This has been one hell of a year for record-breaking feats. The first successful Everest season in three years, the Summer Olympics in Rio, advances in technology, and shared passions came together to make this one of the most memorable years for records in recent history. When asked about 2016, Adrian Ballinger, who set a speed record on Cho Oyu this year, put it this way: "Athleticism, training, technology, and passion have always been crucial components of sports. In 2016 we saw these elements combine into something even greater than the sum of their parts, as individuals and teams all over the world not only went farther and faster in their athletic pursuits but also shared their stories more openly and powerfully than ever before."
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Colin Haley Sets Multiple Climbing Records in Patagonia
Alpine climber Colin Haley, 32, spent 2016 racking up big wall speed records, solo records, and both first and second ascents — more action than many of his cohorts see in a lifetime. But you most likely haven't heard of Haley, because his feats take place in the corners of Patagonia, which doesn't garner American media attention the way our local climbing meccas, like Yosemite, do. To start, Haley soloed the California route on 11,171-foot Fitz Roy, for the second time, making him the only person, besides Dean Potter, to attain two solos of the iconic spire. Five days later, he and Andy Wyatt set a speed record on Fitz Roy, in 21 hours and 8 minutes. Perhaps most notably, Haley became the first person, on January 19, to rope-solo Torre Egger, a particularly perilous 9,350-foot granite turret. (Rope soloing is technique that allows a climber to ascend without a partner, while still having the protection of a rope on the gnarliest sections). It took him 16 hours to get to the top. Oh, and on January 31, Haley partnered with Alex Honnold to make the second ascent of the Torre Traverse. They did it in a blistering 20 hours and 40 minutes.
Credit: Grant Dixon / Getty Images
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Colin O'Brady Completes Explorers Grand Slam in Record 139 Days
Fewer than 50 people have achieved the Explorers Grand Slam — climbing the seven highest peaks on each of the seven continents, plus skiing to the last degree of latitude at both the North and South poles — in a lifetime. Four have done it in the span of one year or less. On May 27, endurance athlete Colin O'Brady did it in less than five months, or more precisely, 139 days. He started at the South Pole on January 1, working his way through five of the world's tallest peaks before taking on the North Pole, and then tackling Everest on May 19, and ending on U.S. soil with Denali on May 26. And in case one world record wasn't enough, O'Brady also broke the speed record for the Seven Summits, in 132 days.
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Sebastian Copeland and Mark George Trek 404 Miles Across the Simpson Desert
On August 26, Sebastian Copeland and Mark George completed a self-supported 404-mile trek across Australia's Simpson Desert — considered one of the harshest environments on the planet. Each man towed a 400-pound cart of supplies, mostly water, and followed the desert's latitudinal axis. The endeavor took a record 26 days, and traversed close to 1,000 sand dunes. If this sounds like a sufferfest, it was. But it was a sufferfest for a higher purpose: In February, Copeland and George will attempt the 480-mile trek from Canada's Northern Ellesmere Island to the geographic North Pole, unsupported, each man towing a 300+ pound sled. The Simpson Desert was literally the dry run.
Credit: Ryan Claypool
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Danny Weiland Completes 61 BASE Jumps in a Single Day
The record for the most BASE jumps in a 24-hour period belongs to National Guardsman Dan Schilling, who, in 2006, flew off the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho 201 times. In between jumps, Schilling used a crane to haul himself 486 feet back up to the bridge. Denver resident Danny Weiland, 31, was interested in the record, but with a twist: He aspired to do it unassisted, scrambling back up the canyon wall and biking to the center of the bridge. The previous unassisted record, held by Miles Daisher, was 57. Weiland, a commercial housepainter and part-time fitness trainer, assembled a team of about 20 friends and volunteers to keep him motivated and fueled, and to reset the bike and BASE rigs. After 24 hours, Weiland racked up 61 jumps, and set a new record.
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Michael Phelps Breaks a 2,168-Year-Old Olympic Record
At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, swimmer Michael Phelps won five gold medals and one silver, bringing his total medal count to 28 — 23 of those gold. That's more than twice the number of gold medals achieved by any other Olympian and two more individual gold medals than the previous holder, Leonidas of Rhodes, who set the record in 152 BC. Sixty-six countries, including Austria, Iran, and Mexico, have taken home fewer gold medals in total, since the modern Olympics began in 1896, then Phelps did in his five Olympic appearances.
Credit: Getty Images
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Antoine Girard Sets New Paragliding World Record, Reaching 26,762 Feet
The sport of bivvy flying — a combination of paragliding and camping to carry out a multi-day backcountry expedition — is burly enough for most of us. But French paraglider Antoine Girard, 36, took it to a new level in July. It wasn't so much where Girard flew — through some of the world's tallest and most dangerous peaks like K2 and Gasherbrum IV, in northern Pakistan — but rather how high he flew, specifically 8,157 meters, or 26,762 feet, a new paragliding world record. He was able to achieve the rare and dangerous height (above 26,000 feet is considered "the death zone") courtesy of thermals coming off the high rock faces of nearby Broad Peak, the 12th highest mountain in the world. Interestingly, Girad didn't have a record in mind when he rode the thermal. Nor was luck necessarily on his side — as he watched his altimeter climb, he tried to hook up supplemental oxygen only to realize he'd neglected to connect a critical tube.
