Video: Mt. Fuji in Timelapse

In Japan, there are few sites more revered than Mt. Fuji, a massive stratovolcano that stretches 3776 meters (12,389 ft) in height. Each year, thousands climb up to its summit on a grueling hike that provides an immense sense of satisfaction, along with some amazing views. In this video, we get a great look at the mountain through a series of timelapse photographs. In all, more than 14,000 images were collected and assembled to create the three-minute video, and I think you'll agree that it was worth the effort.

MOUNT FUJI 4K - TimeLapse from damdiver on Vimeo.

Video: Drone Over Nepal

We have another short – but sweet – drone video today, this time from Nepal. The opening footage shown in the clip was shot around Kathmandu, giving viewers a sense of what that city looks like from the air. But later we head out to the Annapurna region, where the DJI Phantom 2 drone captures great shots of the countryside, as well as some beautiful looks at that far-off mountain.

Drone over Nepal from Fallout Media on Vimeo.

The National Park Service Invites You to Find Your Park

Yesterday, the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation announced a new initiative called Find Your Park. This new campaign is designed to help raise awareness with the public about the importance of America's national parks even as we draw near to the 100th anniversary of the Park Service in 2016.

The goal behind the Find Your Park campaign is to connect people to the parks in many different ways. For a lot of us, the parks aren't just a place, but a connection with friends and family as well. They illicit emotional responses on many different levels ranging from awe and wonder, to joy and contentment. The goal is to help others discover their connections with the parks as well, particularly young people who are visiting those places in fewer numbers.

First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush are co-chariing the Find Your Park effort. They are heavily focusing on finding ways of inspiring the younger generation to explore the parks more fully, and come to appreciate their value in new ways. There hope is that this campaign will help that process.

For me personally, the U.S. national parks represent some of the best outdoor landscapes found anywhere on the planet. They are spectacular settings that often have to be seen to be believed. Find Your Park is all about discovering those places that speak directly to you as well, whether they are in Yellowstone or Yosemite National Parks, or at the White House or places like Gettysburg. These are places that are natural, cultural, or historical wonders, and we should appreciate and protect them more. As the Park Service is about to enter its second century, that is exactly the goal.

Gear Closet: SKINS A400 Men's Running Tights

The calendar may say that it is officially spring, but the weather hasn't warmed up completely yet. Recently I've found myself still reaching for a pair or running tights as I set out on an early morning run, and on those chilly days I've fond myself very thankful that I have the new A400 running tight from SKINS in my gear closet. These tights are the latest product from a company that specializes in compression gear for fitness and running, and while I didn't think it was possible, they have found new ways to improve on their already excellent products.

When designing the new A400 tights the team at SKINS wanted to make a product that was both warmer in cold weather, and yet also managed to help you stay cool when the temperature started to rise. In order to do that, they incorporated high tech fabrics that become more breathable as moisture from the body is pulled through. So on warmer days the fabrics wick sweat away from the body, and pass it to the surface of the tight where it evaporates quickly, helping to keep you cooler and dryer. But when it is cold outside, and you are sweating less, the fabrics are a bit less breathable, helping to keep you warmer.

This method of temperature regulation through breathable fabrics isn't anything new of course. We see similar qualities in a lot of our gear that we use when working out, hiking, backpacking, cycling, and so on. But with the A400 SKINS seems to have found the perfect mix for a running tight, as I never once felt too cold or too warm while wearing them. In fact, I was surprisingly comfortable across a fairly wide range of temperatures, which makes these tights versatile enough to be worn in a variety of weather conditions.

As you would expect, the A400 tights provide a snug, but not confining, fit. When creating this product, the designers at SKINS took a new approach when creating these tights, improving the way they wrap around specific muscles groups in the process. In theory this is meant to provide more support during your workouts, keeping your muscles from becoming fatigued, sore, or injured. I found that the high level of compression provided by these tights did indeed keep my leg muscles held more firmly in place, helping to lessen the movement associated with running, and keeping fatigue to a minimum. In fact, on the days that I ran in these tights, I generally found that my legs were stronger and felt better post-run than days that I did not. That alone should be a good indicator of how well they perform.

Made from high quality fabrics, the A400 tights are very durable and meant to withstand the challenges that come along with running on a daily basis. But they are also incredibly comfortable too. Once you have them on they truly do feel like a second skin in the best way possible. They provide a snug fit that reminds you that they are there, but they are not the least bit constraining or confining either.

Over the weekend I used these tights on a 14 mile (22 km) run that took me approximately two hours to complete. Over that time, the temperature rose steadily, and ran with – and into – a cold breeze. But the A400 tights kept me well protected and comfortable throughout the entire workout, even when conditions changed. They also kept me legs feeling great, both during and after the run.

It is clear that SKINS has a winner with this product, and serious runners will definitely appreciate what they have brought to the table here. These are high quality running tights that will help you perform better and stay healthier on your workouts. With a price tag of $159.99 they are a significant investment that the casual runner probably won't want to shell out the case for, but then again they probably wouldn't see the benefits anyway. But if you take your running seriously, this product is worth every penny. This is a running tight designed for athletes who head outside for a run no matter what the weather is. These are made for the runner who gets up before dawn, or stays out well past dark just to get their miles in for the day. The person who doesn't accept excuses from themselves or the gear that they use. If your one of those people, I think you'll find the SKINS A400 are exactly what you're looking for.

