Celebrity entrants are but one of the twists that have rekindled
the fire of the Eco-Challenge's Mark Burnett
At the close of last year's Eco-Challenge in New Zealand,
organizer Mark Burnett regarded the event he had created, saw it
for the overheated off-road triathlon it was becoming and vowed
to take it back to its expeditionary roots. The result:
Eco-Challenge 2002, which begins in Fiji on Oct. 11, will be
expeditionary in the extreme, according to Burnett. "In New
Zealand we had so many permit restrictions that we had to give
competitors 40 pages of detailed instructions on how to get from
point to point," he says. "This year, for starters, they will get
very limited instructions and have a lot more choice on how they
get to where they are going."
Burnett, who read up on Major John Wesley Powell's 19th-century
exploration of the Grand Canyon before concocting this race,
promises that Fiji will include other challenges that adventurers
of yore would have faced, like building boats from local
materials and interacting with natives who don't speak your
language. In parts of the race, says Burnett, competitors will be
negotiating thick jungle and rivers full of "horrible-looking
eels" en route to remote villages that have little experience
with Caucasians, or any foreigners for that matter. "I'm going to
advise racers that they should seek out the headman in every
village they come to and participate in the customary welcoming
ceremonies," says Burnett, who sampled a few preparations of
mildly narcotic ceremonial kava while laying out the course.
"They can't just go blowing through villages. It's important to
be respectful." (Especially if racers hope to get advice on the
quickest route to the next village.)
Many racers welcome the prospect of more navigation, more problem
solving and more intellectual challenge. "I just hope Mark
doesn't make it into a circus, with a lot of mystery events just
to make it interesting for TV," says Rebecca Rusch, who plans to
enter her sixth Eco-Challenge, as part of Team Montrail. "I hope
it'll be cool."
Regardless of how retro the race's challenges are this year, the
inescapable made-for-TV aspect of Eco will only be intensified by
the participation of one team that includes Canadian actor Hayden
Christensen (Star Wars: Episode II--Attack of the Clones; The
Virgin Suicides), his brother and sister as well as another team
made up entirely of veterans of reality-television shows,
including Burnett's other pet project, Survivor.
While Burnett acknowledges that the reality-TV quartet presents
an intriguing marketing possibility for the show he creates out
of every Eco race, there is no guarantee the team will be
interesting or enduring enough to merit a camera-crew shadow.
"They might not last a day," he says. Burnett is so confident of
the difficulty of the course--which measures more than 350
miles--that he wouldn't be surprised if the finish rate, which was
88% last year, is as low as 10% this year. "If just one team
finishes," he says, "I'll feel like the route was doable."
"The Eco-Challenge is real reality," says Survivor Africa winner
Ethan Zohn, whose Team Mad River includes Tim Beggy and Adam
Larson of Road Rules and Jenna Lewis of Survivor Borneo. "I think
it's going to make Survivor look like a walk in the park. And in
this, if things aren't working out with the others, I can't vote
them off the team." --Kelli Anderson
On the morning of Sept. 5 blind mountaineer Erik Weihenmayer
reached the top of Australia's Mount Kosciusko (7,310 feet) to
complete his bid to conquer each of the Seven Summits (the
tallest peak on each continent). In the debate over whether
Australia or Australasia is the seventh continent, some climbers
argue that Weihenmayer still must scale Indonesia's Carstensz
Pyramid (16,023) to join the Seven Summits club. All too happy to
oblige, Weihenmayer says he will attempt Carstensz next spring.
WHAT IT TAKES
In his first major expedition since an April ski disaster on
Alaska's Mount St. Elias that left two dead (SI, April 29),
ski-mountaineer John Griber is currently shredding at 21,000
feet, some 5,000 feet from the summit of Cho Oyu, on the
Nepal-Tibet border. Here's what he brings along when he goes
looking for some tasty clear-cut on the ninth-tallest mountain
in the world. --Mark Beech
(1) SLEEPING BAG
Inferno Endurance ($649), by The North Face (www.thenorthface.com)
"This bag, specially made for expedition camping, is roomier
around the body and feet than weekend bags, so you can wear extra
clothes or boots."
Baltoro Jacket ($499), by The North Face
"Built like a sleeping bag, it's a great choice for extreme
weather conditions. I like its basic, functional attributes: a
snug, insulated hood and large pockets."
Expedition 36 Tent ($579), by The North Face
"I bring two tents for the Himalayas. This roomy, three-person
tent is for base camp. It's got a high ceiling and lots of space
for storage. Our high-camp tents are very similar, but with a
lower profile, so they don't catch the wind."
S-Series ($470), by Arbor Snowboard (www.arborsports.com)
"On expedition in Nepal, I can't call the local snow report every
day to get conditions. This freeride board works incredibly well
in all types of stuff."