Credit: Antoine Girard / Facebook
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Climber Ashima Shiraishi is First Woman (and Youngest Person) to Boulder a V15
On March 22, 2016, Ashima Shirashi, who was 14 years old at the time and on spring break, made climbing history as the first woman to boulder Horizon at Mount Hiei, Japan, a V15-rated climb. She was also the youngest, male or female, to do so. The achievement was the latest in a string of successes for the young American from New York City that includes becoming the first woman to climb Ciudad de Dios, a 5.14d/5.15a, when she was just 13. Shirashi is also the youngest person to climb that grade. The record in Japan catapulted Shirashi to rock climbing royalty as one of handful of elites (all grown men) who have succeeded in climbing both V15 and 5.15.
Credit: Lars Niki / Getty Images
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Krzysztof Starnawski Discovers World's Deepest Underwater Cave
Polish diver Krzysztof Starnawski has spent two decades exploring Hranická Propast, a submerged cave in the eastern Czech Republic, to learn just how far the rabbit hole goes. Starnawski was fascinated by the cave's unusual creation story — it formed from the bottom up, as acidic mineral water ate its way up through the soft limestone — and hypothesized it was much deeper than anticipated. After a series of diving expeditions, aided and abetted by an underwater avalanche that, in 2015, widened a narrow opening at what had been previously believed to be the bottom, Starnawski was able to map out a route for an ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) to descend. On September 27, 2016, technicians dropped the ROV in, confirming a depth of 404 meters, or 1,325 feet, besting the previous record (Pozzo del Merro in Italy) by 39 feet.
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Cyclist Tom Zirbel Crushes The U.S. Hour Record
The U.S. Hour Record, the distance an American cyclist can achieve in 60 minutes' time, has stood for two decades. Tom Zirbel, 37, of Rally Cycling, set his sights on the benchmark as a career goal to achieve before he retired. He traveled to the velodrome in Aguascalientes, Mexico, for his attempt in September and went out fast, averaging 16.9-second laps. He not only managed to maintain the blistering pace, but sped up in the final five minutes to 16.6-second laps. Zirbel's total distance was 53.037 km, nearly 1.5 seconds faster than the record. One-and-a-half seconds may not sound like much, but in the world of the Cycling Hour Record, it's a landslide.
Credit: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images
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Solar Impulse Completes Record-Setting Flight Around the World
On July 26, 2016, Solar Impulse — an experimental fixed-wing plane that's entirely solar powered — landed in Abu Dhabi, completing the first around-the-world flight powered by only the sun's energy. The aircraft gets its energy from 17,248 photovoltaic solar cells that cover the top of the 236-foot wing, the fuselage, and the tailplane, and cruises at 56 mph. It was alternatively piloted by project co-founders Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg who divided their journey into 17 legs to cover the 26,744 miles, which took 558 total hours, or 23 days, of flight time. The longest segment, Leg 8 from Nagoya, Japan to Oahu, Hawaii, took 117 hours and 52 minutes, and earned Borschberg the record for longest solo flight in aviation history. He used yoga and meditation techniques to keep his blood circulating, and relied on autopilot, when able, to take 20-minute catnaps.
Credit: Getty Images
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Adam Ondra Makes 2nd Free Ascent of the World's Hardest Big Wall
On November 24, 2016, in Yosemite National Park, world-champion sport climber Adam Ondra topped out on the route known as the Dawn Wall, located on the iconic granite formation El Capitan. The climb is believed to be the toughest on the planet due to its length (3,000 vertical feet) and difficulty (5.14d). It is only the second time the Dawn Wall has been successfully climbed. Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson made the first ascent in January 2015, a grueling effort that took multiple seasons over a span of 7 years to finally come together. Their final push, which received an unprecedented amount of media coverage, not to mention a congratulations from President Obama, took 19 days. Ondra negotiated the 32 pitches in just under 8 days. While the increase in speed is typical between a first and second ascent, it's worth noting that Ondra led all 32 pitches, becoming the first person to fully free-climb the Dawn Wall. Jorgeson and Caldwell were switching off each pitch, or what's known as swinging leads, so each effectively only climbed half the route.
Credit: Getty Images
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Corey Richards and Adrian Ballinger Take Expedition Journalism to Next Level
On May 24, 2016, alpinist and adventure photojournalist Cory Richards summited Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen. But what made the expedition a standout to much of the world was the fact that he and climbing partner Adrian Ballinger (who failed to summit, turning back at the 8,480-meter mark) shared the expedition in real time using Snapchat. The resulting Snapumentary series #EverestNoFilter marked the first time a guide or athlete team has given an exclusive, unfiltered view of what it's like to climb the world's tallest mountain. Hundreds of thousands of viewers tuned in each day. Adrian and Ballinger also regularly posted to their Instagram accounts, using new satellite technology to provide a 360-degree view of life on expedition.
