Adventures in Egypt: The Great Pyramid of Giza

One of the biggest draws in all of Egypt is without a doubt the Great Pyramid at Giza. This spectacular monument that overlooks Cairo is one of the most famous destinations on the entire planet, and the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that is still standing. It is an iconic place that finds itself on the bucket list for many world travelers, and rightfully so. But due to that iconic status, it also runs the risk of being a bit of a disappointment. After all, how can a place with such a fantastic reputation possibly live up to all of the hype?

As someone who has now visited the site of the Great Pyramid – and it's two lesser companions – on two separate occasions over the past decade, I can assure you that the pyramids of Egypt are anything but disappointing. For me – a student of history – they live up to all of my expectations, and then some. The mere site of these three massive structures is enough to instill a sense of awe that few other manmade destinations can compare to.

The sheer size and audacity of the pyramids is enough to make them worthy of "wonder" status. After all, it is estimated that the Great Pyramid alone is made up of more than 2.5 million individual stones, each weighing in excess of 6000 pounds (2727 kg). Those stones were individually crafted to fit into the overall structure, and help make it one of the most impressive construction projects ever undertaken. When it was completed in 2560 BC, the Great Pyramid was easily the tallest building on the planet, and it remained so until the construction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1895. That means for nearly 4500 years, it reigned supreme.

Walking across the sands that surround the three pyramids at Giza one can't help but marvel at the massive undertaking put fourth by the Egyptian people to complete the project there. The pyramids are as impressive in real life as they are in any photos, and perhaps even more so when you are given a better sense of the scale of the monuments, and the site that they occupy. The number of people who worked on building these tombs dedicated to ancient pharaohs must have been staggering, as was the effort they put fourth over decades of work just to erect these massive stone buildings.

It is also impressive to think about the major figures in history who have traveled to Egypt just to see the pyramids. Over the centuries, countless kings, presidents, and diplomats have walked the sands of Giza just to gaze on the impressive sight. Alexander the Great is counted amongst them, having gone there when he conquered the region in 332 BC. Julius Caesar would follow suit nearly 400 years later. Others who spent time in the shadow of these amazing monuments include Napoleon Bonaparte, Mark Twain, and Florence Nightengale. The pyramids have seen history come and go, and yet they continue to be a part of it to this day.

Obviously no visit to Egypt is complete without stopping in Giza to pay homage to the pyramids. It is probably the most "touristy" thing that you can do here, but it is also one of the most important. Fortunately, the site is easily accessible, and well worth the effort. It is one of those rare monuments that lives up to its status, and delivers more than you could hope.

Having seen the pyramids both before and after the Arab Spring, I can tell you that now is a great time to go. While crowds are modest in size, they are not overly large, and it is easy to get close to these stone structures without throngs of visitors getting in your way. In fact, my recent visit proved to be incredibly pleasant.

Tourism is on the upswing once again in Egypt, and soon things will return to normal in terms of the number of people coming to visit. If you're thinking that it is a place you might want to visit in the future, I'd urge you to come now. Not only will you find plenty of good deals for travel within the country, you'll also discover that the most famous sites are far from overcrowded. That hasn't always been the case in the past, and now is the time to take advantage of this situation.

There are other monuments I'll be writing about in the near future, but the Great Pyramid is the cornerstone of tourism in Egypt, and practically worth the trip all on its own. If you love history, or simply want to see one of the most amazing structures ever built by man, you owe it to yourself to go.

My current trip is sponsored by G Adventures, and I want to thank them for bringing me on their Absolute Egypt excursion. It has been a wild ride so far, and I can't wait for more!

Adventures in Egypt: Quiet and Calm in Cairo

Egypt is a country that has always held a certain mystique amongst travelers. In fact, you could make an argument that it was actually the world's first tourist destination. After all, travelers have been coming to this land for centuries just to catch a glimpse of the ancient wonders that exist here. People like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte, just to name a few. But in recent years the country has been making news for other reasons.

In 2011 the arrival of the Arab Spring proceeded the overthrow of a long standing dictatorial government, and ushered in a period of uncertainty and unrest. With protests in the streets of Cairo being broadcast on the nightly news, it appeared that Egypt had descended into chaos. Those images sent many would-be visitors scrambling to other destinations, as security concerns took hold. For a time, the country's famous monuments – including the Pyramids and Sphinx – were empty, as travelers stayed away amidst the turmoil.

But those days are long gone now. Newly elected President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has brought a sense of calm and stability to Egypt, and it is having a positive effect not only on the people that live here, but the tourism industry as well. While crowds are still at a minimum, there is a strong sense of optimism in the air as foreigners begin to return at last.

I've been in the country for five days, and have already gotten a sense that things are both different, and the same since my last visit back in 2005. There is a heightened sense of security in the major cities, and around the famous tourist sites, but there is also a clear feeling that the instability of the past few years is over, and that Egypt is ready to get back to work. That work includes welcoming thousands of travelers to its shores.

I am traveling with a group of tourists on the Absolute Egypt tour offered by G Adventures. On our second day here we had the privilege of spending some time in Giza at the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx. There was a modest crowd at those sites, far from the mobs that were often found there in the past, but up significantly over recent years. Sharing those sites with a multitude of visitors from across the globe is part of the fun however, and there were easily a half dozen languages being spoken in the small crowd gathered there. That bodes well for the future of Egypt, which had seen a significant downturn in its economy due to the loss of incoming visitors. But now, the guides that I have spoken to say that things have definitely taken a turn for the better, and arrivals are up sharply so far in 2015.

What does all of this mean for travelers hoping to come to Egypt? I would say that now more than ever is the time to go. If you've always wanted to visit this place, there may be no better time. Security is good, crowds are low, and bargains can be had. That might not be the case later in the year, or moving forward. Once travelers deem the country safe enough to return, it is likely to be very busy once again.

For my part, I am enjoying returning to a country that I wasn't sure I'd have the chance to experience a second time. The Pyramids and other monuments are timeless however, and it is a humbling experience to witness them first hand. In a few days I'll head out into the Sahara on a completely different adventure than I had last time I was here. I'm looking forward to getting off the beaten path to a degree, and seeing more of this amazing country. Of course, I'll also be sharing a lot more about the things I've seen and places I've gone in the days ahead, but for now I'll just say that all is well in Egypt, where history continues to unfold.

The Adventure Blog is Back on Hiatus – I'm Egypt Bound!

I have a quick note to post to end the week. I wanted to let regular readers know that The Adventure Blog is going back on hiatus for a couple of weeks while I head to Egypt for a new adventure. I depart tomorrow (April 18) and will return on May 5. During that time I hope to have the opportunity to post about the journey, but I'll have to wait to see what kind of Internet service will be available. Hopefully I can post some regular updates however, so you can get a feel for what I'm up to.

I'll be traveling with a group hosted by G Adventures, who are easily one of the best adventure travel companies that I've ever had the experience of working with. The company has invited me to join one of their regular groups who will be taking part in their Absolute Egypt tour. While there, I will of course see the wonders of this famous country, including the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx, and the Valley of the Kings and Queens. But I'll also be camping in the Sahara, sailing on the Nile, and meeting with locals too.

This will be my second time in Egypt, but the first since the Arab Spring. It will be interesting to see how things have changed since I was last there, and what life is life for the people of this amazing country. The story that I will be looking for is the return of tourism to the Middle Eastern nation. The travel industry is vital to the economy there, but it has been crippled due to unrest in recent years. I've heard reports that the major attractions and monuments have been all-but empty at times, and I want to see if that remains true. 2015 is the year that travelers are expected to return to Egypt, but it is unclear of that has started to happen just yet.

While I'm away, there will obviously be a lot going on, particularly with the spring climbing season in the Himalaya. If you're looking for regular news from Everest and the other big mountain, than I'd suggest reading Alan Arnette's regular reports, and dropping by Explorer's Web from time to time too. I'll be trying to follow the unfolding season as best I can as well. I'll be home in time for the first summit pushes on Everest and Lhotse, although some of the other mountains may see some action ahead of the major push on the Big Hill.

While I'm away, stay safe, enjoy some adventures of your own, and hopefully I'll have some good things to share from Egypt soon. If Internet connections are reliable, I will at least post some photos on my Twitter feed at @kungfujedi.

I'll be back before you know it!

Video: A Journey to Antarctica

Antarctica is the most remote destinations on the planet, so most of us never get a chance to go there. But in December of 2014 and January of 2015, filmmaker Kalle Ljung traveled to the frozen continent, and captured some amazing footage from his journey. The 8-minute video below is a compilation of his work that gives us a glimpse of the breathtaking landscapes that can be found there. Ljung says that his journey began in Ushuaia, Argentina and proceeded to Port Williams in Chile, before rounding Cape Horn and crossing the infamous Drake Passage. Over the course of 16 days in the Antarctic, he was able to film some amazing places using a GoPro camera and DJI Phantom 2 drone. As you'll see, the results are spectacular.

Antarctica from Kalle Ljung on Vimeo.

Video: Rey Del Rio Waterfall World Championships - Kayaking Competition at its Most Extreme

Kayaking competitions are nothing new, nor is paddling over massive waterfalls. We've certainly seen both over the years. But when you combine the two, you get the Rey Del Rio Waterfall World Championships, an insane event in which pro kayakers run three massive falls in Chiapas, Mexico, pulling tricks and stunts as they go. The video below captures the insanity of this competition, where some big names in the world pro paddling gathered to take on the waters of the Agua Azul. As you'll see, it was quite the event.

Get Outside and Celebrate National Park Week - April 18 - 26

If you're looking for something to do this weekend, than perhaps a visit to a national park is in order. Tomorrow begins the annual National Park Week here in the U.S., and to celebrate all of the parks are waving their entry fees for visitors this weekend. Additionally, many parks will have a number of activities planned for the week ahead as well, including events to commemorate Earth Day on Wednesday too.

The national parks have been called "America's Best Idea," and rightfully so. These amazing outdoor settings are amongst the best in the entire world, and have spurred numerous other nations to protect their natural landscapes too. Yellowstone became the first national park in the world back in 1872, and Yosemite would follow a couple of decades later. Both remain amazing examples of the natural beauty that can be found in the western United States, and I for one appreciate that someone had the foresight to protect these places.

You will no doubt find plenty of online articles and blog posts providing suggestions on how you could celebrate National Park Week. The National Park Foundation has one here, and your's truly wrote another one for that can be read here. But the bottomline is that over the course of the next week – if at all possible – you should get outside and enjoy a one of these great places. With more than 400 units in the U.S. park system, there is almost assuredly one semi-close to where you live. And to help you locate where they are, the new Find Your Park website will certainly come in handy.

I know there are a lot of readers of this blog who are not from the U.S. of course, but considering that many nations across the planet have designated national parks, now is a good time to visit one of yours as well. National Park Week may be an American event, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't celebrate your parks too. In my experience, if a destination has been designated as a protected park, it probably is a place worth visiting.

As for me, I have to forego my national park visits for a few more weeks. I'm heading out of the country tomorrow, and won't be around to take part in the celebration. But at the end of May I'll be heading out to visit Yosemite, Sequoia and King's Canyon, and I'm looking forward to that experience. Until then, I'll just have to be patient and wait for my chance.

China - Beijing : Great Wall of China + Nanshan ski resort

Beijing - December 2014

Bf and I were very psyched with today's itinerary and were looking forward since day 1 we booked the tour package! The most highlight of the trip: Great Wall of China and Nanshan ski resort!

That day was the most fun and most frustrating day of the trip. 

Great Wall of China 万里长城

My first one of the eight wonders in the world! Let's get started with a little history of how it came about.

The Great Wall of China was built as early as 7th century BC (I don't even know that's how long ago) and further constructed in 220–206 BC by Qin Shihuang, the First Emperor of China who is very infamous about him burning all the books.

The Great Wall was built mainly to protect the Chinese empire from northern invaders and the total length was estimated around 8,850km. I came across one article mentioning one guy took around 9 months to complete.

Initally, I thought I was quite well prepared - brought mask, sunglasses, gloves and three layers. I was wrong. I was freezing to death even in indoor. 

I was very furious when I heard there was only 45 minutes free and easy time for us to explore the Great Wall and report back to the restaurant for lunch. Come on, I spent so long bus journey from town to outskirt just to see this Great Wall and only going to give me less than an hour to explore and take pictures? This is damn ridiculous. 

Perhaps this doesn't earn him any commission. Two hours at silk factory -.-" We practically wasting our precious travelling time. I still remember very vividly that he was so thick skin that he asked one of my tour mate to help support the sales. Not one time but several times. I am not going to expose his nickname but it is a very small size of horse.

million dollars view

During the olden days, they did not have any construction machinery. They built it using their bare hands with sweats and blood. People said that underneath the Great Wall hid countless of corpses who either died of over exhausted or lack of proper nutrition.

A must have "I am here" picture.

Anyway, December is a quiet season as the weather is too cold for people to go anywhere. Imagine this place packing with people during peak season.

My black face when we were rushing down to the restaurant. Of course, we were late. Obviously, 45 minutes was not enough at all.

See you again, Great Wall of China.

We had to say good bye to Great Wall and rushed off to our next destination - Nanshan ski resort where we expected to reach in an hour~ 

This is my closest chance to see and touch snow.

We reached there around 3pm and the mountains back view with gentle sun was exceptional beautiful as if like a painting.

It was quite slippery when I stepped on the hardened snow for the first time.

