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From the Print Edition, May 2002
The World According to Kropp
By Brad Wetzler

He cycled 7,000 miles [11,265 kilometers] to Everest, summitted, then biked home. Now, once he knocks off the North Pole, he plans to sail from Sweden to Antarctica, drag a sled to the South Pole, then turn around and retrace his route. Meet Göran Kropp, a true lunatic for adventure.

If Göran Kropp were living a thousand years ago, his headwear of choice would be a Viking helmet, fashioned of wood and adorned with bull horns.

He might be prowling the coastline for things to plunder, or banging on the table with a frothy mug of mead. But Kropp has both feet planted firmly in the 21st century, in the thick wealds of southern Sweden. So instead, he’s wearing a baseball cap, gunning the gas on his 2000 Opel, and chattering away on his cell phone.

It’s 10 a.m. on a sparkling June morning, and Kropp is piloting the car north across the Øresund Bridge, a mammoth steel structure that connects the Danish city of Copenhagen to the southern tip of Sweden.

The sun is peeling back shaggy blankets of morning fog to reveal the calm, cobalt-blue water of the Baltic Sea. Inside the car, things are a little more chaotic. Instead of watching the road, Kropp is conducting business as if he were at his desk: schmoozing, scheming, joking.

He’s also fiddling with the stereo knobs, scarfing a melting chocolate bar, and, to my dismay, using his knees to steer, making occasional faces as if his expression alone could save us from careering over the guardrail.

At one point, he covers the phone’s mouthpiece and glances over at me. “You’ll notice I eat a lot of chocolate,” he says. “You need a belly to store extra power and energy when you’re out on an expedition.”

He grabs a fistful of midsection. “I see all these rock climbers trying to be as skinny as they can, and I think, If they should ever go to Everest, they will cry. But with this”—again, the belly—“with this you will not cry.”

The remark pleases him. “Ja-ha-ha!” he bellows. I laugh, too—after all, at six three [1.9 meters] and 220 pounds [82 kilograms], Kropp is capable of twisting my arm off at the socket and tossing it out the passenger window.

I reassure myself that he’s too gentle—and too caught up in his high-speed multitasking—for that. Since hitting the highway, Kropp has chatted up sponsors, both confirmed and potential, about his plans to make a second unaided attempt to ski from Russia to the North Pole.

He has blabbed with his auto mechanic, who, at the moment, is pounding the dents out of the silver Ferrari that Kropp recently smashed in an impromptu road race against an Audi.

He has talked with his mother and his father; with Paul, his faithful business partner; with various mountain biking buddies; and with his sailing coach.

It is a busy time to be Göran (pronounce it “you’re on”) Kropp. Kropp— “the Crazy Swede,” as he is often called—earned a place in the pantheon of great, driven adventurers six years ago with his 1996 Everest expedition, a masochistic yearlong odyssey in which he pedaled a bicycle loaded with 285 pounds [106 kilograms] of food and equipment some 7,000 miles [11,265 kilometers], from Stockholm to the Khumbu Region of northern Nepal; climbed 29,035 feet [8,850 meters] to the top of the world without the aid of porters, supplemental oxygen, or prefixed ropes; then biked home.

Thus primed with killer material and buoyed by the international attention that his quixotic journey garnered, Kropp quickly built a lucrative business, traveling the globe presenting manic slide shows and lectures at up to [U.S.] $3,500 a pop.

And Kropp, who’s 36, insists that Everest was just the appetizer.

Before he “retires” to take up race-car driving full-time, he says, he plans to complete what he calls the Triple Crown of Adventure: Having bagged Everest, he’ll now go for the North Pole and the South Pole—in singular Kropp style.

In 2000, his first attempt to ski 1,250 miles [2,012 kilometers] round-trip from the remote Russian island of Mys Arkticheskiy to the North Pole ended in a rescue after 30 days, with Kropp suffering severe frostbite to his fingers; he’s now planning his second try.

But that venture will be nothing compared with what he says will come next. Once he has successfully tackled the North Pole, he plans to sail solo from Sweden to McMurdo Sound, Antarctica; ski a thousand miles [1,609 kilometers] in -70°F [-57°C] temperatures to the South Pole; then turn around and ski and sail his way home.

Informed outsiders peg his chances at somewhere between zero and zilch—in part because he’s just now learning to sail.

Crazy Swede, indeed.

Get the full story in the May 2002 issue of Adventure.

