This year we were inundated with a host of inspiring record-breaking adventures. But for every success, there are a dozen failures, many of them worth remembering. Whether they're about government bureaucracies creating Kafka-esque expeditions, oddball feats that defy description, or simply inspiring losses, these noteworthy misadventures have carved out their own special place in the history books.
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A Record-Breaking Caravan
The idea of setting a speed record on the Snowman Trek — a 188-mile trail through Bhutan's Himalayan Mountains seemed like a good idea to adventurers Ben Clark, Timmy Olson, Chris Ord, and Anna Frost. There was only one problem; the Kingdom of Bhutan is mostly unexplored wilderness that bans any climbing above 19,800 feet out of respect for local spiritual beliefs. Once the climbers arrived they found out that they were not allowed to travel in the country alone, instead they would have to attempt to break the record lugging along an entourage consisting of one guide, two horsemen, five cooks, and 21 horses ferrying all of their supplies. Over the next 15 days they endured consistent rain and snow, porters that did not want to go faster, and the loss of Ord due to pulmonary edema. In the end they set the record, but we imagine they'll be looking for a less bureaucratic endeavor next time.
Credit: Sylvain Bouzat/ Getty Images
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Captain Calamity Strikes Again
For almost two decades Roy Findlay has been trying to break various trans-Atlantic rowing records. After his first attempt in 1997 ended almost before it started in a crew revolt, the British press dubbed him Captain Calamity. Undaunted he kept at it, experiencing two more failures — a hurricane and rough seas derailed those attempts, plus one successful crossing. But, his latest attempt in December ended after only 48 hours when the crew called for helicopter rescue off the coast of Spain after Findlay fell ill. All eleven members of the team were plucked to safety, but they had to leave all of their possessions, including their passports, behind on the boat in the middle of the Atlantic. Once they got to land, and Findlay to the hospital, they were stuck in the country trying to figure out how to get home.
Credit: Getty Images
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A Series of Unfortunate Events on the Irawaddy River
Kayaker Ben Stookesbury has spent the last two decades travelling the world making epic first descents of hidden rivers. He has over 70 first descents in 15 different countries and has earned his place as one of Men's Journal's 50 Most Adventurous Men. So when he planned to follow Myanmar's Irawaddy River from its headwaters to the sea with fellow paddler Chris Korbulic, it seemed like he was just the person to pull it off. Instead what followed was a series of missteps. From the domestic airline refusing to put their boats on their planes to faceless government bureaucrats demanding reams of forms and a ten-day portage, they spent their first three weeks just trying to get to the river. When they finally made it to the river, they only were able to paddle it for a few days before halting their trip due to fears of being shot. Then their kayaks disappeared. Undaunted, they bought a leaky 16-foot canoe and continued on for 75 miles, only to have their boat rammed by the military that then arrested them for having improper paper work and detained them for a week, before escorting them out of the country.
Credit: Richard Brickel / Getty Images
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This Year's Most Inspiring Fall
As American runner Abbey D'Agostino was rounding the track during her qualifying heat of the women's 5000-meter race this summer in Rio she was in good position to qualify for the finals, and a chance at Olympic glory. But with 2,000 meters to go she clipped the heel of New Zealander Nikki Hamblin, and both runners were sent sprawling in the track. That's when D'Agostino did something amazing. Instead of taking off after the others who were rapidly speeding away, she bent over Hamblin, helped her up, and told her they had to finish the race. As they started forward together it quickly became evident that D'Agostino was injured (it was later diagnosed that she had wrecked her right knee) when she fell to the ground feet from where they first collided. That's when Hamblin returned the favor helping her back up. The two finished the race in 29th and 30th positions with D'Agostino visibly struggling the whole way. At the finish line Hamblin was there to help her to a wheelchair. The two runners were recognized with special medals given by the International Fair Play Committee.
Credit: Ian Walton / Getty Images
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Buzz Aldrin's Steps Foot on the South Pole, Briefly
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin is a badass. A fighter pilot in Korea, Aldrin went on to become a test pilot, navigational genius, and the second person to ever set foot on the moon. Now 86 years old, he is still going. Just this month, he became the oldest person ever to reach the South Pole when he flew in this December. It was a brief record however. Not long after arriving at the pole, the former astronaut started to complain about shortness of breath and lightheadedness. As his condition deteriorated, officials at the Amundsen-Scott Pole Station scrambled to find him a flight out before the Acute Mountain Sickness got worse. It seems that the rapid accent to 9,000 feet above sea level Aldrin experienced was too much for his system. He is now recovered and, we hope, ready for a less risky adventure — perhaps helping to plan to get the next generation to Mars?
