March 25, 2014

Sean "Stanley" Leary died this month in Zion National Park.     Photo: Courtesy of seanstanleyleary.com

Three BASE Jumpers Die in Zion

Including climber Sean Leary

The body of Sean Leary, a climber known for his record-breaking Yosemite ascents, was found this past weekend by authorities in Zion National Park.

According to Climbing, he died in a BASE-jumping accident on March 13. Officials started searching for Leary on Sunday after he failed to return home.   

Leary, who set a speed record with Alex Honnold in 2009, was one of the most talented climbers of his generation. He climbed El Capitan many times, including three routes in one day with Honnold.   

Leary is the third person to die this year while attempting to parachute illegally from the park’s cliffs. Another jumper was killed Friday when he fell about 400 feet while leaping from an area near Moab. Amber Bellows, 28, died in the national park in February when her parachute failed to open.  

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Mount Everest, as seen from base camp in Tibet     Photo: piccaya/Getty Images

Buy an Everest Summit with Bitcoin

Only $30K with digital currency

Collecting armadillos. Do-it-yourself bullfighting. Riding a jetpack while drunk. Some activities are bound to attract a small group of dedicated, often wealthy people who welcome risk and whose pastimes call for an unusual amount of daring and finesse. This week, two of those groups combined, as Australia-based outfitting company Mt Everest Adventures began accepting bitcoin, an emerging digital currency, for its adventure packages, including trips to the top of Mount Everest.

According to Coindesk, the decision to accept bitcoin was driven by the fact that virtually all expedition companies working in the Himalayas must offer and accept payments in currencies besides their own. This can be an annoying (and often expensive) stumbling block. CEO Aseem Jha said he was tired of paying commissions for currency exchanges with the tightly controlled Nepalese rupee.

“First there is the 2 to 3 percent that your payment gateway charges, then they charge on forex exchange, and we also need to have a merchant account to accept payments, which costs monthly fees,” Jha said. “With bitcoin we only pay almost nothing.”

The decision to accept payments in bitcoin comes at an uncertain time for the new currency. Lauded by many investors—and a few major banks—as a competitive new means of payment, bitcoin is accepted by vendors as large as Overstock.com and gaming company Zynga. (In November, Richard Branson announced that Virgin Galactic would be accepting bitcoin for its chartered trips into space.)

Bitcoin remains much more popular among speculators than ordinary consumers, however, and during the past several months, bitcoin’s reputation has been bruised by stories of extreme volatility, money laundering, and theft.

Last month, online merchant Silk Road 2 (the child of Silk Road, which the FBI shut down in 2013 amid concerns that illegal drugs were being sold on the site) reported that a hacker had found a vulnerable spot in the site’s transaction code, ultimately withdrawing $2.7 million in digital currency.

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The view from the top of the Freedom Tower.     Photo: Twitter.com

World Trade Center BASE Jumpers Revealed

Plunge 1,368 feet over NYC

At 3 a.m. on September 30, 2013, three men jumped from New York City's Freedom Tower, also known as One World Trade Center. Their parachutes opened minutes before hitting pavement on West Street. You can watch the whole thing here:

BASE jumping—leaping from fixed objects and hoping to high heaven that your parachute breaks the fall—is often illegal, as was the case with the predawn act of Andrew Rossig, James Brady, Kyle Hartwell, and Marco Markovich at the Freedom Tower.

On Monday, the four men (three jumpers and one lookout), who faced burglary charges, turned themselves in to authorities, the New York Times reports.

“We just kind of walked in,” Rossig, 33, one of the parachutists, told the Times. “It’s supposed to be the most secure building in the world. God forbid it was somebody else getting in there with a real intention to harm New Yorkers.”

Believe it or not, this isn't the first security breach at One World Trade Center. Just last week, Justin Casquejo, a 16-year-old from New Jersey, crawled through a hole in a fence at 4 a.m., climbed construction scaffolding, and caught an elevator to the 88th floor—1,368 feet above street level. He climbed the building's spire and was caught by Port Authority police two hours later.

It took more than four months to track down the four men who BASE jumped from the Freedom Tower. Legal or not, it sounds like Rossig has no regrets.

“It’s a fair amount of free-fall time,” he told the Times. “You really get to enjoy the view of the city.”

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Boston Marathon.     Photo: Marcio Jose Bastos Silva/Shutterstock.com

Record Marathon Finishes in 2013

Half million runners go distance

Last year was a record year for the marathon, according to Running USA’s Annual Marathon Report

Approximately 541,000 runners completed one of 1,100 26.2-mile events across the United States in 2013. That’s up from 487,000 finishers in 2012. (Keep in mind, however, that one runner can count for more than one finish.)

Fifty-seven percent (308,400) of finishers were men, who ran an average time of 4:16:24. Average time for the 232,600 women was 4:41:38. Of both groups combined, 47 percent (254,300) were age 40 and older.

This record participation is impressive considering roughly 5,000 people did not finish the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, due to the finish-line bombings. In December, two large marathons—MetroPCS Dallas and St. Jude Memphis—were canceled due to inclement weather.

The massive New York City Marathon, however, buoyed numbers with a record 50,266 finishers. Additionally, several marathons debuted in 2013, including the BMO Harris Bank Phoenix and Edward Hospital Naperville races, which boasted a combined 2,513 finishers.

With this year’s Boston race expanded to 36,000 runners, we wonder if 2014 will see even greater marathon participation. Are you registered?

Read the full report for tables and lists detailing demographics and statistics for U.S. marathons since 1980.

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Soviet-era GTO Ready for Labor and Defense propaganda.     Photo: Paddy2706/Wikimedia

Putin Launches Fitness For Russians

Funds program with Olympics cash

Reuters reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin will relaunch a Soviet-era national fitness program with surplus funds originally earmarked for the $50 billion Sochi Olympics and Paralympics.

Known by the acronym GTO, which translates to "Ready for Labor and Defense of the USSR," the Soviet physical education system was introduced by Joseph Stalin in 1931. The program required all school-age and college students to regularly pass physical training tests in competitive sports such as running, skiing, and swimming. Most former Soviet republics eliminated GTO when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Reinstating the fitness program would "pay homage to our national historical traditions," Putin told reporters. "The Olympics and Paralympics have demonstrated that we are again becoming one of the leaders in global sports."

It's still unclear what a modern GTO regimen would look like, but don't be surprised if Russian children begin learning judo. Putin is a black belt in the sport and a former St. Petersburg champion. Check out his moves:

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Sharks being fed.     Photo: Fiona Ayerst/Getty Images

Shark-Feeding Video Leads to Charges

Tour operators could get 60 days

Just because you aren't in a zoo doesn't mean you can feed the animals.

Four men from two Florida dive companies are facing charges linked with illegally feeding sharks and fish. Working jointly with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, investigators with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) recorded video of two divers feeding sharks by hand in state waters in early February. Both vessels' operators are also implicated in these charges.

"This is a public safety issue," the FWC's Camille Soverel said in a statement. "The FWC's Division of Law Enforcement wants to ensure these beautiful coastal waters remain safe for divers."

In a statement to CNN, diver Luis Jordan defended feeding sharks by hand, saying people don't need to fear sharks.

Feeding fish in Florida waters has been illegal since 2002. These second-degree misdemeanors could land the accused in jail for up to 60 days with a fine of up to $500.

See other footage from the dive:

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