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10 Defining Moments In The Outdoors, 2015

It’s been a year of record-breaking accomplishments, heartbreaking losses, and “viral” happenings. These are the moments that defined the outdoors in 2015.

Dawn Wall Goes Free (January)

2015 started off with a hard act to follow — on January 14, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson accomplished one of climbing’s greatest feats to date, free climbing the 3,000-foot Dawn Wall on Yosemite’s El Capitan. Entirely within cell phone coverage, the climb was highly documented and publicized, garnering thousands of headlines around the world.

Earthquake In Nepal (April)

On April 25, a powerful earthquake rocked Nepal, tragically killing more than 9,000 people. Among them, 19 climbers on Mount Everest were killed by a massive avalanche triggered by the quake. The Everest season was largely closed, with just one climber attempting the summit. Nobody stood atop Everest in 2015.

Cecil The Lion (July)

After great debate, GearJunkie consciously didn’t write a story about Cecil The Lion. Most media largely ignored the complex economic and social issues surrounding big game hunting in Africa, choosing the angle of en-masse condemnation of Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. A few months later, Zimbabwe dropped all charges against Palmer.

Appalachian Trail Records (July & Sept)

Few trail runners have generated publicity like Scott Jurek. The vegan ultrarunner’s speed record on the Appalachian Trail was no exception. Jurek arrived at the northern terminus on July 12th, running the trail with a support crew in 46 days, 8 hours, 8 minutes.

Heather “Anish” Anderson’s 2015 unsupported Appalachian Trail record was seen by some as even more impressive. With no substantial help from the outside, Anish completed the AT in purist fashion, hauling her own gear and picking up resupplies at traditional points along the way in 54 days, 7 hours, and 48 minutes, finishing at the southern terminus in September.

Dean Potter Dies In Wingsuit Crash (May)

In May, Dean Potter and fellow wingsuit flier Graham Hunt died while flying in Yosemite National Park. The death of the legendary climber sent waves of grief through the outdoors community and sparked criticism from observers who say high-risk sports have gone too far. Others argue that Potter’s was a life well lived with calculated risk. RIP.

Mick Fanning Punches A Shark (July)

One of the world’s top surfers became the subject of thousands of memes and a symbol of bad-assery everywhere by punching a shark on live TV during the finals of an Australian surf competition. While many question if the shark was “attacking” or just investigating him as potential food, the result was the surfer being instantly elevated to hero level for millions of people across the globe.

Denali Name Restored (August)

McKinley, you’re out. Denali, you’re back. It became official in August. The traditional and historic Alaska native name for North America’s highest mountain was restored by executive order on August 30th.

Obama Goes Hiking With Bear Grylls (August)

In a storyline straight out of overactive online commenters’ dreams, President Obama put his outdoors chops to the test, while highlighting climate change in Alaska on “Running Wild With Bear Grylls.” The hike was part of a three-day tour in which Obama stumped for his Clean Power Plan among other initiatives.

Animas River Spill (August)

In August, the EPA accidentally unleashed a torrent of highly toxic water from a mine above the Animas river in Colorado, turning the clear river a gnarly orange and reminding Americans that, regardless of our political affiliations, Mother Earth is as vulnerable as ever. The spill was just one more sad notch in a 150-year history of pollution of the river.


After the retailer announced it would close all its 143 stores and “pay employees to head outside,” that headline ricocheted into pop culture as a stance against rampant consumerism, resonating with millions as a hashtag (#OptOutside) and a new mission to take back the day after Thanksgiving and to get outdoors instead of shop.

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