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Best of Adventure: Gear + Outdoor Sports Trends
Your guide to the leading edge in the world of adventure.   Text by Steve Casimiro
Photo: Sports

Mountain Water Forest    Snow Desert Road Trip
                                                        

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Best of Adventure: Mountain - Gear | Trends | Destination

21

Number of 17,000-plus-foot (5,182-plus-meter) peaks climbed by Willie Benegas in the same number of days on a recent expedition to the Bolivian Andes

Antics on High
A decade after Mount Everest's Into Thin Air debacle, the highest point on Earth again saw its fair share of heroism, tragedy, and absurdity. A record 479 climbers summited, 11 died, and only one (thank goodness) took off his shirt at the top, presumably because he could. And while news outlets bandied over the high-altitude high jinks, the climbing elite reeled from the 58-hour ascent of Denali's 8,000-foot (2,438-meter) South Face by Quebecers Max Turgeon and Louis-Philippe Ménard, the most acclaimed new route this year. As well, all mourned the stinging loss of two up-and-coming mountaineering luminaries, Sue Nott and Karen McNeill, who disappeared on Alaska's Mount Foraker in May. In other news, a backlash is brewing against geocaching—the practice of stashing "treasure" for GPS users to find (there are apparently people who worry about everything). Critics call the caches litter, and a bomb squad in Ohio was even called in to destroy an errant trove. Happily, other explosives experts gave a clean bill of health to Mount Saint Helens, reopening it to climbers for the first time since the blow in 2004. And while neither heroic nor tragic (but certainly absurd), a new breed of "disaster tourists" flocked to the Eiger this summer, waiting for a five-million-ton rock to peel off its east face (it didn't). Luckily, they chose to keep their shirts on.
 
 
Best of Adventure: Water - Gear | Trends | Destination

43

Number of miles (69 kilometers) paddlesurfed and biked by Laird Hamilton and Dave Kalama across the five major Hawaiian Islands this fall


Seeking the Next Wave

If there's one word that describes the waters during '06, it's "discovery." Two previously unknown waterfalls turned up this year: A 2,530-footer (771-meter) was found in the remote Peruvian Amazon (understandable) and a 500-footer (152-meter) in northern California (inexplicable). The hunt for humongous waves continued to be surfing's biggest buzz, and a newfound break off the Oregon coast, Nelscott Reef, was host to its first contest in 30-foot (9-meter) cold-water bombs. And while not a discovery, maybe more an awakening, George W. created the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, a patch of protected waters and atolls the size of Montana. In other events, kiteboarding, one of the fastest growing water sports, had its coming-out party when Frenchman Manu Bertin zipped across the Atlantic in a three-week, 2,700-mile (4,345-kilometer) push. Finally, in the year's wildest and most hotly debated tale of survival, three Mexican fishermen were found alive after allegedly drifting across the Pacific for nine months and 5,500 miles (8,851 kilometers). If true, one can only imagine what a discovery a hot meal must have been.
 

Best of Adventure: Forest - Gear | Trends | Destination

379
  
Height in feet (116 meters) of Hyperion, the world's tallest tree, which was discovered and climbed this year in Redwood National Park



Forest Green Gets Noticed

There aren't many years when good news comes out of the forests, so 2006 was one to remember. In September a federal judge reinstated the ban on road-building in national forests, overturning last year's contested repeal and preserving countless acres in one fell swoop. Not to be outdone, our neighbors to the north outlined the five-million-acre Great Bear Rainforest reserve in British Columbia (that's twice the size of Yellowstone), protecting two million acres of Pacific Coast forest unconditionally and limiting the other three million to "light touch" logging. It was news to celebrate—and hikers did, with a marked increase in completed thru-hikes on the Appalachian Trail. One of those trailblazers was the indefatigable Andrew Skurka, who this fall dreamed up his slightly bizarre "How Far? How Fast?" Challenge, in which he would attempt to trek 700-plus miles (1,127-plus-kilometers) on energy bars, nuts, and chocolate. A worthy goal? Sure. Of global importance? That's questionable, especially when put side by side with the flood of green fabrics coming out this spring: Expect bamboo, coconut, soy, and recycled fibers to be all the rage. Finally, there's no good without the bad, and 2006 saw the biggest wildfire season in 50 years, with some of the worst of it in Montana's Boulder River Valley. Sadly, the land of The Horse Whisperer is green no more.
  

Best of Adventure: Snow - Gear | Trends | Destination

70  

Angle of the slope (in degrees) of the Harp, a snow-covered face in British Columbia that was skied for the first time by Swede Sverre Liliequist this year. It's one of the steepest runs ever made.


