Each year National Geographic asks writers, photographers, filmmakers, and athletes to tell us which explorers and adventurers inspired them during the preceding year. It was a wild year in the adventure world, and our nominators came back with a long list of bold achievements, heart-stopping records, and daring world firsts.
The climbing world celebrated several firsts. For starters, the speed record for climbing the iconic Nose route on El Capitan was shattered—twice. The all-star duo of Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell climbed the legendary 3,000-foot Yosemite test-piece in an unthinkable one hour, 57 minutes, and seven seconds. While in the Himalaya, Austrian-Nepali alpinist David Lama, after three grueling attempts, finally completed a solo first ascent of Nepal's highest unclimbed peak.
The extreme skiing world saw Hilaree Nelson and her partner Jim Morrison make the first descent of the impossibly steep Lhotse Couloir. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the planet, Colin O'Brady's claim to being the first to cross Antarctica solo, unsupported, and unaided was heralded by the media (including our own), but received a wrath of backlash from the polar community.
And as if all that wasn't enough, Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Koxa surfed a world-record 80-foot wave, and British distance swimmer Ross Edgley became the first person to swim completely around the United Kingdom.
All of these were stunning examples of human beings testing their limits and pushing the bounds of what's possible. But for this year's Adventurers of the Year, we chose to highlight six adventures that stood out from the crowded field of worthy nominees. This year's honorees are:
Andrzej Bargiel set his sights on skiing the world's biggest mountains. Read the story of how the young Polish mountaineer became the first person to ski down K2 and live to tell about it.
Maureen Beck was born without her left forearm but has become a world champion para-climber. Read the story of how she has emerged as a leader in the adaptive sports world.
Adam Bielecki and Denis Urubko were attempting to make the first winter ascent of K2, the world's second-highest mountain, when they were told that two climbers were stranded on a neighboring peak. Read the story of how the Pole and the Kazakh sacrificed their chance at making history to save a fellow climber.
Heather Anderson, with nearly 30,000 trail miles to her name, is one of the most accomplished thru-hikers ever. Read how the young American became the first woman to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail in a single year.
Babsi Zangerl is the world's best rock climber you've probably never heard of. Read the story of how the young Austrian phenom became the first woman to free climb Yosemite's second-toughest route, Magic Mushroom.
An international team of cave divers and rescue personnel rushed to Thailand's Tham Luang cave to save a boys soccer team and their coach. Read the untold story of how divers risked their lives to find the boys and get them out before monsoon rains filled the caves with water.