Himalaya Spring 2015: Kilian Jornet Departing for Kathmandu, Still Waiting on Annapurna

Kathmandu is now seeing a steady stream of arrivals as climbers from around the globe descend on Nepal's capital prior to the start of their expeditions in the Himalaya. There will be many notable arrivals in the days ahead, with some of the best mountaineers in the world traveling to Everest, Lhotse, and a number of other major mountains. But one mountain athlete is sure to get plenty of attention his spring as he makes his bid for the speed record on the tallest mountain on the planet.

Spanish ultrarunner Kilian Jornet is preparing to depart for Nepal soon, where he'll pass through Kathmandu on his way to the Tibet. He will be climbing Everest from the North Side of the mountain due to the lower traffic on along that route. He also says that he will actually start his climb/speed-run lower in the valley, perhaps in the final village before reaching Base Camp. Kilian tells that he expects the project to take roughly seven weeks to wrap up, at which time he'll turn his attention to some of the major ultrarunning competitions in the U.S. and Europe.

While it will certainly be interesting to watch Kilian's speed-record attempt unfold, it should be noted that there really isn't going to be a time to compare it to. No one has ever done the speed record from the North Side before, and since he is starting further down the mountain, his time won't compare to someone who has started in BC for instance. Still, we all know that Kilian puts on a show when he is focused on a project, and I expect this will be no different. He'll do some impressive things on Everest for sure, but it will still be interesting to see how he performs at such high altitudes. Jornet has never had to deal with the thin air on a Himalayan peak, and this will be a very different test for him.

Kilian should be departing for Kathmandu sometime this week.

Meanwhile, over on Annapurna, another Spaniard is getting ready for his climb. Carlos Soria has checked in from Base Camp and says that the weather remains dicey at the moment. Heavy snows have fallen on the mountain, creating unstable conditions that are keeping all of the teams in BC at the moment. They hope to launch summit bids sometime this week, but unstable conditions and continued poor weather will likely dictate when they can proceed.

Annapurna has a reputation for the being the most dangerous mountain in the world. It is well known for having numerous avalanches, which makes the climbers there very cautious about when they go up. Teams arrived early on the mountain this year in an attempt to summit before to much spring snow fell on its slopes, and while there was some early success, the climbers there now have to wait to see when a window will open. It is still incredibly early in the season however, so hopefully that chance will come soon.

That's all for today. More updates from the Himalaya soon.

Video: Utah's Desert Towers as Seen From the Air

Utah's desert towers are some of the most iconic places for climbers. Stretching hundreds of feet into the sky, this rock pillars have stood for thousands of years as monuments to geological change. Recently, climbers Brandon Fisher, Ken Schulte, and Luke Humphrey traveled to the Utah desert to climb some of the rock towers that dot the landscape there. They also took a drone along with them to capture some of their adventure. The result is this fantastic short film that will leave you breathless with its beauty. This is an amazing video of some of the most incredible landscapes in the entire U.S., and it should not be missed.

Video: Exploring Africa in a Kayak

This video is the first in a new series from the U.S. National Whitewater Center which will focus on the very human need to explore the world around us and uncover the unknown. In this first chapter professional paddlers Cooper Lambla and Tyler Allen travel to Africa to paddle some of the wild rivers there. There journey took them across Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, producing this wonderful six-minute clip of the adventure. It is a whitewater excursion like no other, in places where much of the landscape remains largely untamed and unexplored.  

EXPLORE. Chapter One from USNWC on Vimeo.

Video: Karun - Following Iran's Longest River Source to Sea

In the spring of 2014 adventurers Tom Allen and Leon McCarron traveled to Iran where they hoped to travel the length of the Karun – that country's longest river – source to sea. The 500-mile (800 km) journey proved to be more than they had expected, offering both insights into the rich history and culture of Iran, as well as the warm and friendly people that live there. But there were also plenty of challenges along the way, including brushes with disaster along that could have spelled the end of the entire expedition.

The video below is a short teaser trailer that gives you a brief taste of what their Iranian adventure was all about. If you find the clip intriguing, you can jump over to where you can watch the entire 15-minute documentary for free. I think you'll find it is more than worth your time to catch the entire thing.

And if you like what Tom and Leon have done with this project, they are also trying to get their next one off the ground at Kickstarter. The duo is not only hoping to wrap up production on their film about Iran, but produce another one about a journey they made through Patagonia as well. Find out more by clicking here.

Karun: Official Trailer from Tom Allen on Vimeo.

North Pole 2015: A Lone Skier Will Take the Ice

A few weeks back I wrote a piece lamenting the lost season in the Arctic. With Kenn Borek Air withdrawing support for expeditions traveling on the Canadian side of the ice, it seemed that there would be very little to report this season. While that remains largely true, ExWeb is reporting that one lone skier will take to the ice, and attempt to cross the Arctic this season after all.

