Feat: Sailing solo nonstop around the world at 16, becoming the youngest to do so
While most teenagers struggle with homework, extracurricular activities, and trying to maintain a social life, 16-year-old Jessica Watson spent much of the past year navigating the high seas while battling massive storms and 30-foot (9-meter) swells. In October 2009 the Australian teen set out from Sydney aboard her ship, Ella’s Pink Lady, in an attempt to sail solo nonstop around the globe. When she returned in May 2010, just three days shy of her 17th birthday, she set a new mark for the youngest person to accomplish that feat. Watson was already a celebrity in her home country even before her return to Sydney Harbor. As a result, her arrival was quite the media event, with thousands lining the dock to welcome her home, while millions more watched on television.
Since competing her voyage, the World Speed Sailing Record Council has said that her route did not meet the necessary circumnavigation criteria. Rules and regulations aside, Watson did successfully sail solo, non-stop around the world. Fellow 16-year-old solo-sailing contender Abby Sunderland, who faced several set backs during her voyage, was not as fortunate: She was rescued in mid-June after her boat took a serious beating during storms in the Southern Ocean.
Feat: Trekked for 859 days from source to sea on along the Amazon River
In a time when there are few great expeditions to still be completed, British adventurer Ed Stafford found one. On April 2, 2008, he set out to travel the entire length of the Amazon River, from source to sea, on foot, a distance of more than 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers). Along the way, the explorer faced hostile locals, drug runners, disease, lack of food, and a host of dangerous animals and insects. He also picked up a companion, Cho Rivera, who joined him on the trail for much of the trek. On August 9, 2010, after 859 days in the field, the journey was finally complete when Safford and Rivera plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, bringing an end to one of the most difficult expeditions in modern times.
Matt and Mike Moniz
Feat: This father and son climbing team reached the high points in all 50 states and in record time.
Twelve-year old climber Matt Moniz and his dad, Mike, began the summer with a single goal—to reach the highest points in all 50 states, in just 50 days. The clock started running when they topped out on the 20,320-foot (6-193-meter) tall Denali, the highest peak in Alaska, and all of North America for that matter. In the days ahead, they went on to knock off more high points ranging from the 14,505-foot (4,421-meter) tall Mount Whitney in California to the decidedly less challenging Britton Hill, Florida’s highest point, which stands at just 345 feet (105 meters) above sea level. On July 16, 43 days after setting out, the father and son climbing team reached the summit of Hawaii's 13,796-foot (4,205-meter) Mauna Kea, establishing a new high-points speed record in the process.
Eric McNair-Landry and Sebastian Copeland
Feat: Spent 40 days snowkiting across Greenland to set a new single-day distance record
This summer polar explorers Eric McNair-Landry and Sebastian Copeland traversed the entire length of Greenland—1,400 miles (2,253 kilometers) from south to north—using just skis and kites. The two men harnessed the power of the arctic wind to make history: On June 6 they traveled an astounding 370 miles (595 kilometers) in a single day, setting a new record for the longest distance ever covered on skis in a 24-hour period.
Feat: Set speed records on two iconic climbing routes in Yosemite—on the same day
For most rock climbers, conquering Yosemite’s Half Dome or El Capitan is the dream of a lifetime. For Alex Honnold, it’s simply another day at the park. On June 22, Honnold conquered both routes on the same day, setting two speed records in the process. The morning started with Honnold going up the regular route on the northwest face of Half Dome in just two hours and nine minutes, shaving a full 41 minutes off the old record. From there he proceeded to El Cap, where he also scaled The Nose in just six hours, giving him a combined time for both routes of eight hours and nine minutes. That impressive time also happens to be a new speed record for completing both routes back-to-back.
Feat: Becoming the first woman to conquer all 14 8,000-meter peaks
In climbing circles, bagging an 8,000-meter (26,247-foot) peak, such as Everest or K2, is considered quite an accomplishment, but summiting all 14 of the world's tallest mountains truly sets a mountaineer apart from the pack. Coming into 2010, the list of climbers who had completed that feat consisted only of men. That changed on April 27, 2010, when South Korean climber Oh Eun-Sun reached the summit of 26,545-foot (8,091-meter) Annapurna, located in central Nepal, and added her name to the climbing elite. (Some, including Spaniard Edurne Pasaban, who successfully summited all 14 peaks just days later, question whether Oh reached the true summit of Kangchenjunga in the Himalaya, as the photographic evidence is inconclusive. This climb remains disputed.)
Lewis Gordon Pugh
Feat: Completing the highest altitude long-distance swim ever in an attempt to raise awareness of global climate change
British swimmer and environmentalist Lewis Gordon Pugh traveled to the Himalaya in May 2010 to attempt a long-distance swim that many thought was impossible. On May 22, wearing just his customary Speedo, swimming cap, and goggles, Pugh plunged into the frigid waters of Lake Pumori, located not far from Mount Everest at 17,700 feet (5,400 meters), and swam one kilometer, setting a new record for the highest altitude long-distance swim. Best known for swimming across the geographic North Pole back in 2007, Pugh overcame altitude sickness—and what he called “the most frightening day” of his swimming career—to complete his task, which he hopes will help raise awareness for the shrinking Himalayan glaciers.
Feat: Becoming the first woman to row solo across the Pacific Ocean
On June 3, 2010, British ocean rower Roz Savage arrived in Papua New Guinea, completing the third and final stage of her solo row across the Pacific Ocean. The journey began back in 2008 when she set out from San Francisco and rowed the 2,324 miles (3,740 kilometers) to Hawaii in 100 days. In 2009, she returned for stage two, spending 104 days covering the 3,158 miles (5,082 kilometers) between Hawaii and Tarawa, a tiny island in the South Pacific. It took her just 45 days to row the final 2,248 miles (3,618 kilometers) between Tarawa and Papua New Guinea. By completing her journey, Savage became the first woman to row solo across the Pacific, while also campaigning regularly to protect the health of the world’s oceans.
Feat: Cycling the length of the Americas and climbing the highest mountains on two continents
In February 2010, Scottish cyclist Mark Beaumont completed an epic cycling journey that began in Anchorage, Alaska, and ended more than 13,000 miles (20,921 kilometers) later in Ushuaia, Argentina, at the very tip of South America. Along the way, he made time to get off his bike and climb Denali, the tallest mountain in North America at 20,320 feet (6,194 meters). Later he topped out on 22,841-foot (6,962-meter) Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in South America. While this was certainly a long and challenging ride, it ranks as only the second longest in Beaumont’s illustrious cycling career: Back in 2007 he rode 18,297 miles (29,446 kilometers) around the world on his bike, completing that journey in just 194 days.
David de Rothschild
Feat: Sailing from San Francisco to Sydney on a boat made of 12,000 recycled plastic bottles
Sailing across the Pacific Ocean seems like a strange expedition for a man who earned his reputation traversing the North and South Poles—and freely admits to getting seasick easily. But eco-adventurer David de Rothschild will go to great lengths to convey his message of environmental responsibility, which is why he and his crew are sailing from San Francisco to Sydney in a ship made entirely of post-consumer plastic bottles. Dubbed the Plastiki in homage to Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki, de Rothschild's ship sports solar panels, wind generators, and other renewable energy sources, making it one of the most eco-friendly vessels to ever set sail. Their 12,000-nautical-mile (19,312-kilometer) voyage includes stops at ecological hot spots, such as the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch. Follow his expedition at his blog.