Five for Friday: Top Challengers of Geography!

For seven years, National Geographic has combed the globe to find Adventurers of the Year, each selected for his or her extraordinary achievements in exploration, conservation, and adventure sports. This year, in partnership with Glenfiddich, NG Adventure selected men and women who are pioneering innovation in the world of adventure–by reinventing distance hiking on the Appalachian Trail, launching a backyard microadventure movement, skiing the Andes under human power, and much more. (National Geographic Adventure)

1. Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner. K2 was the final summit remaining in Kaltenbrunner’s 14-year quest to become the first woman to climb all 14 8,000-meter peaks without supplemental oxygen or porters. In 2011, Kaltenbrunner returned to K2, this time to the mountain’s north side to avoid the Bottleneck, where 11 climbers died in 2008. At 6:18 p.m. local time on August 23, Kaltenbrunner reached the summit. “I have never had a view like that. There were no clouds, you could see to Nanga Parbat. I had the feeling that I was one with the universe. It’s still present in my heart,” says the 40-year-old Austrian.

2011-07-15_1157490.JPGThought question: Do you think climbing the world’s highest mountains without supplementary oxygen makes the accomplishment more “authentic?” Why or why not?

2. Alastair Humphreys. Humphreys devised a series of ten challenges in the form of four-minute video trip reports encouraging would-be adventurers to sign up for a race, to take advantage of the hours before and after work, or to pick a random point on a map and visit it. Word spread and people began sending in trip reports and homemade videos via Twitter. They came in from as far away as Japan–this year the idea traveled farther than the adventurer!
“My hope is that come December, I will have other microadventurers who have taken this journey with me from that first challenge all the way to our final challenge, which will end up being quite a worthy adventure,” says Humphreys, who plans on revealing his final challenge at the end of the year. “In life it doesn’t matter what you do, just that you get off your backside and do something.”

Thought Question: Did you try any of National Geographic Education’s Geography Awareness Week challenges this year? Did you learn anything new about the geography of your community in the process? If so, please tell us about it!

3. Jennifer Pharr Davis. For the last 40 years, men have held the Appalachian Trail record. In the last 20, it’s been confined to an elite club of ultra runners who typically covered the requisite 30 to 50 miles per day in an 11- to 13-hour period. Conventional wisdom suggested that breaking the record would mean running faster with the same strategy. And a new record holder would most certainly be male. Pharr Davis, 28, took the standard strategy and turned it upside down. Moving from north to south, she covered the trail’s 2,181 miles by hiking for 16 hours a day beginning at 4:45 in the morning and walking well into darkness.


By the time she reached the trail’s southern terminus at Springer
Mountain, Georgia, she had trimmed 26 hours off the previous record with
a time of 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes. “Exploration can be
twofold. It can be going to a new location or it can mean pushing
through a physical boundary,” says Pharr Davis. “We were exploring what
people thought was possible, for what was possible on the Appalachian
Trail, and what was possible for a woman and a hiker.”

Thought question: How might one’s perspective of the
geograpahy of the Appalachian Trail differ when traveling very quickly,
compared with moving at a slower pace? Is anything lost by racing so
quickly? What might be gained?

4. Danny MacAskill. No one has seen riding like this before.
MacAskill’s audacity, skill, and grace speaks to people, even those who
have never heard of the obscure sport of street trials, where bicyclists
use existing structures to create physical puzzles that are solved by
moving from obstacle to obstacle. A video of his riding has been viewed
27 million times. Since 2009, MacAskill has used his newfound fame and
financial support to log over 40,000 miles in an RV, traveling across
Scotland looking for the perfect trick in the ideal location. “I never
had the goal of being a professional rider,” says MacAskill. “I just
wanted to ride my bike.”

Thought question: Do the locations where Danny MacAskill rides
his bike seem odd to you? Why or why not? Does it make you think any
differently about the geography of these places, and about what activities are considered appropriate where?

5. Jon Turk & Erik Boomer. The journey around the world’s
tenth largest island (Ellesmere Island), which took Turk and Boomer 104
days to circumnavigate on skis, in kayaks, and on foot, was considered
by polar experts to be the last great unattempted polar expedition, so
daunting because of its remoteness and dangerous ice conditions. No one
had attempted it before this summer.

For Turk, who pioneered big-wall climbs on Baffin Island and
participated in five Siberian expeditions to study shamanic culture,
this was his “retirement party,” his last expedition. For the
26-year-old Boomer, who made a name for himself kayaking into the
world’s wildest white water, this was the first of what he hopes will be
many journeys to the Great North.

2011-11-05_99265_places.JPGThought question: What conditions would one have to account for when traveling in an extreme polar environment?

At National Geographic Education, we view each of these adventurers as
both a challenger and an educator of world geography, inspiring others
to seek out the mysteries and lessons of the earth. The adventurers
listed here are just five of the top ten candidates for the Adventurer
of the Year Award, so be sure to continue reading at
NationalGeographic.comOnline voting will be held until January 18th,
and interested readers can vote every day for their favorite adventurer!

Photo Credits: Zygmunt Korytkowski (Your Shot), Dianne Whelan (Your Shot), Sarah Kercheval (Your Shot)
–Julia from My Wonderful World

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