Adventure in 60 Seconds: Ultraraces, an Uber-Climber, and the Mother of Paleontology

By Tetsuhiko Endo

The problem with many adventurers is that they don’t know when to say when. Climbed Everst? Why not climb it without supplementary O2? You like to ski and BASE jump? Try combining the two, and why not add a wingsuit for kicks? You might call this the Mallory Paradox, named for the man who’s reason for obsessively trying to climb Everest was simply “because it’s there.” Well, folks, the challenge is always there, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should take it.

Questions of advisability aside, runners of all ages put the Mallory Paradox to practice this week when, in an apparent ode to all those “when I was your age stories.” They ran a marathon up Mt. Lemmon, near Tuscon, Arizon, starting at 3,000 feet above sea level, ending at 8,000 feet above sea level and, you guessed it, going uphill the entire time. As the New York Times reported, “They did it for the bragging rights, for the challenge, for the health benefits, for the pure absurdity of it all.” In other words, “because it’s there.”

Although the race was billed as the toughest road marathon in the world, there are some other marathons that don’t take place on roads and are probably a teensy bit more difficult—the Pikes Peak Marathon (which climbs 7,700 feet), the Everest marathon, and the Antarctic Ice Marathon.

Speaking of high altitudes, scientists at Edinburgh University in Scotland reported this week that many people climbing Mount Kilimanjaro “know little or nothing” about the effects of high altitude, reports the BBC. Kilimanjaro is usually considered the easiest of the Seven Summits (the group composed of the highest mountain on each continent) and has seen increased traffic this year from UK climbers due to, no joke, the successful summits of nine UK celebrities last year. Hearty researchers spent three weeks just below Kili’s summit at 4,730 meter testing passing climbers. They concluded that a staggering 47 percent were suffering from altitude sickness due to improper acclimatization.

One type of climber who never worries about altitude is the professional sport climber. These skinny, semi-feral creatures prowl the world’s crags looking for the most difficult paths up vertical, and often overhanging cliffs in hopes of testing their finger strength to the tendon popping max. Few sport climbers in the world match the grace and precision of Czech Adam Ondra. At just 17 years old and roughly 35 pounds (ball park), the super featherweight has already sent many of the world's hardest routes and shows no signs of slowing down. Check out this video of him in action to see what all the fuss is about.

In these days of high-altitude marathons, peak bagging, and professional climbers who have trained themselves to move with spider-like strength and precision, it’s easy to forget that adventure can be found most anywhere with little more then a keen eye and properly functioning set of legs. For proof of this look no further than the godmother of paleontology Mary Anning.

Anning was an Englishwoman who was born and lived on England’s South Coast. The stretch of coastline she called home happened to be the one later named the Jurassic Coast for the high quantity and quality of fossils that exist in the cliffs. At an early age, Anning’s father taught her to identify fossils that she would then bring home for the family to sell to tourists and collectors. This was a business she maintained her entire life, even hoping to sell some of her most famous discoveries, like the first Plesiosaurus skeleton. You can watch a great video about he life here, which will hopefully inspire you to get out and enjoy your own backyard this weekend.