Monday, November 28, 2005

Adventurer of the Year? Hmmm....

National Geographic Adventure magazine's "Best of Adventure" issue is out, and it names Ed Viesturs as "Adventurer of the Year." Ed's a master at high-altitude moutaineering, and he certainly deserves kudos for bagging all 14 of the world's 8,000-meter peaks safely. (I interviewed him about training for 8,000-meter peaks for an Outside magazine story slated for January). But Viesturs was the 12th climber to polish off the 8,000'ers, not the first. His only claim to fame is being the first American to do it. If that makes you adventurer of the year, then 2005 wasn't a great year for adventure.

Adventure's other climbing and skiing choices were on target: "Elites" included Josune Bereziartu, the only woman in the world who is rock climbing on par with men, and Greg Hill, who last season skied 1 million vertical feet under his own power—no lifts, no choppers. (Think of the last time you climbed a couple of thousand feet on backcountry gear. Felt like a lot, didn't it? Hill climbed more than 10,000 feet on 37 separate days last winter and spring, according to Adventure.) In Adventure's "Iconoclasts" category, Michael Reardon made the list for free soloing Romantic Warrior (multipitch 5.12b) in the Needles and soloing the Palisades Traverse in 22 hours. Now that's adventurous.

It's too bad because Adventure magazine usually gets it right with climbing stories, especially in the last couple of years. This same issue includes a decent reporting job by Dan Duane (marred by a few factual errors) on the Tomaz Humar helicopter rescue in August and its aftermath, and the magazine often features good investigative essays by David Roberts. In mountaineering and skiing alone, Adventure could have chosen from half a dozen other superb exploits this year to find its "Adventurer of the Year." Selecting Viesturs—as accomplished as he may be—only reinforces an unfortunate truth in mainstream journalism: The more famous you are, the more the media love you.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dougald,

I admire your work and enjoy your blog, but I think that you miss the point about Ed Viesturs. His honor recognizes years of effort in the detah zone without 0's. Pehaps you have climbed an 8,000er without oxygen, but your comments make it sound as though you are not really acknowledging the true dangers...For Ed to complete this tick list is truly inspiring

Dougald said...

Mountaineering at altitude is incredibly demanding—and my own track record on high mountains is pitiful, so I have a lot of respect for people who are good at it. Viesturs deserves high marks for his skill and perserverance over 16 years of climbing in dangerous terrain. My point is only that, as the 12th man to hit this mark, he doesn't deserve to be called "adventurer of the year." True adventure, I think, requires breaking new ground. Just looking at climbers, how about Steve House, for his alpine-style ascent of the Rupal Face on Nanga Parbat? Or Tommy Caldwell, for two El Cap free routes in a day? Or Ermanno Salvaterra, for his third new route on Cerro Torre, completed alpine-style at age 50 (admittedly, a climb that happened much too late in Adventure's production schedule to make that list). If I had to pick from the people cited in Adventure's article, I'd give the title to Ellen MacArthur, the 29-year-old Brit who sailed around the world alone in 71 days—only the fifth person ever to do the solo circumnavigation by sail, and she broke the record by more than a day.

Spinner said...

I guess it depends on what the definition of "adventure" is. An adventure could be loosely defines as a "hazardous journey", in which case my morning commute should be considered. The purely academic definition --something where the outcome is uncertain--- much more narrowly defines what adventure is. I think it was Edward Abbey who said it wasn't wilderness unless there was something in it that could eat you--maybe it isn't adventure unless thae outcome is in doubt.

Anonymous said...

Uncertainty is, indeed, integral to adventure. As is context. One man's dream climb could be another fellow's three hour solo. Ed Viesturs feat, while impressive, is neither on the cutting edge of alpinism nor 'adventure.'

Mike said...

I think the entire argument points to the stupidity of a title such as "Adventurer of the Year." I'd rather see these mags focus more on the adventure and less on the adventurer. Viesturs' accomplishment is impressive and deserving of recognition. However, my own 17 hour epic on the north ridge of Lone Pine Peak, towing an idiotic partner and fighting leg cramps due to too much Thanksgiving turkey certainly deserved a mention. Maybe next year.