The Best Outside Stories of 2013

From the shark that choked on a moose to an investigation into Tough Mudder's first death, we look back at the stories that defined the year.

D'oh!-prah: Talk-show icon Winfrey interviews fallen icon Armstrong while taping "Oprah and Lance Armstrong: The Worldwide Exclusive," in Austin, Texas, in January.     Photo: AP

The Disposable Man

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You know those year-end letters your overachieving relatives send out around this time, informing you of all they've been up to? This is ours, and yes, it’s been a helluva year. We started out by picking up some hardware at the National Magazine Awards and elsewhere, and went on to our biggest year online yet. But enough about us. It's the never-ending flow of awesome stories we have the great honor of telling that define such success. So, ICYMI, we present: The Year Outside: 2013.

January

Our hangovers (from both NYE and TDF) had barely lifted when Lance Armstrong came clean. Well, kinda. Watching Lance dissemble and faux pas his way through the Oprah interview was awkward for everyone, but it did lead to the Outside-approved #Doprah drinking game. Later in the year, Alex Gibney’s documentary The Armstrong Lie finally succeeded in pulling back the curtain on the conspiracy.

April

The Boston Marathon bombing, memorialized by a now-iconic Boston Magazine cover, reminded us that America is still a target. It also introduced us to 78-year-old Bill Iffrig, who fell to the ground but finished the race, the badass police woman who was the first to draw her weapon, and Carlos Arredondo the heroic man in the cowboy hat who helped stanch the bleeding of Jeff Bauman who lost both legs to the blast.

Ultrarunning continued to be the most-talked-about way to ambulate through the woods—because obstacle races can now kill you. This year, though, the simian-looking cult of barefoot running finally gave way to the clown-shoe cult of deep-dish Hoka One-One shoes—which perform like fat skis for your feet. Yes, it’s scientifically proven that if you add three inches of padding to the bottom of a shoe, running on rocks and downhill will hurt less.

The Killer in the Pool

How a gentle killer whale was turned into a vicious killer.

May

A relatively quiet spring on the Great Plains—meteorologically speaking—gave way to one of the most ferocious tornado outbreaks of all time. The EF-5 monster that flattened sections of Moore, Oklahoma, came only a week before the largest tornado ever recorded touched down south of nearby El Reno. That tornado was 2.6 miles wide, had wind speeds of nearly 300 miles per hour, and will be remembered for killing legendary stormchaser Tim Samaras, his son Paul, and their colleague Carl Young.

June

The so-called Sherpa brawl on Everest stole the headlines, but it was the news on June 4, that the government was doubling the accidental-death insurance requirement for Everest’s high-altitude porters, that was the biggest news of the year for Sherpa climbers. The increase came just as we were finishing an exhaustive report on the overlooked Sherpa climbers of Everest.

Close on the heels of thoughtful books, like Philip Connors’s Fire Season, which continue to make the case for accepting fire as a natural part of the landscape, we continued to fight megablazes in Arizona, New Mexico, and California like they were ignited by Iranian missiles.

In Yarnell Hill, Arizona, 19 hotshots died while trying to prevent a the town from burning, the biggest wildland firefighting tragedy in 100 years. A report released in September blamed a lack of defensible space in the town of Yarnell, among other factors. In December, new GoPro footage emerged that captured audio of the Granite Mountain Hotshots’ final moments before they deployed their fire shelters.

July

The tide finally began to turn against Sea World after the release of Black Fish. The film adaptation of Tim Zimmermann’s Outside exposé on the San Diego company’s coverup following the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau led to widespread public outrage as well as boycotts of the parks by several well-known musical acts. Sea World has recently gone on the offensive, taking out full-page ads in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post trying to win hearts and minds.

When on the evening of June 22, about 16 villagers disguised as Gilgit paramilitary officers hiked into base camp on the 26,660-foot Nanga Parbat what ensued would become one of the worst massacres in mountaineering history, an attack recounted by David Roberts in an online exclusive story

September

At the time, little was known about this GoPro video filmed from the back of an eagle, save that it was filmed in the Mer de Glace area of Chamonix. But this clip quickly became an Internet sensation, pulling in over 55,000 shares on our site.

October

This month wasn't good for the nutritional-industrial complex. We learned that sugar is a lot worse for you than we’d ever expected, vitamins don’t do anything, and dietary supplements are responsible for a shocking number of liver failures in America. So much for supps!

Our Biggest Crush: Sierra Quitiquit

This fall, the five-foot-ten-inch former Freeskiing World Tour competitor also appeared in Valhalla.

Camouflage was the biggest thing in fashion, with new prints from The North Face and Patagonia among others. Does the trend owe its roots to the ascendancy of Duck Dynasty and its now infamous star Phil Robertson, or the big comeback that hunting is making among the adventure set? Elsewhere in the fashion industry, scientists finally figured out how to waterproof goose down, making puffy jackets possibly the most versatile piece of insulation in your closet.

The end of October sent the country into widespread panic. No, not another financial collapse or terrorist threat. Responding to complaints of irritated eyes and throats, headaches, and unbearable odors, a judge in Los Angeles County moved to stop production at a Sriracha factory in California. The threat of curtailed hipster ketchup turned out to be our biggest news story of the year (um, go figure; you guys love your hot sauce!).

November

Ski porn hit new highs with the amazing cinematography and mind-melting edits of Valhalla and Into the Mind, both of which made Discovery’s Planet Earth look shabby by comparison. We were told that these films contained a narrative arc—that's pushing it, but they were trying at least. It didn't really matter; everybody loved them, anyway.

For the third straight year, the Earth has unleashed a hundred-year storm. Typhoon Haiyan killed at least 6,000 people in the Philippines, though that number will likely rise. Is climate change to blame? Yeah, probably, but we’re not going to do anything about it until our vacations at places like Aspen Mountain get cut short for lack of snow.

In the month's—if not all of 2013's—most weirdly uplifting story, two Canadian men rescued a beached shark that was choking on a moose carcass. "It was a good feeling to see that shark swim out," said one of the rescuers. Yes. Yes it was.

December

The Oscars short-list for documentary films revealed a newfound love for the Outside and Mountainfilm genre, with Blackfish, The Armstrong Lie, The Crash Reel, and God Loves Uganda all getting the nod. Our favorite was Lucy Walker’s The Crash Reel, a nearly perfect documentary that turned the heroic sports recovery on its head and made us fall in love with the Pearce family—especially David.

And finally, what big year would be complete without more news of Christopher McCandless, the wayward youth who gave away his money and hitchiked to Alaska where he met his demise? Jon Krakauer wrote an insightful piece for The New Yorker about new research into the cause of McCandless's death. But the bigger story might have been the reports of scores of Into the Wild fans making pilgrimages to the bus where McCandless last lived, risking their own lives along the way. Diana Saverin went to Alaska to learn more about who these people are, and why they felt compelled to embark on such a journey.

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