2007 Adventurers of the Year:
Colin Angus + Julie Wafaei: The New Magellans
First human-powered circumnavigation of the Earth >>
Video Exclusive: Rowing Across the Atlantic >>
Dan Mazur: Hero on Everest >>
Anousheh Ansari: Citizen Spacewalker >>
Eh Kalu Shwe OO: People's Provider >>
Ben Stookesberry + Jesse Coombs: Rulers of Class V >>
Stephanie Sinclair: Frontline Photographer >>
Bruce Beehler: Modern-Day Darwin >>
Greg Stone: Ocean Defender >>
Olav Heyerdahl: Heir to Kon-Tiki >>
Jamilah Star: Soul Surfer >>
Audacious Acts: The wildest feats of 2006 >>
Our Adventurers of the Year were nominated by a group of 30 explorers, scientists, journalists, and luminaries in the world of adventure. Learn more about our advisors and their upcoming expeditions. Read more >>
Back to Best of Adventure Home Page >>
Making a life-or-death decision on the world's highest peak
Dan Mazur: Hero on Everest
By now the outline of Dan Mazur's story is well known: While guiding two clients up Mount Everest on the morning of May 26, the summit already in sight, Mazur, 46, came across a man, alone and unroped, tottering on a ridge at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters). Lincoln Hall had been left for dead by his own guides, stripped of his pack and supplemental oxygen, but when Mazur approached he was still very much alive. For the next two hours, Mazur furiously organized a high-altitude rescue. By the time it was in motion, a midday storm was looming. Instead of pushing for the summit, Mazur turned his clients back down the mountain.
What's not so well known is how troubled Mazur feels today: by other climbers who passed Hall but declined to stop, by guilt that his clients paid thousands of dollars and trained for months only to be denied a summit, and by the marked drop in his Himalaya climbing enrollments, as if nobody wants to hire a guide who backed off the mountain. In spite of it all, Mazur would not change what he did. "I believe all of us have the ability to stop and help others," he says, "and also the ability to keep going. The question is, How do you want to live your life? What do you want to do? Who are you?"
A tough question, to be sure, but we have at least a partial answer: Who you are, Dan Mazur, is a guy who did the right thing when it mattered, a guy who sacrificed a goal for a life. And while that may not be the only definition of a hero, it certainly isn't a bad one.
Anousheh Ansari: Citizen Spacewalker
Reaching for the stars
When the Soyuz TMA-9 space capsule blasted off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome on September 18, it carried with it Anousheh Ansari, the world's first female space tourist. Born in Iran, Ansari immigrated to the United States at the age of 16 speaking no English. Eighteen years later, in 2000, she and her husband sold their Texas-based Telecom Technologies, Inc. for an estimated 750 million dollars. And while many would have rested on their laurels, Ansari pushed full-tilt toward her personal dream: to reach space. First she provided the title sponsorship for the ten-million-dollar Ansari X Prize, a reward for the creation and successful launch of a private, manned, and reusable spacecraft. Then she plunked down an estimated 20 million dollars for her own flight.
Over the course of eight months, she trained relentlessly at the cosmonaut facility in Russia's Star City. Then on an early autumn day, she strapped herself into the Soyuz and sailed skyward atop what is effectively a modified Soviet ICBM. She reached the International Space Station intact and spent the next eight days whirling about at zero-gravity, performing various science experiments, and most often staring down at the planet below. Even for someone who achieved both the American dream and the collective dream of humanity, for someone who had pictured reaching space since childhood, Ansari was awed. "So peaceful, so full of life," she wrote of Earth. "No signs of borders, no signs of troubles. Just pure beauty."
