7 Stories of Backcountry Pursuits That Will Inspire Your Next Adventure
With just a quick glance at world map it would be easy to think that the age of adventure is already over, and that the curtains of the last remaining theatres of exploration and discovery have already been closed. There are, however, a number of extraordinarily awesome individuals out there proving this is not the case. These modern-day pioneers and explorers of the unknown range from cavers and climbers to trekkers and deep-sea divers. What they all have in common is this – a bold, ballsy and uncompromisingly badass resolve to prove that those maps aren’t entirely complete…not just yet.
To whet your adventurous appetite, below we bring you seven stories that will make you want to quit the day job and add your name to the growing list of the 21st century’s epic adventurers.
1. Leo Houlding – Antarctic Alpinist
From a very young age, Brit Leo Houlding was doing big things. At 18, he became the first Brit to free solo Yosemite’s El Capitan and since then has not relented in his pursuit of incredible feats. After several first ascents in North American and Europe, Houlding turned his attentions to colder climates and less well-known routes. The first of these was a daring 2009 free climb of Mount Asgard on Baffin Island, featured in the film The Asgard Project. More recently, he led a team to the first ascent of a new route up the north-east ridge of Ulvetanna Peak in Antarctica, which was described as ‘the most demanding peak on the world’s toughest continent’! Next time you think it’s too cold to climb, think again!
2. Ed Stafford – The Amazonian Odysseus
A fairly simple definition of an “adventure” could be anything that takes you out of your comfort zone and usual environment for a certain period of time. For us mortals, that could mean anything from a few hours on the bike, a few days in a canoe, to a month-long thru-hike. But, if you’re Ed Stafford, a two-year and three-month epic trek of the Amazon River’s 4000-mile length is just what the doctor ordered!
Most would be content to undertake the journey by boat or canoe, but badass Stafford did it all – alone, and we might add – on foot. On the way, he came across giant anacondas, hacked his way through mile upon mile of dense, trail-less jungle and survived the attempts of nasty parasites and bot flies that attempted to lay him low with various infections, viruses and, one occasion, by eating into his scalp. Stafford lived to tell the tale and is currently planning his next great adventure.
3. Alex Honnold – Free Solo Ascensionist
Nobody quite does free solo big wall adventure quite like Alex Honnold. “Free soloing”, for those who don’t know, is rock climbing without the use of a harness or a rope – scary when you’re 30 feet above the ground, downright heart-stopping when the nearest landing spot is 3,000ft beneath you! This, is what Alex Honnold does for kicks.
Although Honnold has managed a number of audacious feats worldwide, his happiest hunting ground for spectacular first free solo ascents is on the big walls of Yosemite National Park. Given that Yosemite is a place frequented by thousands of visitors every year, it’s particularly nice to know that there remains an element of discovery and unknown even in the most popular of backcountry locations. Honnold’s first big free solo was on the Northwest face of Half Dome, a 600m climb of vertical, high level rock. He followed that up with several other big climbs in Yosemite, but his most notable to date came with the first free solo ascent of El Capitan on June 3, 2017 on the 2,900ft Freerider route. Honnold conquered the route in a mere 3 hours and 56 minutes. Honnold is not just a climbing demigod, but also one of the sporting world’s genuine good guys and in 2012 started the Honnold Foundation, which “seeks simple, sustainable ways to improve lives world-wide”.
4. Eric Larsen – Polar Explorer
Throughout the last two decades, Eric Larsen has single-handedly redefined the term ‘bold’. His natural inclinations and desire to publicize the effects of global warming have repeatedly led him into the world’s coldest places, where he has explored the most extreme environments with dog teams, on snowshoes, on skis, on foot, and even with an icy swim or two here and there.
Larsen’s most outrageous and ambitious feat to date came with his ‘Save the Poles’ project – a year-long expedition in which he reached the North and South Poles and the summit of Mount Everest in an unprecedented assault on what he termed the “Polar Trifecta.” During the expedition, Larson braved 50 degrees below temperatures while snow-shoeing, skiing and swimming (yep, swimming!), across the Arctic. He then survived blizzards and further frigid temperatures in Antarctica before rounding things off with a three-month expedition on Mount Everest.
5. Erden Eruç – Pioneer of Human-Powered Adventure
Not many of us could even fathom quitting our job at 41 years old, cycling from Seattle to Denali National Park and then snowshoeing and climbing our way to the top of North America’s highest peak. Erden Eruç not only did all this, he also described the incredible feat as a mere ‘warm up’! Motivated by the death of his climbing partner and friend Goran Kropp (who once cycled from Sweden to Nepal, scaled Everest and then cycled home again) Eruç’s next project was somewhat more impressive.
On July 10, 2007 Eruç set off on the epic of all epic adventures, attempting to become the first person to circumnavigate the globe by human power alone. He succeeded. Along the way, he rowed for 312 days from California to Australia, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and covered a grand total of 41,196 miles by rowboat, sea kayak, touring bicycle, and on foot all on his lonesome! After his trip, he started a non-profit organization, Around-n-Over, with the aim of using his travels to raise money for various charities and to educate children in impoverished regions around the world.
6. Marcel Remy – Timeless Thrill-Seeker
We could be forgiven for believing backcountry adventuring is the preserve of the young, vigorous and slightly foolhardy. For many, after a certain age, too many things creak and crack and ache to consider putting their bodies through much more than a short drive to the supermarket and back. Not so Swiss climber Marcel Remy. Remy is now approaching his 95th birthday, but still retains an appetite for adventure that would make your average millennial feel somewhat short on pluck and hard up on hustle. In August 2017, Remy did something few 94-year-olds could even dream of, let alone consider in all earnestness. As part of a three-man team that included his son, Remy climbed the 450-meter north-west face of the world famous Miroir de l’Argentine in western Switzerland. The climb involved a total of five pitches – the first three on the Voie Normale route and the last two on the stiff Directe route to the summit. The overall grade of the climb is a testy 5a (5.8) – challenging enough for a teenager, let alone a man born shortly after the conclusion of World War One!
7. The Dark Star Cave Explorers, Uzbekistan – Adventurers in the Void
The last to receive our title of ‘Awesome Adventurer(s)’ goes to a team rather than an individual. First discovered by Russian explorers in 1984, so far the Dark Star cave on the Afghan-Uzbekistan border has seen eight missions come and go without ever reaching the cave’s ‘end’ – if indeed there is one! These expeditions have found 11 miles of tunnels to date, with the deepest plunging to an incredible 3,000 feet below the earth’s surface. The team is made up of scientists and expert cavers for whom just getting to the cave is an adventure in itself.
The cave’s explorers first face a two-day hike through the remote Boysuntov mountain range and then, depending on the entrance they use, a scary abseil down to the cave’s opening at 12,000 feet above sea level. And then the fun really begins… Descending into the Dark Star is a true journey into the unknown – we’re talking Jules Verne kinda stuff. The size of the cave and the mystery of its furthest depths are such that National Geographic has called it the ‘Underground Everest’. Those who explore it are, you might say, nothing short of modern day Mallorys, Irvings, Tenzings and Hillarys.