I was thinking if we need to hire an instructor as the time given us was only 2 hour. We ended up hiring an instructor as skiing can be very dangerous if you do not know how to brake or get up when you fall down. The female instructor was very passionate telling us what equipment to take, where to pay the fee and even offered to help me to take my ski board.

After a few attempts of learning how to move with ski board and to brake on a slightly descended ground level, the instructor led us to the higher hill. 

The conveyor belt for the beginners lol

Ski tow is for the more pro people. 

Bf went first because I was scared. 

The instructor first directed him to hold his ski pole horizontally to strike a balance then position both his legs facing inwards making a V shape as braking mechanism so not to increase his speed while going down the hill. The technique is to bend his legs and lean backwards like sitting down - this is to prevent to fall with face down. Most importantly is to use the same strength on both legs so you will go straight instead of going in zigzag. If you wish to increase your speed, position your ski board parallel to each other. 

I have to admit that bf was doing better than me as I was not able to strike a balance strength on my legs. I have better strength control on my left legs which is damn weird as right leg should be my power leg. If you see the above picture, my V shape was not very nicely positioned. The tip of my ski board kept overlapped each other.

We were totally exhausted after a few attempts of going downhills. We have to control legs strength while skiing downhills and use arm strength on ski pole to push ourselves forwards on a flat ground.

It was near 5.30pm where they were about to close, the female instructor kept rushing us to return their equipment. She kept pushing us to walk faster but obviously we could not as it was very slippery to walk on the snow and the ski board was heavy. She could not take our slowness and decided to help me with the ski board. Her attitude changed totally before and after..

Course fee: ~SGD 50 for 2 hours.

Himalaya Spring 2015: Puja Ceremonies and a Collapse in the Icefall

There as been another setback on Everest that is keeping the climbers in Base Camp today, despite the need to start their acclimatization rotations soon. Earlier in the week it was bad weather that prevented them from getting on the move, but now it is a collapse in the Khumbu Icefall that has delayed the start of the first rotations up the mountain.

Alan Arnette reports that more than 80 Sherpas were in the Icefall this morning as they continued their work to shuttle gear up to Camps 1 and 2. But the collapse of the ice along the route caused all of them to turn back. Apparently there was a traverse over a large crevasse that required four ladders to complete, and the entire thing came crumbling down. The Khumbu Ice Doctors will now have to search for an alternate route through the dangerous Icefall. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the collapse.

This is not uncommon, and is large part of why crossing through the Icefall is so dangerous. This portion of the mountain is incredibly unsteady, and the Ice Docs work all season long to keep the route safe and open. This sounds like it was a major collapse however, so it could take a day or two for them to find a new path. You may recall that this route was described as safer and shorter than the ones used in the past, and hopefully that won't change following this incident.

Alan also says that his team had its Puja ceremony a few days back. The Puja is an important step for any climbing expedition, as no one can start up the mountain until it is finished. During the Puja, a Buddhist monk brings the climbers and Sherpas together to ask permission from the mountain gods to safely pass up Everest, or what ever other mountain they are climbing. Traditionally, the monk will also bless their gear and ask the gods to keep the climbers safe. While it is taken very seriously by everyone, it is also a time to celebrate and have too.

With the Puja over, the teams are then ready to start the climb, but the unusually heavy snowfall continued on Everest over the past couple of days, preventing anyone from going higher than Base Camp. None of the commercial teams have passed through the Icefall as of yet, and no one other than the Sherpas have been up to Camp 1 or 2. Hopefully that will change shortly, as it is now time to begin acclimatizing for sure. In fact, some of the squads have actually gone off to other mountains to begin their acclimatization process. For instance, American climber Jim Davidson has moved over to Lobuche East where he'll go as high as 6118 meters (20,075 ft) on the summit. He hopes to wrap up that climb today, and head back to Everest BC.

Over on Annapurna, the teams continue to play the waiting game. The weather has remained bad there too, not allowing teams to make their summit pushes. Heavy snows have blanketed the upper slopes of the mountain in powder, making it extremely unsafe. Avalanches are common on Annapurna even in the best of conditions, but with so much snow falling on the mountain, breaking trail is incredibly difficult, and the risks of avalanche too high. For now, everyone must bide their time, and wait for things to improve.

ExWeb has posted a round-up of news from other 8000 meter peaks, and much of the news is the same. Poor weather continues across the Himalaya, including on Manaslu where Simone Moro and Tamara Lunger had hoped to make a spring attempt after their winter climb was thwarted. According to reports, the duo returned to the mountain in early April only to discover that more snow had fallen in their absence and they couldn't even locate their cached gear under all of the powder. They elected to pull the plug on the expedition altogether, and have now returned home.

The same story is being reported on Shishapangma, Cho Oyu, and Dhaulagiri, where ExWeb says a team of trekkers ran into serious trouble a few days back. Heavy snows caught the unprepared team off guard, and they were forced to take shelter in Base Camp where a climbing team offered them assistance. Apparently, whiteout conditions continue there now, making it very difficult for anyone to go anywhere.

Finally, tomorrow marks the one year anniversary since the massive avalanche claimed the lives of 16 porters on Everest. I'm sure it will be a solemn occasion on the mountain as the Sherpas and western climbers all think about that day. Many of the people on the mountain this spring were there last year too, so I expect there will be some memorial services and ceremonies held. I have no doubt that those who lost their lives will be on the minds of the climbers the next few days.

Video: A Journey into Adventure

This fantastic short film is a billed as "A visual poem about the beating heart of adventure that resides within us all." After watching it, I'd say that is an apt description, as it is filled with beautiful images of men and women pursuing their outdoor passions, while a narrator shares his philosophy and approach to adventure. I think many of you who read this blog will find those words to be very inspirational, and will more than likely strike a chord. For us, going to the mountains isn't an escape, it is a place for us to be. Truly wonderful work on this video.

ARRI Journey - Directed by Casey Warren & Danielle Krieger from Casey Warren | MINDCASTLE on Vimeo.

Video: Underwater Explorers Encounter Rare Sperm Whale

While operating a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, a team of underwater explorers had an unexpected encounter with a sperm whale. The
magnificent creature circled the ROV several times before moving on, while cameras aboard the unmanned craft recorded the experience. The video below shares that footage, along with the very excited voices of the team that witnessed the encounter. To say they were thrilled would be an understatement. Amazing stuff to say the least.

Adventure Tech: Recon Jet Heads-Up Display For Outdoor Athletes

Here's a product I've had my eye on for some time, and it is now finally coming to market. Recon Instruments, a company that makes heads-up displays (HUD) for skiing and snowboarding googles,  has announced that their latest product – the Recon Jet – is now available. This wearable computer was built specifically with outdoor athletes in mind, and is designed to provide them with all kinds of information while they run, paddle, and ride.

