WASHINGTON (June 14)—Two exceptional individuals will be honored today by the National Geographic Society at its “Evening of Exploration” event, presented by Rolex: the late Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard for his record-breaking dive to the ocean’s deepest point in 1960, and Austrian alpinist Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner for summiting all 14 of the world’s highest peaks without supplemental oxygen.
Fifty-two years after he and U.S. Navy Capt. Don Walsh became the first people to descend nearly seven miles to the Mariana Trench, Piccard, who died in 2008 at the age of 86, will posthumously receive the National Geographic Society’s highest honor, the Hubbard Medal. Kaltenbrunner will be named National Geographic “Explorer of the Year” for her extraordinary achievement of becoming the first woman to summit all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks without using supplementary oxygen. Kaltenbrunner completed this achievement when she reached the top of K2, Earth’s second-tallest mountain, on Aug. 23, 2011.
It was Jan. 23, 1960, when Piccard along with ocean explorer Don Walsh climbed aboard the Navy bathyscaphe Trieste and plunged to the floor of the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench, the world’s deepest location, some 200 miles southwest of the island of Guam. Their destination was the trench’s lowest point, Challenger Deep, some 35,800 feet below the ocean surface. The only other individual to dive to this depth since then is filmmaker/explorer James Cameron, who reached Challenger Deep on March 26, 2012.
The Hubbard Medal will be presented to Piccard’s family by National Geographic Society chairman and CEO John Fahey, assisted by Don Walsh — who received the Hubbard Medal in 2010 — and James Cameron.
“Jacques Piccard was one of the first two pioneers to visit Earth’s deepest place,” said Fahey. “His accomplishment ranks alongside those of other Hubbard Medal recipients, like Charles Lindbergh, Louis and Mary Leakey, Jane Goodall and Robert Ballard. The passion and commitment of intrepid individuals like Piccard continue to inspire new generations of explorers.”
Piccard chronicled the dive for an article in the August 1960 issue of National Geographic magazine. He wrote: “Like a free balloon on a windless day, indifferent to the almost 200,000 tons of water pressing on the cabin from all sides, balanced to within an ounce or so on its wire guide rope, slowly, surely, in the name of science and humanity, the Trieste took possession of the abyss, the last extreme on our earth that remained to be conquered.”
Piccard and Walsh had to sit on small stools for the nine-hour trip down and back; they spent the hours keeping records of temperatures of water and the gasoline (used for buoyancy), amount of ballast released and water pressure. They kept in contact with the surface for most of the journey via a sonic telephone. When, after four-and-a-half hours, the bathyscaphe finally landed on the ocean bottom, Walsh and Piccard spied a fish, thereby answering a question about the presence of sea life in the deep that thousands of oceanographers had been asking for decades. By proving the existence of life where nobody expected it, the dive pushed governments to ban the dumping of toxic waste into the deepest trenches.
After that historic dive, Piccard went on to build four mid-depth submarines — called mesoscaphes — including the first tourist submersible, which took 33,000 passengers into the depths of Lake Geneva in 1964. He then built another mesoscaphe for Grumman and NASA to explore the Gulf Stream during a one-month drift mission in 1969.
Piccard, born in Brussels in 1922, studied in Switzerland and worked as a university economics teacher. He left teaching to help his father, Auguste (a physicist and the first man to take a balloon into the stratosphere), design the bathyscaphe, a submersible able to take humans to great depths below the ocean’s surface. It was in the bathyscaphe Trieste that Piccard and Walsh reached the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
Reaching the top of K2 on Aug. 23, 2011, to become the first woman to summit all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks without using supplementary oxygen was the culmination of a 13-year quest for Kaltenbrunner, who scaled her first 8,000-meter peak — the secondary summit of Pakistan’s Broad Peak — in 1998 at the age of 23.
Kaltenbrunner, supported by grants from the National Geographic Society, was one of a team of four climbers to reach the summit of K2 on Aug. 23, 2011; the others were Maxut Zhumayev and Vassiliy Pivtsov of Kazakhstan and Darius Zaluski of Poland. Kaltenbrunner’s husband, Ralf Dujmovits, of Germany and photographer Tomas Heinrich of Argentina had turned back to base camp on Aug. 19, judging the threat of an avalanche too great. Heinrich documented the expedition for an April 2012 article in National Geographic magazine.
In the days approaching the summit, the team waded through waist-deep snow and battled high winds, with avalanche conditions that for several days made the attempt at the summit look implausible.
