Extreme Photo of the Week
Rappelling into the Black Hole of Calcutta, Blue Mountains, Australia
Photograph by Carsten Peter, National Geographic
“It feels like being swallowed by the Earth,” says photographer Carsten Peter of the Black Hole of Calcutta in Claustral Canyon, located in Australia’s Blue Mountains. Experienced canyoneers avoid it after heavy rains.
This unexpectedly rugged region, just a few hours’ drive west of Sydney, has hundreds of slot canyons. But the “Blueys” are not mountains at all. They are formed by an ancient sedimentary plateau shaped by river erosion and densely covered in eucalyptus.
Learn more about the daring Aussies who use ropes but no GPS to explore the Blue Mountains in “Australia’s Slot Canyons,” by Mark Jenkins, in the October 2011 issue of National Geographic.
Surfing the Mentawai Islands, Indonesia
Photograph by Jason Kenworthy, A-Frame
“I was just hugging the face of the wave waiting for it to barrel,” says pro surfer Bruce Irons, who was willing to give his pal Sam McIntosh’s “flare surfing” idea a try off Indonesia’s Mentawai Islands.
First the crew tested the idea in the very early morning. “I really didn’t know if it was going to work, or if the flare would just burn right through my board,” notes Irons. Once they felt confident in the mechanics, they set out at night. “We took a Jet Ski out to where the waves were meant to break,” says Irons. “I couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front of the ski.”
When the wave approached, a friend pulled the flare chord, and Irons jumped. A world-class surfer like Irons makes it look easy, but do not try this at home. “Considering my buddy Peter almost lost his eyesight pulling the flare cord on this night, I would say stick with what you are taught as a kid: Don’t play with fire.”
Getting the Shot
Having recently photographed the Nike “Just Do It” night ad campaign, photographer Jason Kenworthy was familiar with photographing surfers at night. “It was dark and there was only one chance to get it … no do-overs,” recalls Kenworthy.
To make this photograph, Kenworthy was located on a skiff looking directly into the barrel. “Focusing was a challenge due to the darkness. And with the dropping light, you are constantly guessing on your exposures—and then second-guessing,” says Kenworthy, who used a Canon Mark IV. “The 2.8 and instant stabilization worked great, and the high ISO settings came in handy.”
Trad Climbing the Needles, Black Hills, South Dakota
Photograph by Dawn Kish
Imagine climbing one of these granite spires. Or ten. In a single day.
Climbing legend John “Verm” Sherman, 52, first considered climbing the Ten Pins in a day—known as “the Strike,” in the Needles of the Black Hills—two decades ago. One partially paralyzed arm, a separated right shoulder, and two artificial hips later, he gave it a shot last July with climbing partner Cheyenne Chaffee, a local guide. “Even though the Strike requires a degree of physical stamina, the main challenge was mental—holding it together on run-out terrain where a fall could be a career-ender,” says Sherman.
Here, Sherman is seen leading on Super Pin, an elite-level climb and the most iconic of the Ten Pins. It is known for its “X” factor, which, in climbing, is the potential for a deadly fall due to lack of protection. “I stood up very, very carefully on the summit,” recalls Sherman. “It’s about the size of a 12-pack on top.”
Getting the Shot
Shooting all Ten Pins in one day is as much a challenge for the photographer as it is for the climber. For this shot, photographer Dawn Kish, a longtime rock climber, set herself on a nearby pin, Tent Peg. She then rappelled up and down a line to get the best angle. “We were tired in the middle of the day, but we had some Coca-Cola and Cheetos,” notes Kish, who captured the image using a Nikon D7000. “This camera is fast and light. For climbing shots, you need that flexibility.”
Cliff Diving in Boston, Massachusetts
Photograph by Romina Amato, Red Bull Cliff Diving
“This was the first time I dove from a building—it was amazing,” says diver Cyrille Oumedjkane of completing a reverse somersault layout from an 88.5-foot platform attached to Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) building.
With skilled precision amid dramatic clouds, the Frenchman and his fellow divers dazzled some 23,000 spectators surrounding Boston Harbor on the sixth stop of the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. In cliff diving, competitors dive outdoors at heights ranging from 66 to 92 feet and enter the water toes first; regular divers launch from 33 feet or less and enter headfirst.