Credit: Eddie Bauer
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Usain Bolt's Triple Triple
At the Rio Summer 2016 Olympics, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt swept the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay, earning three gold medals. The feat was his third such sweep in three Summer Olympic games, putting him in an elite club of two, alongside Carl Lewis, in possession of nine Track and Field golds. Adding excitement to the 2016 races, Bolt wasn't guaranteed the sweep. It all came down to the relay. Bolt ran the anchor leg, and kicked it in on the final straightway to cross the finish in 37.27 seconds for the win. The "triple triple" was the grand finale to Bolt's Olympic career; he has stated that he intends to retire after the 2017 World Championships.
Credit: Patrick Smith / Getty Images
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Melissa Arnot Makes History on Everest
On May 23, mountaineering guide Melissa Arnot became the first American woman to successfully summit 29,035-foot Everest without the use of supplemental oxygen. She'd been working toward her goal — one of the few "firsts" left on the world's tallest peak — for nearly a decade, and had five Everest summits with oxygen under her belt when she nabbed the record. Fewer than 3 percent of Everest climbers attempt the summit without supplemental oxygen. Arnot, 32, had gotten close in 2013, but ended up aborting the attempt to help an unresponsive Sherpa. She was back on Everest in both 2014 and 2015, when all expeditions were shut down by an avalanche and an earthquake, respectively. Arnot's record feels particularly satisfying this year, as Everest managed to shake off some of the pall of the two prior seasons. In addition to Arnot's historic summit, Lhakpa Sherpa scored her seventh, setting a new women's world record for most Everest ascents.
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William Trubridge Shatters (His Own) Record for Deepest Dive
In April, at the 2016 Vertical Blue contest, the world's premier free-diving competition, William Trubridge, the man known as the human fish, broke the record for the deepest dive. Trubridge, a 35-year-old from New Zealand, was underwater for 4 minutes and 34 seconds, reaching a total depth of 397 feet. What's particularly amazing about this record is that two days prior at Vertical Blue, Trubridge had already bested the world record (which stood at 388 feet) by three feet, bringing it to 391 feet. But he wasn't satisfied. His second attempt proved fruitful, extending the record by another six feet.
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Joe Grant Summits 57 14,000-foot Peaks in Colorado in One Month
In July, professional ultrarunner Joe Grant, 33, completed what very well may be the greatest hiking/bike-packing challenge in the Lower 48: Summit Colorado's 57 tallest peaks, each one topping out at over 14,000 feet, and do it using a bike to get from one peak to the next, camping along the way. Grant knew of only one other person who'd done it, fellow Coloradan Justin Simoni, in 2014. It took Simoni 34.5 days. Grant aimed for a month, pedaling door-to-door from his home in the mountains northwest of Boulder. He climbed as many as five peaks a day, pedaling anywhere from 20 to 100 miles in the process. In the end, he bested Simoni's time by a little over three days, and racked up some insane numbers, including 1,100 miles by bike, 400 by foot, and 100,000+ feet of elevation gain.
Credit: Fredrik Marmsater
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Adrian Ballinger and Emily Harrington Set Speed Record on Cho Oyo
Mountaineering super couple Adrian Ballinger and Emily Harrington set a record in the high Himalaya that was inconceivable just one generation earlier. The pair summited 28,854-foot Cho Oyu, the sixth tallest mountain in the world, in a total expedition time (including round-trip travel between their home in California and Tibet) of only two weeks. The average expedition length for an 8,000-meter peak is about two months, and that's not including travel. Ballinger dubbed the feat a "lightning ascent." He and Harrington pulled it off by following a very specific home-based training plan in which they pre-acclimatized to about 20,000 feet using hypoxic tents and a mask-based training system. They also spent long days running and climbing in the high Sierras at 14,00 feet near their home. An expedition doctor monitored their progress using bloodwork to chart their hemocrit levels and blood cell counts, among other data.
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Karl Meltzer Sets New Appalachian Trail Record
Following two failed attempts in eight years, Karl Meltzer claimed the coveted Appalachian Trail Speed Record as his own in September, having negotiated the 2,190-mile trail in 45 days, 22 hours, and 38 minutes. (Thru-hikers take about six months to complete the AT.) Meltzer averaged 47 miles a day, on terrain that the previous record holder, ultrarunner Scott Jurek, called "a burly mother unlike any other trail I've ever experienced." The AT is notorious for technical, hilly terrain where roots, rocks, and mud are the rule rather than the exception. Meltzer kept his energy levels (and spirits) high with an anything-goes diet that included candy bars, cookies, donuts, and "as much meat as I could."