Subscribe to Adventure today for only $12 (U.S. rate) and receive a free three-in-one tool!



Related Web Sites

Everest: Measure of a Mountain
Get dispatches and more from a recent expedition that gave us the truest measurement of Everest yet.

Gear Guide: Mountain Hardware
Our experts recommend breakthrough designs for your own alpine adventures.

Volvo Ocean Race
Our sailing simulator, virtual boat tour, maps, and more bring the science and strategy of this round-the-world race to life.

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Road Tripping the Red Planet
By William Speed Weed

China’s dry, dead Taklimakan Desert bears a hellish resemblance to the surface of Mars. It’s a great place to be when you get stood up.

The Wednesday morning air was thick with roasted lamb and heat, the clatter of donkey carts, and the gravel-voiced chatter of skull-capped Uygur men.

But in the cramped Internet shop off an ancient street in Kashgar, this missive from the modern world suddenly had all my attention: “Speed, Kim e-mailed me with a message to you and I managed to delete it from my file. I cannot recall whether she said she would or would not be able to meet you in Qiemo. Best of luck and sincerest apologies. —Kevin Rhodes, University of Hong Kong.”

Qiemo was 650 miles [1,046 kilometers] away across a desert from where I stood in Xinjiang, China. Earlier that morning, I had discovered that the jeep and driver I would need to get there would cost [U.S.] $2,000—five times what Kim Warren-Rhodes had told me to expect. And now her husband’s e-mail perfected the dilemma.

* * * *

Kim Warren-Rhodes is a NASA astrobiologist who researches places on Earth that have a geology and climate similar to those of Mars, which is very dry. So, in essence, my plan was to accompany her to the Red Planet.

But what to do now? The car-rental agent had insisted that the journey required a rugged jeep and an experienced driver. “From Minfeng on, it’s not really a road,” he had told me. “It’s just sand and gravel for 300 kilometers [186 miles]. You don’t want to get stuck out there.”

Then he had added, almost as a threat: “It’s the Taklimakan.”

Yes, the Taklimakan: the baking blank spot at the center of Asia, the most deadly stretch along the legendary Silk Road, the desert into which entire caravans disappeared without a trace. To locals, the name “Taklimakan” has come to mean “If you go in, you don’t come out.”

As far back as Roman times, the Silk Road brought silk, paper, and gunpowder from the East to the West, while it carried glass, gold, and asbestos the other direction. Eastbound travelers would wind through modern-day Iran, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan until they reached Kashgar.

It was in Kashgar, where I now sat sipping tea, that the most important choice of the journey was made: to head north toward Mongolia, a longer but safer trip, or to chance the southern route, connecting the dots from oasis to oasis.

Here, there was no margin for error: To the south, the Tibetan massif juts impenetrably out of the earth along the road, forcing you to stay in the desert. But stray too far north, and, well, you’ve gone in and you won’t come out.

I didn’t have a choice about which route to take. Qiemo is one of the oases on the southern route, two-thirds of the way across the Taklimakan. My choice was whether or not to risk five times my budget on a dangerous trip that had an even chance of not being worthwhile.

By sunset, I had decided against it.

* * * *

What changed my mind Thursday morning was a drastic drop in price and the channeled presence of a benevolent being. I was having breakfast at an American-run place called the Caravan Café with a young backpacking German named Rolf, who, after hearing the Dalai Lama preach in India, had seen the dharma light.

He was passing through Kashgar on his trek to a remote temple in Tibet. Greg, the café manager, heard my story, made a phone call, and told me he could rent me a vehicle—something called a Volkswagen Santana—and a driver for [U.S.] $500.

* * * *

I was so pleased with my good turn of fate, in fact, that I barely noticed, when Mayhmet Tursun pulled up, that the spartan little red sedan he was driving looked nothing like a jeep. Thinking back, I’m not even sure if it had four-wheel drive.

The first 340 miles [547 kilometers] were a breeze. I don’t speak any Uygur, the native language of the predominant indigenous Turkic people of Xinjiang, but Mayhmet Tursun and I did share a few words of English and Chinese.

* * * *

We spent the night in Hotan, China’s jade-mining capital, and lived it up Uygur style in a fluorescent-lit outdoor market where the pavement was wet with the blood of butchered animals.

We dined richly on spiced mutton kebabs and a sort of tortellini soup, a surprise find until I remembered that pasta probably originated here rather than in Italy.