The Jet is a lightweight set of sunglasses that includes a small HUD that sits at the lower right corner of the eye. The device pairs via Bluetooth with your smartphone to provide a data connection that can track performance, offers access to social sharing, and can capture both photos and video. The Jet also includes onboard GPS capabilities to track distance, speed, duration of workout, elevation gain and loss, and more. It'll even connect with other devices, such as a heart rate monitor, via ANT+ to display information as well. It will even display text messages and caller ID on it's small, but high resolution screen.

Recon has been developing the Jet since 2008, and a lot has changed in the technology world since then. But the designers have been forward thinking in their plans, and have created an SDK that will allow developers to create their own apps for the device. Additionally, the data collected and saved can be easily uploaded to other apps such as Strava and MyMapFitness. The company has even built its own Recon Engage web platform, and apps for iOS and Android as well.

Dust and water resistant, the Jet has been built to withstand daily use by outdoor athletes. It includes 8GB of storage onboard, and 1Ghz dual-core ARM Cortex-9 processor. In other words, it has plenty of power packed into its tiny frame. It's touch controls are reportedly operable in all kinds of weather, even if you're wearing gloves, and its integrated camera, speaker, and microphones will allow you to capture video, or answer phone calls, without having to reach for your phone.

Battery life is said to be about four hours of use, depending on what other devices are connected, and the entire package weighs in at about 85 grams (3 oz.) The Jet cannot be added to existing sunglasses, nor does Recon's frames support prescription lenses at this time.

Now for the bad news. Price? $699. That makes it cost prohibitive for most of us, even if it does offer some very cool functionality. As I mentioned above, I've been waiting for to learn more about this product for a long time, and it is great to see that it is finally here. But with such an exorbitant price tag, don't expect to see too many of these at your weekly running or cycling groups. It is also a bit reminiscent of Google Glass, a project that suffered from such a PR problem that it was sent back to the drawing board after those wearing it quickly became known as "glassholes."

The tech nerd in me would love to try these out, but since they don't support prescriptions, I'd only end up hurting myself. Still, the technology is promising if they can adapt it further, and bring the price. down. The video below will give you a further idea of how this works.

Ocean Rower Anne Quéméré to Challenge Northwest Passage Once Again

Ocean rower Anne Quéméré has announced that she is returning to the Arctic Ocean once again this summer in an attempt to complete the very difficult journey across the Northwest Passage by kayak. Last year, bad weather thwarted her efforts, but she has vowed to go back and finish what she started by covering the entire 3000 km (1864 miles) over a three month period. 

That 2014 expedition to the Passage proved to be an eye-opener for the veteran adventurer. She discovered that it was not as easy as she thought it would be to pass through the ice-choked waters found north of Canada. The weather was surprisingly bad all season long too, with high winds and heavy seas making it difficult to make any kind of progress. She also traveled solo on that journey, and unarmed. Two things that she'll rectify this time out. 

This year, Quéméré will have a companion joining her on the expedition. A Swiss scientist by the name of Raphael Domjan will accompany the her across the passage, and while she will be paddling her kayak, he will be following along in a second boat powered by a small electric motor that will match her pace. Domjan will spend his time in the Passage taking notes and environmental readings as he makes observations about the impact of climate change on the Arctic Ocean. 

Since the duo will be kayaking, they will stop and camp on shore most nights. That means they'll run the risk of encountering a polar bear, a creature that Quéméré had a few brushes with last year as well. This time out, they'll go armed with shotguns to scare the bears away. Massive and powerful, a hungry polar bear can be a real threat to a person in the arctic, and Anne and Raphael will not underestimate that threat in 2015. 

No stranger to oceanborn adventures, Quéméré has successfully crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a rowboat in the past, and even crossed the Pacific in a prototype boat using a kite for propulsion, spending 78 days at seas. She has also kayaked in the ice waters off Greenland, and has last year's experience in the Northwest Passage to her credit as well. 

The two will set out for Tuktoyaktuk in Canada in June, with the crossing starting shortly there after. 

North Pole 2015: Thomas Ulrich Begins Solo Ski Expedition to Canada

It has been a busy week at the North Pole, where the Bareno Ice Camp continues to serve as a temporary base for researchers, explorers, and adventurers. This year's camp has been open for a couple of weeks now, which means it is nearing the end of its lifespan, but it will continue to see steady arrivals, and departures, until the Arctic season ends before the end of the month.

Work has begun to repair the aircraft that had its landing gear damaged upon arrival to Barneo back when the camp first opened. As you can imagine, that isn't an easy task when you're located just one degree off the Pole. The plane has obviously been out of commission for most of the season, and as a result the support flights out of Longyearbyen in Norway have been forced to use just one aircraft this year. Two flight crews have been aboard those flights, and that plane has been flying almost non-stop to deliver people, fuel, and supplies to base. Add in nearly a week delay in flights due to weather, and the crews have been struggling to keep up.

One of the biggest pieces of news to come out of Barneo in the past couple of days is that polar guide Thomas Ulrich has reached 90ºN with his team of clients. They has skied the last degree to the North Pole after starting out at the Ice Camp last week. Those clients were plucked from the ice by a Russian helicopter, and flown back to the base, where they then made their way home. But they said goodbye to Ulrich at the top of the world, as he will now proceed to ski solo to Ellesmere Island on the Canadian side of the ice. This expedition will serve as a tune-up for his even bigger plans for 2016, when he hopes to traverse the entire arctic – via the North Pole – completely solo and on foot.

The teams participating in the 2015 Marmont Cup race set off yesterday. They're racing across the last degree to the North Pole, with 5 squads competing to become the first to reach that point. The all-women's team led by Bettina Aller ran into some trouble yesterday however when one of their stoves wouldn't work. A support team was dispatched to help them, and they are still on track to continue, but it was nearly a disaster for the squad before they really got underway. They are expected to arrive at 90ºN sometime late next week.

More last degree skiers continue to arrive at Barneo. Yesterday, three squads led by Borge Outland, Bengt Rotmo, and Dixe Dansercoer – each a polar legend – reached the Ice Camp. They'll be making their way north in the days ahead too. If you'd like to see what this type of expedition is like, take a look at these photos from a team of Norwegian teenagers who recently completed their journey across the final degree.

Finally, ExWeb has a report on Christian Redi, who has just completed a free dive in the Arctic Ocean. According to the story, the air temperature was -30ºC/-22ºF when he plunged through a  1.6 meter opening in the ice, where the water temperature was a balmy -2ºC/28ºF. But Christian said it was the most beautiful experience he has had on dive. The water is 2000 meters (6261 ft) deep at the point he dropped in, and even though everything was dark, it was also very clear. The free dive took place near the Barneo camp, where a crew had cut the opening for him. The experienced free diver told ExWeb that it was one of the most meaningful dives of his career.

That's all from up north. Still a busy time at Barneo, but only another week or two before it shuts down for the season once again.

