“Not really a great moment for us,” is how Rob Gauntlett (in the photo on the right) described his fall through sea ice into the Arctic Ocean.
It was one of a number of scrapes with death that he and James Hooper, British teenagers fresh out of school, encountered on a 409-day odyssey from the north geomagnetic pole to the south geomagnetic pole.
The 26,000-mile journey by skiing, dog sledding, cycling, and sailing won them recognition by National Geographic Adventure magazine as 2008 Adventurers of the Year.
They were presented with the award last night here at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Schoolmates Rob Gauntlett (second from left) and James Hooper are congratulated by National Geographic Adventure magazine Editor in Chief John Rasmus (right) last night for their 26,000-mile dash from the north to south geomagnetic poles using only human and natural power. The feat landed the pair the magazine’s Adventurer of the Year award. “They did something no one else has ever done,” said Boyd Matson (left), master of ceremonies.
The adventurers, now 21, described last night some of the most harrowing moments of their dash from northern Greenland to the Antarctic’s Southern Ocean, the first-of-its-kind pole-to-pole journey in an effort to raise climate change awareness and to inspire the human spirit.
Gauntlett recalled his fall through the ice and how Hooper had to spread his weight to avoid the same fate in the effort to pull the unconscious Gauntlett from the 28-degree water.
Hooper spoke about the Southern Ocean squall that was blowing winds of up 80 miles per hour and driving waves 70 to 80 feet high. Their boat’s steering cables snapped and it slewed out of control sideways into an oncoming 80-foot wave. He unclipped his tether, “which I know is the one thing you’re not supposed to do,” to run across the deck. As the wave crashed over the boat he had time only to hold on to the nearest pole — hold on to his life — as the boat was rammed under the water.
Having righted itself, the damaged boat, minus radar and GPs equipment lost when it was engulfed by the wave, could be sailed through the south geomagnetic pole on April 24 this year. The journey ended in Sydney on May 9.
Watch this video about their adventure:
National Geographic Adventure also honored mountaineer and conservation champion Rick Ridgeway with a Best of Adventure Hall of Fame award.
Ridgeway, a writer, filmmaker and one of the best known American explorers, was recognized for a life lived adventurously and for spearheading the Freedom to Roam project, an initiative that aims to protect big wildlife by preserving hundreds of miles of undisturbed, interconnected migratory corridors across North America.
Watch Ridgeway on video:
The achievements of Gauntlett, Hooper, Ridgeway and 12 other adventurers are highlighted in the December 2008/January 2009 issue of National Geographic Adventure (on newsstands November 25), which features the most outstanding accomplishments for 2008 in the world of adventure, exploration, conservation and humanitarian work.
National Geographic Adventure organized a group of leaders in the world of adventure to serve on its advisory board for the nomination of this year’s top adventurers.
The Adventurer of the Year awards ceremony and reception is one of the best events of the year at the Society — and not only because it is sponsored by South African Tourism (I am proudly South African). It’s because this event and the sometimes madcap adventurers it honors epitomizes the grand National Geographic tradition of exploration and discovery even in the most challenging conditions.
The reception after the awards ceremony is an opportunity to mingle with the adventurers and the wider Geographic community of photographers, writers, and explorers. And last night there was a special touch: bowlsful of the South African delicacy biltong were served, an idea suggested by Adventure magazine’s publicist Caryn Davidson. Thanks Caryn! It truly felt like home.
They Did It (National Geographic Adventure coverage of all 14 winners of this year’s awards)
The Blue Project (Web site featuring images and more about the adventure of Rob Gauntlett and James Hooper)