These are the 26 biggest adventure stories of the year
From free soloing Cerro Torre to wingsuit flying over LA, check out the most incredible adventures that happened in 2019.
This year has seen some incredible moments in adventure sports and we’ve dug deep to pick out the best of the year. New parts of the planet have been explored, world records have tumbled and new achievements have been set that go further than anyone ever thought possible.
Climbing has hit the heights, with a rising star raising the bar in Patagonia and a 10-year-old climbing El Capitan, being just two of the highlights. In mountaineering, an astonishing new fastest time was set for summiting the 14 highest mountains and Everest was topped out a record number of times.
On foot, records have been smashed in ultra running and endurance racing, including the Wainrights, Badwater and on the mighty Himalayan ‘mailrun’. On the water, Nouria Newman’s been at it again, exploring the wilds of Patagonia. There has also been new Ocean row records, an astonishing SUP journey, a world-first sail and a brutal multi-channel swim. And in the air, the Red Bull Air Force soared over LA in wingsuits while two adventurers raced to circumnavigate the globe by autogyro.
Whatever your sport, read on to discover some amazing achievements – and who knows, they might just inspire you to seek out an adventure out of your own in 2020.
Fitz Roy freed
Jim Reynolds established himself as one of the world’s top free soloists with a rope-free climb up AND down Cerro Fitz Roy in Patagonia. The peak had only ever previously been free soloed by the late Dean Potter in 2002, but he used ropes to get down. “I never felt on the edge of insecurity,” he said after the climb.
Superstars free El Nino
Free soloists Alex Honnold and Brad Gobright teamed up, roped together at night and topped out at sunrise to complete the second free ascent of El Niño on El Capitan. “The ascent was full of grunting, groaning and the occasional scream,” Gobright wrote on Instagram. It was one of the last major climbs the climber had before his tragic death late in the year.
Toughest trad ever
Trad climbing records were taken up another notch when Italian Jacopo Larcher sent a route up Tribe, a 25m route in Cadarese, Italy. It took him six years and 50 attempts. He refused to grade it, but his peers believe it to be the first 5.14d (Grade 9). “It’s the hardest I’ve done so far, but I don’t want to reduce it to a number,” Larcher said on Instagram.
10-year old tops El Cap
The record for the youngest ascent of El Capitan was lowered when 10-year-old Selah Schneiter climbed the Nose. She completed the 31-pitch ascent with her father, a guide and instructor, over five days. “If you have a big goal…you have to do it piece by piece,” she said. “The only thing I ever got scared of was what would happen if I didn’t do this.”
Man vs Lift
Reigning king of European speed climbing Marcin Dzieński took on a bizarre challenge when he raced a moving elevator up a 23-metre-high wall in his home country of Poland. The course, which was on a transparent wall, was as high as a six-storey building – much higher and far more slippery than his usual challenges. Who won? Watch the video to find out...
Watch Marcin Dzieński's epic speed-climbing race against an elevator
Nouria Newman took on an epic trip in Patagonia spending almost three months breaking new ground in some of the world’s most incredible locations. It included a first descent on Rio Blanco, big waterfalls in Arrolló del Bosque, a giant five-day descent on Rio Engaño, a canyon run on Rio Año and big water on Rio Pascua. “It’s quite something to open a new route, river or rapid,” she said.
Chasing the Patagonia Triple Crown
Topping the 8,000s
Nirmal Purja climbed the world’s 14 highest peaks – all those above 8,000m - in just 189 days. Reinhold Messner first achieved the feat in 1986 and the previous quickest time, by South Korean Kim Chang-ho, was seven years, 11 months and 14 days. Purja or Nims, as he is known to most in the mountaineering community, started on Annapurna in April, climbed Everest, Lhotse and Makalu (the fourth and fifth highest peaks) consecutively in just 48 hours, and finished on Shishapangma in October.
Everest 23 times
Nepalese climber Sherpa Kami Rita topped out on the world’s tallest peak for the 24th time in May, extending his own record. The 49-year-old first summated Everest in 1994 and has taken just 25 years to wrack up his impressive total. He’s also summated K2, Cho-Oyu, Manaslu and Lhotse.
Speeding towards the seven
Mountaineer Karl Egloff ticked off his fourth speed record on the Seven Summits by smashing Kilian Jornet’s fastest time on America’s highest, Denali. He beat the previous best by two hours five minutes, taking 9hrs 45mins from base camp to summit. “The mountain showed character, tested our minds and also brought tears a few times,” he said.
Soaring over Los Angeles
Norman Surplus finished a journey begun almost 10 years ago, completing a full circumnavigation of the globe in an autogyro. The Northern Irishman, who failed to get access to Russian airspace on his original attempt, joined fellow autogyro pilot James Ketchell to cross Russia then continued to the US to fill in the 8,000km gap. Ketchell went on to complete his own round the world journey and achieve the first continuous circumnavigation. “It was meeting Norman some years ago…that inspired me,” said Ketchell.
