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September/October 2000
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The Four Corners of Oz: Fun Down Under in Australia
By Tom Clynes

He pole-vaulted across the continent, biting off one green corner at a time. He swam with sharks, rafted through the rain forest, and hiked a wild coast amid wallabies and water dragons. He Discovered Woop Woop and the Back of the Beyond. Now you can join Tom Clynes on his epic five-week odyssey into Australia's adventurous heart.

In my third attempt to fly into the sodden heart of the Kimberley, I arrive at the Fitzroy Crossing airstrip, which stretches out, deserted, under a bruised, green-black sky. At the north end of the runway, a yellow wind sock's tattered toe flaps in the gale. A Piper Navajo dips out of the clouds to the south and lands leaning into the wind at what looks like a near standstill. The plane pulls up next to the self-serve avgas pump, and pilot Paul Chappell jumps out. With his plane shuddering in the gusts, Paul gives me the latest word on cyclone Rosita, whose outer ring seems to have beaten me to Fitzroy. "The storm hit Eco Beach at Category Five and pretty well wiped it off the map," he says, grabbing the fuel nozzle. "I reckon we oughta load up quickly."

This is Australia. This is weather. This is, more to the point, Australian weather in a most Australian of places—the kind of place that Aussies call Bullamanka, or Woop Woop, or the Back of Beyond. This is where I've landed, three weeks into a five-week odyssey into Australia's adventurous heart. I'm pole-vaulting across this wide red continent, taking bites out of one wild green corner at a time. I've seen six-foot-tall [1.8-meter-tall] birds waddling through the rain forest, and I've played with sharks as if I were in a petting zoo. Spiders here snare birds, and fish shoot dragonflies with streams of spit. The things you step on can kill you.

They don't give a badger's ass about the Olympics out here, mate. You want spectator sports, you've got the cockroach races down at the pub.

Then again, I'm discovering that Australia isn't really a place for spectators.

See and, more to the point, do Australia with the September/October ADVENTURE—hiking with water dragons, diving with sharks, rafting a rain forest, and enduring an untamed outback. (Subscribe today.)

ADVENTURE Online Extra
Photo Gallery: Four Corners of Oz


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Mars: An Adventurer's Guide
By Laurence Gonzales

The discovery that there may be water on Mars gives us more reason than ever to go. And NASA's got plans for doing just that. It all begs the question: What are we waiting for?

We come in going full chat, perhaps 24,000 miles [38,623 kilometers] per hour, and dive right into the Martian atmosphere. "It's quite a ride, a fiery entry with stuff flying off of us," said Dan McCleese, the chief scientist for Mars at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. We were sitting in his office, which looks over the Angeles National Forest. "Then we dive all the way down, so low that we skim just above the summit of the Olympus Mons volcano, and slip right over that, with the atmosphere slowing us down the whole way." We're flying. Pulling up, we use our remaining speed to head back out into space, and we fire the engines to establish an elliptical orbit, all with minimal use of fuel. Then we switch to the landing craft for the short flight down to the surface.

I had come to JPL to find out what it will be like to take the expedition to end all expeditions, the first trip by humans to the surface of another planet, and to learn what's standing in the way of our making it. In the wake of the announcement this June that there may be liquid water on Mars, sending people to the red planet is a subject that everyone—from scientists to amateur space enthusiasts—seems to be talking about.

"What's it going to be like, trekking Mars?" I asked McCleese. McCleese's face lit up in a smile. A tall, athletic-looking family man with blondish brown hair, he sat forward, rubbing his hands together. Like knows like: Our mutual enthusiasm for Mars bound us as kindred spirits. "The moon is about as interesting as a billiard ball," he said. "Let's give Mars a chance to tell us what it has to tell us." As he told me of his hunger to be on Mars, I knew I'd struck a chord.

"First of all," McCleese said, "everything is huge on Mars. For example, when you stand in the middle of the floor of the Valles Marineris, which is Mars's Grand Canyon, you cannot see the walls. It's too far." Valles Marineris is up to 400 miles [644 kilometers] wide and nearly 6 miles [9.7 kilometers] deep; that's about 20 times as wide and 6 times as deep as the Grand Canyon. In photographs taken from space, it appears to cut across the belly of the planet like a ragged knife scar.