For Oumedjkane, who has been practicing his sport for 25 years, plunging into water is a way of life. “I dive because I don’t like soccer, and I like the adrenaline.”
Getting the Shot
“With the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, we get to some really unique locations,” says photographer Romina Amato. Indeed, this year’s tour also hit Ukraine, Italy, France, Greece, Mexico, and Chile. “Each location comes with its own challenges—and Boston was no exception, as we had very limited angles from which to shoot.”
To capture this image, the veteran cliff-diving shooter was positioned in a parking lot next to the ICA building. “Cyrille’s dive looks both graceful and powerful as he launches against the natural drama of the weather front,” says Amato, who used a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV and 50mm f/1.2 lens.
Backcountry Skiing Squaw Valley, California
Photograph by Alex O’Brien
“I better stomp this!” This was on the mind of freeskier JT Holmes before he launched off the “Drifter,” a 35-foot cliff in Squaw Valley’s Silverado Canyon, during a shoot for the upcoming Warren Miller film, Like There’s No Tomorrow. Holmes has been doing such stunts for ski flicks since he was 15 years old. “The Drifter offers a clear view from takeoff to landing—if you stop above it. But I was skiing for film and for fun, so I came in nonstop, blind,” recalls Holmes, who grew up and still lives in Squaw Valley. “I was psyched. I had just become airborne to find that my trajectory was good, and my vision of the landing was only partly obscured by the falling snow.”
Even after seeking out the world’s best backcountry, Holmes says nowhere compares to his home turf. “Squaw Valley offers the best skiing experience and community. The layout creates a great vibe on the mountain …” Holmes says. “On top of that, we tend to enjoy mild temperatures. I am not so keen on skiing when it is cold outside.”
Getting the Shot
“When I get the call on the radio that he is ready, I’ve got about ten seconds before JT drops into the line,” says photographer Alex O’Brien. “This is the point when I take a deep breath and steady myself.” To get this shot, O’Brien was positioned directly across a small valley at the same elevation as the cliff, which gave him a good perspective. It also showed where Holmes was coming from and where he was headed, which is something O’Brien always tries to communicate in action photos. He chose a Nikon d700 handheld with a 70-200mm lens for the conditions: “I use this lightweight setup when I am shooting a subject that requires me to cover a lot of ground in a day.”
Big-Wave Surfing, Punta de Lobos, Chile
Photograph by Alfredo Escobar, Quiksilver/BWWT
“I just paddled so hard to take that wave, and I knew, in this moment, it would be one of the big ones!” says Chilean big-wave surfer Ramon Navarro of catching this 26-foot swell during the first stop of the 2011 Big Wave World Tour. Navarro placed second in the competition, which was held in chilly May in his hometown of Punta de Lobos, Chile. The beach is Chile’s premier surf spot, thanks to getting pounded by the most consistent waves in the country—and some of the most consistent in the world. “This is my favorite place to surf,” says Navarro, who began catching waves here when he was 12. “I will come in first next time.”
Getting the Shot
Photographer Alfredo Escobar captured this shot of Navarro while shooting only a hundred feet from breaking waves. “It was intense! A huge set of waves came in and we had to quickly get out of there,” recalls Escobar. “When my Jet Ski was passing the wave, I turned around and, at the last minute, I took this picture.“ When he set out for the day, Escobar knew the challenging situation he would face: “At Punta de Lobos there’s a very threatening wave that comes in from the west that usually catches you unguarded.”
BASE Jumping Utah’s Ancient Art
Screen capture by Keith Ladzinski
“At this very moment, the thinking is over and your mind is in ‘enjoy’ mode,” says climber Mario Richard (center) of two-way BASE jumping with Steph Davis (lower center) off the Corkscrew summit of Ancient Art at Fisher Towers near Moab, Utah. “It’s time to take in some amazing visuals and savor the fruits of all the efforts it took to get there.” The pair free climbed three short pitches and one long one to get to the narrow summit of this iconic desert tower recognized by most rock climbers.
In a two-way the jumpers take off nearly simultaneously, just a split second apart. Timing is important because if they don’t have enough separation, they could jump into each other’s parachutes. “We jump together a lot, and it seemed like it would be a fun twist to jump together from this tower where it’s hard to even fit one person at the top,” notes Davis, of the two BASE jumps she and Richard did that day. “We do two-ways off Castleton quite a bit, too—and with our wingsuits.”
Getting the Shot
There is a tenseness that I can’t shake every time I watch my friends BASE jump. This cold January day was no different. Hanging from a rope about 40 feet lower than the summit, I shot the still frames of this jump via a cable release in my right hand while follow-filming with a video camera. It was a daunting task to time the still frames in one camera while also capturing the motion in a separate video camera. Both cameras were mounted on the side of the cliff on a dangling tripod that I hung next to. Mario’s body position in the frame has a wildness to it as he tries to get as far away from the cliff as possible. —Photographer Keith Ladzinski
Backcountry Skiing Crystal Mountain, Washington
Photograph by Ian Coble
“The lighting and light snow were unreal for so early in the year,” says skier Tyler Ceccanti of this early December backcountry skiing shoot on Washington’s Crystal Mountain with photographer Ian Coble. Though Ceccanti has spent the last four years sampling the world’s best terrain as a pro, the 22-year-old says there’s no place like home: “I grew up exploring this mountain every weekend and I love being here,” says Ceccanti who still lives in nearby Lake Tapps. “It also has some of the best skiing in the Northwest and a beautiful view.”
Deepwater Soloing Poda Island, Thailand
Photograph by David Clifford
“Deepwater soloing provides the perfect combination of adventure and serenity,” says Jessa Younker of climbing the stalactites hanging from a giant limestone cliff on Poda Island, Thailand. “Without a rope or harness to distract, I can purely focus on how to make the next move on the natural features.” With this style of rock climbing, a fall is followed by a splash: “Sometimes my hand would slip off the wet rock and send me free falling through the air. Then I would be engulfed in the warmth of the Andaman Sea, swimming towards the surface, watching the sun dance across the gentle waves.”
Paragliding Bazaruto Island, Mozambique
Photograph by Jody MacDonald
“Flying a site like this is like having an out-of-body experience,” says Gavin McClurg of paragliding above the shape-shifting sand dunes on 20-mile-long Bazaruto Island. “You are looking out at the Indian Ocean’s turquoise waters churning endlessly from one huge lagoon at high tide to massive sand islands and rivers at low.” And they had the added rush of being the first to paraglide there. Seasoned adventurer McClurg and photographer Jody MacDonald found this spot while sailing the world to kiteboard, surf, and paraglide where no one has done so before on an expedition they call “The Best Odyssey.” “There was no sign of people—just serene beauty in every direction,” says McClurg. “And you’re flying above soft sand, so no helmet or shoes were even necessary! Rarely is paragliding so stress-free and just pure fun.”
2011 Tour de France
Photograph by Christophe Ena, AP
Cyclists race down Massiac pass during the 9th stage of the 2011 Tour de France. This stage of the race—there are 21 total—covered 129 miles from Issoire to Saint-Flour in central France and was the scene of several accidents due to pileups and wet roads. Over the three weeks of the race, which ends July 24 on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, cyclists cover 2,132 miles.
Bodyboarding at Shark Island, Australia
Photograph by Cameron Spencer, Getty Images
“I just wanted to get a bomb and was really enjoying the ride,” says bodyboarder Chase O’Leary of catching this six-foot wave during the Shark Island Challenge, in June 2011, near Sydney, Australia. “But I didn’t read the wave properly, hence why I got smashed into the reef.” Surfing’s little brother, bodyboarding is a sport that’s growing up. “There’s been a real boom in the younger generation—not just in Australia but around the world,” says O’Leary, 19, who has been bodyboarding for nine years. “People see it as a more functional way of riding a wave than surfing. Once you start to get the hang of it, it becomes addictive.”
