do a trip through the Grand Canyon suc­cess­ful­ly. What are the crit­i­cal pieces of equip­ment that are must-have items in your kit?

Blaustein: I guess num­ber one would be a life jack­et. You need fast dry­ing swim trunks and a long-sleeved shirt to keep as much of your body cov­ered from the sun as you can. And you need a great pair of riv­er shoes. We start­ed out in the 70s wear­ing Con­verse high-top All-Stars, a bas­ket­ball shoe. They were a joke because you’d have to wear cot­ton socks or the can­vas would rub holes in your feet, which were wet all day. Of course now there are Tevas and KEENS to give your feet a chance to air out a lit­tle bit. You have to pro­tect your feet while you’re mak­ing your way through the rapids and with the new high-tech san­dals; one pair of shoes is all you need.

The Clymb: What can you tell us about one of your most mem­o­rable moments in your career? 

Blaustein: I cer­tain­ly remem­ber flip­ping a dory in Lava Falls, get­ting too far out in the mid­dle and lit­er­al­ly going over the falls and going under long enough that I thought what the F*** is going on! It’s not like my life flashed before my eyes and I thought I was drown­ing, but I was feel­ing the rocks on the bot­tom of the riv­er and I was not pop­ping up the way one hopes to. That was cer­tain­ly mem­o­rable. But I can tell you, stand­ing above some of the rapids, notably Hance, Crys­tal, Lava Falls, when the water lev­el is not, I should say, advan­ta­geous, because as you know the riv­er fluc­tu­ates, it’s impres­sive. You look at in it and you say “Man! Do I real­ly have to do this?” But that’s part of the chal­lenge. That’s part of the adren­a­line rush. You get to bot­tom and you say, “I fooled’em again!”

Check out some of John’s incred­i­ble Grand Canyon pho­tog­ra­phy in our two-part fea­ture, The Gold­en Age of Guid­ing: Part One  |  Part Two       

 

hybrid of sky­div­ing and hang glid­ing, the high­ly exhil­i­rat­ing (and unques­tion­ably dan­ger­ous) sport of wing­suit fly­ing has amassed a world­wide fol­low­ing in recent years. If you’ve ever want­ed to see the world through the eyes of a fly­ing squir­rel and sur­pass a speed of 90 miles per hour at the same time, then wing­suit fly­ing is right up your alley.

The goal of wing­suit fly­ing is sim­ple: to jump from a plane or leap from a steep precipice, and glide through the air with­out hit­ting any hard sur­faces (such as sheer cliff walls). This can be tricky, as fly­ers often come with­in feet of these sur­faces with­out mak­ing con­tact. By straight­en­ing the spine and keep­ing the legs stretched, the fly­er’s body essen­tial­ly acts as an air­foil; he or she is then able to change direc­tion by ‘steer­ing’ with the shoul­ders and legs. And by keep­ing the chin tucked to the neck, fly­ers can cov­er the max­i­mum dis­tance. When all the fun has been had, a para­chute is employed and the fly­er (ide­al­ly) cruis­es to the earth for a smooth landing.

The mod­ern wing­suit is noth­ing short of a tech­no­log­i­cal mar­vel. They are ren­dered from tough fab­rics like bal­lis­tic nylon, and are designed to accli­mate to the user’s bod­i­ly dimen­sions. The suit is out­fit­ted with webbed wings that fit between the legs and in the armpits; when the wear­er spreads his/her arms and legs, the wings to lift and remain upright for the dura­tion of the plunge. While it bears men­tion that the man who invent­ed this design, Patrick de Gayardon, died dur­ing a test flight, it has served as the basis of most mod­ern wing­suit mod­els. He is far from the sport’s only casu­al­ty; of the orig­i­nal 75 ‘bird­men’ — brave souls who pio­neered wing­suit fly­ing through­out the mid-20th cen­tu­ry, 72 of them per­ished while tak­ing part in the activity.

Today, Nor­we­gian (of course) Jokke Sum­mer is one of the hottest wing­suit acts around. For more than five years, he’s made it his mis­sion to trav­el the globe bring aware­ness to the sport. And as he told Red Bull ear­li­er this year, wing­suit fly­ing is not as quease-induc­ing as one might think. “When I was look­ing at it five years ago I was shocked and I felt sick to my stom­ach just look­ing at it, but doing it, it’s not that scary,” he said. “The very first time is a bit spe­cial. It’s a lot of nerves play­ing and a lot of feel­ings and emo­tions. It’s very hard to put into words. It’s just some­thing you have to experience.”

Most of us are prob­a­bly con­tent to just take his word for it, but if you’re inter­est­ed in tak­ing the plunge (so to speak), keep in mind that 200 suc­cess­ful sky­dives are required to step into a wing­suit. Nation­al Geo­graph­ic recent­ly pro­vid­ed a list of cer­ti­fied wing­suit acad­e­mies where first-time fly­ers can learn the ropes.

Today you can shop Canari — func­tion­al, high-qual­i­ty cycling gear, and Native eye­wear — always inno­v­a­tive and unique­ly stylish.

But where will you go tomor­row? One day is short notice to plan an adven­ture that will take you tens of thou­sands of miles around the world, over unfor­giv­ing ter­rain by foot and hand, and to the top of inspir­ing peaks. What about what’s right out­side your door?

Native encour­ages the explo­ration of your habi­tat and claim­ing your space there. No one under­stands this bet­ter than Alas­tair Humphreys, a sea­soned world adven­tur­er who has rid­den his bike 46,000 miles around the world. He spent 2011 embark­ing on microad­ven­tures that began and end­ed at his doorstep in a Lon­don sub­urb. From liv­ing off the land for four days to swim­ming the Thames, each microad­ven­ture pro­vid­ed a phys­i­cal chal­lenge and allowed him to meet peo­ple he might not have oth­er­wise. Humphreys said his goal was to “break down the elit­ism in adven­ture,” and he found there is adven­ture to be had just by break­ing your rou­tine and explor­ing the world right out­side your door.

Alas­tair Humphreys — Pho­to by Her­wig Pho­to, nationalgeographic.com

Humphreys is one of sev­er­al peo­ple vying for Nation­al Geo­graph­ic’s “Adven­tur­er of the Year.” Each has accom­plished great­ness in their own way and has inspired oth­ers to explore the world near and far.

Read their sto­ries and then cast your vote. Head over to Face­book when you’re done and let us know who you vot­ed for and why.

Also Fea­tured This Week: 

Sleep Under the Stars with Slumberjack

Into the Wild with Kel­ty and Mountainsmith