New World of Cool

Global warming? Au contraire, global storming: Last winter was the first in seven that a majority of ski areas received above-average snowfall. Skiers and boarders responded with a record 58.9 million visits. Antarctic tourism continued to boom, too, and a handful of new polar firsts were notched. Norwegian Rune Gjeldnes crossed over the South Pole from Queen Maud Land to Terra Nova Bay—2,988 miles (4,809 kilometers) in 90 days, alone and without resupply. At the other end of the world, Americans Lonnie Dupre and Eric Larsen made the first (and possibly last) summer expedition to the North Pole, dodging melting ice sheets as they went. Closer to Nome, Karl Bushby and Dimitri Kieffer trudged 56 miles (90 kilometers) across the frozen Bering Strait then—oh, bitter irony—they were arrested in Russia for not having the proper visas. As they chilled in a Siberian prison, gear designers looked to the backcountry for the latest ski trends: a rash of cool avalanche transceivers and new easy-touring telemark bindings. And resort planners kept customers on a yo-yo: Jackson Hole retired its 40-year-old tram (to many tears) then announced a new one that will double capacity (to many cheers). Good news overall, but by late fall meteorologists were predicting a warm and dry winter in the West. Heck, what do scientists know anyway?
 

Best of Adventure: Desert - Gear | Trends | Destination

9 

Number of forested acres (3.6 hectares),
in millions, the Chinese government plans to plant as the "green wall" of China, an eight-billion-dollar effort to combat severe desertification from the Gobi



Borderline Paradise
Edward Abbey would have been proud of the hullabaloo swirling around the desert this year. There was bluster: National Guardsmen and 700-mile (1,127-kilometer) fences. There was controversy: The BLM was found to be illegally auctioning off oil and gas leases in remote desert canyons. And there were reports aplenty to make Cactus Ed smile: Utah's Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument shed the niggling lawsuit questioning its right to exist (it's here to stay!) and President Bush protected 100,000 acres (40,469 hectares) in Utah's Cedar Mountain Wilderness. Canyoneers put up first descents of still smaller slots—some only 18 inches (46 centimeters) wide—but they backed off any exploratories around Glen Canyon. There, rising water levels (up from a 30-year low) resubmerged recently-exposed sandstone legends such as Cathedral in the Desert and Fort Moqui. While the news left the Free the Colorado River contingent gnashing its teeth and the Lake Powell boaters rejoicing, we wonder, What would Abbey, the seminal desert rat, have said? Oh, yeah, we know already: The newly published collection of his letters, Postcards From Ed, reminds us how much we miss his focused, articulate rage. 

 
Best of Adventure: Road - Gear | Trends | Destination

13 

Number of spectators (in millions) at the first ever Tour of California bike race, making the 700-mile (1,127-kilometer), eight-day ride the largest spectator sporting event in the United States for 2006



Ahead of the Curve
The sweetly acrid bouquet of gasoline no longer conjures the freedom of the open road; with the highest per-gallon prices in years, it smells more like a mugging. So the Biofuels Education Coalition, aka kayakers Seth Warren and Tyler Brandt, loaded up their biodiesel-burning ecovan and began a 16,000-mile (25,750-kilometer) drive from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, stopping to teach sustainability and nail some first descents along the way. The social engineers at Google would no doubt approve; the company's new philanthropic wing is hoping to provoke a transportation revolution by funding an engine powered by ethanol, electricity, and gas. Alas, who knows what alternative fuels Floyd Landis was using to win the Tour de France, but recreational cycling seems undampened by this summer's big doping dustup. Road bikes have surged from 5 to 16 percent of all bike sales in four years; cycling outfitters are besieged with clients for Tour de France trips and are adding tours of Spain's Vuelta and Italy's Giro; and in the States, a 2,950-mile (4,748-kilometer) cycling route from Florida to Maine is in the works. Ride on, children. Ride on.

Audacious Acts: The wildest feats of 2006 >>

 

Photographs, from left: Colin Meager/Aurora Photos; Mark A. Johnson/Corbis; Patitucciphoto/Aurora Photos; Jose Azel/Aurora Photos; Carol Barrington/IPN/Aurora Photos; Turner Forte Photography 

Cover: Adventure magazine Best of Adventure 2007 Home Page >>

Adventurers of the Year >>

Lifetime Achievement: Biologist George Schaller >>

Gear Picks of the Year >>

Outdoor Sports Trends >>

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