Swiss explorer Thomas Ulrich is preparing to leave for the North Pole soon, where the'll begin his latest adventure. Throughout his career, Ulrich has traveled to in some of the coldest environments on Earth, having made expeditions to the Southern Patagonian Ice Caps Franz Josef Land in the Arctic Ocean, Greenland, and more. But now, in preparation for a major undertaking scheduled for 2016, he'll travel to the North Pole to attempt a crossing of the Arctic north to south.

Ulrich will first travel to the Barneo Ice Camp, which is currently being built at 89ºN. From there, they'll catch a helicopter ride to the top of the world, where he'll launch a solo ski journey south into Canada, covering approximately 800 km (500 miles) in the process.

As the only explorer in the Arctic this season there are questions about how Ulrich will receive support if he runs into trouble. But ExWeb says that while the Swiss adventurer is closer to the North Pole he'll be covered by the Russian team at Barneo. As he moves further south, Kenn Borek will apparently provide logistical support and emergency evacuation if it is needed. Where exactly that coverage begins remains a bit uncertain, and it seems likely that Thomas could find himself alone, in no-man's land, without proper support if he isn't careful.

Ulrich is scheduled to fly to Barneo on April 3, and launch his Arctic expedition soon there after. Traveling south from the Geographic North Pole isn't quite as dangerous or difficult as going north, but it is still an incredibly challenging undertaking. It'll serve as good practice for next year however, which is when the explorer hopes to attempt a complete traverse of the Arctic on foot via 90ºN. That journey will cover more than 2000 km (1242 miles) starting at Point Cape Arktichesky in Russia and ending on Ellesmere Island in Canada. Thomas believes it will take him 90-100 days to complete the crossing, which he will make solo and unsupported.

For my money, a crossing of the Arctic Ocean remains the most difficult challenge in exploration and adventure. Making a full traverse of that ocean will only add to that challenge. Watching how Thomas does this season should give us an indication of that next expedition will proceed as well. You can bet I'll be following his journey in the days ahead. It will be an interesting adventure to watch unfold.

Himalaya Spring 2015: Climbers Streaming into Kathmandu, Summits Delayed on Annapurna

The calm before the storm is over in the Himalaya as the spring climbing season is now set to begin at last. This past weekend marked the start of the arrival of the majority of the teams heading to the big mountains this spring as dozens of mountaineers began arriving in Kathmandu prior to their departure to their respective Base Camps. And while they collect their things – and their thoughts – in the capital city, over on Annapurna the early season arrivals have begun playing the waiting game.

It was a very busy weekend in Kathmandu as visitors have begun streaming into the city. Most will now spend a few days there sorting their gear, meeting with their teammates, and receiving pre-expedition briefings. It is a hectic, busy time, but an exciting one as well. They'll travel to the Thamel District to pick up a last-minute piece of gear, they'll enjoy a good meal in a restaurant, and their final nights sleep in a real bed for two months.

But Kathmandu is a crazy, chaotic place as well. It is hot, dusty, and noisy. Rolling blackouts are a common occurrence, making it a challenge to enjoy your stay there too. So while the climbers will indeed relax a bit before their departure, they'll also be looking ahead to the cleaner air and slower pace of the trekking trails that will take them to the mountains.

Many of the new arrivals have set their sights on Everest of course, and even after they leave Kathmandu they will be hiking for the better part of a week before they reach Base Camp. This will be a time that will not only help with their early acclimatization efforts, but will also prepare them mentally for the challenges ahead. Walking up the Khumbu Valley, in the shadow of some of the tallest mountains on Earth, is an incredibly humbling experience, and it is the perfect way to get in the proper mindset for what is to come.

Among those who have started to arrive in Nepal are the Altitude Junkies, most of whom should reach Kathmandu over the next few days. They'll skip the trek to Everest and Lhotse however, and take helicopters to Base Camp instead. The Himex squad should also be gathering in the city now as well in preparation for their departure. Alan Arnette is en route to the Himalaya as well, and has set his sights squarely on Lhotse this spring. Once he has reached Kathmandu we're sure to get an update on how things are proceeding there too.

Meanwhile, as hundreds of climbers begin arriving in Nepal, there others already on Annapurna who are waiting for a chance to make a summit bid. Both Aussie climber Chris Jensen Burke and Spaniard Carlos Soria are now ready to attempt the climb, but have stalled out in BC waiting for weather to improve. They had originally hoped to launch their push to the top this past weekend, but deteriorating conditions there convinced them to wait for a better opportunity. That could come later this week, marking the second potential wave of summits on Annapurna already this season.

Now that we're on the brink of a new climbing season getting underway, expect lots of news out of Nepal as teams prepare for their climb, and more mountaineers arrive on the scene. It will be a busy week or two in Kathmandu before the teams settle into their routines. It should also be a very interesting time for those of us waiting and watching from home too.

Good luck to all the climbers in the weeks ahead. Get up and down safely.

Video: Beautiful Iceland in Timelapse

We'll close out the week with this amazing three-minute short film that captures the spectacular landscapes of Iceland in timelapse. The settings look simply amazing, and should inspire some outdoor adventures for all of us as we head into the weekend. Enjoy!

