From the first woman to climb the 14 highest peaks without supplemental oxygen to the first solar-powered flight around the world, the last decade pushed the boundaries of adventure in every way. As it comes to a close, we look back on the boldest adventures and accomplishments. Here are our picks in chronological order.
2010: First Person to Walk the Length of the Amazon River
On August 9, 2010, Brit Ed Stafford became the first person to walk the length of the mighty Amazon. It took 860 days. He completed the journey with guide Peruvian Gadiel “Cho” Sánchez Rivera. Over more than 4,000 miles, they survived anacondas and piranhas, cocaine smugglers, and hostile tribes.
2011: First Ascent of Meru via the Shark’s Fin
On October 2, 2011, alpinists Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, and Renan Oztruk made the first ascent of India’s Mount Meru central via the Shark’s Fin in a 12-day push. The route was a mind-bending mix of vertical rock climbing, ice climbing, and mountaineering. This was the team’s second attempt (Anker’s third) since a 2008 attempt turned around 150 meters from the summit after a storm depleted their food rations.
2011: First Woman to Climb Every 14 8,000-meter Peak Without Supplemental Oxygen
When she summited K2 on August 23, 2011, her sixth attempt at the peak, Austrian alpinist Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner became the first woman to climb all the 8,000-meter peaks without supplemental oxygen. She also did it without porters, an unheard-of accomplishment in a world where hiring extra help to carry your gear to base camp is considered unavoidable. It took her 14 years to climb all 14 peaks.
2012: First Solo Submarine Dive to Deepest Place in Ocean
Filmmaker and explorer James Cameron made history when he descended to the deepest known place in the ocean, an undersea valley known as Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench. The 6.8-mile-deep dive happened on March 25, 2012, about 300 miles southwest of Guam. Cameron collected scientific data and specimens. Challenger Deep was first reached in 1960 by Don Walsh, who advised Cameron during his expedition.
2012: Freefall from Stratosphere Sets 8 World Records
On October 14, 2012, Austrian Felix Baumgartner stepped off the platform of his balloon, which had risen to 128,000 feet—99,000 feet higher than Everest—on the edge of the stratosphere, and set eight world records, including being the first human to break the sound barrier in freefall. Though Red Bull spent some 20 million dollars on the project, they also achieved the most concurrent views—eight million—ever on YouTube during the live stream.
2013: Walk from Mongolia to Australia
Swiss adventurer Sarah Marquis has walked great swaths of this Earth in her effort to become “one with nature.” From 2010 to 2013, she walked 12,000 miles alone from Siberia to the Gobi Desert, into China, Laos, Thailand, and then across Australia. She crossed six countries, from freezing-cold mountains to scorching desert heat, from high alpine to tropical jungles. While pulling a 120-pound cart with her supplies often disguised as a man for security reasons, she was harassed by Mongolian horsemen and Latioan drug dealers. She suffered from dengue fever delirium and a life-threatening abscess before making it to her favorite tree in Australia.
2015: World’s Hardest Sustained Free Climb
On January 14, 2015, American rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed a years-long quest to free climb the Dawn Wall, considered the hardest and steepest big-wall free climb in the world. They made the ascent using only natural features—in this case impossibly small ledges their fingers and toes could barely grip—in 19 days. The route was repeated in 2016 by Czech climber Adam Ondra.
2015: First Source-to-Sea Descent of the “Grand Canyon Pacific”
Kayakers Ben Stookesberry, Chris Korulic, Pedro Oliva, and Benny Marr made a source-to-sea first descent of one of the most remote and treacherous rivers on the planet, tucked away in the jungles of New Britain in Papua New Guinea. The 30-mile Beriman River features a link-up of gorges so deep and narrow that you can’t see the bottom from a helicopter. With 13 days and 13 gorge first descents, the team had to use big-wall climbing rope rigging techniques to deal with the steep canyons.
2016: First Solar-Powered Flight Around the World
On July 26, 2016, Swiss pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg successfully landed the Solar Impulse 2 aircraft in Abu Dhabi after flying around the world using only the power of the sun. The journey took 505 days to fly 26,000 miles. It took 13 years to accomplish their goal.
2016: First Speed Record in Bhutan
In October 2016, the first speed record was set in Bhutan on the world’s hardest trek, the Snowman Trek. It was achieved through a cross-cultural effort—Americans Ben Clark and Timothy Olson and New Zealander Anna Frost worked with their local support team, led by Wang Chuk, to achieve the goal together. They covered 189 miles, including 11 passes above 16,000 feet and 48,000 feet of vertical gain, in 15 days. The Snowman Trek record introduced a new sport to a country where climbing peaks is forbidden and archery is the national pastime. In 2019, Bhutan launched their own Snowman Trek stage race for locals.
