WATCH: Meet NatGeo's 2017 Adventurers of the Year

2016-11-10 16:00 - Louzel Lombard Steyn
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Cape Town - While voting results may not have gone the way some of us hoped in regards to the US Election on 9 November, you can still cast your vote for the environment through National Geographic. 

NatGeo has just announced the 2017 Adventurers of the Year, whose extraordinary achievements in exploration, adventure sports, conservation or humanitarianism have distinguished them in the past year.

Now, it's up to online voters to choose their People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year

Voting polls will be open until end of day on 16 December 2016, after which the 2017 People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year will be announced in January 2017. 

This year, the first ever National Geographic Adventurer of the Year Hall of Fame Award will be unveiled. In September 2016, Arctic explorers Sarah McNair-Landry, Erik Boomer, and Ben Stookesberry—all past Adventurers of the Year and National Geographic Explorers—completed their traverse of the Greenland ice cap by kite-ski and the first kayak descent of a glacial river cut by massive waterfalls. 

Despite setbacks that included a serious head injury, dangerous crevasses, and an uncharted route, the team relied on their extensive polar experience to bring them safely across Greenland’s mysterious landscape.

This year’s honorees, unsurprisingly, sound like our travelling superheroes... 

They include celestial circumnavigators who crossed oceans on the famed Hokule’a 62-foot double-hulled, voyaging canoe guided only by the stars, a cave diver who discovered the world’s deepest underwater cave, a pair of journalists who embarked on a full-length hike through the Grand Canyon, a kayaker who completed the first solo descent of the 5 464-kilometer-long Yellow River in China and a teenage rock climber who became the first female (and youngest person) to complete some of the hardest-rated boulder routes on Earth.

SEE: Meet SA's NatGeo Adventurer

Meet them all here: 

At a glance, this is why these travellers are the 2017 Adventurers of the Year: 

The Hokule’a Team, comprised of celestial circumnavigators who have embarked on a four-year journey across large swaths of oceans in the famed Hokule’a voyaging canoe guided only by the stars and the belief that Polynesian culture should not be lost to the wake of modernization. 

In the process, they ignited a cultural restoration in Hawaii and taught a new generation of adventurers how to navigate by the stars. Nainoa Thompson, a member of the team, was a 2016 recipient of the National Geographic Society’s most prestigious award, the Hubbard medal.


Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, an American business woman and adventurer turned conservationist. 

Tompkins funded the creation of a large wilderness conservation areas in the heart of South America’s famed Patagonia region. Along with her late husband, Doug Tompkins, she helped create five national parks and preserved more than 2.5 million acres of mountains, forests, waterways and the fauna that depend on the landscape.

Krzysztof Starnawski, a Polish cave diver and National Geographic Explorer who discovered the world’s deepest underwater cave in the fall of 2016. 

For two decades Starnawski believed that the Hranická Propast cave complex in the Czech Republic could be the deepest underwater cave system in the world. 

Last year, he discovered a small passage 800 feet down that he squirmed through to discover a deeper chamber. This fall he went all the way to the bottom (more than 403-metres-down) using a combination of human and ROV-enabled exploration.

Mira Rai, a Nepalese trail runner in search of opportunities, which were lacking for young girls in her rural village. 

As a teenager, Rai sought to better her life by joining the Maoist rebel movement. Ultimately, she found her calling in trail running where she has come into her own, competing internationally.

This year, she returned home to start a race in her home village.

Peter McBride and Kevin Fedarko, American hikers, journalists and National Geographic Explorers both with long ties to the Grand Canyon, embarked on an incredible journey to hike its entire length— 1 400 mostly trail-less kilometres. 

While the arduous journey has been completed before, McBride’s images and Fedarko’s words catalyzed attention to the troubling issues facing not only the Grand Canyon, but our park system as a whole.

Semit Lee, a Chinese kayaker who completed the first solo source-to-sea descent of the 5 464-kilometer-long Yellow River in China. 

The river is thought of as the cradle of Chinese civilization. Lee negotiated fierce rapids and steep gorges, but the trip also had a different purpose—a cultural and environmental survey of how people live along the river banks.

Colin Haley, an American mountaineer who has doggedly pushed the boundaries of alpine climbing for the last 15 years. But, as veteran alpinist Rolando Garibotti put it, Haley’s 2016 season might be the best anyone has ever had in Patagonia. 

He completed the first solo ascent of Torre Egger, the 2850-metre snowcapped granite turret on the border between Chile and Argentina, considered amongst the hardest climbs in the world. 

He also achieved several other rapid ascents in the region. Then, in June, he stormed up the Infinite Spur on Mount Foraker in the Alaska Range by himself in a day.

Ashima Shiraishi, a teenage American rock climber who has continued her progression as one of the world’s best climbers, becoming the first female to climb the hardest-rated boulder problem—Horizon in Japan, in March, then Sleepy Rave in Australia, in August.

Antoine Girard, a French paraglider who soared above 8 100 meters to fly over the summit of Broad Peak on the China-Pakistan border in the Himalaya. 

It’s the first time a paraglider pilot has broken that elevation, much less flown above the summit of one the world’s tallest peaks.

Shannon Switzer Swanson, an American surfer, marine conservationistand National Geographic Young Explorer who embarked on an ambitious journey to illuminate the global supply chain of tropical fish destined for American aquariums. 

Using her unique set of water skills and an academic approach, Swanson and her team journeyed from Indonesian reefs to enthusiasts’ homes to shine light on human impacts both positive and minus on our world’s sea life.

This is the 12th year National Geographic has searched around the world for individuals who personify the adventurous spirit in unique ways.

According to Mary Anne Potts, National Geographic Adventure editorial director, "This year’s honorees are extraordinary and inspiring people who push the boundaries of exploration.”


In 2016, Mountaineer Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita, from Nepal, was voted the 2016 People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year. 

By the time she was 15, she’d lost both her parents and was left to care for her 6-year-old sister. Still, she made her way up the world’s tallest peaks including K2 and Everest and continues to work tirelessly to serve the disadvantaged in the aftermath of the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal.

In the same year, South African explorer Dr Steve Boyes represented Mzansi in the 2016 Adventurer of the Year competition. He shares his 120-day Okavango River adventure with us at the time, including what it was like to have his boat flipped by a hippo! 


(Steve Boyes navigating through the lilies of the Okavango Delta.)


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