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November/December 2000
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In the magazine
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Excerpts From the Print Edition
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*Catherine Chabaud
Francophones can get the latest news and photos from the Catherine Chabaud experience—plus overviews of her team and her boat.

*Photos: Sailing the "Liquid Himalaya"
A National Geographic photographer hitches a harrowing ride through the Southern Ocean during the Whitbread Round the World Race.

*Vendée Globe
Get the official line in Frenchified English.

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*Atlantic Ocean Map

*Pacific Ocean Map

Alone Against the Sea
By Jon Bowermaster

Twenty-four sailors, twenty-four boats, and one shared hope on the raging seas: to be the first to finish the grueling Vendée Globe round-the-world race. Here, a look at one of the 2000–01 race's female competitors.

Catherine Chabaud of France, who finished the 1996-97 race in 140 days, was the first woman to complete an unassisted, solo, nonstop circumnavigation race. Since then, she's become a star in the French sailing community, written two books about her Vendée experiences, and commissioned construction of her new boat, Whirlpool.

I talked to Chabaud this summer, a few hours after she and her technical guru completed an 11-day sea trial from Newport [Rhode Island] to Lorient, France. Chabaud planned to spend the rest of the summer working with her teammates on ways to make her boat safer and more manageable. "It's very fast and powerful right now," she said. "I'm worried that it will be very dangerous in the Southern Ocean."

I wondered what motivated her to try the most brutal of all adventures a second time. She explained that the last time, she was happy to have finished. This time, she wants to be more competitive and use a swifter boat.

"When I arrived after 140 days last time, I said never again," she told me. "Never again alone, never again in the south. The Vendée Globe is an experience of extremes, and it tests your emotions as well as your skills. But one or two months after I returned, I began to forget the hardest part of the race and remember only the pleasures—the sunsets, the seabirds. And the competitor in me was a little disappointed. I decided I wanted to go back to the Southern Ocean and to go faster. I'm happy to go back, even if I am a bit scared of it. I don't know if I'm brave or a little bit crazy.

"It's breathtaking, very exciting," Chabaud continued. "After you capsize, every second you're asking yourself, What's going to break next? What's going to go wrong now? It's very hard for the head. You see only water for 140 days. You feel like you're in a prison; you can't leave your world. You're a little, little speck on that boat, and the sea can do whatever it wants with you."

In the last race, she was knocked down numerous times as she sailed across the Southern Ocean. At one point, she was on deck trying to take down the mainsail in hurricane-force winds in the same area where Thierry Dubois's boat turtled, Tony Bullimore's vessel lost its keel, and [Rafael] Dinelli's sloop sank. "I heard the noise of the wave behind me, a very big one," said Chabaud. "I looked around, and as soon as I saw it I knew it was going to knock the boat upside down. I just had time to think perhaps it would be the end for me."

Wrapping her arms around the mast, she rode the boat as it flipped over into the cold sea. Seconds later, the boat popped back upright. "It's a strange experience," she told me, "because you go there for those 60-foot [18-meter] waves—for the spectacle, the feeling. At the same time, you have never before been so impressed by [the power of] nature."

After experiencing the full spectrum of the race, including the loss of her friend Gerry Roufs, Chabaud is more circumspect this time about her own chances of surviving the Vendée Globe. "I don't know how I will feel on the fifth of November [the start of the race]. I hope I will feel as confident as I did four years ago. But with all the friends we have lost during the past few years, I will probably also think that this time it could be me. I mean, why not me?"

Get the full story of "the ultimate in human endurance" in the November/December ADVENTURE. (Subscribe today.)

ADVENTURE Online Extra
Q&A: Catherine Chabaud, Vendée Globe Competitor


related web sites

*Bhutan Maps and Facts @
Get the bare facts—and maps.

*Druk Air
Bhutan's sole national airline has regular flights from Bangkok and New Delhi into the town of Paro.

*Excellent Adventures
The top authority on Bhutan's white water.

*Geographic Expeditions: Bhutan
Experienced guides lead expensive treks, up to 30 a year in Bhutan (not affiliated with the National Geographic Society).

*Q&A: Reinhold Messner—Climbing Legend, Yeti Hunter
Go away or you're a dead man, said the monster to the master of Everest. Messner didn't stay gone for long. Now, after a 12-year quest, he reveals his secrets behind the abominable snowman.

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*Leki Hiking Staff With Camera Mount

*NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Magazine, September 1961 (Featuring "Bhutan: Mountain Kingdom Between Tibet and India")

Blazing the Trail to Shangri-la
By Jeff Greenwald

Welcome to Bhutan, the land of "Gross National Happiness," where blue jeans and plastic bags are banned and sacred peaks are not for sale. Here, en route to Gangkar Punsum, the world's tallest unclimbed mountain, our correspondent encountered oddities unknown to the tour-group trekker.

[Photographer] Matthieu [Paley] rests fitfully. He's listening for a dreaded sound: the low, keening whistle that signals the approach of the migoi, Bhutan's breed of Abominable Snowman. He's obsessed with the monster, convinced it will come for him in the night. Here, at base camp, we're utterly vulnerable. Matthieu is afraid, very afraid.