2016: Highest Paragliding Flight
French paraglider Antoine Girard flew above the summit of 8,000-meter Broad Peak in the Karakoram in July 2016. At more than 8,157 meters, the flight was the highest altitude achieved by a paraglider and lasted seven hours. This was just one part of his 19-day solo expedition across the Karakoram. Paragliders called it the “flight of the century.”
2017: First Woman to Climb 5.15a
On February 26, 2017, Colorado native Margo Hayes, then 19 and largely unknown, became the first woman to climb a route rated 5.15a, a grade few men have achieved. The route was La Rambla, an incredibly steep 135-foot route in Siurana, Spain, and climbing it placed her in a rarified class of climbers. Seven months later, her extraordinary drive and work ethic resulted in the successful ascent of another legendary 5.15a, Biographie/Realization, in Céüse, France. Today a handful of other women have also climbed 5.15.
2017: Climbing El Cap Without a Rope
No other achievement in sports has captured the world’s attention quite like when American rock climber Alex Honnold climbed 3,000 feet of granite on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park on June 3, 2017. The catch, of course, is that he did it without a rope, or what’s called a “free solo.” It took less than four hours.
2017: First Circumnavigation of the Planet by Celestial Wayfinders
On June 21, 2017, native Hawaiian Nainoa Thompson and his team completed a four-year, 40,000-nautical-mile worldwide voyage in a traditional voyaging canoe, the Hōkūleʻa. By using only the stars to navigate, like the ancient Polynesians, they ignited a cultural restoration in Hawaiʻi, showing that ancient navigators could have easily criss-crossed the world.
2017: First Descent of the “Peak of Evil”
For more than two decades, American ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson has been breaking new ground. In 2017, she completed a quest that took 20 years—the first ski descent of 21,252-foot Papsura in the Himachal Pradesh of India. She first saw the peak from a helicopter in her 20s and the idea of climbing it stuck with her. After a failed attempt in 2013, she returned in 2017 with Jim Morrison and Chris Figenshau to complete the summit and ski descent, a proud accomplishment in both ski mountaineering and alpine climbing. She and Morrison then went on to be the first to ski the Lhotse Couloir from the summit in 2018, an alpine prize that had thwarted many before them.
2018: Completion of “Summits of My Life”
Kilian Jornet’s incredible all-mountain terrain mastery has made him a legend in his own time. In 2018, he completed his four-year Summits of My Life project, which involved attempting speed records on the world’s great peaks, including Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, Denali, Aconcagua, and Elbrus. He summited the final peak, Everest, without supplemental oxygen and did it twice in a single week. Jornet published a film and book on the project.
2018: First Ski Descent of K2
The two previous attempts to ski from the 28,251-foot summit of K2—known as the “Savage Mountain”—resulted in deaths. In July 2018, Polish ski mountaineer Andrzej Bargiel was hopeful to make history. He departed Camp 3 alone to head to the summit, clicked into his ski binding, and began his descent. In a feat of innovation, his brother, Bartek, flew a drone above the terrain to scout the route. Footage of the daring first ski descent lit up the Internet.
2019: Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Peaks in Record Time
Nirmal Purja, a.k.a. “Nims,” and his all-Nepali team set a speed record for climbing all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks in just six months, six days. The former U.K. soldier and his team climbed via the standard routes and used supplemental oxygen. Yet to summit these peaks in six months required accepting risks others would not in order to achieve their mission, which Nims dubbed “Project Possible.” They also conducted four rescues during their climbs.
2019: With First Full Traverse of Arctic Icepack, Pole2Pole Expedition Is Completed
On December 7, 2019, after 87 days on the ice and on their last day of food, explorers Mike Horn and Børge Ousland became the first to cross the Arctic icepack in its entirety via the North Pole—without resupply. Even these two veteran polar explorers were tested to their absolute limits. The winds would push them backward as they slept, prolonging their trip into the total darkness of Arctic winter. The ice proved thinner than they expected—Horn even fell into the water at one point near the end. This alone is one of the decade’s greatest expeditions.
To add to it, Horn and Ousland’s successful Arctic crossing was the last leg in Horn’s Pole2Pole expedition, where he sailed around the world via the Poles. He started the expedition in March 2016 by sailing from Cape Town, South Africa, to Antarctica. His Antarctic crossing is considered the longest in history.
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