Zara Rutherford, 19, received two Guinness World Records for her solo flight around the world; (photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Teen Pilot Circumnavigates the Globe Solo, Salmon Make a Comeback, & More Stories to Start Your Week

From the inspiring to the tragic, this is GearJunkie’s weekly wrap-up of top news in the world of exploration and adventure. Here’s what you missed this week and a few things to look forward to.

Nineteen-year-old Zara Rutherford became the youngest female pilot to solo-circumnavigate the globe. “Rutherford touched down in Belgium on Jan. 20 with two records: the youngest woman to circumnavigate the world in a microlight aircraft and the youngest woman to fly solo around the world,” reports ExplorersWeb.

The Belgian-British teen journeyed to vast and many corners in her 155-day tour, from the Siberian tundra to the stark, arid Arabian desert. Rutherford offered words of encouragement to aspiring trailblazers after touching down: “Go for it. It takes a lot of time, patience, a lot of work, but it is incredible.”

Slalom ski pro David Ryding, 35, became the first British skier ever to win gold in an Alpine World Cup event in Kitzbühel this weekend. Ryding’s now the oldest male slalom titleholder in World Cup history, too.

It was an aces week overall for the ski veteran;  on Friday, he was selected to represent Team GB at the upcoming Winter Olympics for the fourth time in his career. “There’s life in the old dog yet!” he told reporters after Saturday’s race.

David Ryding is the first British male to win gold in an Alpine World Cup event; (photo/Roland Osbeck, Creative Commons)
David Ryding is the first British skier to win gold in an Alpine World Cup event; (photo/Roland Osbeck, Creative Commons)

And more history was made for the U.K. Sunday evening when three female rowers completed the 3,000-mile Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge in record time. Kat Cordiner (42), Charlotte Irving (31), Abby Johnston (32), and “Dolly Parton” the rowboat arrived in Antigua 42 days, 7 hours, and 17 minutes after departing from La Gomera in the Canary Islands, scrubbing 7 days off the challenge’s previous female trio record.

The trifecta’s voyage is part of a fundraising effort for Cancer Research U.K., Macmillan Cancer Support, and the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity. Cordiner, who has battled ovarian and metastatic forms since 2019, is likely the first cancer survivor to take on the Talisker. Learn more and contribute at

We regret to report on the untimely passing of two inspirational figures this week.

The Wasatch climbing community is mourning the loss of local legend and route developer Merrell Bitter. A search and rescue contingent was dispatched on Wednesday when he failed to check in after a solo backcountry ski. On Thursday morning, crews located his remains near Alta Ski Area, among the debris of a small snow slide.

Merrell Bitter American Fork
Wasatch climbing legend Merrell Bitter, aboard his route, ‘Blue Typhoon’ 5.13a; (photo/Creative Commons)

Bitter, 68, was responsible for putting up some of the region’s hardest climbs during the 1970s-1990s and once graced the cover of the American Fork guidebook.

Since Thursday, climbers have flooded the Mountain Project forum with dedications in his memory.

“Oh Merrill, you will be so missed by all,” wrote one climber. “You had such an influence on everyone that knew you.… You were so kind and patient. Such a positive force of energy. Always so psyched for anything. So thoughtful and safe.”



French adventurer Jean-Jacques Savin perished during a solo attempt to row across the Atlantic Ocean. He was 75 years old. The former paratrooper and Mont Blanc ascensionist set off from the southern tip of Portugal on Jan. 1 and estimated the voyage would take 3 months, reports Euronews.

Between late Jan. 20 and early Jan. 21, maritime authorities received two distress beacons from Savin’s rowboat. Crews located his overturned boat off the Azores coast on Friday and recovered Savin’s body on Saturday. The circumstances surrounding his death have yet to be determined.

The GearJunkie staff extends its condolences to those impacted by the passing of both Merrill Bitter and Jean-Jacques Savin.

Wildfires have racked communities in California and Texas.

The Rolling Pines Fire in Central Texas began on Tuesday, Jan. 18, when a prescribed burn went awry. The flames consumed more than 800 acres and forced the evacuation of 250 residences in Bastrop County, 30 miles east of Austin.

A county judge called for a “full accounting” from Texas Parks and Wildlife officials who prescribed the burn while the region was under an active burn ban. The Rolling Pines Fire was 95% contained as of Saturday night, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The Colorado Fire near Big Sur, Calif., began Friday evening and continued through the weekend, burning close to 1,050 acres and forcing around 500 residential evacuations. Officials reported the fire 25% contained on Sunday evening, stating that an uptick in humidity and decline in wind overnight had assisted the fire crews in beating back the blaze.

A plane flies over the Colorado Fire in Big Sur (PhotoCAL FIRE)
A plane flies over the Colorado Fire in Big Sur, Calif.; (photo/CAL FIRE)

Now for more of the good stuff. 

Trek and World Bicycle Relief have kicked the new year off with a bang by donating more than $1.18 million to the partnership’s Buffalo Bicycle initiative. Trek estimates that the donation will provide more than 11,000 of the highly durable and cargo-ready bikes to “students, health workers, farmers, and entrepreneurs” in underserved communities throughout Africa and South America.

Learn how you can help at

Endangered coho salmon are surging back to California’s waterways thanks to the past few months’ immense precipitation levels. The rain and snowfall came just in time for the native coho’s spawning season, sources report.

“We’ve seen fish in places that they haven’t been for almost 25 years,” said Preston Brown, director of watershed conservation for the Salmon Protection And Watershed Network (SPAWN).

Endangered coho salmon are arriving in California streams for spawning season; (photo/OR Department of Forestry)
Endangered coho salmon are arriving in California streams for spawning season; (photo/OR Department of Forestry)

The new inclusivity and equality-focused nonprofit, Outdoorist Oath, launched on Jan. 19. The foundation, described as “a way [for members] to think about the intersections of planet, inclusion, and adventure through their outdoor experiences,” is led by In Solidarity founder Teresa Baker, prominent queer environmentalist Pattie Gonia, and Chicano conservationist José González.

Follow @outdooristoath for more details about how to get involved.

Verde PR founder Kristin Carpenter cycling towards the Leadville 100 Race finish with her daughter Bella running beside her
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Jilli Cluff

Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college. After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing — and life would never be the same. She now works as a contributor, gear tester, and editor for GearJunkie and other outlets within the AllGear family. She is based out of Atlanta, Georgia where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.