* * * *

He has reason to be. To begin with, we're the freshest meat around. But the real source of his terror is an experience he had a week ago when, driving toward central Bhutan, we'd spent a night in Tongsa.

Tongsa lies seven hours east by car from Thimphu. Aside from its textile-and-tuna bazaar, the main attraction is a magnificent dzong. Dzongs are found in many of Bhutan's historic cities—they're both monasteries and administrative centers, demonstrating the close link between religion and politics in this Buddhist monarchy—but Tongsa's may be the most impressive in the country. It's a sprawling white fortress perched high above a seemingly infinite valley.

Foreigners are forbidden in most of Bhutan's dzongs, unless they have official permission. One morning, though—while Kesang [our official Tourism Authority liaison] was still sleeping and before the guards took their posts—Matthieu passed the site while taking photographs in the old city. He spied an open doorway and stood paralyzed, unsure whether to proceed. Suddenly, he heard a whistle. A monk loomed in an upper-story window, beckoning him inside.

Following the drone of chanting, he made his way through the door to the monastery. After crossing a small courtyard—there was no one in sight—he climbed a narrow stairway. Now he was at the entrance of the main lhakhang (chapel), surrounded by the unearthly din. At that moment, he looked up—and saw, hanging in the shadows, three flayed skins. Each had black hair, dangling limbs, and long, splayed fingers. He tried to photograph them, but his hands shook violently. He fled from the dzong, and appeared at breakfast with wild eyes.

The sight had unnerved him completely. It was possible these were human hides—that in itself was a nightmarish thought. More likely, though, they were the skins of migoi. He'd read, in a 1961 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, of one dzong that claimed to possess such hides. Could the creatures really exist? Matthieu was now certain that they did. He also believed that, somehow, stumbling upon the forbidden sight had cursed him—and that the migoi could smell his fear.

"Did you hear that?" Matthieu sits up with a start, breathless. It's 2 a.m.

I grunt no and fall back to sleep—snoring, so I've been told, with a low, keening whistle.

* * * *

Dawn is silent and clear. We dress quickly and begin walking while the snow is still firm. The scenery around us is otherworldly. I feel like a space traveler, crossing the polar caps of Mars. There's very little life. We see only a few quick birds, as well as some fragrant shrubs sheltered by gleaming white chunks of granite. Leathery, rust-colored lichen covers the rocks.

In dry conditions, the main Gangkar Punsum glacier is almost two hours away. We stay above the river, crossing avalanche scree and frozen marshes on numbing feet. By nine o'clock the crust has thinned, and every step is a gamble. We sink to our waists in the softening snow. Despite our resolve, the effort and altitude wind us. We can go no farther.

A short climb affords us a magnificent view of the three-pronged massif. The flank of Gangkar Punsum is shrouded in clouds. I shed my pack on a dry boulder, taking in the majesty of the scene. Knowing it's unclimbed gives Gangkar Punsum an aura of mystery—like the moon's, before the Apollo astronauts turned it into a used-car lot.

But even Gangkar Punsum may not remain unspoiled forever. Its primary threat is the Chinese, who might someday issue permits to climb the peak from their side of the border.

For my part, I agree with Bhutan's policy. There should remain at least one mountain of real height that stays forever unclimbed. If Gangkar Punsum goes, what will that leave us? Forbidden peaks are an endangered species—and below a certain altitude there's no real impact to the gesture.

For now, though, this whole valley demonstrates the strength of Bhutan's convictions. As we hike back to base camp, our experience seems an apt reflection of the kingdom's attitude toward the outside world. Gangkar Punsum let us get close—but not too close.

Get the full story of the otherworldly adventures of Jeff and Matthieu—and a guide to unlocking Bhutan—in the November/December issue. (Subscribe today.)

ADVENTURE Online Extra
Photo Gallery: On the Trail to Shangri-la


related web sites

*ADVENTURE's Guide to Go-Anywhere Skis and Snowboards
Forget choosing between powder and the piste—today's versatile snowboards and skis take you all over the mountain.

*Jackson Hole
Get the latest photos, snow reports, travel deals, and more from Jackson Hole Mountain resort.

*Rendezvous Ski Tours
One way to get off the beaten piste in the Jackson area.

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*Destination Map: Grand Teton National Park

*Destination Map: Yellowstone National Park

Resorts Unlimited
Head for the U.S. West to the epicenters of snow country's biggest trend, the multisport mountain resort. First stop: Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Kick stepping up the shoulder of 10,753-foot [3,278-meter] Cody Peak, James and I began to fall behind Dave Miller, our tan-faced and iron-legged Jackson Hole Mountain Resort guide. He was setting a reasonable pace for a man strolling across his backyard, which was, in fact, what Miller was doing. He's been a ski guide in the craggy northwestern corner of Wyoming since 1985, logging hundreds of days and millions of vertical feet a year. In all that time, he assured us, he's never lost a customer.

