Explore: March 2012

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16 posts from March 2012


Q&A: Surfer and Filmmaker Kyle Thiermann

Kyle Thiermann by Bevan Langley

Kyle Thiermann is a 21-year-old professional surfer whose organization Surfing for Change is helping reshape what it means to be both a citizen athlete and a young activist in a modern world.

The TED speaker and 2011 Brower Youth Award winner's media campaigns center around specific threats at famous surf spots — including his current project against a planned nuclear plant at Jefferies Bay, South Africa — and how to participate in these seemingly distant issues on a more local basis. 

In the first of our Q&A series with athletes committed to environmental and related social issues, we talked to Kyle about how surfing and travel has shaped his dedication to his work.   

SIERRA: When did you start surfing, and how has it influenced your environmental and social justice activism?

KT: I started surfing every day when I was 11.  I’m the youngest of five kids, and we all surfed. I just wanted to be like them so I got on a surfboard as quickly as I could.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world from a pretty young age and see amazing places. A lot of the cultures I visited were what influenced me to adopt my outlook, [that] if you can help you should.

Continue reading "Q&A: Surfer and Filmmaker Kyle Thiermann" »

Year in Yosemite: Inspired Pilgrim

Valley (1)"We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us,…"
-- John Muir


A couple of weeks ago, 25 students and almost as many parents went to see our Mariposa County Supervisor. He spoke for an hour and held his audience spellbound. There was no talk of politics but I'd be willing to bet he filled our students' young minds with thoughts of possibility and power, social responsibility, and civic action. That's because our local county supervisor is Lee Stetson. A trained actor, director and writer, Mr. Stetson treated us to what he’s best known for—his one-man show as John Muir.

Continue reading "Year in Yosemite: Inspired Pilgrim" »


Astronomy: Observing Highlights for April

April 2012 Mars Chumack

Planet observing is the activity of the month. Jupiter and Venus are still bright in the west after sunset, while Mars is noticeable as the reddish point of light in the southeast and yellowish Saturn is rising in the east.

Concentrate on Jupiter to start with because it will be the first to leave the scene. The King of Planets looks great through a telescope, allowing you to spot the dark belts and light zones along with the four large Galilean satellites. Just above Jupiter is Venus, shining so brightly it often gets mistaken for an airplane. Through a telescope or binoculars you can spot the phase of Venus, which is shrinking throughout the month of April even while its overall size increases as it gets nearer to us. On the first few days of the month, watch as Venus nears and then appears to pass through the stars of the Pleiades cluster. Use binoculars for the best view.

Mars will be found not far from the bright star Regulus all month, while Saturn hovers near Spica in Virgo. Watch the moon as it hangs near Mars on April 3 and then shifts toward Saturn, reaching Spica and the Ringed Planet on April 6, the date of full moon.

April is host to one moderate meteor shower, the Lyrids, which occurs between April 16 and 25 with the peak of activity slated for the weekend of the 21st/22nd. Lyrid meteors appear to come from the constellation Lyra, which rises in the northeast midevening. Up to 20 meteors an hour is possible.

Continue reading "Astronomy: Observing Highlights for April" »


V13 Boulder Route Now Ruled by a 10-Year-Old


Somewhere in New York City is a third grader who leaves climbers twice her age in her chalk dust (this writer included).

Then to add insult to injury, two days ago, 2012 ABS Youth Bouldering champion Ashima Shiraishi completed not only the hardest outdoor bouldering problem of her career, but also of anyone's in her age group.  

Her repetition of the famous Fred Nicole V13 Crown of Aragorn route at Hueco Tanks, Texas, made the 10-year-old the only woman to send the problem, and the youngest person, either male or female, to complete one of that grade.

Those of us who have borne witness to Ashima in training can say that she, unlike other kids her age, possesses an almost scary level of quietude and focus when on the wall. It's not surprising that she's already sponsored and will likely remain on the outdoor sports radar well into adulthood.  

So let's share in the humility while watching her in action at the ABS's recent national championship in Colorado Springs, CO.

--Benita Hussain / Image from 2012 ABS 13 Youth National Championship Highlights video by Louder Than 11.


Conservation Filmmaker Tracks Elusive Spirit Bear

Andy maserWhile he was still in high school, budding documentary filmmaker and sponsored kayaker Andy Maser trained his camera on the subject he knew best. Before he even had a driver's license, he was churning out VHS tapes of his buddies bombing down the Potomac River's rapids and waterfalls outside his hometown of Baltimore. 

When Maser moved across the country to study journalism at the University of Oregon, he continued paddling, garnered collegiate honors, and searched for ways to parlay his passion for adventure into a career.  

Upon graduating in 2007, Maser stumbled onto his first big break and a meaningful professional discovery. He joined friend, fellow river rat, and National Geographic Young Explorer Grantee Trip Jennings on an expedition through the underground cave systems and tumultuous Class V rapids of the remote and little-known Pandi River in Papua New Guinea. The team hoped the first descent of the mystical waterway would raise awareness about the biological diversity of the area and warrant a conservation designation that would halt planned clear cutting by international logging companies.

The poignant stories Maser heard from local natives and the "Wild Chronicles" National Geographic episode that followed showed him the possibility of weaving a conservation story with flair — one that avoided humdrum didacticism and used a gripping trek as a narrative backdrop.

"My initial impression of conservation films was it was typically very heavy, and doom and gloom, and you'd always leave the screen with a heavy heart," he says. "I never responded well to that. That never engaged me." 

Continue reading "Conservation Filmmaker Tracks Elusive Spirit Bear " »


Year in Yosemite: Natural Opposites

YosemiteNow that I know that we'll be leaving our home in Yosemite National Park by summer, I've become acutely aware of everything around me. Almost daily I add to my list of things that I'll miss—the frogs that bluster and croak in the seasonal pond by our library; the first daffodils that bloom at my daughter's school; the magnificent ride from Fresno to Yosemite through the Sierra foothills and, of course, the breathtaking beauty of this place.

And while I know living by the beach in Southern California will offer its own version of views to rival Yosemite's, I don't believe I'll find anything in Orange County to rival the mountain area's deeply eccentric charm. Where else but here would you find a building that's part gas station and part church? Where will I find another chiropractor's office that has copies of Body & Soul magazine sitting alongside Guns & Ammo? Will the Elks Club of Orange County help children get craniosacral bodywork like the Elks Club here does?

Continue reading "Year in Yosemite: Natural Opposites" »


James Cameron Takes on World's Largest Sea Trench

Deep seaHollywood director James Cameron is extreme — there's no other word that accurately describes him. In case you needed more proof than his ridiculous Hollywood track record — he was the director of Titanic and Avatar, the two highest grossing films of all time Cameron is now set to break the world record for deepest solo sub pilot dive (a record previously held by none other than James Cameron).

Cameron's attempt is sponsored by National Geographic (in case you didn't know, Cameron is an "explorer-in-residence" at NatGeo) and has been named the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition, which is a totally sweet and action-packed name. In preliminary testing off the coast of Papua New Guinea earlier this week, Cameron set the record for deepest solo mission at 5.1 miles below sea level. In a matter of weeks, he plans on soloing at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, 6.8 miles below sea level.

The entire crew of the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition will be following in the footsteps of the 1960 Trieste two-man expedition, which successfully reached the bottom of the Trench despite a cracked outer window.

In case you were suspecting that Cameron would bring down a 3D camera to capture the whole experience, you would be predictably right. Beyond collecting samples for scientific experiments, Cameron will be creating a feature-length documentary about the experience, probably falling somewhere between his late '80s deep-sea thriller, The Abyss and his more recent documentaries on deep sea diving, Aliens of the Deep and Ghosts of the Abyss (in which Cameron revisited the Titanic wreck).

You can follow the expedition at www.deepseachallenge.com and read a detailed letter in which Cameron subtly brags to Trieste explorer Don Walsh about his latest test dive: "You'd have loved it. . . . JC."

-Justin Cohn


3 Outdoor Adventure Records Broken this Week

Big wave
The world of outdoor sports blew up this past week, showing us once more why pushing ourselves to the limits can let us experience the world in a way that few other people get to. Good thing the sponsors are there with full camera crews to help out. Watch the videos below!

1.  Tao Berman surfs the biggest wave in a kayak.

"I've always admired what big wave surfers can do," says Red-Bull-sponsored white water kayaker Tao Berman in his video, "And that's pretty much how it began." Referring to his three-year quest to kayak big waves, Tao, who already holds the world record for biggest waterfall kayak drop, hit it on March 11, at Oregon's Nellscott Reef. Deciding to retire once he achieved this goal, he was towed into and rode a 40-foot wave with his specially-designed kayak, thus ending his paddling career with a bomb.

2.  Polish team completes winter summit of Gasherbrum I (and now re-ascends on a rescue mission)

Continue reading "3 Outdoor Adventure Records Broken this Week" »

Don't Bring a Gun to a Bear Fight

Bear standing in Denali
A study out of Brigham Young University today comes down pretty firmly against using firearms in the case of bear attacks:

Experts say the gun largely provides a false sense of security — and would be similar to trying to shoot, and stop, a small car careening toward you at speeds of up to 35 mph.

It’s not that firearms don’t work, but many people can’t load or aim them quickly enough in the panicky moments of a bear attack, according to a recent study by bear researchers at Utah’s Brigham Young University.

“It’s more about how you carry yourself than whether you carry a gun,” said wildlife biologist Tom S. Smith, the study’s lead author.

In this Smith agrees with Charlie Russell, the maverick Canadian bear researcher I had the pleasure of visiting in Kamchatka and profiling in these pages. Russell's approach in what is perhaps the thickest concentration of brown bears in the world is far more revolutionary than refraining from shooting them; he speaks to them in a friendly, disarming voice, avoids eye contact, doesn't run, doesn't carry a gun, and has never had occasion to use the bear spray he carries as a last-ditch backup.


Continue reading "Don't Bring a Gun to a Bear Fight" »


What to do if a cougar is stalking you


The "Survive" column in the new issue of Sierra deals with an uncommon but alarming backcountry situation: What do you do when you're being stalked by a mountain lion? In this case (spoiler alert!) lucky rafter Dan Miller is able to get the attention of a companion, who scares the predator off with an emergency air horn. Just as we were sending the issue off to the printer, however, came news of another technique: When Jason Hobbs of Leander, Texas, saw a lion dragging away his six-year-old son, River, while on a hike in Big Bend National Park, he plunged a pocketknife blade into the animal's chest until it released the boy and fled. Which only goes to confirm the advice given in "Survive" by Andrew Hughan, wildlife specialist with the California Department of Fish and Game: "If you are attacked," he advises, "fight back as hard as you can. Don't play dead--or you soon will be." 

--Paul Rauber / Illustration by Koren Shadmi

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