(5) ICE AXE
Snowalker ($70), by Petzl (www.petzl.com)
"A light axe is important in climbing the world's ninth-tallest
mountain. This is definitely light."
Harvest ($1.35) and ProteinPlus ($1.95) bars, and PowerGel
($1.25), by PowerBar (www.powerbar.com)
"Up high I tend to eat the gel more. No chewing needed, just open
OTHER GEAR: (7) Prophet 65 backpack, The North Face; (8) Mountain
Light Pant, The North Face; (9) Himalayan Mitt, The North Face;
(10) Kevlar boot covers, Forty Below (www.fortybelow.com); (11)
water-bottle holder, Outdoor Research (www.outdoorresearch.com);
(12) Tetrax harness, Petzl; (13) Quark bent-shaft ice axes,
Petzl; (14) Elios Class helmet, Petzl; BlackLite cookset,
Mountain Safety Research (www.mountainsafety.com); stove, Primus,
(www.primus.se); (15) 8.8-mm dry rope, Petzl; DuoBelt headlamp,
Petzl; avalanche transceiver, Life-Link Pieps 457
(www.altrec.com); (16) dehydrated food (lasagna and fettuccine
alfredo), Backpacker's Pantry (www.backpackerspantry.com); (17)
boots, Dynafit (www.life-link.com); (18) Ecrins crampons, Petzl;
(19) Himalayan shovel, Life-Link; (20) Odyssey III adjustable
Rarely one to share the spotlight, hypercompetitive rock jock
Hans Florine (above) did just that when he and Steve Gerberding
partnered to climb El Capitan's Dihedral Wall last Saturday. It
was the 100th El Cap ascent for both men, who set a speed record
for the route (14 hours and six minutes).... Snowboarders versus
skiers. Kite surfers versus windsurfers. Add surfers versus
kayakers to the pantheon of bitter rivalries. In November, a
year after one of his buddies was knifed by a surfer off Bali,
kayaker Ben Selznick, along with top paddler Brad Ludden, will
head back to the South Pacific island to go head-to-head with
Balinese surfers at some of the region's meatiest surf spots.
"It's going to be hostile," says Ludden, "but maybe [the
surfers] will see what we can do and we can have a beer at the
end of the day."... Which challenge would you prefer: a
28,000-nautical-mile ocean voyage on which you'd encounter 60-
to 80-foot waves, 60-mph winds, 35[degree] waters and
112[degree] heat, or Type 2 diabetes? How about both? That's
what Canada's John Dennis, 57, faces in Around Alone, the solo
round-the-world sailing race that began on Sunday with 13
skippers setting out from New York City.
SI senior writer Franz Lidz filed this dispatch from
Saskatchewan, where he's been covering Michel Fournier's attempt
to break the world freefall record of 102,800 feet.
Saskatoon is the City of Ampersands. You can breakfast at the
Eat & Run Cafe, lunch at the Sip & Chat and dine at H&R
Cheesetoast Express. You can even clean your jeans while
slugging back a Western Lager at a "laundrobar" called Wash &
Slosh. For the last two weeks I've been sitting & waiting for
Fournier, 58, to launch his massive helium balloon into the
upper stratosphere. The French daredevil's 24 1/2-mile plunge
has been postponed a half-dozen times due to high winds--in this
case, very high winds.
The project, 14 years & $10.5 million in the making, has been
plagued by insurance snags, governmental regulations and a
Gallic torpor summed up by the phrase laissez-faire. "It's
become a Shakespearean situation," team doctor Paul Vanuxem
lamented on Sunday after a fill tube malfunctioned during
countdown. "Tomorrow & tomorrow & tomorrow."
For more on this story, go to siadventure.com.
COLOR PHOTO: REED HOFFMANN (LEFT) THAT WAS THEN Earlier Ecos, such as the 2000 edition, which was held in Sabah, featured a stouthearted, if somewhat faceless, field.
COLOR PHOTO: MONTY BRINTON/CBS THIS IS NOW For next month's Eco in Fiji, Burnett has ramped up the star quotient with such racers as Survivor Borneo's Lewis.
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: GREG VON DOERSTEN
COLOR PHOTO: BRENDAN HALPER/KAMLOOPS DAILY NEWS WIPEOUT ROCK TILL YOU DROP While filming a commercial for a Canadian TV crew in Kamloops, B.C., mountain biking freerider Darren Butler, 25, braces for a crash landing that would send him to the hosptial with multiple, but not life-threatening, injuries.
COLOR PHOTO: COREY RICH
COLOR PHOTO: BOUQUILLON GILLES/GAMMA GROUNDED Fournier may have to delay his jump until next May.