We were in equally high spirits the next morning, until we took a wrong turn in Minfeng and had to ask for directions from an old Uygur man. Though I didn’t understand the words, I followed the drift of the conversation.

“Where is the road to Qiemo?” MT asked.

The old man was incredulous. “You’re going to Qiemo? In that? I wouldn’t try it.”

“Why not?”

For all I know, the man could have said any of a hundred different things, but what I understood him to say—at least from body language—was something like: “You’ll never make it. You’ll bust your car to pieces trying. If you go in in that, you won’t come out.”

Get the full story in the May 2002 issue of Adventure.

Subscribe to Adventure today for only $12 (U.S. rate) and receive a free three-in-one tool!



Related Web Sites

China facts, maps, and more
Get the basics online from the National Geographic Atlas of the World.

On the Trail of Genghis Khan
Get the story behind the legend: historical information, stories from Mongolia today, maps, photos, and more.

Photo Gallery: Faces of Rural China
Hitch a ramshackle ride through the far-flung province of Qinghai.

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Arizona’s Sky Islands
By Dave Howard

The Chiricahua Mountains—home to weird lizards, 350 bird species, and few visitors—are the desert’s lush islands in the sky.

I can pinpoint the precise moment that I realized I was no longer in the desert. I was woozy from the intense mid-June heat, and I’d dozed as my guides drove through a landscape of yucca, agaves, and prickly pear—“basically anything that can draw blood,” noted Philip Schroeder, one of the owners of Southern Arizona Adventures.

When the truck shuddered through a pothole 15 minutes later, I blinked at a dense forest of pine and aspen. I stepped out at a trailhead into air that felt … comfortable.

“It’ll be 105 degrees [41 degrees Celsius] in Tucson this afternoon,” said Bob Pilcher, Schroeder’s partner. “But up here it hardly ever tops 80 [27 degrees Celsius]; you’re gonna need all your fleece once the sun goes down.”

This is the sort of happy disorientation that occurs in the Chiricahua Mountains, a 440-square-mile [1,140-square-kilometer] Arizona range that rises abruptly from the desert floor to nearly 10,000 feet [3,048 meters]. The Chiricahuas are one of the Southwest’s Sky Islands, an aptly named group of about 40 ranges at the crossroads of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts.

The mountain archipelago is also a meeting place for the temperate Rockies and the subtropical Sierra Madres, and the ascent of a single peak takes visitors from a sea of arid flatlands to an environment more reminiscent of Banff. Here, and only here, thick-billed parrots and javelinas share a wilderness with bears and mountain lions.

* * * *

The Chiricahuas are impossibly convoluted, an ideal place for exploration—or for getting lost. Apaches hid here from Federal troops for decades in the late 1800s, emerging to fight, then retreating among the peaks.

* * * *

I pondered the range’s isolation that night as we sat grilling steaks around the campfire. Cochise, Geronimo’s comrade in arms, once said, “The Americans are everywhere, and we must live in bad places to shun them.”

Bad places? Perhaps he was just trying to discourage tourists. Across the Southwest, from Zion to the Grand Canyon to the base of these mountains, the deserts were just starting to release the agonizing heat of the day.

Up here, I pulled on my fleece hat and watched the mule deer pawing at the lush grass beyond our tents. If the cavalry ever comes after me, I thought, I know just where I’m headed.

Get the full story—and an Adventure Guide to the Sky Islands—in the May 2002 issue of Adventure.

Subscribe to Adventure today for only $12 (U.S. rate) and receive a free three-in-one tool!



Related Web Sites

Grand Canyon Online Travel Guide
In-depth information from National Geographic—including driving tours, photographs, links, maps, and more.

Grand Canyon Quest
Photos and audio from an 18-day kayak odyssey down the Grand Canyon's Colorado River.

Sky High Over the Sonoran Desert
A bird's-eye view of North America's largest active sand sea—photos, video, and more.

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Hidden Yellowstone: The Moonbow Chronicles
By Tim Cahill

On three hikes into the hidden corners of Yellowstone, the author discovered winking rocks, unnamed waterfalls, and secret places where the light plays funny tricks.

I was sitting in what amounted to a wilderness hot tub under a 150-foot-high [46-meter-high] waterfall near the southwest corner of Yellowstone Park. It was late at night, and the moon was just about to clear the canyon.

