The Outside Blog


Drones and Choppers at Base Camp?

Heli in base camp

This morning I awoke at 7:20 a.m. to the rotors of the latest model Eurocopter B3 hovering above my tent as it prepared to land 50 yards away to resupply a neighboring camp. I thought to myself, this is getting a little surreal, as I walked from my personal tent to our dining tent for my morning cup of coffee. As I strolled over the rocky moraine of our base camp with java on my mind, I heard what sounded like a swarm of angry mosquitos approaching, and then saw the small 6 rotor drones flying about filming the tents of our camp below. I first saw this drone on the trek in at Phakding when its Chinese owners were staying in the same lodge as us, and they explained to me that the contraption they would disassemble and carry by hand cost well over $100,000.

Over the last few years, as the Eurocopter B3 proved very adept at flying at high altitudes, it became a popular way for climbers to quickly exit locations such as Everest base camp (17,500’), in the event of an injury or illness that was life threatening. But of course it also allowed for healthy climbers to shell out a few thousand bucks and avoid the mult-day trek from base camp to Lukla and then fly out on a twin otter from the world’s most dangerous runway. Last year a few of my climbers flew out of Base Camp after a successful climb by helicopter to Kathmandu and were home in Dubai that same day.

These helicopters have proved very efficient at evacuating injured or ill climbers, but they also have opened up a new dimension of commerce on 8000-meter peaks that previously did not exist. Watching this burgeoning industry evolve with little to no regulation is exciting. The established helipad just below Base Camp that was supposed to be reserved for medical evacuations is regularly used for non- emergency flights. Daily sightseeing tours with tourists from Kathmandu hover over Base Camp just a few hundred meters off the deck. And the Nepali team next to ours recently built their own helipad so that they could easily resupply their camp with fresh food and ferry members in and out of camp regularly. When the helicopter lands, people walk around the impressive machine and snap photos or shoot movie clips to upload to their Facebook pages. Back home in the U.S. when I have been around helicopters the pilot and other crews are militant about keeping people away from the tail rotors that would chop a person apart. But not here in Nepal, where helicopter flights mean thousands of dollars in cash changing hands. There are now 4 commercial helicopter companies here competing for passengers' dollars, and the prices for flights varies widely.

Having traveled halfway around the world and trekked 2 weeks to reach Everest Base Camp, I am a little disappointed that I awake to the deafening roar of thumping rotors above my tent and then the buzz of a mini drone helicopter as I enjoy my morning coffee and the views of Everest, Nuptse, & Pumori (peaks surrounding Base Camp). But then again, this is not about solitude in nature: there are over a thousand people in camp, and those aiming to climb to the top of the highest mountain in the world have brought with them satellite modems to access the internet, movie projectors to watch films in the evenings (and generators to keep those projectors going well after dark), and even gourmet food and western chefs to satisfy their palates. This is about going big, reaching the highest point on earth, and having a great time along the way.

Chef Alexandra catching a few rays amongst the Sherpa

Do I resent this development of Base Camp into a mini city, with high-tech aircraft,  high-speed Wi-Fi, eggs benedict, carpeted leisure tents with propane heaters, etc.? Honestly I think it is all pretty nice considering I am "on the job." If I were to break my leg up on the Lhotse Face, I would prefer the helicopter ride from the base of the face at 22,000’ direct to Kathmandu rather than be carried down the Western CWM and the Khumbu Icefall on the backs of Sherpas, then strapped to a Yak in base camp for the multi day ride down to Lukla. And the luxuries I have access to in my camp such as Wi-Fi, our lovely and skilled chef Alexandra … these amenities I prefer to the hundreds of mountain climbing expeditions where I cooked instant oatmeal for my clients and had zero communication with the outside world. Considering I am working as I guide clients to the top of the world, I might as well ask for a base camp masseuse next year to take care of us poor climbers between our forays up the mountain.

—Garrett Madison

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Outside Television Adds New Shows, Expands Original Programming

Outside Television, America’s only network for active outside enthusiasts, today detailed two new exclusive original series, The Final Cut: Outside’s Adventure Film School and EpicQuest, to bolster another aggressive expansion of original programming through the end of this year.

