Sir Ranulph Fiennes and His Goldfish     (6)

Continuing the “fish” theme, I suppose, here’s a video that someone just sent to me via Twitter (thanks, @bgdurau). Sir Ranulph is, by all counts, one of the greatest living explorers and a true inspiration.


If you want to learn more about Sir Ranulph’s epic journeys and escapades, I suggest you pick up one of his many books. They’re all great.

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Categories: Movies, Books, TV Survival

The Quest for a Camera     (5)

I love vintage cameras. I have a small collection of them at my place in Utah and marvel at the beauty of their construction. Laid out in a row, one can see how they’ve evolved, from the large folding plate-film dinosaurs to the smaller (but still pretty big) cartridge and roll-film models, all the way down the line to today’s featherweight and film-free digitals. One hundred years ago, people would have thought you mad if you talked about a film-free camera. Where would the image be stored? But I digress.

The hunt is now on for a very special old camera: A Kodak Vest Pocket Model B. But not just any Kodak Vest Pocket Model B. People are on the hunt for the Vest Pocket cameras carried by climbers George Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine on their attempt to summit Mt. Everest in 1924. Here’s the last photo taken of them before they disappeared on June 8, 1924.

In the upper left inset, you can see what a Vest Pocket camera looks like. You can also read more about this particular model here.  We know Mallory had this camera with him on the climb (as did Irvine), but when his body was discovered on May 2, 1999, the camera wasn’t found. It’s possible that Irvine had both cameras on him (his body has not yet been found) or that the camera is somewhere nearby. Thus continues the quest to resolve one of the greatest mysteries in mountaineering: Is it possible that Mallory and Irvine got to the summit of Mt. Everest in 1924, almost 30 years earlier than the May 29, 1953 ascent by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay?

When last scene by climber Noel Odell in 1924, the pair were above the Second Step, just 850 feet below the summit and still climbing strong. They never returned. 75 years later, Mallory’s body was found by climber Conrad Anker 2,030 feet below the peak. From its condition and placement, Mallory appeared to have fallen before dying, as you can read from this website“The fall has dislocated Mallory’s right elbow and the rope is coiled around his chest, breaking his ribs. At some point he breaks his tibia and fibula just above his right foot. He is still sliding face down the mountain, his fingers digging into the rocky ground. He slides off another ledge and his forehead smashes into the rocks. Finally his battered body comes to a stop. He is still alive! He digs his fingers into the ground and to protect his shattered right leg, he crosses his left foot over the right foot—to protect it.” Pretty fascinating account, to say the least.

On the body were Mallory’s goggles, knife, altimeter and wristwatch.... but no camera. The climbers appeared to be descending when they fell—had they made the summit? This is the million dollar question. If either camera can be found, it’s possible that the film could contain images of Mallory or Irvine on the peak, thus re-writing history. Of course, the camera could be smashed to bits. Or 86 years of cosmic rays could have penetrated the camera’s body and ruined the film. The people at Eastman Kodak have long-pondered what could still be discernible on that film, should it be processed today. But first, of course, the camera must be found, and it’s the latest expedition that is now gearing up and looking for sponsors. If you’re interested, you can read more here. Either way, it certainly makes me appreciate the benefit of recording history with a camera and inspires me to take even more photographs of my journeys.

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Categories: Photography Survival Travel News & World Events

Surviving at 30,000 feet     (13)

I just read the initial report that a body was found in the landing gear of a Boeing 777 that had landed in Tokyo from JFK this morning. Police suspect the person froze to death and suffered from the shortage of oxygen at high altitude. This reminded me of a survival story I read a few years ago in Xavier Maniguet’s book Survival: How to Prevail in Hostile Environments, so I pulled it down off my shelf to check. Sure enough, on pages 5-7, there are some interesting accounts of others who have tried to travel from one country to another via the landing gear compartment of a plane, only to die from exposure and hypoxia. Yet some survived. I found one case particularly fascinating, so I’ll paraphrase what Maniguet reports.

At 6:30pm on June 3, 1969, 18-year old Cuban Armando Socarras Ramirez and his friend Jorge Perez Blanco make a mad dash for the landing gear on an Iberia DC-8 plane departing Havana airport, heading non-stop to Madrid. Ramirez jumps into the right-side compartment, Blanco the left. When the plane takes off, Ramirez somehow avoids being crushed by the wheels’ hydraulics. Blanco isn’t as lucky; he’s killed seconds after take-off. The next morning, after flying for 8 hours at over 30,000 feet, the plane lands in Madrid. While placing the chocks under the wheels of the plane, two ground crew members are surprised to see a stiff bundle come tumbling out of the compartment. Shocked to discover it’s a human being, they notify local emergency services, who take Rameriz’s frozen, comatose body to the hospital, where doctors assume he’ll die. After all, no one can survive with so little oxygen for more than 30 minutes, much less 8 hours, and surely the -40ºF temperature would have damaged him permanently. Indeed, his kidneys have failed, his heart was barely beating, and his brain must have been in deep hibernation. And yet, after 24 hours of gentle rewarming and emergency care, Armando Socarras Ramirez is awake, eating normally, reading about his miraculous survival in the newspaper. 24 hours after that, he makes a complete recovery.

This type of survival miracle is the exception, not the norm, of course. Humans are not typically able to survive extreme altitudes and cold. So how did Ramirez survive? As Maniguet discusses in the book, he had a few things going for him: First of all, he was both young and fit. Secondly, he had taken some precautions, placing cotton in his ears to help reduce the deafening noise of the engines, and he had tied himself to the landing gear with a rope and his belt so he wouldn’t fall off before hitting the runway. Most importantly, he had known almost nothing about the ordeal he was about to face. An 18-year old kid from Cuba, Ramirez had no idea what extreme temperatures he’d be subjected to, nor did he understand the issues of hypoxia (oxygen deprivation) that come with high altitude. He didn’t even wear warm clothes! All of this became an advantage, experts believe, as he calmly froze into a state of hibernation, too ignorant of the risks to resist in any way. When he later learned how dangerous the trip actually was, he said had he known, he never would have done it. But during those initial moments, he was calm and his pulse rate, his arterial tension, and his adrenaline level were all low, making his body better able to survive a sudden freeze and thaw, as it were. Interestingly, due to air traffic, the pilot landed the plane by making a very gradual descent from a holding pattern over Madrid, giving Ramirez’s body the time it needed to slowly warm up. It’s all pretty fascinating stuff, and as a result of this incident, the medical community had to completely rethink their understanding of what the human body could withstand. For the man in Tokyo, however, he wasn’t nearly as lucky.

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Categories: Miscellaneous Survival Travel

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