Still, I was nervous. As a climber, I knew how much harm could be done by even a short fall, and although the ascent of Cody is essentially a steep hike, the narrow, rocky path made it seem all too easy to misstep and go head over keister down the 45-degree slope to our right. Farther ahead, if we wandered too much to the left, we would punch through the cornice on No Shadows—the 40-degree slope we were going to ski—and then pinwheel 500 feet [152 meters] to the bottom of Cody Bowl.

But you don't go to Jackson to let a minor case of nerves spoil the fun. Not here, where the variety, wildness, and beauty of the surroundings inspire resortgoers to take on new snow-sports challenges on- and off-mountain. Looming immediately north of the resort are the Alps-like peaks of Grand Teton National Park. Farther to the north lies Yellowstone National Park, where you can cross-country ski past bison, elk, wolves, and the park's signature multihued geothermal pools and erupting geysers. Need even more elbow room? The Jackson Hole ski area is located on the western edge of the second largest national forest in the lower 48, Bridger-Teton, which contains four major mountain ranges (the highest peak is nearly 14,000 feet [4,267 meters]) and the headwaters of the Snake, Yellowstone, and Green Rivers. No matter what winter sport you pursue—from ski mountaineering to dogsledding—Jackson's got it.

—Michael Frank

Do it every which way this winter, using ADVENTURE's guides to Jackson Hole; Crested Butte, Colorado; and Park City, Utah—only in the November/December issue. (Subscribe today.)



related web sites

*Angelle's Whiskey River Landing
The bar where Peter and Sarah two-stepped the light fantastic also provides boat tours and fancies itself "the gateway to the Atchafalaya Basin."

*Lafayette: The Heart of French Louisiana
Plan a basin vacation via "genuine cajun" Lafayette, site of the closest airport to Atchafalaya.

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*Video Set: Everglades—Secrets of the Swamp and Sonoran Desert—Violent Eden

The Otherglades
Paddling Louisiana's Ghostly Atchafalaya Basin
By Peter Heller

Paddle the hidden bayous, black-water channels, and lakes of Louisiana's gator country.

It's dusk in Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin, the largest river-basin swamp in North America, and Sarah Knopp is unnerved. The canoe has just hissed into a mat of floating hyacinth and stalled. Ahead, the black-water channel twists between dense stands of flooded cypress made spectral by the Spanish moss trailing from the trees' limbs. Over the crowns of the cypress, towers of blue-black cumulus portend a storm. It's time to camp, and there's not a scrap of dry ground anywhere. But Sarah isn't concerned with any of that—she's thinking about motherhood. All around us rises the baleful bleating of baby gators. They sound like plaintive toddlers. Finally there's a bass-boom reply: Mama.

Sarah twists around in the bow. "We're not camping here...right?"

I look around. I wish we could. It's almost dark, and it feels like rain. Now, at the end of the day, the whole basin seems to be waking up. The peepers and bullfrogs are making a racket. Graceful flocks of ibis skim over the forest, heading somewhere south for the night. Nutria and beaver V the water with quiet wakes. And a great white heron, white as a bride in a dim chapel, labors out of the lilies and flies slowly up the bayou. I think, as I set down the paddle and light a cigar to keep off the bugs, that this may be the most haunting place I've ever seen.

Thump. Splash. Something hits the boat and rolls away. I jump. "OK, let's keep moving." But Sarah is already paddling hard, fighting through the raft of flowers.

We have driven from Denver to take a five-day, hundred-mile [161-kilometer] canoe trip through a rarely visited American wilderness. Sarah is an impeccably urban coffee shop entrepreneur and buddy. Two hours into Kansas, she informed me that she'd never been camping or in a canoe. "I'm terrified of snakes, but I do love boats," she added.

What a place to start. The Atchafalaya Basin is home to black bears, red wolves, coyotes, feral dogs that the locals call coy-dogs, and copperhead and coral snakes—also cottonmouths, which have been known to climb up banks and drop into fishing boats. For good measure, there are also brown recluse and black widow spiders and fire ants.

The Atchafalaya is unlike any ecosystem in the world. The basin is a Rhode Island-size maze of bayous, lakes, and marshes. It's fed by the Atchafalaya River, which carries nearly a third of the Mississippi's volume. Some of the last stands of bald cypress and tupelo live here, trees that can thrive in near continual flood. The amount of wildlife in the Atchafalaya Basin is staggering: It supports 26,000 nesting pairs of herons, egrets, and ibises and the country's largest population of American woodcock. Fish yields have exceeded an unreal thousand pounds per acre [per 0.4 hectare]. We've come here to see this spectacle of diversity—and because the basin is in trouble.

Read Peter's whole critter- and character-filled Atchafalaya odyssey in the November/December ADVENTURE—plus a guide to taking on Atchafalaya for yourself. (Subscribe today.)


November/December 2000:  Story Previews | Gear Guide | Photo Gallery | Behind the Scenes | Ask the Expert | Q&A | Forum | Trips 2001
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