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The Greatest Adventurers of the Last Decade

Though the heroic age of exploration has been and gone, the spirit of endeavour and adventure is still very much alive and well. In fact, men and women across the globe continue to push the limits of human endurance in any number of different outdoor pursuits, from big wall climbing to ultra running. In fact, when you take a look back at the last ten years, one thing soon becomes apparent. The greatest adventurers of the last decade have been responsible for some pretty incredible feats.

These modern-day adventurers have gone faster and further than ever before, or achieved new ‘firsts’ in a range of disciplines.

Some of the most notable achievements have meant that long-standing records have been smashed, some of which many people thought could not be bettered. In some cases, most thought they were simply impossible. This includes new fastest known times (FKTs) in some of the world’s toughest races, as well as some fiendishly difficult first ascents in the world of climbing and mountaineering. So here at Outdoors Magic, we thought it was time to salute the ten adventurers who have most inspired us over the last ten years.

Alex Honnold

Record-breaking US climber Alex Honnold needs little introduction, particularly after being catapulted to global stardom courtesy of the 2018 Oscar-winning documentary feature film Free Solo. That film profiled his single-minded quest to free solo the 3,000ft face of El Capitan in Yosemite national park, California, USA. Free soloing means climbing alone and unaided, with no rope or safety gear. Honnold is still the only climber to have free soloed a route on El Cap. More recently, he also partnered with fellow climber Tommy Caldwell to break the speed record for climbing the Nose on El Cap. The pair broke the two-hour mark for the first time in history, completing the climb in an incredible 1 hour 58 minutes and 7 seconds.

Related: Read our exclusive interview with Alex Honnold

Jenny Tough

Tough by name, tough by nature, Jenny is an absolute badass. The Canadian-born adventurer is now based in Scotland, although her challenges have taken her across the globe. Her passion is pushing the limits of human-powered endurance. She’s currently making her way across the globe, running solo and unsupported across a mountain range on every continent. In 2016 it was Kyrgyzstan’s Tien Shan, in 2017 the Atlas mountains of Morocco. In 2018 she headed to the Bolivian Andes and last year, the Southern Alps. So why go to some of the most remote regions of the globe, and what keeps her going when she gets there? Jenny puts it simply…

“When all else fails, there is always one big motivation: you have to get home. If you stop running, you will be stuck in the wilderness forever. You have to keep moving!”

Leo Houlding

Cumbrian-born adventurer and Berghaus-sponsored athlete Leo Houlding is a world-class alpinist and climber. He has completed first ascents in some of the most inhospitable places on earth. In early 2013, he led a team that made the first ascent of a new route up the north-east ridge of Ulvetanna Peak in Antarctica. Last year, he returned to Antarctica with French climber Jean Burun and Kiwi cameraman Mark Seddon. Their aim? To climb The Spectre, one of the most remote peaks in the world. Getting there meant kitesurfing and manhauling sledges more than 350km across snow and ice. This meant dealing with treacherous sastrugi and hidden crevasses. Most recently, he led a team to climb the overhanging cliffs of Royaima, a flat-topped tepui deep in the rainforests of Guyana.

Heather Anderson

An inspiration to long-distance hikers everywhere, Heather Anderson is the first woman to have completed the so-called US ‘Triple Crown’. That means walking the Continental Divide Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail within a calendar year. Heather walked an incredible 7,944 miles in 251 days, 20 hours and 10 minutes, hiking an average of more than 31 miles a day. Bagging the Triple Crown also meant Heather had hiked all three trails three times, the only woman to have ever done so. The achievement led to her being recognised as one of National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year for 2019. Despite the thousands of miles she’s covered, Heather is still refreshingly honest about solo thru-hiking.

“I am still afraid of many things. Some days it seems like an inconceivable notion that I sleep in the woods alone. That I have faced grizzly bears, wolves, bobcats, rattlesnakes, advanced hypothermia and dehydration!”

Kilian Jornet

A seemingly superhuman sky runner and ski mountaineer, Kilian Jornet is a phenomenon. He holds the fastest known times for completed ascents and descents of the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, Denali and (controversially) Everest. He is also a six-time champion of the Skyrunner World Series and serial winner of ultramarathons from the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc to the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run.

“I define myself as a lover of mountains. I like competing, but, above all, I conceive sport as a way to discover landscapes both inside and outside you.”

When it comes to moving quickly in the mountains, the Catalan has few equals. Perhaps that’s unsurprising, given his upbringing. Born in the Pyrenees, he climbed his first 3,000-metre peak aged just three. By the time he was six he had climbed the 4,164m Breithorn in the Swiss-Italian Alps. He continues to push boundaries through his personal challenge, which he has called the ‘Summits of my Life’ project. The project documents Jornet’s personal attempts to set speed records on some of the world’s biggest mountains.

Anna McNuff

In 2019, Anna ran the equivalent of 100 marathons barefoot through Britain. The year before, she ran all 1,911 miles of New Zealand’s Te Araroa trail. In 2013, she spent seven months cycling 11,000 miles on a pink bike, visiting every single US state. These are her mega adventures, but she’s also into mini-adventures too. Those include running Hadrian’s Wall and rollerblading 100 miles around Amsterdam. Anna is on a mission to get children outdoors. She uses her challenges to inspire young people to be more adventurous, while also raising funds for youth charities. She’s raised more than £20,000 in total, and definitely deserves a place on this list.

Levison Wood

When it comes to long-distance walking, British Army officer and explorer Levison Wood has put in some serious miles. He has walked through some of the most hazardous places on the planet, including numerous conflict zones. He has walked the entire length of the River Nile, as well as the length of the Himalayas. In 2016 he walked from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico to Colombia, a journey of 1,800 miles following the spine of Central America. He has subsequently walked from Russia to Iran and in 2017 also completed a full circumnavigation of the Arabian Peninsula, an expedition fraught with risk that totalled over 5,000 miles. He has said that he relishes the spartan nature of life on foot in remote places:

“The simplicity, the lack of choice, of having to make do, that’s what happiness is all about”.

Jasmin Paris

In 2019, ultra runner Jasmin Paris became the first woman to win the Montane Spine Race. She also recorded a new Fastest Known Time (FKT) in the process. The race follows a gruelling 268-mile route along the Pennine Way. It takes runners through the Peak District from Edale, across the North Pennines, Hadrian’s Wall and the Cheviots. The finishing line is at Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish borders. Jasmin, already a successful endurance runner, had previously vowed never to enter the race. Yet she managed to finish in 83 hours, 12 minutes and 23 seconds, smashing the course record by 12 hours. As if that isn’t impressive enough, Jasmin achieved this just 14 months after giving birth to a daughter. She even had to stop at checkpoints along the way to express milk. The hardest part though? Sleep deprivation and having to run in the dark, she recently revealed in a Guardian interview. “It is really tough. Two thirds of the time it is dark. It is completely different from any race I’ve run before because it is non-stop. You have the whole challenge of when to sleep and that becomes very tactical, and then you’re sleep-deprived.”

Alastair Humphreys

“In life it doesn’t matter what you do, just that you get off your backside and do something.”

Though he’d probably deny it, Al Humphreys has perhaps done more to encourage normal people to live more adventurously than anyone else profiled here. He is the author of a series of inspirational adventure books, including the hugely influential Microadventures. As such, Al can probably take at least partial credit for the booming popularity of pursuits such as wild camping and bikepacking. In 2011, he spent a whole year undertaking short, accessible, local adventures. These trips encompassed everything from spending a night under the stars in a bivvy bag to finding a lake and plunging in for a wild swim. His ‘year of microadventure’ earned him the National Geographic accolade of Adventurer of the Year, and spawned the aforementioned book. If you haven’t read it, you really should – especially if your 9-to-5 gets in the way of all those amazing things you’d really like to be doing, but just don’t have the time.

Karen Darke

Fellow adventurer Ben Fogle has called Karen “one of the most underrated adventurers in Britain”. She’s actually a Paralympic champion, taking gold in Rio 2016 in the women’s cycling time trials. She’s currently training for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. But if anything, her adventure career is even more impressive than her sporting career. Despite being paralysed from the chest down after a sea-cliff climbing accident that left her in a coma, Karen has taken on some truly incredible challenges. She has crossed Greenland on a sit-ski, climbed El Capitan (a four-day epic that required 4,000 pull ups) and undertaken a series of impressive hand-cycling expeditions. In 2014 she hand-cycled ‘the Roof of the World’ from Lhasa, Tibet to Kathmandu, Nepal. In 2016 she journeyed to Patagonia and hand-cycled 1,250km along Chile’s ‘Carretera Austral’, from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. “Our own mind is our biggest obstacle to living and achieving our wildest aspirations”, she says. “What is life if it isn’t an adventure? I’m constantly amazed by what can be achieved if we set our heart and mind to it. It’s all about finding belief, confidence, motivation and commitment. And of course, friends. Then there are no limits.”


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