Climbing Near Squamish, British Columbia, Canada
Photograph by Paul Bride
“Being in this crack was surprisingly secure—when I was not moving,” says climbing guide John Furneaux of tackling Public Image, a 4-pitch route on the North Walls of the Stawamus Chief. “Whenever I tried to make upward progress it felt like I might be spit out into the abyss at any moment.” The tight squeeze afforded amazing views of giant old-growth cedar and douglas fir trees and Squamish, British Columbia, a gateway to world-class climbing, whitewater paddling, wind sports, and mountain biking. “As much as I hate to give away my secret playground,” comments Furneaux, “I have to say that if people are looking for adventure, Squamish is truly the destination they should visit.”
Ski Jumping in Alta, Utah
Photograph by Scott Markewitz
“When I pop out into the open air and get that first look at how far away the ground is, time stops, it gets really quiet, I hear birds chirping, I drift around in my own thoughts—all in a nanosecond,” says professional skier Julian Carr of front flipping off a 60-foot cliff at Utah’s Alta ski resort. Carr loves launching himself off cliffs on skis so much that he holds two world records in the sport. And with more than 500 inches of annual snowfall, Alta is his favorite place on Earth for cliff jumping. “Light powder with a great base—Utah snow is the best! But don’t tell anyone.”
Sunset Highlining Near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Photograph by Tim Kemple
“Climbing, and life in general, in Brazil was totally mind-blowing—the relaxed culture, varied climbing objectives, and an inspiring landscape that combines jungle, mountain, and ocean,” says climber-artist Renan Ozturk of this trip to film a documentary about Brazilian friend who died—and to capture the adventures of her homeland. Here, Ozturk carefully makes his way across a highline at Gavea Stone, overlooking the glittering lights of Rio di Janeiro. “This was a scary moment to capture on film because I had to mount the line in the dark over the void and then keep my balance in the strong wind as my good friend Tim popped a huge flash in my face. It was a great adventure.”
Climbing the Arch of Bishekele, Ennedi Desert, Chad
Photograph by Jimmy Chin, Fame Pictures
“Fifteen feet above me was the top of the most incredible piece of rock I had ever seen,” says climber James Pearson of ascending the 180-foot Arch of Bishekele in Chad’s Ennedi Desert. Traveling for more than 10,000 miles over four days, a team of all-star climbers—including Jimmy Chin, Alex Honnold, Renan Ozturk, and Pearson—became the first to scale the arid sandstone stacks and sheer walls of this remote desert. “The climbing looked harder than below, but my gut told me to try, and after five very tense minutes I arrived on top of my wildest summit yet,” recalls Pearson. “As my eyes took in the vista, I realized I was the first human ever to see this view.”
Kiteboarding in Cumbuco, Brazil
Photograph by Maurício Val, Fotocom
“The leading rank was at stake, so I was putting every ounce of focus I had on that move,” recalls competitive Brazilian kiteboarder Guilly Brandão of the final heat in the Volkswagen Kite Tour 2010 in Cumbuco, Brazil last November. “I was thinking about nothing, just feeling the board, the kite, and starting to aim for the next move on the wave.” Located in northern Brazil, Cumbuco is a kiteboarder’s paradise with strong winds blowing the entire season, from June to November. Brandão won his fifth wave title during this competition.
Stand Up Paddle Surfing in Tahiti
Photograph by Chuck Patterson
“I had surfed and tow surfed here before,” says big-wave surfer Chuck Patterson about Teahupoo, a renowned surf spot in Tahiti. “But I always wondered what it would feel like to get tubed on my stand up paddle surf board—this is what I came for.” The water is sucked off a shallow, razor sharp reef, making the barrel break below sea level. “This wave is incredibly challenging to paddle into, let alone surf,” notes Patterson. “Any mistakes could be costly.” The photograph was taken by a camera mounted to his board.
Biking South Africa’s Table Mountain
Photograph by Nick Muzik, Caters News Agency
“Riding on top of Table Mountain was something I had to do,” says professional mountain biker Kenny Belaey. “The landscape is just perfect for trials—but I had to be really careful.” Belaey pulled out every daredevil trick imaginable, from wheelies to bunny hops, to explore the famous 3,559-foot flat-top sandstone mountain overlooking Cape Town. To reach the top at sunrise, he hiked through the night, carrying his 20-pound bike on his back.