Iceland 4K - shot on Nikon D800 from Macgregor on Vimeo.

Video: 2600 Miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in 4 Minutes

When backpacker Andy Davidhazy set out to hike the entire length of the Pacific Crest Trail he decided it would be a good idea to snap a selfie every mile of the hike. That added up to more than 2600 photos that notably mark his progress along the iconic route, but also showed his amazing physical transformation as well. The video below is a compilation of all of those photos, taking us along with Andy on the PCT end-to-end in just four minutes. It is a pretty impressive record of his accomplishment and definitely a fun way to document the journey.

Video: Building the Barneo Ice Camp

A few weeks back I wrote a post about the construction of the Barneo Ice Camp, a temporary base that is set up each spring at 89ºN on the Russian side of the Arctic to help facilitate travel to and from the North Pole. Apparently construction of this year's camp is still underway, but the video below – which comes our way courtesy of Quark Expeditions – gives us an idea of the effort that is made to build the camp to prep it for visitors each season. Those efforts include airdropping supplies out on the ice, and the first arrivals at the camp parachuting in to help build a runway large enough for big aircraft to land on it. It is a fascinating story about a place that only exists for a few short weeks each spring.

London2London Via The World Update: Sarah Arrives in New York City, Atlantic Ocean Lies Ahead

It has once again been far too long since we checked in on Sarah Outen, the British adventurer who has been making her way around the planet completely under her own power. Since my last update on her progress, she has completed a six-month long cycling journey across Canada and the U.S. – much of it in winter – and is now preparing for the final stage of her journey, a crossing of the Atlantic by rowboat.

You may recall that Sarah launched her London2London via the World expedition four years ago by first paddling down the River Thames in London, and then across the English Channel to France. From there, she then proceeded to ride her bike across Europe and Asia, encountering many interesting people and adventures along the way. Eventually she arrived in Japan where she intended to cross the North Pacific by rowboat. That was back in the summer of 2012, and soon after she embarked on that ocean crossing she encountered a nasty storm that damaged her boat, and sent her back to shore. Undaunted, Sarah returned a year later and rowed from Japan to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Then, last year she kayaked through the islands to the Alaskan mainland, where she returned to her bike for a long ride across North America.

On March 15, Sarah rode her bike into New York City, essentially wrapping up the final cycling portion of her journey. She will eventually tack on another 400 miles (643 km) to the ride when she heads for Cape Cod in a few weeks, but for now she is enjoying some time in NYC, where she has been catching up with old friends, making new ones, and starting to prepare for the next stage of her grueling journey.

In May, Sarah will set out across the North Atlantic in her rowboat. The plan is to cross the ocean and row back up the Thames, passing under the London Bridge, which was her official starting point those many long months ago. If everything goes as planned, the Atlantic crossing should take roughly 4-5 months to complete, putting her back home in London sometime in the fall of this year.

While the journey has taken longer than Sarah had anticipated, it has been quite the experience and challenge. Circumnavigating the globe completely under her own power is an impressive accomplishment, and now just the Atlantic Ocean stands in the way of her achieving that goal. Outen is no stranger to ocean rowing however. In addition to having rowed across the North Pacific, back in 2009 she also rowed solo across the Indian Ocean as well. When she launches her Atlantic crossing in May, it'll feel like old times I'm sure, although this time she's heading home.

Over the next few weeks, Sarah will be dealing with logistical issues, resting, and getting her boat ready for launch. The weather needs to improve and stabilize before she begins rowing the Atlantic, but by mid-May or so she should be about ready to go. There are still thousands of miles of ocean ahead of her, but London is calling and the journey is nearing an end at long last.

Himalaya Spring 2015: Expeditions to Watch

This weekend many climbers from across the globe will set out for Nepal at long last. Even though there has already been action in the Himalaya this spring, the season won't truly get underway until next week when the teams begin arriving in Kathmandu in droves. It'll take them some time to get out to their various Base Camps, but things are about to get very interesting in the big mountains.

To prepare us for the season ahead, Alan Arnette shared a post yesterday detailing some of the major expeditions to watch in the weeks ahead. Most of these climbs center around Everest of course, but several will focus on other major peaks too. Alan himself will leave shortly for Nepal as well, where he'll be attempting Lhotse this spring.

Among the climbs that Alan recommends keeping an eye on this year are an expedition to the rarely visited North-Northeast Ridge, where Canadian Raphael Slawinski will be joined by Germans David Goettler and Daniel Bartsch to attempt a new route without the use of Sherpas or supplemental oxygen. This side of the mountain has only been scaled one other time, but a Russian team back in 1996. The trio will be going up the ridge along a different path however.

Kilian Jornet's speed attempt on Everest will certainly get plenty of attention as well. His original plans were to make the attempt from the North Side, but Alan's report seems to indicate that is no longer the case. Considering the challenges and uncertainty that come with climbing in Tibet, and the fact that some operators switched sides and cancelled climbs on the North, perhaps Kilian has had to change up his plans as well. That will make things difficult for him, as the larger crowds on the South Side will certainly alter his approach.

