XX Factor


Dec 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

Outdoor Educator
Breckenridge, Colorado

WHY SHE RULES: When Nadia Kimmel signed up for a 1994 wilderness-medicine course, she wasn't exactly wowed by the location: a claustrophobic classroom in Fort Collins, Colorado. Nor was she convinced that the mostly indoor training in basic medical assessment and treatment was enough to prepare her for real backcountry emergencies. So in 1998 she took matters into her own hands, founding Desert Mountain Medicine and offering a tailor-made curriculum that combines Wilderness First Responder certification and adventure travel. With offices in Breckenridge and Flagstaff, Arizona, Desert Mountain Medicine offers 25 nine- to 12-day courses each year, from rafting in the Grand Canyon to sea kayaking off Vancouver Island. "Anyone can learn hard medical skills, but the soft skills, such as good judgment and leadership, come with experience," says Kimmel. "These are what will save someone's life." SAYS WHO: "Nadia's passion and enthusiasm are infectious," says Andrew MacDonald, a British Columbia paddling guide who completed Kimmel's Grand Canyon program in 2003. "I've taken similar courses, but this one re-created lifesaving scenarios in the environment in which I work." TIGHT SPOTS: Kimmel has learned from her own brushes with disaster, like the time she had an asthma attack when her raft overturned. "It's all about losing the fear and diving in." FORWARD SPIN: Kimmel's working on her doctorate in wilderness medicine at Northern Arizona University. Her focus: using herbal supplements, like cayenne and ginger, to help women stay warm at high altitudes. —ALISON WRIGHT

High-Altitude Filmmaker
Boston, Massachusetts

WHY SHE RULES: After moving to Aspen in 1989, Liesl Clark did what any Harvard grad who'd studied the poststructural theory of semiotics would do: took a job as a production assistant with Aspen-based outdoor-film company American Adventure Productions. Clark's apprentice work, broadcast on ESPN's Expedition Earth in the early 1990s, had her following round-the-world balloon attempts and chasing big cats in Africa. After joining the PBS series Nova as a producer in 1996, she began filming in even bolder venues. "Basically, I did all the extreme films no one else wanted to do," says Clark, who quickly established her niche as writer, director, and producer of cold-weather adventure documentaries. With camera in hand, she's climbed Mount McKinley to study how low temperatures affect the body, made the first eastern ascent of Antarctica's Vinson Massif, and spelunked and rafted half a mile into a Mont Blanc glacier. "In remote places, I know how to hire porters and yaks and be self-sufficient," she says, "but I'm a buffoon when dealing with modern convenience." SAYS WHO: "Liesl's drive and work ethic are impressive," says mountaineer Dave Hahn, who worked with Clark when she filmed the 1999 Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition. "She knows how to keep people focused." WILD CHILD: Clark's first child, Finn, was born in May. "They say babies travel well, so I'll bring him with me unless something is really, really extreme," she says. "It wouldn't make sense to take him to Antarctica till he's at least one and a half." FORWARD SPIN: Clark's new Nova film, which follows extreme scientists studying subglacial water in the French Alps, debuts in January. —JASON DALEY KAE KAWANISHI 35
Wildlife Ecologist
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

WHY SHE RULES: A typical day finds researcher Kae Kawanishi—think Dian Fossey meets Indiana Jones—darting through a Southeast Asian jungle in the name of conservation. Her objective: tracking the stealthy, endangered tigers that inhabit Malaysia's nearly impenetrable rainforests. For her landmark 2002 research—the most comprehensive population study of Indochinese tigers to date—Kawanishi spent 33 months setting up, maintaining, and moving a total of 135 motion-triggered cameras across a 1,677-square-mile area of Malaysia's Taman Negara National Park. The Osaka, Japan-born scientist commanded teams of up to ten porters, three research assistants, and five rangers (all of them, invariably, male) in field conditions that ranged from bad to horrific: torrential rains, marauding elephants, knee-deep mud, and lurking pythons. Equally challenging were the odds of actually capturing one of the elusive cats on film; out of 9,000-plus exposures, fewer than 100 depict tigers. "It was like photographing a ghost," says Kawanishi, who earned her doctorate in wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida and now lives in Kuala Lumpur with her seven-year-old daughter, Rio. "Only my obsession kept me at it." SAYS WHO: "Kae's work is invaluable—she has produced a reliable picture of tiger density and predator-prey dynamics in the region," says John Seidensticker, chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based Save the Tiger Fund Council. "A study like this had never been done before, because it's so truly difficult. But she had the drive." WHAT SHE COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT: Bouts of jungle foot rot. Bloodsucking leeches. And then there was the time she was trapped on a log when a flash flood hit, and had to be rescued by her porters. "My crew often saved my life," says Kawanishi. FORWARD SPIN: Kawanishi is now working with the Malaysian government to develop a countrywide conservation plan that will ensure the tiger's protection for the next 100 years. —FLORENCE WILLIAMS