Video: Earth Porn Vol. 3 - The Alberta Badlands

In this latest edition of the Earth Porn video series we travel to the Badlands of Alberta, Canada where we see landscapes that are starkly beautiful in their simple settings. Ariel footage takes us through a series of open flatlands and canyons, giving us a bird's eye view of the countryside, which is awe inspiring with its diversity and complexity. This short clip is mesmerizing in so many ways, and is a good reminder of just how amazing our planet truly is.

EARTH PORN // VOL 3 // BADLANDS (AERIAL ALBERTA) from Christiaan Welzel on Vimeo.

Video: Climbing a New Route in the Canadian Rockies with Raphael Slawinski

At the moment, mountaineer Raphael Slawinski is in Tibet preparing to attempt a new route up Mt. Everest. But in this video, we travel to the Ya Ha Tinda Range in the Canadian Rockies, where he put up a new route as well. The five-minute short film is a good introduction to Raphael, and his approach to climbing. It also has some spectacular shots of the scenery he passed through on his way to the top. This is a beautiful mountaineering film, with some good inspirational words from a man we'll be hearing a lot about this spring.

Raphael Slawinski - Surpassing - A film by AliasCinema. from ARC'TERYX on Vimeo.

Adventure Tech: Garmin Virb X and XE Action Camera Challenges GoPro

We all know that the GoPro cameras are the kings of the action cam category, but that doesn't mean there aren't worthy challengers to that crown. In fact, when I reviewed the Garmin Virb Elite camera a year ago, I found it to be an excellent alternative to the GoPro hegemony, offering up some excellent features that had yet to be implemented in Hero line. But a lot has changed in a year, and GoPro continues to refine and improve their cameras. Last fall, the company released its Hero 4 line, improving an already great product with some excellent new options. But Garmin hasn't been standing still either, and earlier this week they announced an outstanding new addition to the Virb line-up in the form of the X and XE models.

Major Carolina Rivers Expedition Set to Begin April 29

Explorer Julian Monroe Fisher's many travels have taken him to some of the most remote places on the planet where he has had the opportunity to observe indigenous cultures and map little-known landscapes. But with his next project he wants to show that you don't have to go to the ends of the Earth to be an explorer. In fact, you can find plenty of adventure and exploration right in your own backyard.

The Costa Presents Carolinas River - Education and Preservation Through Exploration project is scheduled to get underway later this month. It will consist of a series of ambitious expeditions that are meant to explore the waterways of the Carolinas while documenting the history and cultural heritage of the region. Over the next two years, Julian plans to explore 32 individual rivers in North and South Carolina, both overland and on the water. Through his travels, he hopes to also hopes to bring attention to the environmental threats that these rivers now face.

Over the course of his journey's, Julian will travel by kayak, canoe, and stand-up paddleboard, as well as on foot. When he isn't paddling one of the 32 rivers, he'll be hiking along North Carolina's Mountain to Sea Trail or South Carolina's Palmetto Trail. He'll be joined on these excursions by a documentary film crew from Blue Car Productions that will capture the settings, communities, and ecosystems that he encounters along the way.

One of the more crucial aspects of the project is the role education will play. Julian believes that through education, these threatened Carolina rivers can be saved. To that end, he is establishing ties with a number of schools to create a learning tool that can be used in classrooms. By engaging students in the Carolinas River project he hopes to get the next generation invested more fully in the environment, which in turn will help spread the word about the importance of protecting these waterways. Updates of the journey will be shared via social media as well, giving students an even deeper connection to what is happening.

The first stage of the Carolina Rivers project will launch on April 29 with a special media event at the Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, NC. By that point, Julian will have already started to paddle the French Broad River, considered the third oldest in the world, and will make a stopover to meet with press and the public.

This will be a major project to watch unfold over the next couple of years. Paddling 32 rivers over that period, while also hiking through the Carolinas backcountry, should be extremely interesting to follow.

You can learn much more at

Himalaya Spring 2015: Climbers Arriving in North Side Base Camp, Nat Geo Interviews Raphael Slawinski

The start of the 2015 climbing season continues to unfold as expected. Teams are continuing to arrive in Everest Base Camp on the South Side, where they are being greeted by unusually heavy snow that is delaying the start of their acclimatization rotations. Meanwhile, the first climbers are now en route to BC on the North Side as well, as some other notable mountaineers arrive in Kathmandu.

Will start with news from the North Side today. While climbers from the Nepali side of the mountain have been slowly making their way out to Base Camp over the past week or so, those heading north generally have to wait for the Chinese to open the border into Tibet. That has now happened, and the teams who will be climbing from that side of the mountain have begun to cross over and are now making their way to BC as well. Unlike on the South Side however, they can actually drive to the start of their climb, so they generally take a few days to get there by stopping the towns of Nyalam and Tingri for acclimatization purposes.

But North Side Base Camp is quickly becoming a hive of activity, as Sherpas from the major teams have arrived onsite and are quickly getting the camp prepared for the arrival of the climbers. According to reports, there will be roughly people attempting to summit from the Tibetan side this spring, with about 150 Sherpas joining them.

Among the notable expeditions hitting the North Side this spring is Kilian Jornet's attempt at a speed record from that side of the mountain. The Spanish ultra-runner has not left for the Himalaya yet however, although that doesn't seem unusual. We know that he'll be we acclimatized before he arrives in the Himalaya, and will most likely want a late summit attempt anyway so that he can avoid bottlenecks and traffic jams near the summit.

Also heading north is Raphael Slawinski, and his climbing partners David Goettler and Daniel Bartsch. They'll be attempting a new route along the Northeast Ridge this spring, and if successful it'll be the first new route opened on Everest in more than a decade. The trio will make the attempt in alpine style, without oxygen, fixed ropes, or Sherpa support. The team is on its way to BC now, but prior to their departure National Geographic conducted an interview with Slawinski about their expedition. In it, he shares thoughts on his motivation for this climb, details on the route itself, their projected schedule, and much more.

Young climber Matt Moniz is on his way to Kathmandu as I write this. He'll be attempting a double summit of Everest and Lhotse from the South Side, and the first full ski descent of Lhotse as well. He's climbing with Willie Benegas, and should arrive in Nepal tomorrow where he'll catch his breath briefly before heading out to Base Camp.

ExWeb is reporting that route fixing has begun on both side of the mountain with teams of Sherpas installing ropes that will eventually be used by the commercial climbing teams. According to reports, the rope fixing team on the South Side have passed through the Khumbu Icefall and have gone up all the way to Camp 2. That means that once the weather clears, the climbers can start their acclimatization rotations on schedule. That should happen in another day or two. Meanwhile, on the North Side, the ropes have been placed all the way to the North Col, setting the stage for the climbers on that side of the mountain too.