Other interesting expeditions on the schedule an attempt to ski the Lhotse Coulair on Everest by Matt Moniz and Wilie Benegas. Alan says the coulair has never been fully skied before, and these two climbers will do it after summiting Everest. British climber Kenton Cool has ambitious plans for the weeks ahead as well. He'll first attempt to summit Everest – something he has done 11 times in the past – before moving on to Kangchenjunga and eventually K2. 23-year old Brit Rupert Jones-Warner will attempt to summit Everest from both the North and South Side, using a helicopter to travel between the two Base Camps on the respective sides of the mountain. Finally, German climbing legend Ralf Dujmovits is returning to Everest once again to attempt to summit without the use of bottled oxygen. Ralf has already climbed all 8000-meter peaks, but feels he has unfinished business on Everest after using O's to summit that peak.

That's the run-down of Alan's suggestions for climbs to watch this spring. Of course, I'm sure there will be plenty of other interesting expeditions to keep an eye on as well. The season is only about to get underway, so there should be plenty of action to come.

Video: The Moonriders of Zermatt

We seem to have a theme going with our videos today - mountain biking and Zermatt, Switzerland. In this beautiful short clip a pair of riders head out on fat tire bikes to ride in the mountains above Zermatt on an evening that is lit by a bright, full moon. The images they captured were spectacular, and it looks like an amazing time to go for a ride. For those that don't know, Zermatt is one of Europe's best outdoor playgrounds, with plenty of climbing, skiing, mountain biking, and other activities. I never would have thought to go riding there at night, but this looks amazing.

Moonriders from Christian Mülhauser on Vimeo.

Video: Things I Remember About Zermatt

The things that stay with us when we travel to a new place are often surprising. That's the premise behind this video, in which the filmmakers traveled to Zermatt, Switzerland for a mountain biking trip in the shadow of the Matterhorn. They wanted to highlight the amazing things they saw there, and the elements of Zermatt that stood out the most. This beautiful video is the result.

Things I Remember from Zermatt from Filme von Draussen on Vimeo.

Video: Danny MacAskill's Solar Eclipse Ride

For last week's total solar eclipse in Europe famed mountain bike rider Danny MacAskill traveled to his homeland on the Isle of Skye in Scotland to take his bike for a spin just as the moon was covering the sun. The video below chronicles that journey – and that ride – in epic fashion, wish some amazing shots of the island, as well as Danny's usual escapades on the trails there. If you've seen any of his other mountain biking films, you know what to expect here, and as usual Danny delivers in spades.

Trail Run Takes Athletes Around Kilimanjaro on Foot

National Geographic Adventure has posted an interesting article about the Kilimanjaro Stage Run, an 11-day epic trail running event that circumnavigates the famous African mountain. This non-competitive event is undertaken by runners from around the world each year as a challenging adventure that gives them a different perspective on the mountain and the people that live at its base.

The run is the brainchild of Simon Mtuy, a Tanzanian who has earned world-wide respect for his trail running skills. Back in 2006 Simon set a record for running to the summit of the mountain, reaching the top in just 9 hours and 21 minutes. That record was broken in 2013 when Simon helped Kilian Jornet beat his mark. Jornet managed to make the trip just 7 hours and 14 minutes. The current record, held by Ecuadorian mountain runner Karl Egloff stands at 6 hours, 56 minutes, and 24 seconds by the way. To put that in perspective, on my recent climb up Kili, we spent the better part of seven days reaching the summit.

But they Kilimanjaro Stage Run isn't about speed or setting records. Instead, it covers 260 km (161.5 miles) over 11 days as participants travel completely around the base of the iconic mountain. The runners stay on dirt tails and footpaths the entire way, at altitudes that range from 1400-2000 meters (4593-6561 ft). They pass through dense rainforests, pass beautiful waterfalls, and immerse themselves into Tanzanian culture in small villages along the way. All the while, the snowcapped peak of Kili looms tall overhead.

The Nat Geo article gives readers a good indication of what the run is all about, and provides excellent insights into the experience for intrepid trail runners who are considering attempting the run themselves. You can also check out the fantastic short film called Mountain of Greatness, which you'll find below. It follows a team of runners who completed the KSR back in 2012, and gives viewers an even better sense of what it is like out on the trail.

The 2015 edition of the Kilimanjaro Stage Race is set to take place from October 17-27 of this year. If you're interested in running it, you can find out more here. Sign up and get busy training. There is still plenty of time to prepare.

Mountain of Greatness from Andrew King on Vimeo.

Himalaya Spring 2015: More On Annapurna Tragedy

Yesterday we received the unfortunate news that two climbers had perished on Annapurna. Finnish climber Samuli Mansikka and local guide Pemba Sherpa lost their lives on the descent of the mountain after successfully reaching the summit on Tuesday. At the time that the story broke there was little more information than that, and the exact cause of their deaths was as yet unknown. The details remain scant today as well, but some of the story is starting to become clearer.

Samuli and Pemba were on Annapurna as part of the Dreamers Destination team. They arrived on the mountain early in the season in an attempt to summit before the spring snows change the complexion of the mountain. Their plan for an early summit paid off, and 13 members of the squad reached the top a few days back.