Gear Entrepreneurs
Burlington, Vermont

WHY THEY RULE: After schussing corn snow one spring day at Stowe five years ago, longtime pals Poppy Gall (left) and Carolyn Cooke got to griping about their ill-fitting unisex skiwear: short-inseamed pants that were too snug and soft shells with arms designed for an orangutan. In a matter of days, they had drawn up a business plan for a women-specific apparel company and christened it Isis, after the Egyptian Great Mother goddess. That day, Gall says, "we leapt off a cliff and never looked back." Thanks to their combined 40 years of outdoor-industry experience (Cooke in sales and marketing, Gall in product design), Isis is now a successful company reportedly worth $3 million, and in the last year it has increased sales by 74 percent and more than doubled its nationwide dealer base—from 100 stores to 220. Most impressive: Their clothes work. Marrying feminine accents and fit (Velcro that won't snag a ponytail) to technical components and fabrics (cashmere-soft fleece collars), Gall and Cooke give women the freedom to dress pretty and play tough. SAYS WHO: "They could have doubled their business by venturing into men's clothing, but they chose to build their brand instead," says John Cooley, director of public relations for Marmot. "That positioning will pay off." FORWARD SPIN: A whiz with scissors and a sewing machine, Gall plans to refine Isis's proprietary fabric, Duet—a weather-resistant soft shell that feels good next to bare skin—and design Duet bibs for female ice climbers and skiers. —KI BASSETT

Pumalin Park, Chile

WHY SHE RULES: "I have a farm in Patagonia," Kris Tompkins told her friends in 1993, when the then-43-year-old CEO of Patagonia up and moved to the fjords of southern Chile to homestead with her new husband, conservationist and former North Face CEO Doug Tompkins. Never mind that she spoke only gringo español, or that the nearest telephone was a Cessna flight away: Tompkins set about turning their little house in the rainforest into a sustainable, privately owned national park, 800,000-acre Pumalin. Ten years later, the couple now spend half the year restoring 600,000 acres of savanna in northern Argentina's Corrientes province. "Commit first and figure it out later" has long been Tompkins's M.O. In 1973 she helped her friend Yvon Chouinard turn his fledgling piton business into Patagonia Inc. That first year, the company grossed $708,000; by '93, she and Chouinard had built an anti-corporation renowned for lunch-break surfing, ecological sabbaticals, and annual sales of $112 million. In 2000, Tompkins sold her Patagonia clothing shares and founded the Patagonia Land Trust, a charitable foundation that has, in three years, bought and preserved more than a quarter of a million acres of Argentina's Andean grasslands, southern beech forests, and wild Atlantic coastline. PLT donated to the country its first coastal national park, 155,000-acre Monte Léon, in October 2002. SAYS WHO: "Whatever Kris does, she has a real sophistication," says Chouinard. "I've seen her on the Today show as comfortable as can be, and I've seen her sitting around a campfire, covered in soot." NO EXCUSES: "Adventurous women, by their very nature, tend to have courage and energy and enthusiasm for doing great things," says Tompkins. "If we're going to use wild nature, and entertain ourselves with it, we need to spend that powerful energy protecting the things we love." FORWARD SPIN: There are giant anteaters to reintroduce in Corrientes, penguin rookeries to protect at Monte Léon, eco-friendly wool sweaters to design at Pumalin, and millions more dollars to raise. "This is lifetime work," she says. "I'm gonna do it till I drop dead. And hopefully it will continue long after that." —ELIZABETH HIGHTOWER

Adventure Altruist
Lhasa, Tibet

WHY SHE RULES: Sabriye Tenberken has trekked on three continents, whitewater-kayaked throughout Europe, and now lives in a spare, 16-by-23-foot stone room in Tibet. But what makes her adventures truly remarkable is that the German-born traveler has been completely blind since age 12, and her wanderlust is fueled by a simple goal: to help others. In 1997, she horsepacked across Tibet as part of a research mission to meet blind children. (Because of dust, wind, alpine sun glare, and poor medical facilities, the region has one of the highest rates of blindness in the world.) The next year, she and her boyfriend, 35-year-old Dutch engineer Paul Kronenberg, founded the first Tibetan training center for the blind, Braille Without Borders, in Lhasa. Now the pair teach some 29 students math, daily living and vocational skills, English, Chinese, and Tibetan Braille, which Tenberken developed while majoring in Central Asian Studies at the University of Bonn. "I wanted to start a school where blind children and adults could be educated," says Tenberken, "but above all where they could learn to believe in themselves and not be ashamed of being blind." SAYS WHO: "Sabriye has a strong drive to help those who are suffering," says Ton Ten Hove, director of Dark & Light Blind Care, a Dutch foundation that funds treatment and education projects in 25 countries across Asia and Africa. "There was nothing done for blind people in Tibet before her, and now she turns their lives from darkness to light." ONE STEP UP: In May, Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind climber to summit Everest, will guide Tenberken and her students through the basics of mountaineering on an ascent of Khartse, a 21,325-foot peak near Everest. Next fall, she and six blind and partially blind German kayakers, along with seven instructors, will attempt first descents on several of Tibet's remote Class III-IV rivers. FORWARD SPIN: Tenberken will open a second school, in Ladakh, India, next year. Her five-year plan? To establish a Braille Without Borders international training center in Ladakh that will enable developing countries to establish their own schools for the blind. —KATE SIBER

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