SERIOUS adventure ain't cheap, and since governments and wealthy industrialists tend not to fund expeditions the way they used to, today's climbers and trekkers usually rely on equipment companies to fix them up with ice axes, down jumpsuits, and a nice mule or two. But for many free-spirited types, writing a grant proposal is more daunting than topping out on K2.
Enter Yourexpedition, a Minneapolis-based marketing, PR, and logistics firm launched last fall as a broker between athletes who want to do something epic but don't have the money, and deep-pocketed firms that want a piece of the glory but have few heroes handy in the Rolodex. "We're going to come in there with a big splash," says Yourexpedition president Charlie Hartwell, a 37-year-old former marketing manager for Pillsbury.
As Hartwell explains, his firm (which caters exclusively to female athletes) matches up the jocks with the suits, taking a fee from the latter. In the case of the company's first big deal, a $1.5 million Antarctic traverse by Scandia, Minnesotabased Ann Bancroft (a Yourexpedition partner) and Norway's Liv Arnesen, the athletes got cash and PR, and sponsors Pfizer, Volvo, and Motorola, reached the 18- to 50-year-old female demographic in the ensuing media frenzy (the company cites more than 1,200 "placements," PR-speak for media mentions).Bancroft and Arnesen's send-off party alone—a lavish evening in Cape Town, South Africa—ran over $50,000.
Hartwell is currently shopping for future sponsors, but with a recent infusion of $2.7 million in private financing, he still has enough cash left to make at least one more big splash. Or belly flop. "A lot of stuff is overhyped," complains Utah-based Himalayan climber Kitty Calhoun. "What is important is to not lose the heart and soul of climbing." Fair enough. The line for application forms is on the left.
Kyrgyzstan Kidnapper May Be Alive in Prison
"I WANTED TO GO HOME." That appears to be the ultimate, if cryptic, reason why Rafshan Sharipov, a 20-year-old Islamic rebel from Tajikistan, allegedly admits he took part in the kidnapping of four young American climbers last August in Kyrgyzstan—a six-day drama detailed in Outside's November issue ("Fear of Falling"). In the story, Sharipov was last seen tumbling off a cliff into the darkness. The man who sent him there, 22-year-old Colorado climber Tommy Caldwell, made the fateful decision to yank his captor so that he and his companions—Jason Smith, 22, Beth Rodden, 20, and John Dickey, 25—could make a break for freedom. All four climbers saw Sharipov (who identified himself to the group as "Su") go over the edge and believed that he could not have survived the fall.
However, much to the surprise of his former prisoners, he apparently did. Sharipov, who seems to be a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan—a militant group seeking to carve out an independent Islamic state in Central Asia—was subsequently captured by the Kyrgyz military. In a videotaped jailhouse interview, obtained and translated by Outside, Sharipov appears dejected but surprisingly healthy, considering the fall he apparently took. In the taped interview, Sharipov claims he encountered the Americans while traveling home through Kyrgyzstan after four months of weapons training. Although he does not speak on camera about the kidnapping or the days during which the climbers were marched around the Kara Su Valley—nor does the footage allude to Sharipov falling off a cliff—a Kyrgyz official on the video says that, according to Sharipov, the Americans fled after he fell asleep. Dickey, who has seen the tape, believes Sharipov was their captor, and all four climbers stand by their account of their escape.
The U.S. State Department has declined to comment on the kidnapping, but Caldwell says the FBI has taken an interest in Sharipov. "They want to interview him, with a view to looking into prosecuting him," says Caldwell. All four climbers have expressed relief that Sharipov is alive—relief that has removed the guilt that they mave have taken a life to save their own. —Greg Child