Over the past 12 months we’ve seen speed records fall, first ascents set, daring expeditions attempted, and some outright crazy outdoor stunts. From the historic free climb of the Dawn Wall to the first government-sanctioned catamaran race between Florida and Cuba, we bring you our favorite badass adventures of land, sea, and air from 2015.
Caldwell and Jorgeson Free Climb the Dawn Wall
On January 14, as the sun set in Yosemite National Park, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed what is arguably the most difficult ascent in the history of rock climbing. The duo remained on the Dawn Wall on El Capitan for 19 days, climbing 3,000 vertical feet along widely spaced, razor-thin granite holds. Their prize: the first free ascent (using ropes only to catch falls) of the route. Reflecting on the climb months later, Jorgeson described the difficulty: “I climbed brick façades as a kid. You’d kind of stick your fingers in there. But sink in those bricks so they barely stick out from the wall. That’s what you’re dealing with.”
The First Ski-Mo Attempt on MakaluA team of five elite climbers and skiers joined forces in September to attempt the first ski descent of Makalu, the world’s fifth-highest peak (at 27,776 feet), on the border of Nepal and China. They made it above 25,000 feet before setting off a series of avalanches that caused them to turn back. The retreat was a tough decision for the group to make, wrote expedition leader Adrian Ballinger at the time: “Deciding to climb and ski a peak like Makalu always meant we would have to accept a level of risk. What level is ‘acceptable’ is deeply personal. Each of us has a different tolerance.”
Lonnie Dupre Solo Summits Denali in WinterFor the 53-year-old polar explorer, the fourth time was the charm. In January, after 25 days of climbing and camping in subzero conditions, Dupre became the first person to make it up North America’s highest peak (20,237 feet) in the dead of winter—when the snow is deep, the air is frozen, and the storms are brutal. It was his fourth try in five years. At one point, about halfway up the mountain, Dupre became pinned down in his tent for four days in whiteout conditions. Denali mountaineering ranger Tucker Chenoweth compared Dupre’s ascent to “heading out onto the moon by yourself.”
Heather Anderson Runs the Appalachian Trail, UnsupportedA 34-year-old personal trainer from Michigan set the speed record last fall for running the 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail in 54 days, without assistance. If that’s tough to contextualize, compare that to the 46 days it took famed ultrarunner Scott Jurek to complete the trail, with assistance. His was a record as well, but his team provided hot meals, medical supplies, and a bed at the end of every day. Anderson now holds the unassisted speed records on both the AT and the Pacific Crest Trail, and is the first woman to do so. “Every girl has a fairy tale,” Anderson told Outside. “This just happens to be mine.”
Will Gadd Ice Climbs Niagara FallsThe Canadian ice climber and all-around-adventurer has done some pretty cool stuff, but scaling a frozen shoulder of Niagara Falls in January was borderline nuts. With six million cubic feet of water ripping down the falls each second, the 47-year-old kept his poise and hammered his way 167 feet to the top. Looking back on it days later, he described the feeling to Outside: “Normally on an ice climb, if you fall in the first 20 feet you might land in the snow and walk away. Here, if you fall, you go into the world’s most savage mixing bowl. And it is going to fuck you up.”
Sherpas Set Three First Ascents in Three DaysThe Nepalese government opened up more than 100 unclimbed Himalayan peaks to climbers 2014, and this past October a three-man team of Sherpas from Nepal’s Rolwaling Valley decided to take advantage. They put up routes on three 20,000-foot peaks in three consecutive days, becoming the first all-Nepalese team to complete a first ascent in the country. The expedition could mark a cultural shift in Nepal in which young Sherpas begin to take control of commercial climbing, which has traditionally been run by Westerners.
Kim Chambers Swims to the FarallonesSharks, frigid water, and powerful currents were the key factors that had prevented many from even attempting an open water swim between San Francisco and the Farallon Islands, 27 miles west. But in August, Chambers, a 38-year-old Kiwi, swam the distance in 17 hours, becoming the first woman ever to do so. After the experience, she told Outside that she’s only just begun: “I’m not ready to settle down, and right now my path lies in a different direction.”
Solar Impulse Records Longest Solo FlightA pair of Swiss pilots set out from the United Arab Emirates in March to achieve the first solar-powered, round-the-world flight. Their vessel: the Solar Impulse 2, a giant glider with a wingspan greater than that of a Boeing 747. At one point in July, one of the pilots, Andre Borschberg, took the world record for the longest solo flight, spending 118 hours in the air on a flight across the Pacific, from Japan to Hawaii. “We need pioneers who show that impossible things can be done,” said Bertrand Piccard, Borschberg’s flying partner.
Racing from Florida to CubaA motley group of catamaran sailors got together in May in Key West to compete in the first government-sanctioned boat race across the 110-mile crossing to Havana in 50 years. The ordeal was nearly a total disaster, with boaters breaking down constantly along the way in rough seas. “This all runs on adrenaline and optimism,” the race coordinator told Outside.
Ueli Steck Crushes the AlpsLast summer, Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck, aka “The Swiss Machine,” undertook a project to summit 82 13,000-foot summits in Swiss, French, and Italian Alps in 80 days, via bike, foot, and paraglider. He finished in 61 days, wrapping up on August 13. During the project, one of Steck’s partners, German mountaineer Michi Wohlleben pulled out after injuring his leg while landing a paraglider, and another member of the expedition team, Dutch climber Martijn Seuren, died after plummeting into a crevasse. Despite the hardships, Steck was typically nonchalant about the project in an interview with Outside in which he described his day-to-day in the mountains.