This past year we saw daring adventurers rewrite world records, struggle mightily against the harshest environments, and perform feats no one had ever seen. Luke Aikins dropped out of the sky without a parachute. Lael Wilcox crossed America on a bicycle faster than any other woman ever had (and beat a field of men in the process). Melissa Arnot became the first American woman to climb Everest without oxygen. From the deserts of the West to the mountains of the Himalayas, here are the most badass adventures of the past year.
Adam Ondra Climbs the Dawn Wall
Subsisting on freeze-dried bean soup, trail mix, and energy bars, the Czech climber made a free ascent in record time on the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite in November.
The Dawn Wall is considered the hardest rock climb in the world, bar none. The 3,000-foot route goes up a sheer granite face with handholds as thin as credit cards. Ondra gave himself 45 days in the valley to study and practice the hardest parts of the route and made an eight-day push, breaking the 19-day record put forward by Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, who pioneered the route in January 2015.
Lael Wilcox Wins the Race Across America
The 28-year-old mountain biking phenom became the first woman to win the 4,400-mile Trans Am bike race, besting 65 other riders. “I’m not surprised that a woman won this race, though I am surprised it was me,” she said.
It took her 18 days and 10 minutes to ride from Astoria, Oregon, to Yorktown, Virginia. She did it two and half days faster than the previous women's record.
Journalists Thru-Hike the Grand Canyon
“Hiking through the Grand Canyon is the closest to hell that I expect to come before I get there when I die,” said writer and former Outside editor Kevin Fedarko after completing the final section of a thru-hike of the Grand Canyon in November. Fedarko and photographer Pete McBride started the 800-mile journey in September 2015 and concluded it November 18, 2016.
The pair scrambled on exposed ledges into heinous bushwhacks in the frozen winter and the incessant summer sun. It took eight stages, each between a week and a half and three weeks.
Karl Meltzer Breaks the Appalachian Trail Speed Record
Meltzer was accompanied by a team dedicated to taking care of the runner’s feet, food, and sleeping accommodations each day. “I decided I wasn't going to go out of my way for anything. I'm not staying in a hotel. I don't care about taking a shower,” Meltzer told Outside.
Melissa Arnot Climbs Everest Without Supplemental Oxygen
The 33-year-old mountaineer from Montana climbed to the 29,035-foot summit along the northeast ridge in May without O2 canisters, joining a small group people who have completed the mountain without supplemental oxygen. Two weeks later, she was filming a commercial for Microsoft about her mountain guiding business in Los Angeles.
Luke Aikins Plunges 25,000 Feet Without a Parachute
This past summer in California’s Simi Valley, a 10,000-foot net held up by four cranes caught Luke Aikins as he fell from the sky. He had launched from a small airplane 25,000 feet up, without a parachute, earning a record for the highest such jump in history.
“You can see the ground from 25,000 feet, but you can’t see any definition where you’re trying to land,” Aikins told Outside.
Pete Kostelenick Breaks the Cross-Country Running Record
Pete Kostelenick laced up his running shoes in San Francisco on September 12 and ran to New York City faster than anyone else ever has, completing the 3,067-mile journey in 42 days, 6 hours, and 30 minutes. That’s roughly 73 miles per day, and a full four days faster than the previous record, set in 1980. In the process, Kostelenick destroyed eight pairs of running shoes.
Jim Walmsley Goes Rim to Rim to Rim in Record Time
Ultrarunner Jim Walmsley crossed the Grand Canyon twice in just 5:55:20, roughly 25 minutes faster than the previous record (set in 2013 by Rob Krar). The Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim challenge, as it’s known, includes 24,000 feet of vert and covers 42 miles. Walmsley averaged 8:27 per mile.
“When I first finished, everything was just hurting so bad and had been hurting for so long. I was just like, ‘Thank god, I get to sit down,’” Walmsley told Outside. “But the more I let it sink in, the more I felt it was awesome. Getting to be the first person who broke six hours for the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim felt pretty special.”
Adrian Ballinger and Emily Harrington Prove the ‘Two-Week Mountaineering Plan’ Works
Adrian Ballinger and Emily Harrington climbed Cho Oyu, the sixth tallest mountain in the world, without having to spend months acclimatizing in base camp. How? By acclimatizing at home in Lake Tahoe (in an altitude tent) and planning carefully. When a weather window opened, the couple bought a flight to Tibet, drove to base camp, climbed the peak, climbed down, then flew home. The whole trip took just two weeks. Cho Oyu makes up part of the border between Tibet and Nepal.
“I believe we can remove those acclimatization trips and push quickly up and back down before major [altitude-related] symptoms set in,” Ballinger told Outside.
The Freemans Spend One Full Year in the Wilderness
Former National Geographic Adventurers of the Year Amy and Dave Freeman paddled, portaged, dog sledded, skied, and camped throughout the 1.1-million-acre in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota for 366 days, emerging on September 23rd. They endured -30-degree temperatures, ate dehydrated veggies, and even filed their taxes, all while trying to raise awareness about potential threats to the area. The Freemans are concerned about the 100-plus drilling permits that have been issued to multinational corporations on state and federal lands near the Boundary Waters. (On December 16, President Obama blocked a proposed nickel and copper mine near the Boundary Waters.) After leaving in September, they went straight to Washington, D.C., to talk with politicians.