Kayaking Nepal’s Upper Seti River
Photograph by Tim Ripper, My Shot
“Nepal’s Upper Seti Canyon is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been,” says kayaker-filmmaker Josh Neilson of this exploratory expedition to run a rarely accessed steep section high up on Seti River. “You’d think your heart would be racing at the lip of a drop like this, but it’s just the opposite,” says Neilson. “The rushing water is silenced by concentration, and time almost stands still.”
Bodysurfing the North Shore, Hawaii
Photograph by Ryan Foley, A-Frame
“At this moment, Paul Mclaughlin and I were throwing ourselves into crazy huge barrels trying to fly right over the camera,” says competitive bodysurfer Ryan Hailstones (left), who just placed fifth in the Pipeline Bodysurfing Classic in February. Ke Iki Beach, on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, is a famous bodysurfing spot, but also very dangerous. Only the pros can take on the shallow water and fierce waves, which literally break in dry sand.
Ice Climbing in Eidfjord, Norway
Photograph by Christian Pondella, Red Bull Content Pool
“It felt like climbing a chandelier,” says world-renowned ice climber Will Gadd of completing the first ascent of 650-foot Skrikjofossen during a frigid February in Eidfjord, Norway. “This was, by far, the most difficult frozen waterfall I had ever climbed—or plan to.” But for Gadd, the opportunity to explore the caves behind frozen waterfalls makes the risk worth it. “The mix of light, atmosphere, and the temporary nature of these jeweled rooms inspires awe.” Gadd’s route has not seen a second ascent.
Jumping the Mount Baker Road Gap, Washington
Photograph by Garrett Grove
After a long day of exploring Mount Baker’s backcountry, a group of expert skiers, including professional telemarker Paul Kimbrough (pictured), ventured toward the legendary Mount Baker Road Gap, a rite of passage among local skiers and snowboarders. It took a few hours to build up the jump, consider all the safety precautions, and set up flashes. Because it was so dark, the car was actually parked, so Kimbrough could have a sense of where he was. “When I dropped in I could barely see the in-run as the light faded,” recalls Kimbrough, “but I was confident and it felt great to 360 through light snowflakes and ride out clean.”
Free Soloing in Yosemite National Park
Photograph by Mikey Schaefer, National Geographic
With no rope to save him from a fall, daredevil climber Dean Potter free solos a route called Heaven on Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park, California. Half Dome appears in the distance.
Kayaking La Paz Falls, Costa Rica
Photograph by Lucas Gilman
Professional kayaker Pat Keller plunges over 120-foot La Paz Falls in the central highlands of Costa Rica. Keller survived the extreme drop—though he broke his right hand.
Surfing Waimea Bay, Hawaii
Photograph by Dave Collyer
Backcountry Skiing, Austria
Photograph and caption by Amin Zavieh, My Shot
A skier cuts through powder on a peak in Saalbach, Austria. This region of Salzburg is a popular destination for skiers, with multiple runs and extensive backcountry options.
Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge
Photograph by Monica Dalmasso, Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge
Competitors in the 2010 Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge trek across the desert during the six-day endurance race. Racers began with a triathlon-style prologue in Abu Dhabi city, then traveled by bus to Al Ain, where they confronted the Jebel Hafeet mountain range. Next they hiked across the Rub al Khali desert before ending the challenge with a sea kayaking leg.
BASE Jumping, Utah
Photograph by Michael Clark, Red Bull Content Pool
A Red Bull Air Force Team member BASE jumps off a cliff in southwestern Utah. The extra fabric in the wing suits creates lift allowing the jumper to “fly.” Parachutes aid in a safe landing.
Annapurna Trail, Nepal
Photograph and caption by Helmut Zhang, My Shot
A snow-covered peak dwarfs a climber on Thorung La, a 17,769-foot pass in the Annapurna range of the Himalaya. The pass poses the most difficult challenge along the Annapurna trail, a circuit that draws mountaineers from around the globe.