Kaltenbrunner and her team began the march to the K2 northern base camp from Xinjiang, China, on June 17. A group of camels ferried the team, their equipment and supplies to the Chinese base camp about 3,900 meters high, crossing the wild Shaksgam Valley in the process. The team then ascended the peak via the North Pillar, a direct line to the summit, first climbed in 1982 by a Japanese team.
According to alpine record-keeper Eberhard Jurgalski, before the achievement of Kaltenbrunner, Zhumayev and Pivtsov, only 24 people in the world had made it to the top of all 14 tallest mountains. Only 10 of the 24 made the ascents without supplementary oxygen.
K2, located on the Pakistan-China border, is 8,611 meters (28,251 feet) high and part of the Karakoram Range. It has a reputation of being the hardest of the 8,000-meter-high mountains to climb, due chiefly to its steepness and the resulting technical climbing challenges as well as unpredictable weather conditions. Since K2 was first summited by an Italian team in 1954, about 300 climbers have stood atop the mountain, but many have perished trying. Kaltenbrunner’s attempt to summit K2 in 2010 ended with the death of team member Fredrick Ericsson.
The Explorer of the Year Award will be presented to Kaltenbrunner by environmental anthropologist and 2011 Explorer of the Year Kenny Broad. Kaltenbrunner will also receive a specially engraved Rolex Explorer timepiece.
The “Evening of Exploration” is the culmination of the two-day National Geographic 2012 Explorers Symposium, an annual event at which National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence, Fellows, Emerging Explorers, grantees and others affiliated with National Geographic gather to share findings of their research and fieldwork and take part in panel discussions.
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY
The National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Founded in 1888 to “increase and diffuse geographic knowledge,” the Society’s mission is to inspire people to care about the planet. It reaches more than 400 million people worldwide each month through its official journal, National Geographic, and other magazines; National Geographic Channel; television documentaries; music; radio; films; books; DVDs; maps; exhibitions; live events; school publishing programs; interactive media; and merchandise. National Geographic has funded more than 10,000 scientific research, conservation and exploration projects and supports an education program promoting geographic literacy. For more information, visit www.nationalgeographic.com.
THE HUBBARD MEDAL
The Hubbard Medal is the Society’s highest honor. It was named after the National Geographic Society’s first president, Gardiner Greene Hubbard, and has been presented 34 times in the past, the first going to Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary in 1906. Other recipients include polar explorers Roald Amundsen in 1907, Sir Ernest Shackleton in 1910 and Richard Byrd in 1926; aviators Charles Lindbergh in 1927 and Anne Morrow Lindbergh in 1934; anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey in 1962; Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins in 1970; anthropologist Richard Leakey in 1994; conservationist Jane Goodall in 1995; underwater explorer Robert Ballard in 1996; balloonists Bertrand Piccard (son of Jacques Piccard) and Brian Jones in 1999 and, posthumously in 2000, Matthew Henson, who co-led with Peary the 1909 expedition to the North Pole. Several U.S. presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge, have presented the medal.
EXPLORER OF THE YEAR AWARD
Bridging science, exploration and communication, the Explorer of the Year Award is given to an up-and-coming National Geographic Explorer or grantee whose actions, achievements and spirit personify leadership in exploration that reflects a demonstrated commitment to the Society’s mission to inspire people to care about the planet. Inaugurated in 2011, the first recipients were Kenny Broad and the late Wes Skiles for their exploration of the Blue Holes of the Bahamas, which was featured as the cover story of the August 2010 issue of National Geographic magazine and as a NOVA/National Geographic Television one-hour special.
Leading brand of the Swiss watch industry, Rolex, headquartered in Geneva, enjoys an unrivalled reputation for quality and expertise the world over. Its OYSTER watches, all certified as chronometers for their precision, are symbols of excellence, performance and prestige. A pioneer in the development of the wristwatch from 1905 onwards, the brand is the originator of numerous major watchmaking innovations, such as the OYSTER, the first waterproof wristwatch, launched in 1926, and the PERPETUAL rotor self-winding mechanism introduced in 1931. Rolex has registered over 400 patents in the course of its history. A truly integrated manufacturing company, Rolex designs, develops and produces in-house all the essential components of its watches, from the casting of the gold alloys to the machining, crafting, assembly and finishing of the movement, case, dial and bracelet. Rolex is also actively involved in supporting the arts, exploration, sports, the spirit of enterprise and the environment through a broad palette of sponsoring activities as well as philanthropic and patronage programs.