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Dispatches : Adventure

The Evolution of Climber Tommy Caldwell

“As a professional climber I like to say that my gift in life is the ability to relentlessly beat my head against a wall. I live by the ethos that if you hit your head hard or long enough, it really feels good when you stop.” —Tommy Caldwell

This past October, 34-year-old climber Tommy Caldwell began hitting his head against El Capitan again. He set out with Jonathan Siegrist to work on a roughly 30-pitch route called The Dawn Wall that he started in 2007. It has seven sections of 5.14 and seven sections of 5.13, and would be one of the world’s hardest big wall routes if completed. In November, Kevin Jorgeson joined the pair. Jorgeson has been working on the route with Caldwell since 2009. On November 15, 2012, Caldwell stopped in the middle of the project, ending at the 13th pitch with characteristic optimism. “Last day on the wall for the season,” he said on Facebook. “Sad to be done, but good progress was made.”

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John Davis Sets Off to Hike, Paddle, and Bike the Spine of the Continent

John_Davis_CongareeNP_Susan_BaycotJohn Davis paddling in Congaree National Park. Photo: Susan Baycot

Climate change, development, ranching, and oil and gas exploration tend to get a lot of ink when it comes to threats to wildlife in the Western United States. But wildlife corridors are another vital factor, and one that relates very closely to all the aforementioned variables because they allow wildlife to adapt to changes in their environment while maintaining vital migration patterns. The movement of keystone species, such as cougars, wolves, and bears, through these corridors—or "wildways"—is vital to balancing ecosystems, as well. In fact, the study of these corridors is a fundamental aspect of conservation biology, as Mary Ellen Hannibal describes in her book The Spine of the Continent.

Unfortunately, highways tend to fragment these corridors, as roadkill makes perfectly obvious, and other demands are continually encroaching on these passageways. Conservation biologists are continually working to protect wildways and keep them open. On January 25, wilderness advocate, writer, and adventurer John Davis will set out from Sonora, Mexico, on a 10-month journey along this spine, which is linked through a number of mountain ranges, including the Rockies, from Mexico into Canada.

The goal for this project, dubbed TrekWest, is to drum up attention and improved protections for the waterways and mountain passes along the corridor. Along the way Davis will conduct a sort of moving symposium, meeting with scientists and researchers who are studying the pressures being put on wildlife corridors through development and other demands. He plans to broadcast these interactions via Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and the trip is being made possible through the Wildlands Network, which Davis co-founded, and a range of other conservation groups, listed on the route map.

Long slogs and extreme weather are not foreign concepts to Davis. For his TrekEast adventure in 2011, he hiked, biked, and paddled 7,600 backcountry miles from the Florida Keys to Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula.

He says he is motivated to go on these treks both as a way of putting wildways into the national discussion but also for his own fulfillment. "I do this first and foremost because I believe in the value of nature, but also for selfish reasons," he says. "I like to recreate in wild places and I personally lose each time an acre of wildlands are lost."

"The conservation community alone isn't enough [to protect these corridors], we need to get a national consensus on this. The outdoor recreation community is absolutely vital to this," he adds. "I hope to strengthen the ties between conservation biologists and outdoor recreationalists, who should be active in trying to protect these areas. I hope that's one thing my trek will draw attention to."

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Young Athletes of the Year

Like it or not, professional athletes are role models for our children. Sometimes this is a good thing, and, well, sometimes it’s not. (Ahem, Lance.) Thankfully, inspiration is a two-way street: Young athletes can teach us what it means to try our hardest, practice true sportsmanship, and play for all the right reasons.

We’d all do well to take a cue from Connor and Cayden Long, whom Sports Illustrated named Sports Kids of the Year in 2012. The brothers, now nine and seven, have spent the last year and a half competing together in youth triathlons up and down the East Coast. Cool story, but here’s the hitch: Cayden, 7, who has hypertonic cerebral palsy, can’t walk or swim or ride a bike. His brother, Connor, helps him through the whole course: pulling him on a raft during the swimming leg, towing him on a bike trailer during the cycling leg, and pushing him in the trailer during the run.

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Living the Outdoor Life Year-Round in London

Richard Roberts is a London piano tuner who abandoned his apartment and is living a life outdoors so that he can pay off his student debt. He bikes around town and sleeps in a bivy bag on a four-season mat—in a different location just about every night. He blogs about everything at piano-tuning.co.uk/blog/. It's an interesting chronicle, not just because you get to explore London outdoors at night through his lens, but because he takes you inside the homes of the city's residents: swiss bankers, athletic trainers, hunters, etc.

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5 Adventure Cars That Do Less Harm, Conceptually Speaking

Ulrich_hackenberg_naiasVolkswagen's Ulrich Hackenberg presents the Cross Blue Concept car at NAIAS. Photo: NAIAS

The latest update of the National Climate Assessment, a federally-mandated report written by a panel of 240 scientists, was released January 11 and is meant to erase any doubts as to whether climate change is having a real, palpable impact on our daily lives.

"Climate change affects everything that you do," co-author Susan Cutter, director of the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute at the University of South Carolina, told the AP's Seth Borenstein. "It affects where you live, where you work and where you play and the infrastructure that you need to do all these things. It's more than just the polar bears."

Aside from making everyone rather depressed by the changing climate and the resources that are at stake, the report is meant to push regulators into action. That process is maddeningly slow—arguably slower than the pace at which the climate is changing. When Cutter talks about our climate impacting the places we play and the infrastructure we use, that includes the cars we drive to access the places we love. The Obama administration has made some bold moves in fuel efficiency standards, mandating an average of 54.5 miles per gallon for cars and light trucks. By 2025. That's impressive, but loses some of its shine given our imperative to significantly reduce carbon emissions starting now (or decades ago).

Still, carmakers are reacting to fuel standards that are coming into play now—a 35.5mpg average by 2016. Because it's an average, and because efficiency is easier to obtain in smaller vehicles, the most efficient vehicles have traditionally not been the same cars and trucks people use to play in the mountains. That is starting, ever so slowly, to change.

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