The Final Cut: Outside’s Adventure Film School will premiere early this spring, while new weekly hour-long adventure EpicQuest, featuring Alaska’s international expedition operators of the same name, anchors a late fall and early winter surge of still more new series. Those originals include the return of renowned producer Warren Miller Entertainment’s Season Pass, which has received a second-season renewal, plus at least two more original series from Red Bull Media House, which entered into a sweeping original programming alliance with Outside Television last June.

"Outside Television attracts some of the most passionate and active people on the planet who are constantly challenging themselves against the most exotic locales and dangerous natural elements," says Rob Faris, senior vice president of programming and production. "They demand a sense of immersion in all that we do, and while lush visuals and action are hallmarks of our network, we are equally as interested in creating compelling characters and multifaceted stories."

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Can Idle No More Save the Great Bear Rainforest?

ProtestsPipeline protest. Photo: Dogwood Initiative

Amid an increasingly conservative Canadian government focused on exploiting the land's resources, the country's indigenous people have risen up through a grassroots protest movement called Idle No More.

The Idle No More protest movement was born in late 2012, started by four activists in Saskatchewan who wanted to garner support to rally against a wide-ranging bill, C-45, that would remove significant tribal authority over Canadian waterways by overhauling the country's 130-year-old Navigable Waters Protection Act. But the bill passed just before Christmas. Its passage has only stoked the movement, which is also galvanizing indigenous groups not only across Canada but those in the U.S. and South America, as well. Demonstrations linked to the movement have sprung up from California to Wisconsin to Maine.

Environmental justice is one of the major themes being addressed, and in British Columbia, protests are focused on Northern Gateway, a proposed pipeline that would run 730 miles, traversing the Rockies and Coast mountain ranges and hundreds of waterways before its terminus in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest contiguous tracts of temperate rainforest left in the world.

While the press in the United States has not covered the protests a great deal, Idle No More is major news in Canada and the movement gained significant momentum via Twitter (which you'll see by searching #idlenomore). Idle No More protests, often taking the form of flash-mob style drum circles in shopping malls and other public areas, have been attracting thousands of participants and resulting in civil disobedience arrests.

While the links between Idle No More and the Northern Gateway protest movement are informal, they're part of a wider reaction among indigenous Canadians to an increasingly conservative government, says Chris Darimont, professor at University of Victoria Geography Department and science director for Raincoast Conservation.

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Ragnar Puts the Team in Trail Running

Screen Shot 2013-01-25 at 2.22.28 PMNo more lonely trails. Photo: Courtesy of Ragnar

On January 22, the increasingly popular relay running series, Ragnar, announced that it is partnering with Salomon to launch the world’s first overnight trail running series. "For years we have dreamed of taking Ragnar to the trails and now it’s a reality," says Tanner Bell, who founded Ragnar Events a decade ago with a 200-mile team road race in Utah. Since then, the series has grown to 15 events in the U.S. and Canada, with nearly 100,000 racers competing last year.

The new two-day trail series will feature 120-mile courses and teams of four to eight runners. Unlike the road series, in which teammates who aren’t running drive by van to meet up with their runners at pre-determined transition points, Ragnar’s trail relays will consist of three loops run out of a central base camp à la traditional 24-hour mountain bike races. Not only does this alleviate the discomfort of cramping muscles during long car rides, but it also caters to parent runners who want to bring their kids to check out the action. Simply pitch a tent, set up a few chairs, and voila—front row seats to the race. (Kids must be at least 12 to enter.)

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An Ode to the Fat Bike

All Smiles on the Fat Bike

Earlier this week on a side street in Santa Fe, I passed a guy bike commuting the opposite direction from me. He was riding a fat bike.

Like any good cyclist, I'll often crane my neck to see what a passing rider is pedaling or what pretty frame is adorning the roof rack of that Subaru. But this time I nearly crashed looking because, other than the handful of fat bikes that come through the Outside offices for testing, this was the first big wheeler I've ever seen in my town. In addition to the fatty, this guy was wearing royal blue short shorts and technicolor knee socks—as if he needed more than the monster truck tires to draw attention to himself.

What you have to understand is that Santa Fe is no Boulder, Colorado. No Portland, Oregon. A small contingency of dedicated cyclists lives and trains here, but this is no bastion of cycling culture. So the arrival of fat bikes in Santa Fe is akin to the arrival of, say, women in military combat positions—it's a sign that the trend has moved from outlier to mainstream.

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Apr 23, 2014

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