Through-hiking the length of the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail is no easy task. Among other things, hikers yearn for food beyond the trail mix, dehydrated apricots and beef jerky that fills their backpacks. Seemingly from heaven, but literally out of the woods, comes “Ponytail Paul,” a trail angel. Cookies, donuts, potato salad and a little peace of mind is what he brings to the symbiotic relationship between hiker and Good Samaritan.
In April 2015, ultrarunner Kilian Jornet was about to travel to Nepal on an expedition to Everest as part of his Summits of My Life project, an endeavor through which he has been shattering speed records on some of the most imposing mountains on the planet (Mont Blanc, Matterhorn, Denali, Aconcagua and others) in a minimalistic, fast-and-light style. Two days before his departure, a 7.8 earthquake rocked the country. Rather than cancel his trip, Jornet traveled to Nepal to help on the front lines of disaster recovery. Alongside fellow alpinist Jordi Tosas and filmmaker Sébastien Montaz-Rosset, Jornet traveled to remote villages that were most impacted to help emergency responders unearth bodies from the rubble, distribute food and reopen routes connecting the villages to supplies from Kathmandu. Jornet will return to Nepal in 2016 to attempt his Everest speed record and support the mountaineering and tourist business upon which the country depends.
Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita is a dauntless pioneer: She was the first Nepali female mountain guide, the first woman to ascend 24,117-foot Nangpai Gosum II, a member of the first team of Nepali women to climb K2 (widely regarded as one of the hardest peaks in the world to scale) and this year, she reached a new summit when she was named the 2016 National Geographic People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year. Other peaks she has climbed include Mt. Everest, Ama Dablam and Yala. Guiding is a challenging career choice anywhere, particularly in Nepal. “It was very hard for me to choose this profession as a woman — especially in our culture. Daughters are supposed to stay home, get married and take care of the family. Mountaineering is very male-dominated. You have to be mentally and physically strong. It was really, really hard for me,”she says. Her impact extends beyond the mountains; Pasang is also a humanitarian who, along with her husband, traveled deep into disaster zones to supply food, tarps, blankets and supplies to victims after the 2015 earthquake that devastated her country. She coordinated truck convoys, organized volunteers and locals and ensured that supplies were distributed equitably, playing a crucial role in the relief effort. She even gave talks in refugee camps about how people could protect themselves from trafficking. Pasang grew up in the town of Lukla, which is in the shadow of Everest, and was inspired by the great mountain as a child. Today, this formidable and incredibly humble woman inspires countless others in her troubled country and abroad with a message about what it takes to change your destiny — against all odds.In Person: