National Geographic Society Newsroom

November 16, 2014: Speed Climb 3,000 Foot Walls, Meet the Darwin of NYC’s Rodent World and More

Every week, embark with host Boyd Matson on an exploration of the latest discoveries and interviews with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, on National Geographic Weekend. Please check listings near you to find the best way to listen to National Geographic Weekend on radio, or listen below! HOUR 1 – The...

New York City’s rats face such strong pressures from humans constantly trying to exterminate them that they’ve evolved to be very savvy city dwellers. Jason Munshi-South studies how rats and mice have evolved genetically distinct populations in the Big Apple. (photo by James L. Stanfield/National Geographic)

Every week, embark with host Boyd Matson on an exploration of the latest discoveries and interviews with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, on National Geographic Weekend.

Please check listings near you to find the best way to listen to National Geographic Weekend on radio, or listen below!


– The “nose” of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park is one of the world’s most iconic big wall climbing routes that was first climbed by Warren Harding in 1958. It took him 45 days. As the current record holder Hans Florine explains “A lot has happened since then.” Florine teamed up with Alex Honnold in 2012 to complete the 2,950 foot route in 2 hours 23 minutes and 46 seconds. Florine is one of the pioneers of speed climbing and has climbed El Capitan’s nose route 97 times. His love affair with the scenery and granite walls in Yosemite continues to motivate him. He set his last El Cap speed record when he was 48 years old. He still free soloes, but counts on his fitness and experience on El Capitan to keep him safe. Plus, he puts it into perspective for non-climbers: He compares a quarter-inch toe-hold on a rock face to a ladder rung for people who don’t climb professionally.

– Pablo Escobar. Al Capone. Anson Wong. As part of a new initiative to underscore the urgency wildlife trafficking as a criminal act, National Geographic Fellow and environmental crime fighter Bryan Christy is working to make the trafficking kingpins household names. Once Wong becomes synonymous with the world’s most organized mobsters, the public can fully appreciate how sinister the practice really is.

– The sheer variety of extreme weather found in the United States can leave people exposed; sure you may know plenty about hurricanes, but how about blizzards? Thomas Kostigen, author of The Extreme Weather Survival Guide: Understand, Prepare, Survive, Recover, guides us on how to prepare for winter, among other environmental disasters. He highlights how to protect yourself and things that are important to you: your pet, car, home… and grandparents.

–  Studying extreme events in our past can warn us of the possibilities for similar diasters in the future. Not known as a tsunami hotspot in the same way that the Pacific Ocean is, the Mediterranean Sea still holds the second largest tsunami risk of all the world’s bodies of water, says National Geographic geo-archaeologist and Emerging Explorer Beverly Goodman. She studies the ocean floors for “tsunami deposits” that indicate that the huge waves have rolled over the seas above. Goodman says that as the waves have rolled through the Mediterranean and Red Sea in the past, it’s an indication that they could do so again in the future.

–  In our recurring This Weekend in History segment, Nat Geo Library research manager Maggie Turqman highlights the big, the small and the curious events that have happened over the years on this weekend: November 15, 1763, the day when Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon began surveying a line to divide Pennsylvania and Maryland that would later have broad implications: the Mason-Dixon Line divided the northern non-slave states from the southern slave states, and set the stage for Civil War hostilities. On the same date in 1720, Anne Bonny and Mary Read were brought to justice in Jamaica as pirates. Both had their death sentences commuted for pregnancy. And on November 14, 1840 grandfather of impressionism Claude Monet was born.


Surfing, it seems, has at least one important commonality with fishing: it doesn’t matter how size of the wave you caught, it just matters if you have proof. Professional surfer Greg Long‘s biggest wave, he says, was estimated to be 80 feet tall. But he was obscured by other waves and so he wasn’t photographed on the wave, so his recorded personal biggest wave is 68 feet tall. Long was riding one such wave when he was held underwater after falling off his board while surfing at California’s Cortes Bank. He was rescued by his support crew unconscious. His ability to hold his breath for minutes at a time saved him, but it wasn’t long before Long was back riding big waves.

– Scientists aren’t always the most intrepid adventurers. That’s why they need Simon Donato and his team. Donato, who founded Adventure Science, prides himself on getting scientists into some of the most treacherous terrain on the planet. But on their most recent science adventure to Madagascar’s remote “Great Tsingy” region, it was Donato who needed some help. After an eight hour adventure extended into a three day stay in the bush, he called in the Malagasy military who flew him home. But the surprisingly difficult adventure did yield some surprising science: they found dinosaur footprints that belonged to some “velociraptor-type” dinosaurs.

– Charles Darwin had a scientific breakthrough when he observed that the finches he saw in the Galapagos Islands were similar, but had distinctions in their coloring, beak and body shape that prevented Darwin from calling them the same species. Fordham University rodent biologist Jason Munshi-South says that’s essentially what is happening to rats and mice in New York City. Munshi-South describes that it doesn’t matter how much area an animal has, as long as it has a lot of time in genetic isolation from its neighbors: “It’s now to the point where if someone gave us a mouse from New York City, we would have a good chance to guess what park it came from.” Munshi-South isn’t yet sure whether rats are as isolated as the city’s park mice are, but has a study to test the rats for genetic isolation and to see if they’re evolving in different directions, as the city’s mice are.

– Nepal is one of the poorest countries in Asia, so its citizens don’t have many options for work. But there is one opportunity for men strong enough to carry heavy loads through thin mountain air for a decent payday – being a porter on Mount Everest. Chip Brown, author of “Sorrow on the Mountain,” explains that the top Sherpa guides also have a bit of local fame, which is hard to come by. In exchange for a high wage by Nepalese standards, the mountain guides risk their lives, which can be devastating to their families when disaster strikes. Brown’s shares what happened to the Sherpa families who lost their breadwinning fathers, brothers, and sons in the April 18, 2014 avalanche that killed 16 men.

– In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd reflects on how abundant the wildlife in Botswana’s Selinda Reserve are compared with when he was there twenty years ago. At the time, hunting was allowed; now, there hasn’t been any hunting in the park for seven years. He also reflects on the very cute baby elephant that was just a few hours old that he saw while he was there.

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Justin O'Neill
Justin O'Neill produces the weekly radio program National Geographic Weekend with host Boyd Matson. Check it out on on SiriusXM satellite radio (XM channel 133 Sundays at noon), subscribe to the iTunes podcast, or stream it directly to your smartphone with Stitcher Radio.