Eh Kalu Shwe Oo: People's Provider
Saving the masses, one village at a time
As a founding member of the Backpack Health Worker Team, 55-year-old Eh Kalu Shwe Oo recently endured a furtive border crossing from Thailand into Myanmar (formerly Burma) under the noses of hostile military patrols and a weeklong jungle trek ferrying contraband medical supplies to refugees in the area. In early 2006 the Myanmar government launched what Eh Kalu considers the bloodiest offensive in memory against the separatist ethnic groups in the north of the country, including Eh Kalu's own Karen people. With conditions deteriorating (famine, no medical care, and the threat of gunfire and landmines) the 300 members of Eh Kalu's group mobilized as never before, with some members spending up to six months moving nomadically through the jungle, dodging Myanmar troops, and providing health care and education. They are, effectively, the sole support in the region—the only aid to 170,000 internally displaced people along the Thai border. So what keeps Eh Kalu motivated? "I am a Karen," he says. His people need him, and that's all he needs to know.
Ben Stookesberry + Jesse Coombs: Rulers of Class V
Running the world's wildest rivers
For the first descent of the Río Buey, outside Medellín, Colombia, early in January 2006, Ben Stookesberry 28, and Jesse Coombs, 36, paddled into a river gorge cum political battlefield: guerrilla soldiers on one side, paramilitary death squads on the other. "This local guy, a friend of ours, basically said just don't get out of the river," Coombs says. So early on day one when confronted with a 60-foot (18-meter) waterfall and no way to portage around, the pair hucked big, stuck their landings, and churned on for three more days of Class V water.
And that was just one river. On that same expedition Stookesberry and Coombs notched 20 Class V first descents in 30 days in Brazil. They then finished with a pioneering run down Mexico's Río Santo Domingo, one of the most extreme runnable rivers on the planet (with an 80-foot (24-meter) waterfall, followed by a 90-footer (27-meter), a 50-footer (15-meter), and a 70-footer (21-meter) all within a thousand feet (305 meters). More astounding still, these guys consider this business as usual. According to Tao Berman, one of the best known paddlers in the world, Stookesberry and Coombs "go out and do more first descents and explore more rivers in a year than most kayakers do in their lives." High praise, but more impressive is that their expedition was entirely self-funded. Stookesberry ties rebar and runs heavy equipment on construction sites. Coombs buys and sells real estate. Just two ordinary guys doing extraordinary things.
Stephanie Sinclair: Frontline Photographer
Getting the shot no one else could
When September 11, 2001, changed the world, it also changed the life of photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair. After covering ground zero for the Chicago Tribune, she left her relatively staid and stable job to document the world's darkest corners. Sinclair rode into Baghdad the day it fell, she photographed insurgents in Falluja, and she shot the aftermath of the tsunami in Sri Lanka. These achievements were more than enough to place Sinclair in the upper ranks of war photographers, but earlier this year she completed her most difficult and groundbreaking assignment to date: to explore the brutal and never before documented world of child brides in Afghanistan. In the desolate and lawless Ghor Province, in the villages of Chavosh and Damarda, places almost unknown to foreigners, she spent weeks living with families, gaining their trust and integrating herself into the nearly closed society of rural Afghan women. Only then was she able to capture the first photographs of Afghan girls, some ten years old or less, being sold off as brides. The shots were heartbreaking, but especially so when paired with other shots she'd taken of child brides in a hospital burn ward after they'd lit themselves aflame in protest. In July her work hit newsstands around the globe, shocking millions. And while some call Sinclair a hero for her work, she doesn't agree. Her adventurous life is just a means to an end. "People are in extreme need," she says, "and they're relying on me to show the world and create change."
Bruce Beehler: Modern-Day Darwin
Discovering a treasure trove of new species
It's a tale straight from the age of exploration: bushwhacking into distant and jungled mountains, cutting trails where no human has ever walked, and finding a world lost to modern time. On this quickly shrinking planet, you'd think such a journey impossible. Not for Bruce Beehler. Last winter the 55-year-old biologist with Conservation International led a team into the trackless Foja Mountains of western New Guinea. After a month of trooping through rain forest, fording rivers, and even calling in a helicopter for aid, Beehler found himself in an isolated valley filled with bizarre and unknown animals, plants, and insects. He immediately set to his science, recording more than 40 new species and scores of rare finds. Among the mix: a golden-mantled tree kangaroo that he considers "one of the most beautiful mammals on Earth" and the long-beaked echidna, a spiny, egg-laying, worm-eating creature that's armed with poisonous spurs on its rear feet.