But apparently the team was slow in descending, and according to reports they ended up not returning to Camp 4 after their summit, and instead bivouacked at 7400 meters (24,278 ft). While they were stranded high on the mountain, something happened to Samuli and Pemba. The reportedly went missing for a time at 7100 meters (23,293 ft), and the rest of the squad wasn't sure where they were located. Their bodies were later discovered at 7000 meters (22,965 ft), but the cause of their death is either unknown, for has yet to be revealed.

The rest of the Dreamers Destination squad has been slowly making its way back down the mountain. Reportedly they are all both mentally and physically exhausted from their climb, and the ordeal that followed shortly there after. The squad is expected back in Base Camp tomorrow, after reaching Camp 1 today. Hopefully there will be no further problems as they descend, as many accidents occur when climbers are extremely tired.

Reportedly the attempts to retrieve the bodies of their fallen comrades has been called off. Yesterday it was reported that rescue helicopters had been dispatched to the mountain, but they were apparently called back. Considering the height at which they perished, it may be unsafe to attempt to bring them down. Particularly considering the state that the DD team is in at the moment.

Meanwhile, two other climbers are preparing to launch their summit bids on Annapurna as well. Both Australian climber Chris Jensen Burke and Spaniard Carlos Soria have reportedly wrapped up their acclimatization rotations and are now eyeing a weather window that will allow them to climb up to the summit. If everything goes as planned, they could be standing on top this weekend, although the conditions on the mountain will probably decide if that happens.

This is a surprising start to the spring climbing season. Most of the teams are only now preparing to arrive in Kathmandu ahead of the start of their expeditions. But we have already seen early season summits on Annapurna, and two tragic deaths. It is an ominous sign for things to come, but lets home the rest of the season goes more safely and smoothly.

Video: Reinhold Messner Talks Mountaineering, Adventure, and More

Reinhold Messner is a true legend in mountaineering. He is the first man to climb all 14 8000-meter peaks, and he pioneered the idea of climbing without the use of supplemental oxygen. As you can imagine, he has seen and done a lot of amazing things throughout his career. In the video below, he shares his thoughts on a number of topics, and offers some advice to young climbers today. If you're not familiar with Messner, this video is a great introduction. If you already know all about him, it is a good reminder of the impact that he has had on mountaineering. Great stuff as always from National Geographic.

Video: Riding the Tour of the Dragon in Bhutan

Bhutan is home to many things, including towering mountains, impossibly deep canyons, and amazing Buddhist temples. It is also home to the Tour of the Dragon, a one-day mountain biking race that covers 268 km (166.5 miles) between Bumthang and the capital city of Thimphu, crossing over four mountain passes in the process. The video below gives us a taste of what that race is all about, with stunning footage of landscapes of Bhutan serving as a backdrop. If there are any riders out there looking for a new challenge for 2015, this could well be it. The next Tour of the Dragon is scheduled for September 5, so get training.

Gear Closet: Rocky S2V Substratum Direct Attach Hiking Boots

Recently I've had the distinct pleasure of putting some of the fantastic gear from Rocky S2V through it's paces. I carried both the Provision Jacket and Provision Pants with me to Kilimanjaro, and if you've read my reviews of those two products, you already know that they proved invaluable in keeping me warm and dry on Summit Day. I've also been testing Rocky's Substratum Direct Attach hiking boot as well, and have once again come away incredibly impressed with the level of design, comfort, and attention to detail that has been put into this product. This is a boot that will see you through many adventures – in incredibly poor conditions – and continue to keep you moving all the while.

I will say that while I was very excited to receive the Substratum Direct boots as part of my pre-Kilimanjaro care package from the good folks at Rocky S2V, they did not accompany on my journey to Africa. As I wore them prior to departure, I realized two things. First, they needed to be properly broken in before I could scale a mountain in them, and secondly they are incredibly warm, which would have been great on the summit push, but not so useful on the lower portions of Kili where you're hiking through muggy rainforests. For those reasons, I chose to leave them at home and carry a pair of boots that were more suitable for all of the climate zones on Kilimanjaro instead.

That said, it should be noted that these boots are actually fairly easy to break-in, I simply didn't have the time to do so before leaving for my climb. But upon return, I have been wearing them regularly, and it has taken very little time at all to get them completely broken in. They were already very comfortable straight out of the box, but the flexibility wasn't quite where I wanted it at first. But it didn't take long at all for the boots to loosen up, and feel more natural on my feet.

As with all of their gear, Rocky S2V has built the Substratum to perform incredibly well in the poorest conditions imaginable. They are completely waterproof, with the fabrics that make up the boot treated with Rocky's proprietary Hydro IQ which repels moisture incredibly well, while still allowing your feet to breathe nicely. They also use both PrimaLoft and Aerogels as insulation, which explains why they are so incredibly warm, even in very cold conditions.

Of course, it doesn't matter how warm and dry a boot keeps your feet if it doesn't provide good traction on the trail. The Substratum deliver in that department too with Vibram sole that sticks to just about any surface – wet or dry – and provides plenty of protection for the foot too. I've used these boots on dry and muddy trails, as well as on snow and ice, and have found that they provided excellent traction on all of those surfaces. Something that provides a nice piece of mind when heading out on more challenging excursions.