Its light would illuminate the falls, especially in that place where water exploded off the rocks below in an ephemeral mist that drifted on the evening breeze. I believed that there would be a certain very specific bending of light: a silver luminescence trembling in the vapor; the experience of a lifetime.

Or the phenomenon might be entirely mythical, an incandescence out of the imagination, a goblin of the light, something all shivery to contemplate in theory but a complete no-show in the reality department.

There are a lot of strange and wondrous things happening in the largely unknown backcountry of Yellowstone. The park is big, bigger, in fact, than some states: about two and a quarter million acres [900,426 hectares], with 94 trailheads and at least a thousand miles [1,609 kilometers] of trail, as well as great expanses of land that aren’t served by any trails at all.

A man might spend a lifetime walking the backcountry and never know it all. This means there is always something to discover, and I was coming to the end of a summer of doing just that.

* * * *

Hiking Yellowstone, out of sight of any road, seems to be on everyone’s unfulfilled wish list. It is often said that 99 percent of the visitors to Yellowstone never see the backcountry.

Out of curiosity, I checked this out and found that the statistic is somewhat understated. In 2001, according to Yellowstone Visitors Services, the park had 2,758,526 recreational visitors, of which 19,239 applied for backcountry camping permits.

That means—rounding the numbers off a bit—that, in 2001 anyway, 99.3 percent of park visitors didn’t overnight in the backcountry.

I am, myself, an example. I have lived just 60 miles [97 kilometers] north of the park for 25 years and can count my overnight backcountry trips on the fingers of one hand, a shameful statistic in itself. Just another reason to get out on the trail.

As it happens, my neighbor, photographer Tom Murphy, has been a guide in Yellowstone for the past 17 years and knows it as well as anyone of my acquaintance. Together we planned three separate forays into the park.

All of our planned destinations involved several days’ worth of walking, an activity that both Tom and I knew buys solitude in Yellowstone.

Our first trip started at the Pacific Crest trailhead, just outside Grand Teton National Park. It led generally northeast up over the mountains of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, then into Yellowstone Park, where we passed by the Thorofare Patrol Cabin, 32 miles [51 kilometers] from the nearest road, the most remote occupied dwelling in the contiguous United States.

The second trip took us to the Goblin Labyrinths, and the last was a visit to the River of Reliable Rainbows.

* * * *

And so, on that first trip in late July, five of us found ourselves walking north toward the top of the world, the Continental Divide, at a place called Two Ocean Pass, just outside the southeast corner of the park.

The divide itself runs through a marshy bog about three miles [five kilometers] long. Pacific Creek flows out of the bog south and west.

At the north end of the bog, the watercourse flowing north and east is called Atlantic Creek. As the names suggest, these two streams, separated by only three miles [five kilometers], empty into entirely disparate oceans.

“So,” Tom Murphy explained to me, “a fish could conceivably swim up Pacific Creek, muddle through the bog, and end up swimming down Atlantic Creek.” That’s why Tom wanted to walk 32 miles [51 kilometers], enduring 3,000 feet [914 meters] or more of elevation change, carrying his 90-pound [34-kilogram] backpack full mostly of camera gear.

He wanted to see a place where a fish could swim across the Continental Divide. Tom, I should explain, grew up on a cattle ranch in South Dakota, 60 miles [97 kilometers] from the nearest town, and is prone to become excited about concepts like fish swimming over the Rocky Mountains.

We slogged along for several days but eventually stumbled into the bog at the top of the world.

Online Extra
Yellowstone’s Secret-Keeper—Photos and More
What have you been missing in America’s most iconic park? Photographer and guide Tom Murphy is glad to show you—just don’t ask him how to get there. Exclusive photos >>


Get the full story in the May 2002 issue of Adventure.

Subscribe to Adventure today for only $12 (U.S. rate) and receive a free three-in-one tool!



Related Web Sites

Gear Guide: Backcountry Breakthroughs
Recommendations from our top adventure experts—from split snowboards to outerwear engineered for off-trail adventures.

Printable “Secret Yellowstone” Map
Adventure magazine’s pocket map of backcountry Yellowstone has park information and more—print, folds, and hit the trail.

Yellowstone: The Ultimate Itinerary
Excerpted from the May 2002 Adventure: what to do with five days in the iconic park.

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May 2002:
In the Magazine | Excerpts | Park Guides | Yellowstone Photos | Yellowstone Map | Forum: National Parks | Gear Guide: Sunglasses | Travel Calendar

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