French inventor Franky Zapata became the first person to fly across the English Channel by jetpack. It took him just over 20 minutes to cross from France to England, including a refuelling stop on a boat halfway through. His machine is some way from a commercial reality, though, and he admitted: “It’s not a machine for a trip down to the bakery on a Sunday morning.”
Adventurer Anna McNuff spent 168 days of 2019 running around Britain barefoot. She completed her 2,352-mile journey in London in November having set off from the Shetland Islands in June. The former GB rower trained for 18 months before taking on the challenge, which she described as “without a doubt the hardest challenge of my life.”
Ultra runner Paul Tierney smashed the fastest time on one of the UK’s most famous running challenges. He completed the 318-mile Wainrights fell run, which tops all 214 of Alfred Wainwright’s Lake District Peaks, in six days and six hours. That was a massive seven hours faster than the previous best. He averaged two hours of sleep a night and admitted: “There were times I thought I’m not sure if I can do this anymore, but I just kept pushing on.” Read an interview with Tierney about the Wainrights run here.
Yoshihiko Ishikawa smashed the fastest time in ‘the toughest foot race on Earth.’ The Japanese runner finished California’s famous Badwater 135 ultramarathon in 21 hours, 33 minutes and one second, beating the previous best time by 24 minutes. He dropped to one knee just after the finish line - to propose to his girlfriend.
Hiking to Mount Everest base camp is challenging enough – most people fly in to Lukla Airport in Nepal and take around 14 days from there, many don’t even make it. But it gets even tougher when you walk/run from sea level in Kathmandu. That’s what Scott Loughney, Ryan Wagner and Uprendra Sunawar did, taking 5 days, 10 hours and 46 minutes. They then turned round and went straight back to Kathmandu, completing the total 640 km round-trip route, with 82,020ft of elevation gain, in an astonishing 9 days, 23 hours and 21 minutes.
Swiss ultra athlete Chrigel Maurer took a sixth consecutive victory in the Red Bull X-Alps. He completed the 1,138km running and paragliding race in nine days. “My body and my team worked well so I could race fast,” he said. For Tom de Dorlodot, meanwhile, just reaching the end point in Monaco was an achievement. The veteran has taken part in seven editions and this was his first finish. “It does feel special, yes,” he said.
Day 10 highlights – Maurer wins
One of the world’s most extreme adventure events, Red Bull Defiance, doubled up, adding a race in Australia to the original New Zealand epic. Australians Courtney Atkinson and Lindsay Lawry won the new edition in Mission Beach, beating 42 teams over 150km of rafting, abseiling, running, biking and kayaking. Hamish Elliot and Sam Bell won in Wanaka, New Zealand, as unbeaten champion Braden Currie watched from the sidelines. Find more details on upcoming Red Bull Defiance events in 2020 here.
Atlantic record smashed
Former Royal Marine Lee Spencer became the fastest to row unsupported across the Atlantic – smashing the previous record by 36 days. The amputee overcame 12m waves, gastroenteritis and just 2hrs sleep a day to complete the 6,115km challenge in 60 days.
Russian heads south
Russian adventurer Fedor Konyukhov completed an incredible and arduous journey rowing solo across the South Pacific – the most southerly row ever. He spent six lonely months in his boat, AKROS, from New Zealand to Cape Horn to complete the first stage of a planned full global circumnavigation. He plans to continue his journey in 2020.
New Zealand adventurer Brando Yelavich became the first person to cycle across the whole of Australia with no support crew, pedalling 5,555km between the country’s widest points. It took the 25-year-old 130 days to cross the dusty desert centre, mostly spending nights alone but also joined by his Dad and other expedition partners along the way.
Mount Kenya descent
Former mountain bike downhill pro Rob Warner and MTB freeride competitor Matt Jones took on the highest mountain bike challenge in Africa, pedalling down the side of the mighty 5,199m high Mount Kenya. The extreme ride was one of many highlights in Warner’s new series, Rob’s Wild Rides, which premiered on Red Bull TV.
RAW in Kenya
Californian Randall Reeves became the first to sail solo around Antarctica and the Americas, including North West Passage, in a single season. The 40,000-mile ‘Figure 8’ route included every ocean and crossed some of the roughest seas on the planet. He spent 200 days on his 45ft yacht with no human contact.
The oceans between California and Hawaii teem with sharks but that didn’t stop Spaniard Antonio de la Rosa deciding to paddle the route on a SUP. He took 76 days to complete the 2,951-mile journey, paddling up to 50 miles a day but sometimes less than 10. His custom designed ‘live-in’ board was stuffed with supplies and fitted with a desalination system and solar panels.
Heavy water challenge
One of the world’s toughest SUP challenges, the Red Bull Heavy Water Paddleboarding Championships, saw Casper Steinfath take his second consecutive victory, with Australian Terrene Black claiming the women’s title. The event lived up to its name when the 13-mile paddle course had to be cut short due to rough conditions.
For some, swimming across the English Channel is tough enough – but not for American Sarah Thomas, who became the first person to swim across it four times non-stop. The American took 54 hours to complete the 130 miles, overcoming strong currents, cold saltwater and jellyfish stings to claim the impressive record.