July 25, 2013

Honnold, high up and ropeless.     Photo: Courtesy of the Reel Rock Film Tour

Alex Honnold to Climb Skyscraper on Live TV

Another production by Sender Films

Noted free-soloist Alex Honnold will climb one of the world's tallest buildings on live TV later this year, according to the National Geographic Channel. The network, which aired Nik Wallenda's tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon last month, hasn't revealed which building Honnold will tackle, citing safety reasons. However, National Geographic says that the 27-year-old will be the first to climb it, ruling out giants such as the Burj Khalifa, Taipei 101, and the Willis Tower.

The two-hour event will be produced by Peter Mortimer and Sender Films, the climbing film production company behind films like Honnold 3.0 and "Alone on the Wall," about Honnold's groundbreaking free solo of Half Dome.

"I've always loved climbing in all forms and this is an amazing opportunity to push my own climbing into interesting new terrain," Honnold said in a statement. "I've admired the aesthetics of sky scrapers my whole life; it's great to be able to climb one."

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    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Dunes Threaten Tunisian 'Star Wars' Set

Will soon swallow site of 'The Phantom Menace'

Mos Espa, the fictional town from the The Phantom Menace, may soon be lost to the sands of time. The movie set, built for the 1999 Star Wars prequel, is a popular tourist attraction for the Tunisian city of Tozeur, but it is now under threat from massive, advancing sand dunes.

The set, which has become a place of pilgrimage for truly devoted fans of the film franchise, is directly in the path of a large dune type known as a barchan. According to Johns Hopkins scientist Ralph Lorenz, who co-authored the Geomorphology paper, Dunes on Planet Tatooine: Observation of Barchan Migration at the Star Wars Film Set in Tunisia, Mos Espa could be completely buried within six years.

Tunisian authorities are reportedly considering bulldozing the dune to preserve the tourist attraction, but Lorenz believes they are only delaying the inevitable, since there is an even larger barchan waiting behind the current one.

If there is a silver lining to this situation (and perhaps the creation of The Phantom Menace as a whole), it's that Mos Espa's destruction may aid in the study of dune migration on Earth. "One of the challenges in measuring dune migration on Mars or Earth is that dunes often appear in vast sand seas where not only can it be difficult to tell one dune from another," says Lorenz. "But there may be no fixed reference point against which to measure the dune's position." Mos Espa, he says, may serve as a helpful "fiducial marker" as the barchan rolls over it.

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The Wave in the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness     Photo: AlaskanDude/Flickr

The Wave Monument Claims Third Hiker

Woman dies of heat exhaustion

A beautiful and forbidding desert area south of Utah has claimed its third hiker this month. Elisabeth Ann Berval, 27, died of heat exhaustion while hiking with her husband at the Wave, a sandstone monument located in the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, where temperatures often reach the triple digits.

The trails in the area are unmarked, and when the couple—celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary—turned back, they found themselves lost. Bervel's husband went ahead to find help, but returned to find his wife in cardiac arrest, with heat exhaustion as the probable cause.

The Bureau of Land Management allows only 20 people to hike through the area on a given day. And would-be hikers must watch an instructional video on hiking safety and obtain a permit months in advance.

Despite the safety precautions, the Wave has proved particularly deadly of late. Earlier this month, a couple died after temperatures reached into the triple digits.

"People don't realize it's on an unmarked trail, across open desert that gets extremely, extremely hot," wilderness instructor Adam Provance told ABC News.

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    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Plan to Kill Barred Owls to Save Spotted Approved

In California, Oregon, and Washington

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has announced that it will proceed with plans to kill 3,600 barred owls in California, Oregon, and Washington in an attempt to bolster the threatened spotted owl. The government agency has been considering the plan since 2005, but was stalled due to environmentalists' objections.

“We can’t ignore the mounting evidence that competition from barred owls is a major factor in the northern spotted owl’s decline, along with habitat loss,” said Service Director Dan Ashe in a statement.

Barred owls are considered by the USFWS to directly compete for resources with the less aggressively spotted owl.

The Audobon Society, however, has rejected the plan, saying in a response to the announcement that "To move forward with killing barred owls without addressing the fundamental cause of spotted owl declines, from our perspective, is not acceptable."

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