Finally, Alan Arnette has checked in from South Side EBC where he is told that the new route through the Icefall is safer and shorter than it has been in the past. He also says that there is a fast new Internet service in Base Camp that will help facilitate better communication, although it comes at a cost of $40 for 1GB of data.

Alan also says that helicopters are a common site in BC this year, despite the fact they were suppose to be banned. He counted 10 flights just in the time that he wrote his most recent blog post. In other words, the Nepali government continues to promise things, but not deliver. Hopefully some of their pledges will become reality.

That's all for now. More to come soon.

Video: A Photographic Adventure Through Norway

The Arctic north of Norway is the subject of this video, which was shot in February of this year. It does a wonderful job of bringing the landscapes and communities of that part of the world to life through stunning timelapse images. This is a place where winters are long, and harsh, but the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful too. The four minute video captures the spirit of the Norwegian north nicely, and will inspire you to want to visit there too.

ARCTIC NORWAY Photographic Adventure from Marty Melbos on Vimeo.

Video: Mile for Mile - Trail Running to Support Conservation in Patagonia

We all know that Patagonia is one of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet. It is also one that is becoming increasingly threatened. That's why the team at Conservacion Patagonica have been working hard to create a national park in southern Chile to protect this wild and rugged place. The video below is entitled Mile for Mile, and follows three trail runners – Krissy Moehl, Jeff Browning, and Luke Nelson – as they embark on a 106 mile (170.5 km) run across what will eventually be that national park. Along the way they get to experience Patagonia in all of its glory, and it viewers get the opportunity to understand what makes the place so special.

As the park nears completion, there are still about 50 miles (80 km) of trail that needs to be built. To help with that effort, the gear company Patagonia is matching all funds donated to the cause through the end of the year. They also sponsored the creation of this short film, which considering the ties that the company has with the region is completely understandable. Find out more about the film, and the effort to create the trails in the park, at the official Mile for Mile campaign website.

Gear Closet: Limefuel Rugged Portable Battery Pack

Keeping our electronic devices charged while we're on an expedition to a remote area can be real challenge. After all, we generally set out with a slew of gadgets with us these days, including smartphones, tablets, cameras, and other tech toys. All of those items are extremely useful when they work, but once their batteries go dead they are little more than dead weight.

With that in mind, a few months back I went looking for good solutions to help keep my iPhone and  iPad Mini running while I was climbing Kilimanjaro this past February. I discovered that there were a host of options to provide portable power, but not all of them met my requirements. I wanted something that was fairly lightweight and compact, but also rugged enough to withstand plenty of punishment too. I also wanted an option that would provide plenty of juice for my devices, as the trip was going to be 12+ days away from any kind of power outlet. I found everything I needed – and more – in the form of the Rugged battery pack from a company called Limefuel, which will no accompany me on just about every adventure that I embark upon.

I knew I had found the right product when I reached out to Limefuel to request a sample for testing and review, and they informed me that they would be happy to send one my way, provided I shared photos of me running over the Rugged in my car. The battery pack is so tough that it can survive being driven over, and still continue to operate with out the slightest hint of damage. That told me that this was the portable power source for me, and one that was meant for use on outdoor adventures.

The Rugged features two USB ports for charging multiple devices at once. Both of those ports are rated for a 2.4A output, which is a bit unusual in a product such as this one. There are other battery packs capable of charging two devices at once of course, but one of the ports is usually only capable of providing a single amp, making it underpowered and taking much longer to charge. That isn't the case here, as the Rugged will rapidly provide power to both ports, which can come in handy when you need to recharge two devices quickly.

Living up to its name, the Rugged battery pack is built to survive in the outdoors. It has a tough armored shell with a rubber finish that makes it easy to grip. It is also dust and shockproof, and water resistant with an IP66 rating. That means that it is capable of being immersed in water for a short time, and surviving. A well-placed lid snaps tightly over the USB ports as well, helping to protect them from the elements too. The result is a portable power source that is built to survive harsh conditions in some of the toughest environments imaginable.

One of the things I love about the Rugged is that it comes equipped with a 15,000 mAh battery. That is a lot of power to be carrying around in such a relatively small device. This gave me the ability to fully recharge my iPad Mini twice, and still have a bit of extra juice left over, which made some of the long nights in a tent on Kilimanjaro much more bearable as I didn't have to worry about using my device to read books, watch movies, listen to music, or play games. I knew that even if I ran the battery down, the Rugged would be available to help keep my tablet running.

Limefuel includes a cleverly designed, and very useful, charging cable with the Rugged. On one end is a standard USB plug which can be inserted into the ports of the battery pack when you're ready to charge. The other end has a micro-USB tip that can be removed to reveal a lightning port adapter for Apple products as well. Essentially, this is the only cable you need to take with you, as it allows you to charge any device you carry. As a frequent traveler, I appreciated this nice design choice, and it was great to not have to search for individual cables when I needed one.

Weighing in at 365 grams (12.8 oz), the Rugged is heavier than some of the options available from the competition. But I haven't found a battery pack that combines its durability, versatility, and power (15,000 mAh!) into one compact package. I have similar products that I have used when traveling in the past, and while some are lighter, they lack the larger battery, dual-USB ports, and the overall toughness of the Rugged. I'm sure minimalists will look for something smaller and lighter, but this is the complete package as far as I'm concerned.

The large-capacity battery does come with one drawback. It can take an incredibly long time to recharge the Rugged when it runs low on energy. Limefuel estimates that it could take anywhere from 9-15 hours when plugged into a power outlet, and I'd say that is accurate based on my testing. I powered up the battery packs overnight prior to departure on my trip, and actually used one on the long flights to Africa as well. I then topped it off again before leaving for the mountain, and had no problems from there. But you'll need to think a bit strategically about your charging situation, and take advantage of an outlet when you can.

If you're someone who needs a solution for keeping your tech gadgets powered while in remote areas, I can't possibly recommend the Limefuel Rugged highly enough. This is an excellent product that performs above my expectations. It is durable and powerful, without adding too much bulk to your pack. And with a price tag of $84.99, it is an affordable charging solution too. Limefuel also offers a model with a 10,400 mAh battery for $64.99 for those who want a slightly smaller, and less expensive, solution as well.

Either way, you can't go wrong. The Rugged battery back is going to be a constant travel companion for me from now on.

Cycling Through Cuba with Richard Bangs

We are living in a remarkable time. After more than 50 years of ice cold relations, the U.S. and Cuba are at long last thawing their relationship, and it is for the better. The trade embargo imposed on Cuba for decades has been a failed, outdated approach to foreign affairs for a very long time, but fortunately some semblance of sanity is returning, and the two nations are now on a path to normalizing – and formalizing – relations. 

It is in that environment that the travel industry has found a great deal of excitement this year. Cuba has long been off limits for American travelers, some of whom went to great lengths to go there anyway. But now, travel to the Caribbean country is a real option, and many are lining up to visit the place while it is still in its current, preserved state. 