"I've been working on the island of New Guinea for 31 years," Beehler says, "looking for birds and wildlife, and I never expected to have such an experience. There are hundreds of thousands of new species still out there. It's going to take many decades to protect and steward them all."
Greg Stone: Ocean Defender
Protecting an underwater paradise
On March 28, when the Pacific nation of Kiribati created the world's third largest marine wildlife sanctuary, it wasn't just a triumph of conservation, it was an expression of one man's passion. Greg Stone, Ph.D., 49, a biologist and a vice president of Boston's New England Aquarium, first saw Kiribati's far-flung Phoenix Islands in 2000. He could scarcely believe his eyes: eight virtually uninhabited atolls—and, Stone says, "Nobody had ever looked under the water." Fifteen hundred dives later, he had identified several new species of fish and one new species of coral, and he was convinced that the area was an ecological jewel of international proportions. In a one-man campaign, working alternately as scientist, diplomat, and fund-raiser, Stone persuaded the Kiribati government of the same. The result is his crowning achievement, the 73,800-square-mile (191,141-square-kilometer) Phoenix Islands Protected Area.
Olav Heyerdahl: Heir to Kon-Tiki
Sailing in his grandfather's wake
Before Olav Heyerdahl, 29, set sail for Tahiti from Callao, Peru, with three fellow Norwegians, one Swede, and one Peruvian, he had almost zero experience as a sailor. What he did have was a personal connection to one of the greatest journeys of the 20th century and an unflagging desire to repeat it. In 1947 Olav's grandfather Thor Heyerdahl floated 101 days and 3,247 nautical miles (6,013 kilometers) aboard the renowned raft Kon-Tiki. And while the purpose of Thor's journey—to prove the possible colonization of Polynesia by South Americans—has been effectively discredited, the magnitude of his adventure never lost its luster, especially in the eyes of his grandson.
Like Thor, Olav and his crew built their 56-foot (17-meter) raft at the launch point from balsa trees cut in Ecuador, but in keeping with the latest research on ancient nautical techniques, they added a broader sail, adjustable centerboards to help with steering, and a hardwood cabin. Their craft, the Tangaroa, was, as Olav says, "the raft my grandfather would have built today." Supplied with copies of Thor's original logbook, Olav and his team drifted more than 4,500 nautical miles (8,334 kilometers) in 93 days, braving gale-force winds and swells exceeding 20 feet (6 meters). "When we came to our end point in Tahiti," Olav says, "the captain and I just wanted to keep on to New Zealand. I believe my grandfather would have been really proud of what we achieved."
Jamilah Star: Soul Surfer
Breaking into the boys club of big-wave riding
The top female surfers these days are nearly as visible as male pros, but not in the testosterone-charged world of big-wave riding. Apparently nobody told that to 29-year-old Jamilah Star. Last February, JamStar, as she calls herself, broke into the scene at Mavericks, a legendary (and legendarily dangerous) big-wave break in northern California. With swells so large that several male surfers relied on Jet Skis for tow-ins, Star, a purist, paddled out and caught herself a monster.
"When I first dropped in," she says, "I noticed I was in the air so I threw my weight forward and felt as if I was free-falling." It turns out the wave face was so steep and so large, 30 feet (9 meters) or more, that she was free-falling. But when her board connected with the water she did the right thing: She crouched low, absorbing the bumps, and raced down the line to a safe exit. A few months later, that monumental ride—along with a few more gigantic hauls—won Star the 2006 Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Award for female performance. A nice honor, but hardly a payoff—the women's award is only $5,000. No matter, though. Star eschews big money competitions and most pro-sports sponsorships. Instead she lives the surfer's life on the North Shore of Oahu, scraping by as best she can and quietly—spectacularly—redefining the sport for an entire generation of female surfers.
Best of Adventure 2007 Home Page >>
Adventurers of the Year >>
Lifetime Achievement: Biologist George Schaller >>
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