Then, for climbers there's a mountain—the mountain. "If you were hiking up the slopes of Olympus Mons, you wouldn't know it," he said. "It's too large, and the slope is too gradual." Gradual, yes, but the summit is 75,000 feet [22,860 meters] high, making it the tallest known mountain in our solar system. To climb it, we would first need to scale the 20,000-foot [6,096-meter] cliffs that ring much of the mountain's base.

"So," McCleese said, "it's impractical to think of getting around without some sort of camper, a mobile habitat, outfitted for survival on multiday journeys."

If Mars has water, it may be friendly to some form of life, but not to human life. If I were to step out of the shelter unprotected, I would gasp for breath once and probably never again—the atmosphere is 95 percent carbon dioxide. At night, the 40-below [Fahrenheit and Celsius] temperatures would freeze me rock solid. Our space suits would protect us from these harsh conditions, but with the camper, which would be pressurized and climate controlled, we could cover extended distances in a shirtsleeve environment.

Closing his eyes and imagining the trip, McCleese said, "It's red, it's rocky, and there are hills in the distance." Our course is slow and erratic over rough terrain. We cross a paradoxical landscape; Mars, despite having a blazing red sun, is as cold as the Arctic. We advance, perhaps for days, through enormous fields of stones cut sharply in shadow—facets and angles that recede to the horizon, exhausting the eye. Rocks litter the surface of Mars everywhere except at the poles. It is a bone-jarring ride as the vehicle lurches on its metal wheels, which make a grinding, popping sound. We notice that the rocks around us have all been pushed about in a distinctive pattern, apparently by flash floods.

Passing out of that landscape, we enter a valley of huge boulders, some the size of houses. As we weave our way around them, the sky is generally pink, but varying weather conditions and dust cause it to change from a deep hue to almost white at times.

As we stop for an evening meal, the sunset is an amazing display of shifting pastel hues; ice clouds form as the night clamps shut around us. Now the stark blackness of mountain peaks contrasts with the baffling light of twin moons. The sky, much darker than Earth's, blazes with constellations we've never been able to see before. As we drift off to sleep, we watch the frozen fog float past the windows.

McCleese made it sound very real, and we had made it through only one leg of our trek. But I needed to know how real it was.

Find out just how real the prospect of life on Mars—human life—is and get a glimpse of what it might look like in the September/October issue. (Subscribe today.)

ADVENTURE Online Extra
Q&A: Mars Society Founder Robert Zubrin


Writer Gretel Ehrlich

Photograph by Chris Anderson/Aurora

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Greenland's Endless Hunt
By Gretel Ehrlich

In April, the Inuit harness dogs to sleds and begin the spring hunt for seal, walruses, and polar bear. Failure could mean starvation, but success carries a price as well—as the author makes plain in this episode from a hunting expedition she took part in with friends Jens and Ilaitsuk Danielsen and their five-year-old grandson Merseqaq, Mikile Kristiansen, and photographer Chris Anderson.

We head north again, crossing back over a large piece of frozen ocean. Rabbit tracks crisscross in front of us, but we see no animals. The edge of the storm frays, letting light flood through. Snow, ice, and air glisten. Ilaitsuk and I tip our faces up to the sun. Its warmth is a blessing, and for a few moments, we close our eyes and doze.

There's a yell. Ilaitsuk scrambles to her knees and looks around. It is Mikile far ahead of us. He's up on his knees on his fast-moving sled: "Nanoq! Nanoq!" he yells, pointing, and then we see: A polar bear is trotting across the head of a wide fjord.

Jens's dogs take off in that direction. Mikile has already cut two of his dogs loose, and they chase the bear. He releases two more. "Pequoq, pequoq," Jens yells, urging his dogs to go faster. It is then that we see that there is a cub, struggling in deep snow to keep up. The mother stops, wheels around, and runs back. Mikile's loose dogs catch up and hold the bear at bay. Because she has a young one, she will not be killed; an abandoned cub would never survive.

Now we are between the cub and the she-bear. Repeatedly, she stops, stands, and whirls around to go back to her cub. The dogs close in: She paws, snarls, and runs again. Then something goes terribly wrong: One of the dogs spies the cub. Before we can get there, the dog is on the cub and goes for his jugular. We rush to the young bear's rescue, but the distances are so great and the going is so slow that by the time we make it, the dog is shaking the cub by his neck and has been joined by other dogs. Mikile and Jens leap off their sleds and beat the dogs away with their whip handles, but it is too late. The cub is badly hurt.

We stay with the cub while Mikile catches up with the mother. The cub is alive but weak. A large flap of skin and flesh hangs down. Even though he's dazed and unsteady, he's still feisty. He snarls and paws at us as we approach. Jens throws a soft loop around his leg and pulls him behind the sled to keep him out of the fray; then we let him rest. Maybe he will recover enough for us to send him back to his mother.

Far ahead, the mother bear starts to get away, but the loose dogs catch up and slow her progress. Near the far side of the fjord, the bear darts west, taking refuge behind a broken, stranded iceberg. Mikile cuts more dogs loose when the first ones begin to tire. The bear stands in her icy enclosure, coming out to charge the dogs as they approach. She doesn't look for her cub; she is fighting for her own life.

Get the whole nail-biting, bittersweet story and a guide to Arctic adventure in the September/October issue.
(Subscribe today.)

ADVENTURE Online Extra
Author Gretel Ehrlich Reveals the Story Behind the Story



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The Eastern Edge: A Climbing Nirvana Hides in Plain Sight—Acadia National Park
By Mark Synnott

Check out the most overlooked climbing destination in the eastern U.S.—Acadia National Park. Yeah, that Acadia.

This is certainly unusual, I thought as I peered between my trembling legs at the seawater thundering against the base of the cavern a hundred feet [31 meters] below. I realized with alarm that I'd climbed into such an off-balance position (neither handhold was bigger than an Oreo cookie, and my legs were splayed in a semi-split) that I simply could not clip my rope to the next bolt—even though it was right in front of my face. To make the connection, I'd have to let go with one hand, balance on my toes, and reach through my legs to the rope dangling from my harness.

As I reached toward the bolt, I looked down to see that Jeff Chapman, my belayer, had his own problems: A five-foot [1.5-meter] wave was bearing down on his tiny ledge at the base of the wall, and there was nowhere to hide. Just as the water hit him, I missed the bolt and began to fall.

An instant later, I was hanging on the end of the rope, thankfully unscathed. But Jeff, who had somehow managed to hold on, was now soaked to the bone with frigid seawater. As I watched Jeff from above, I felt a little guilty. I had, after all, sort of promised him that this wouldn't happen.

At least I'd made good on my other vows to Jeff and two other friends, Tom Burt and Jason Seaver, who'd joined me on this two-day, off-season climbing tour of Maine's Acadia National Park. To wit, that the rock would be uncrowded, that the climbing would be extraordinary, and that the entire trip would be thrilling.

And, yes, I am talking about that Acadia, Maine's 46,000-acre [18,615-hectare] national park, located on Mount Desert Island. The park normally is touted for its astounding ocean views, its 165 miles [266 kilometers] of hiking trails and bike-friendly carriage roads, and its proximity to dramatic islands that draw droves of sea kayakers and sailors alike. Of course, there's a downside: Acadia is one of the nation's most crowded national parks. Each year, nearly three million visitors jam the place like shoppers scrounging for after-Christmas specials at Wal-Mart. But really, Acadia's mobbed only in summer; we were visiting the park well after the throngs had departed and the place had started to feel wild again. As a bonus, in the fall, the hardwood forests of yellow birch, maple, oak, and beech are alive with color.

As for the climbing, Acadia offers the best sea-cliff cragging in the country. The park features a full complement of extraordinary expert routes—and it is quite simply nirvana for intermediates.

Why, then, isn't Acadia a bright light in the eastern climbing cosmos? Simple: There's so much else to do in the park that rock climbing gets lost in the shuffle—and the local climbing community does its very best to keep this gem a secret.

Unlock underclimbed Acadia: Get Synnott's full story and an Adventure Guide to the park in the September/October issue.
(Subscribe today.)

ADVENTURE Online Extra
Ask Author Mark Synnott Your Climbing Questions
From the Field: Himalayan First Ascent


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