Recently, my friend Richard Bangs led a group of travelers on a cycling journey through the island nation and shared his experience with readers at the Huffington Post. His journey took him through a series of historical sites, beautiful landscapes, and burgeoning urban settings. Cuba, it seems, is still caught in the past, but is joining the 21st century very rapidly. 

The island nation is tailor made for cycling it seems. Richard says that in the 1990's, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, bikes were the dominant form of transportation. Traffic has increased since then of course, but the roads are bike-friendly, and the terrain isn't particularly demanding. 

Richard's journey through Cuba is made all the more memorable as he is joined by his seven year old son Jasper. The young man rides a trail-a-bike behind his father for much of the trip, while having the rare opportunity to explore a country that is opening up to future possibilities for the first time in many decades. The father-son duo roll their bikes past farms, beautiful beaches, and buildings that were the height of luxury back in the 1950's. 

As someone who does a good deal of travel writing, I know that there is immense interest in visiting Cuba right now. Richard's article will give you taste of what it is like there, as the country goes through a transition period. Eventually, Cuba will begin to change, as economic forces from outside start to develop the country. For those who want to see it in its purest form, now is the time to go. While the future does indeed look much brighter for the Cuban people, much of its charm will eventually disappear, lost in the mists of the modern age.

Himalaya Spring 2015: Heavy Snows Hit Everest Delaying Acclimatization Rotations

We continue to have a steady stream of news and information coming from the Himalaya this spring, as regular updates are keeping us well informed of the happenings there thus far this season. At the moment, the teams continue to arrive in Base Camp on Everest, where they are being greeted by some unusually poor weather conditions that are delaying the start of the actual climbs.

According to a report from the Himalayan Times, about 900 people are now in EBC. That number represents 60% of the climbers and their support staff, so a large number of people are yet to arrive on the mountain. Most began trickling in this past weekend, although there are still some larger teams yet to reach the mountain. With so many climbers, porters, and support crew now onsite, Base Camp has transformed into a hive of activity, with the squads undertaking training exercises, making acclimatization hikes, and resting, while preparing for their first opportunity to go up to higher altitude.

Some of those efforts may be delayed now however, as two feet (60 cm) of snow has fallen on Base Camp since yesterday. That weather has blanketed the tents and ground in fresh powder, which will certainly have an impact on schedules for the next day or two. But perhaps more troubling is the fact that this unusual snowstorm continues a trend of bad weather in the Khumbu that has been plaguing the area all spring. Typically the conditions have started to improve by now, with clear skies settling in. That hasn't been the case so far however, and as a result, it has been anything but a typical year so far.

The poor weather continues to be blamed for the unusually high number of climbers and trekkers who have been contracting altitude sickness as well. I reported last week about this trend, and it seems to continue now. According to the Himalayan Times article, more than 205 patients have been treated thus far this season, and 17 have had to be evacuated back to Kathmandu for further attention. If the weather continues to be bad, we could see dangerous bouts with Acute Mountain Sickness when the climb actually gets underway.

The Times is also reporting that Min Bahadur Serchan is returning to Everest this season in an attempt to regain his record as the oldest person to climb the mountain. Now 84, Sherchan lost the title to a Japanese climber by the name of Yoichiro Miura, who reached the summit at the age of 80 back in 2013. He'll be headed to the Khumbu Valley soon to start his acclimatization.

Over on Annapurna, conditions remain the same. Heavy snow is falling on the mountain, and once again delaying the start of summit bids there. Earlier today, Alex Barber climbed up to Camp 1 on an acclimatization trek and gear run. He had hoped to climb up to C2, but visibility was almost non-existent, and it appeared that the weather was further deteriorating, so he elected to turn around and go back down to BC instead. On his climb, Alex reported that he witnessed a great deal of avalanche activity, which he hopes is not a sign of things to come. Annapurna is notorious for its dangerous avalanches, and with all of the snow that has been falling there lately, the chance of a major slide only increases.

That's the update for today. It is hurry up and wait in the Himalaya, where the weather is dictating the schedule as usual.

Video: Exploring Antelope Canyon in Arizona

Arizona's Antelope Canyon is one of those iconic places that you've probably seen before, but just didn't know it. It has been the subject of many beautiful photos, with the twisting corridors of the slot canyon helping to create some remarkable images to say the least. In this video we delve deep into that landscape, wandering the narrow passages of the canyon where light and shadow play off the sandstone walls in impressive fashion. It is a beautiful place that is awe inspiring for sure.

Antelope Canyon from Metron on Vimeo.

Video: Astronaut Takes a GoPro on a Spacewalk

Over the years we've seen the tiny and ubiquitous GoPro camera go just about everywhere. But in this video it takes us some place we have seldom seen in the past. Astronaut Terry Virts wore a GoPro camera when he went for a spacewalk, and as you can imagine the video he captured was pretty spectacular. Take a peek at what it is like to step outside the International Space Station, and go to work 250 miles above the Earth. I'm sure the view was exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time.

Freya Hoffmeister Approaches End of Kayak Journey Around South America

German paddler Freya Hoffmeister is approaching the end of her epic journey around South America in a kayak. According to her most recent updates, she is now less than 350 km (217 miles) from reaching the finish line in Buenos Aires, the city she set out from nearly four years ago.

According to her own estimates, it should take Freya about 18 more days to complete her expedition. That seems like a conservative estimate however, as she has been making good time recently, and is likely to finish ahead of that schedule. I'd expect her to press on to the end in a little more than two weeks, as she wraps up what has been one incredibly long and difficult journey. By the time she is done, she'll have circumnavigated the entire continent – including passing around the treacherous Cape Horn – by kayak, covering some 24,000 km (14,912 miles) in the process.

Freya is no stranger to long distance journeys by kayak. Previously she has paddled around Iceland and New Zealand, and even became the first woman to circumnavigate Australia as well. After completing that massive challenge back in 2009, she started looking for other places she could paddle as well. Somewhere along the way she came up with the idea of traveling completely around South America, and in August of 2011 she set off to do just that.

In her original estimate she expected it would take about 24 months to complete her expedition, beginning and ending in Buenos Aires. It has taken considerably longer than that however due to logistical challenges, taking some time off to go back home, and overcoming personal obstacles along the way. But now, the end is in sight, and Freya is poised to make history once again.

Normally I would have waited until she was a bit closer to the finish line to post an update on her progress, but at the end of the week I'll be leaving the country once again, and it is likely that Freya will finish her impressive journey while I am away. So, with that in mind, I'd encourage everyone to follow her progress at Her final journal entries should prove memorable, as will the dash to the end.

It is always interesting to see these long expeditions wrap up at long last. I've been following this one since Freya set out all those many months ago. I'm glad that she is closing in on the end at long last. I'm sure the sense of relief and accomplishment that she'll feel will be overwhelming.

