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Readers Choose Nat Geo Adventurers of the Year

By Mary Anne Potts

Last November the editors of National Geographic Adventure introduced the 2009 Adventurers of the Year, recognized for their extraordinary achievements in exploration, conservation, actions sports, and humanitarian work.

Their accomplishments ranged from the longest BASE jump ever to educating 10,000 women and girls in war-torn Afghanistan to rocketing 350 miles above the Earth to save a telescope.

Then, for the first ever Readers’ Choice Award, readers were invited to vote for the person they felt best embodied the spirit of adventure. (See the entire Best of Adventure feature here.)

This week, with nearly 20,000 votes cast, we are thrilled to announce a tie.


Photographs from top left: Michael Hennig; Matt Hage–courtesy of NG Adventure

Both winners are equally impressive, but in entirely different ways.

  • Explorer-engineer Albert Yu-Min Lin organized a high-risk expedition into Mongolia’s “Forbidden Zone” to search for the lost tomb of Genghis Khan using state-of-the-art mapping technology. (He also happens to be a National Geographic Waitt grantee.)
  • Wounded Iraq war veteran Marc Hoffmeister led a team of soldiers, many missing limbs, up the dangerous West Buttress route on Denali. When we delivered the news to each winner, both assured us of one thing: They could not have done it alone–and their adventures continue.

“For me, it’s about being part of a team that is the Adventurers of the Year. A whole group of people made a huge effort towards this project, people from University of California, San Diego, local Mongolians, the Mongolian Academy of Science,” said Lin, whose team will return to northern Mongolia this summer to continue their ground-breaking exploration.

“The long-term goal is to create a protection mechanism to preserve the cultural heritage of Mongolia. The Mongols created a lot of what we know of as our modern history, and that story hasn’t been told completely.

“And while we were blown away by the technology used in the first phase of this project–the unmanned aerial vehicle flyovers, the 3-D virtual environment StarCAVE–Lin’s work reminds us that the future of exploration is now.

“We’re trying to strengthen our tool kit to bring the best noninvasive tools to the field.”

Watch a video of Lin accepting the award >>

A similar gratitude was expressed by Hoffmeister, whose transformation on Denali was just the beginning.

“This goes beyond personal recognition. It’s what the team did to get up the mountain. I’m pretty humbled, let’s just put it that way,” said Hoffmeister, who just returned from a belated honeymoon where he and his wife Gayle chased their Kilimanjaro summit with a safari in the Serengeti.

Since the article, public interest in future climbs has been huge. “I am working with a few different organizations to select and train another team of Wounded Warriors and hopefully complete another climb upon my return from Iraq, so I have a little time,” he joked.

Hoffmeister will be in command of a U.S. Engineer Battalion working with the Iraqi Army to conduct route clearance operations and counter improvised explosive devices (IEDs) over the next year. “We’ve talked about Aconcagua or maybe Denali again or possibly even Everest, should funding and support develop.”

Watch a video of Hoffmeister accepting the award >>

Thanks to everyone who voted–we hope you are as inspired as we are. These two adventurers remind us that the time is now to dream it, plan it, do it. So the question really is: What’s the adventure of your life, and why aren’t you doing it now?



Mary Anne Potts is the online editor for

National Geographic Adventure