The Substratum gets high marks for durability as well. As with Rocky S2V's other products, the level of construction is incredibly impressive, and it feels like these boots were built to last a very long time. My pair looks practically brand new despite having a few miles on them. The designers of these boots picked high quality materials for every element of the Substratum, and while I've only had them a short time, it seems this is the kind of hiking boot that will last you for years.

Those high quality materials will definitely extend the life of the boots, but they also have added a bit of extra weight to the shoes as well. I don't have very many nits to pick with the Substratum, but they are on the heavier side when compared to the competition. If you're a backpacker or climber who counts every ounce, you may find that a lighter boot is more to your liking. But when you consider the level of durably, protection, and performance that the Substratum bring to the table, you may find that there is very little else that can actually compete with them in all categories.

As mentioned several times, these boots are quite warm. So much so that I'm not sure they'll be something that I could wear on the trail during the summer months. They are definitely well suited to cooler weather hikes, and will perform exceptionally well in the winter, but during the summer most people will probably find them to be uncomfortably warm. Keep that in mind when you consider what you're looking for out of a boot, and when and where you'll be using them.

Rocky S2V designs their gear to be used in extreme conditions, and as such they often build in features that are meant to help us survive in the backcountry, even when disaster strikes. With the Provision Jacket for example they include a handy little survival kit complete with a signal mirror, compass, and so on. Both the Jacket and the Provision Pants also incorporate the Recco rescue technology as well, making it easier for SAR teams to locate the wearer should they go missing. With the Substratum boot the mad scientists in the Rocky labs have incorporated two fire sparkers and two wet cubes in the insole, making it very easy to start a fire should you find yourself in a situation where that is necessary. This is a nice touch that helps set Rocky's gear apart from the competition, and while you may never need to use these survival items, it is nice to have them just in case.

The Substratum carry an MSRP of $299.99, which puts them into a more expensive price range than most people will probably want to spend on a boot. But then again, these boots aren't built for most people. They are made for the active outdoor adventure who demands high performance out of their equipment, and expects it to meet those demands in the harshest environments imaginable. This is a boot that is made for backpackers and mountaineers heading into remote areas where conditions can be a bit unpredictable, and they will serve those men and women very well. If you're in need of that kind of performance, than this is certainly the boot for you.

On a side note, Rocky S2V makes a lot of boots that are used by U.S. military personal stationed across the globe. Much of the design and technology that goes into those boots have also made their way into the Substratum as well. In fact, both of the Green Berets that accompanied me on my Kilimanjaro climb owned boots from Rocky, and had nothing but praise for their high quality and high level of performance. One of those soldiers even brought a pair along for the trip, and he wore them throughout. The Substratum take many of their cues from those same boots, and the Rocky legacy and quality is evident across their entire line of gear. I can't tell you how impressed I am with all of their products, and I will be recommending them highly for a long time to come.

Himalaya Spring 2015: Two Climbers Perish on Annapurna Following Successful Summit

There is sad news from the Himalaya today where we have received word that two climbers have perished on Annapurna following successful summits yesterday. Details of what exactly happened remain scarce at this time, but it seems that Finnish climber Samuli Mansikka and Pemba Sherpa both died while descending the mountain earlier. They are the first two casualties of the Spring climbing season in Nepal, where most other mountaineers are only just starting to arrive in Kathmandu.

As reported yesterday, Samuli and Pemba were part of the Dreamers Destinations team that topped out on Annapurna. The squad managed to put 13 climbers on the summit amidst good, early spring weather. It seems likely that following their successful summit bid the team returned to Camp 4 and rested there overnight before attempting to descend back to Base Camp today. Apparently an accident  must have occurred on that descent, claiming the lives of both climbers. What that accident was remains a mystery, but Annapurna is notorious for having frequent and deadly avalanches.

According to the article linked to above, the teammates of the two fallen climbers are hoping to retrieve their bodies from the mountain. Rescue helicopters have also been sent to assist in that process. The two men lost their lives at roughly 7000 meters (22,290 ft), so that process will not be an easy one.

This is a sad start to the climbing season which remains on the brink of actually starting. As mentioned, most climbers are only now preparing to set out for the Himalaya, with most not arriving in Nepal until next week. But the Dreamers Destinations team – amongst others – arrived on Annapurna early in an attempt to climb the mountain before it gets more dangerous later in the spring. At this point, the mountain is mostly still frozen following the long winter, and the heavy snows that come later have not started yet. Their plans for summiting early seemed to have worked brilliantly, although this accident will cast a long shadow over Annapurna, a mountain that is considered to be one of the deadliest in the world.

My condolences go out to the friends and family of Samuli and Pemba in their time of need.

China - Beijing : Popular historic places in Beijing

Beijing - December 2014

People kept telling me the cold weather in China during December is very unbearable and advised me to bring lots and lots of warm clothing. I got pretty affected and went to buy many sets of long john from Uniqlo, coats from taobao and heat packs from Daiso. Layering is the keyword! 

