On Friday, National Geographic named Middleton, an Associate Research Scientist at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, along with his teammate photographer Joe Riis, 2016 Adventurers of the Year
. The award, which recognizes "remarkable achievement in exploration, adventure sports, conservation, and humanitarianism,” puts Middleton and Riis in an elite group with nine other adventurers. Now the public can vote everyday until January 31 for the team for the 2016 People's Choice Adventurer of the Year. Middleton says he was surprised to learn about the award.
“I didn’t have much awareness of the award because it’s something that usually goes to what we more conventionally think about adventurers – kayakers and mountain climbers and transatlantic voyagers,” he says. “So it wasn’t something that was in the center of my radar and that makes it very exciting. And it feels good for me, for what is largely a scientific endeavor – but an adventurous one – to make it into that circle and to be honored in that way.”
The award recognizes Middleton and Riis’s Greater Yellowstone Migrations (GYM) project
. For the past two years, they have documented migrating elk from their winter range to their summer range high in Wyoming’s Absaroka Range. The Absarokas are home to the state’s second tallest mountain, Franc’s Peak, and nearly 50 other peaks over 12,000 feet. “It’s very rugged country. And sometimes the climbs and descents on these migration trails turn your stomach,” Middleton says. “But I always think, if a 500-pound cow elk can do this – can step on that rock or can cross that steep snowfield – I guess I should be able to do that.”