By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor
Mount Everest ascends as high as anyone can venture on Earth. But what makes the storied peak seem almost within reach is having the chance to work with people who have summited it. That’s why I’m so excited about today’s new issue of National Geographic, in which writer Mark Synnott and photographer Renan Ozturk lead a team up the Tibet side of Mount Everest. Their quest to unlock the mystery of the disappearance of mountaineers George Mallory and Sandy Irvine is both epic and mythic. Was the world’s highest peak conquered 29 years before the expedition credited with being first? Their story searches for answers—and for the camera that could change history.
Speaking of cameras—and of hard-to-achieve perspectives—capturing the immensity of Everest had long seemed impossible, until Ozturk climbed to 22,000 feet with a specially designed drone. The result (above) is this spectacular panorama of Chomolungma, the 29,035-foot peak’s Tibetan name (which means “Mother Goddess of the World”), crafted from 26 images stitched together. In this composite image, the photographer and his team (including the brilliantly perfectionistic graphics group at Nat Geo) managed to go both high and deep. Below, Pasang Kaji Sherpa (front) and Lhakpa Tenje Sherpa pass Everest's 28,700-foot mark at sunrise.
From the Roof of the World to the valleys below, the issue covers efforts in Northern India to protect snow leopards, a vulnerable species of spotted cat that is threatened by climate change, habitat loss, and poaching. Editor at large Peter Gwin—host of our Overheard at National Geographic podcast—examines conflicts between locals and snow leopards in Kibber, a village in Himachal Pradesh and a center of snow leopard tourism.
My own adventures are closer to home—and sea level. Two days ago I hiked a snippet of the Appalachian Trail through the Roan Highlands of North Carolina. From Yellow Mountain’s dome-shaped summit to the natural balds of Little Hump and Big Hump, my elevation did not exceed 5,440 feet. No supplemental oxygen required! But the views were breathtaking and the best part is this: North America is lined with epic hikes for everyone. We even have a story about them: Top hikes for dazzling views—and no crowds. Grab your boots and go!
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Today in a minute
He turns trash into trolls: Danish artist Thomas Dambo builds giant whimsical creatures out of recycled wood and puts them on less-known green spaces throughout the world—such as on this Copenhagen hilltop (above) or in Belgium (below left) or China (below right). During the coronavirus outbreak, he has been building 10 more such figures from his warehouse. He’ll be releasing clues about the locations of his troll installations via social media. “It’s a kind of treasure hunt, a gift for families in Denmark, who may feel sad that they can’t go on vacation this summer,” Dambo tells Nat Geo’s Jennifer Barger. “The trolls help remind us that there are these beautiful places practically in our backyards."
Once glamorous: Six pilots talk about a job that has changed significantly since the coronavirus pandemic hit—and have fond memories of the job before. “Contracting coronavirus is the least of my worries,” Patrick Smith, a pilot for a major U.S. carrier, tells Conde Nast Traveler. “What makes me anxious is the state of the airline industry and the future of my career.”
Need a charm? In times of trouble or doubt, many of us reach for a good luck charm. Nat Geo’s Eve Conant tracks down talismans and amulets from all over the world, from four-leaf clovers in Ireland to painted dala horses in Sweden, Chinese golden toads, Berber rings, and Egyptian scarabs. A talisman, Conant writes, can also be a tangible reminder of a culture visited, of a trip dreamed of before, during, or long after it happens.
Careful: Thinking of traveling to Hawaii and violating its quarantine restrictions? Don’t. You could end up in jail, CNN reports. “Our initial goal is to educate people,” Lt. Audra Sellers of the Maui Police Department says. “If they’ve been warned, and do it again, we arrest them."
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Getting a soak: Searching for the perfect natural hot spring in Iceland can be tricky, as most tourist information points to commercial companies selling packaged experiences. If you want the real deal—and for free!—plan for a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik followed by a 45-minute hike across some steep terrain. Bring drinking water and a swimsuit, but rest assured, it’s worth the effort. The Reykjadalur Hot Springs is exactly what the adventurous soul is looking for.
See: Iceland is growing new forests for the first time in 1,000 years
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The big takeaway
A new chapter: After her husband died of a heart attack, Sheri Hunter sought solace in travel. She broke speed barriers in a race car and visited the Great Wall of China (above) during a 65-day, 32-country trip to Africa and Asia. Traveling solo or with a group of girlfriends who call themselves the Dare Divas, Hunter is expanding her world. “Together,” she writes for Nat Geo, “when we face something daunting, foreign, uncomfortable, something that we believe might kill us, we will weather it, digest it, conquer it, learn from it. And we will be fine."
Overheard at Nat Geo
'It felt almost spiritual’: Artificial cones of ice have been built in northern Indian villages in the Himalaya region for both devotional and practical reasons. Just as melted glaciers did decades before, these “ice stupas” help keep water for the villages, as we find out in Overheard, our podcast series. Its third season debuts today. Hear it now.
Subscriber exclusive: The mounds of ice that could water the Himalaya
In a few words
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On Wednesday, Victoria Jaggard covers the latest in science. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Rachael Bale on animals, Whitney Johnson on photography, and Debra Adams Simmons on history.
The last glimpse
Where few people have gone before: It’s America’s least-visited national park. And it’s stunning, says photographer Kiliii Yüyan of the 13,238-square-mile Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve, which sits above the Arctic Circle. “You’re in a true wilderness,” says Yüyan, an experienced tundra traveler who rafted down rafted down three waterways—the Nigu, Etivluk, and Colville Rivers—last summer for the story. Read about his adventures here. Above, breathtaking Takahula Lake and the Alatna River.
See: The best travel photographs of 2019