Extreme Running News: North Pole Marathon Tests Runners, Sir Ran Completes Marathon des Sables

After a delayed start last week due to weather and a damaged aircraft at the Barneo Ice Camp, the 2015 North Pole Marathon finally took place over the weekend. This year there were 22 countries represented in the race with, with 45 total competitors, traveling to the top of the world to run in some of the most grueling conditions imaginable.

At the start of the race, temperatures hovered around -29ºC/-20ºF. Setting off across the pack ice, the runners knew they had quite a challenge in front of them, but not everyone knew exactly how difficult it would be. Apparently several athletes had to be treated for hypothermia after prolonged exposure to the cold, as the final competitors didn't reach the finish line until after they spent 15 hours running the route. That is an awfully long time to be out in those conditions.

The winner of the race was Petr Vabrousek of the Czech Republic. He finished in 4 hours, 22 minutes, 24 seconds, which is an impressive time all things considered. Second place went to Doug Wilson of Australia with a time of 5 hours, 1 minute, 38 seconds. Daniel Palko rounded out the podium with a time of 5 hours, 8 minutes, 56 seconds.

For the ladies it was Heather Hawkins of Australia taking the top honors with a time of 6 hours, 57 minutes, 39 seconds. She was followed by Alice Burch of the U.K. at 7 hours, 4 minutes, 42 seconds, and Jennifer Cheung of China/Hong Kong, who finished with a time of 7 hours, 6 minutes, 6 seconds.

According to race officials, the competitors were all rounded up and flown back Longyearbyen in Norway yesterday. The race is over for another year, and the competitors are now making their way back home.

Meanwhile, in the Sahara Desert another group of runners faced completely different conditions while competing in the Marathon des Sables over the weekend. The 256 km (159 mile), 6-day ultramarathon wrapped up on Saturday with runners struggling with temperatures that soared up to 48.8ºC/120ºF. Amongst them was Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who struggled to reach the finish line in an event that he called "more hellish than hell."

The 71-year old, who has been called the "World's Greatest Living Explorer," suffered alarming heart palpitations last Thursday when he completed the most grueling leg of the race. For a time, it looked like he would have to pull out altogether, but he managed to rally through his pain and complete the race. Fiennes, who has had two heart attacks in the past, as well as double bypass surgery, spent 30 hours out on the course at one point, as he covered a 90 km (56 mile) stage on just one hour of sleep.

The famed British explorer wasn't the only one making headlines at the Marathon des Sables. Fellow countryman Davey Heeley became the first blindman to complete the race as well. The 57-year old father of three is an incredibly fit runner who competes in marathons regularly, but had never done anything like the MdS before. He reached the finish line on Saturday as well, completing the final stage of the race in Morocco with the other competitors.

Some pretty inspiring stories of runners pushing themselves to the limits in extreme conditions. I'll think about these athletes when I go out for my run today in more modest temperatures.

Himalaya Spring 2015: Teams Arriving in Everest Base Camp, Summit Bids Delayed on Annapurna

The spring climbing season in the Himalaya is about to get a whole lot more interesting. As expected, teams began arriving in Everest Base Camp over the weekend, and while they'll take a day or two to get settled, it won't be long before they start heading up the mountain itself, or visiting nearby peaks to launch acclimatization and training rotations on other mountains. For some, the skills training has already begun, with a number of units entering the Khumbu Icefall to work on their rope skills. Others are just now arriving, but will begin the real work soon.

Amongst those expected to arrive in EBC today are Alan Arnette. He checked in from Gorak Shep – the last stop before reaching the mountain – yesterday, and shared plenty of interesting news from the Khumbu. For instance, Alan has learned that there are roughly 319 individual climbers who have received permits to climb Everest this year. With a few more teams yet to check in, that puts the numbers on par with last year. That means that the tragedy from last season, and the ensuing shutdown of climbing operations, hasn't dissuaded anyone from coming to the mountain. Of those, 109 have returned from last year, with the Nepali government honoring their permits from 2014. Also, Alan says that there are an additional 96 climbers on Lhotse as well.

Perhaps more of interest is the changing dynamic of the teams on the mountain. Traditionally, squads led by western guide services bring about 8-12 clients to Everest, but there are now Nepali owned companies who have as many as 60 people in their groups. This is, of course, an economics of scale move, allowing them to bring the price of the climb down through larger numbers. One has to wonder however if they are sacrificing safety in the process.

Even more dismaying is that Alan reports that he has yet to see any evidence of the changes that the Nepali government promised in the wake of the two disasters last year – the avalanche on Everest that claimed the lives of 16 porters, and the massive blizzard that killed 45+ trekkers last fall. After those two incidences the government promised better weather forecasting, improved communications, GPS tracking systems, and an increased presence of medical and liaison offers with the teams. In Alan's own words, these improvements have yet to materialize, making me wonder if they are just more empty promises meant to assuage the fears of potential visitors and the media that covers these events.

Alan also reports that the Khumbu Valley seems to be changing as well. He says that the staff in the teahouses don't seem as cordial as they have been in the past, and prices for food, drinks, and lodging have gone up significantly. He also says that the teahouses are more full than ever, making the common rooms far busier and more noisy in the past. That's good for business in the region of course, but it also is changing the experience of trekking to EBC too.

All of that said, once the climbing teams reach Base Camp, they'll start to focus more on the business of climbing. Soon, these reports will turn more towards status updates as they work their way up the mountain, focus on getting acclimatized, and eventually launch summit bids. That is still several weeks off however, and for now it's all about getting settled into what will be their home for the next month or so.

Meanwhile, over on Annapurna, the summit bids that were expected to begin over the weekend have been cancelled. On Friday, the weather forecasts looked very promising for the days ahead, but that changed dramatically over the weekend. Now, large storms are moving into the area, and are expected to bring as much as 5 feet (1.5 meters) of snow along with them. That will prevent anyone from going anywhere near the top, and could increase the danger of avalanches in the days ahead. So, for now, Carlos Soria, Chris Jensen Burke, and others sit in BC and wait for that ever elusive opportunity to go up.

That is all for today. I'll report more as the news warrants it. For now, most of the teams are still getting settled in Everest Base Camp, but expect the first forays through the Icefall – along the new route new less – to begin in just a few days time. Things will start to get much busier now, and the real climbing is about to begin.

Video: Stunning Views of Earth From the International Space Station

The International Space Station whizzes by 258 miles (416 km) above us, giving the lucky crew onboard unprecedented views of our planet. Some of those views are captured in this fascinating video, which shares what it is like to view the Earth from orbit. As you can imagine, it is quite a sight, and this "Blue Marble" continues to be a source of beauty and life for us all. This is a great way to end the week. I hope you enjoy these three minutes of shots from space.

Stunning Views of Earth From Space from The New York Times - Video on Vimeo.