We wanted to go Beijing and Xian but ended up going on a tour to Beijing and Tianjin only. We could have gone for free and easy but the tour price was too irresistible to reject. Then we regretted after second day in China.

Our first stop :  Tiananmen Square 天安门广场

Morning sun to warm us up at near 0 degree weather.

Tiananmen Square is located at the center of Beijing city and is the largest city square in the world (at 440,000 square meters) that holds about 1 million people for public celebration. 

National Museum of China

This was where big ceremony held to announce to common people who became the emperor and empress. Today, the flag raising ceremony perform every sunrise and sunset.

I must say I really relieved that I brought scarf with me. 

Tiananmen Sqaure 天安门广场
Direction: Subway Line 1: get off at Tiananmen Dong or Tiananmen Xi Station

Forbidden City 紫禁城 or Gugong 故宫

Further up the Tiananmen Square is the famous Forbidden city in Beijing. The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty.

File:Beijing city wall map.jpg
(Source: Wikipedia)

Above is a map of the historic centre of Beijing. There is an unbalanced right angle at the left top corner which looks like it was bitten off the map. According to a high rank officer, it was purposely done that way because of fengshui where the money will come in from that side and lock from other three corners. 

Today, Forbidden city is China’s largest and best-preserved collection of ancient buildings, and the largest palace complex in the world listed by UNESCO. Also, is declared as World Heritage Site in 1987.

This was actually considered lesser crowd than normal days already. I could not imagine coming here during peak period. December was just too cold to walk around and we were glad that the afternoon sun made our day slightly better. 

This was one of my lucky shots that did not capture any photobombers. 

This is so much bigger and glamorous than Gyeongbokgung Palace we visited in Korea. Even though only a small part of Forbidden City is open for visiting, we could not even walk to every corner. It is just too enormous.

Out of bound area. We had to squeeze through people to take a decent shot.

They said this was the empress's bed.

If you haven't notice, there is totally no tree in the palace, not even plants. This is to prevent any uninvited guests like assassins. They were very cautious about security. 

Finally we saw some trees in Imperial palace garden (御华园). This was where the emperors, empresses and imperial concubines appreciated the garden scenery. #sothatwaswheretheylepak

Exotic stones and few hundred years old pine trees.

Then we caught with beautiful gentle sun ray that made our selfies look very fairytales!! I hoped it snow to make it even more wonderful. #dreamandrealityisopposite

Forbidden City 紫禁城 or Gugong 故宫
Entrance fee: CNY 40 (Nov. 1 to the next Mar. 31); CNY 60 (Apr. 1 to Oct. 31)
Opening hours: 8.30am - 5pm (Apr. 1- Oct.31); 8.30am - 4.30pm (Nov. 1 - the next Mar. 31); 
Closed on Mondays, except the statutory holidays and the summer vacation from Jul. 1 to Aug. 31.

We left the Forbidden city and saw this amazing frozen lake outside the walls. I was very excited to see the frozen lake. I almost jump over and ski on it. #AlthoughIDontKnowHowToSki

It just seems so peaceful.

Temple of Heaven 天坛

Then we headed to the Temple of Heaven. Today was like a history class outing. This is the most holy of all Beijing's imperial temples. The emperors came here to worship heaven and pray for a good harvest every winter solstice during Ming and Qing dynasties.

Our tour guide explained that during the olden days (and even today), they always believe in playing around with fengshui in making of their country.

Here comes the interesting fact of this Temple of heaven.
The interior twenty eight columns are divided into four central pillars to represent the seasons, twelve inner columns to represent the months, and twelve outer columns to represent the two hour sections that make up a day.

Best of all is that it is built completely without nails.

There was nothing much to do over there since we were unable to enter the temple.

It was getting colder and colder when the day got darker. My fingers got freeze bites every time I removed my gloves to take pictures.

Summer Palace 颐和园

The Summer Palace was initially built in 1750 by Emperor Qianglong but it was destroyed during the Second Opium War of the 1850s. History recorded that Empress Dowager Cixi has "used" navy funds to reconstruct the Summer Palace into a resort where 90% of the garden is used for enjoying scenery and spiritual contemplation to spend the rest of her life.

However, it got damaged again during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. It has restored again and opened to public since 1924. It has since been ranked amongst the World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1998, as well as one of the first national AAAAA tourist spots in China.

Overseeing Kunming lake

I was quite irritated by our tour guide as he kept rushing us throughout the walking tour and only gave us 5 minutes to take photo while he gave us two freaking hours at a silk factory and/or tea factory and/or Tong Ren Tang and/or pearl factory blahblah..... -.-" #NoCommissionNoFreeAndEasyTime

Summer Palace 颐和园
Entrance fee: CNY 20 (Nov. 1 to the next Mar. 31); CNY 30 (Apr. 1 to Oct. 31)
Opening hours: 7am - 5pm (Apr. 1- Oct.31); 6.30am - 6pm (Nov. 1 - the next Mar. 31); 
Subway Line 4: get off at Beigongmen Station (Beigongmen means the North Palace Gate); or get off at Xiyuan Station, get out of the station from Exit C2 (southwest exit) and walk west to the East Palace Gate.