Credit: Getty Images
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Climbing the Trump Tower
Trump Tower has been a magnet for all types this year. From protesters to fans, the streets outside the building have seen their share of out-of-town visitors. The most famous came on the morning of August 10, when 19-year-old Stephen Rogata decided to climb up the outside of the 58-story building using nothing but suction cups. His goal was to "discuss an important matter" according to a video the Virginian posted hours before his attempt to summit the tower. Over the next three hours, networks cut to his slow-motion Spiderman climb, and the internet exploded with livestream videos of him as he evaded police and steadily went higher. He made it to the 21st floor before police corralled him, and sent him to Bellevue for psychiatric evaluation. Trump thanked the police on Twitter.
Credit: Victor J. Blue / Bloomberg / Getty Images
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On April 19 Nathan Paulin and Danny Menšík set a world record when they walked over 1 kilometer across a slackline strung between two peaks over 1,800 feet off the ground. It took the two men and their team of helpers two days to string up the slackline using drones to ferry fishing line between the two peaks to help haul the line across the gap. In the end they spent five hours pulling ropes across to rig up the line for their record setting attempt. Paulin took one hour and 15 minutes to cross, and Menšík a brief 40 minutes.
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The Mountain Vs. The Refrigerators
Don't get us wrong, Hafthor Bjornsson, who player the HBO series Game of Thrones character The Mountain, is a real-deal badass, holding a share of strong man records and a physique to match. That's why, when he broke the 20-Meter Fridge Carry record on the Guinness World Records Italian Show, he had us all scratching our heads. The feat itself is impressive: He carried two refrigerators 20 meters in less than 20 seconds. This was something no one has ever done. There's a reason for that.
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Olympic Boxer Michael Conlan Decimates Vladamir Nikitin, Declared Loser
When Russian boxer Vladimir Nikitin was declared the unanimous winner in his Olympic bantamweight quarterfinal bout against Irish fighter Michael Conlan, most observers in the arena reacted with shocked silence. It appeared that Conlan had soundly beaten the Russian in all three rounds, a fact driven home by the steady flow of blood emanating from opponents numerous facial cuts (Nikitin would withdraw from his next fight due to injuries). As his opponent dropped to his knees in joy at winning, Conlan tore off his jersey, flipped off the judges, and refused to leave the ring. Later he accused the International Olympic Committee of corruption, saying his fight was rigged. Someone must have listened: Later in the games, six judges were relived of their duties, and a senior official was reassigned.
Credit: Stephen McCarthy / Getty Images
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Lost in Iceland
When 28-year old New Jersey tourist Noel Santillan arrived at Iceland's main international airport last February, he was only 30 minutes from his hotel. So he did what most people do these days. He plugged in the address into his GPS unit and followed the directions it spit out to him. Unfortunately for him he had mistyped the name of his destination — he added an extra "r." Over the next five hours he drove steadily north to Laugarvegur (instead of Laugavegur) ignoring the voice inside his head telling him something was not right. By the time he arrived at his destination he was on the desolate northern tip of the country. Luckily the woman whose door he knocked on took pity on him, and pointed him to the local hotel, where he awoke the next day a celebrity. His story, which the helpful woman had posted online, had gone viral. For the next week everywhere he went people wanted to meet him, especially when he got lost again a few days later, from following his GPS.
Credit: Benjawan Sittidech / Getty Images
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America Conquers the Marathon Man
For the small yet passionate ultra-running community, British runner Robert Young's ongoing attempt to break the 36-year-old fastest crossing of America attempt this summer was something they followed daily. His tracking device showed he was off to a blazing start, averaging over 65 miles a day as he headed east. So when the running website LetsRun.com first posted video showing his support vehicle slowly crawling through the Kansas countryside at night, with Young no where in site, but his tracker showing him running, the skeptics started to question him. Young denied he was cheating, but as more people started to analyze his posted data, and follow his convoy, his pace started to slow. Nine days after questions were first raised about the veracity of his attempt, he ended it in Indianapolis citing injury and fatigue.
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The Appalachian Trail Record That Never Was
When Kaiha Bertollini arrived at the southern end of the Appalachian Trail on September 18, she had just missed the party, the one hosted less than 12 hours earlier for ultra-runner Karl Meltzer, to celebrate his record-setting traverse. So when Bertollini one day later announced that she had actually just broken his record by 16 hours, we all scratched our heads. Not only was she claiming to have hiked the trail faster than him, she also was claiming to have done it with no support, while smoking cigarettes and drinking booze on the way. The fact that she carried no tracking device with her, posted no mileage logs, or kept a log also cast doubt upon her claim. While she did post to Facebook during the trek, the jury is still out on her claim, and it has not been officially put on the books, as the burden of proof falls upon Bertollini to prove her claim.