Main | Story Previews

March/April 2001
In the magazine
Story Previews
Excerpts From the Print Edition

related web sites

*Flags and Facts: Afghanistan
The basics from National Geographic's Map Machine.

*Gallery: Afghanistan Under the Taliban
Photographer Ilkka Uimonen documented the Islamic fundamentalist militia's early reign.

*Sebastian Junger: After The Perfect Storm
An ADVENTURE interview uncovers Junger's uneasy relationship with fame and fortune.

Subscribe now!

The Lion in Winter
By Sebastian Junger

A genius of guerrilla warfare, Ahmad Shah Massoud drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Now—even as he dreams of peace—the "Lion of Panjshir" is his beleaguered country's last defense against the Taliban onslaught.

The fighters were down by the river, getting ready to cross over, and we drove out there in the late afternoon to see them off. We parked our truck behind a mud wall, where it was out of sight, and then walked one by one down to the position. In an hour or so, it would be dark, and they'd go over. Some were loading up an old Soviet truck with crates of ammunition, and some were cleaning their rifles, and some were just standing in loose bunches behind the trees, where the enemy couldn't see them. They were wearing old snow parkas and blankets thrown over their shoulders, and some had old Soviet army pants, and others didn't have any shoes. They drew themselves into an uneven line when we walked up, and they stood there with their Kalashnikovs and their RPGs cradled in their arms, smiling shyly.

Across the floodplain, low, grassy hills turned purple as the sun sank behind them, and those were the hills these men were going to attack. They were fighting for Ahmad Shah Massoud—genius guerrilla leader, last hope of the shattered Afghan government—and all along those hills were trenches filled with Taliban soldiers. The Taliban had grown out of the madrasahs, or religious schools, that had sprung up in Pakistan during the Soviet invasion, and they had emerged in 1994 as Afghanistan sank into anarchy following the Soviet withdrawal. Armed and trained by Pakistan and driven by moral principles so extreme that many Muslims feel they can only be described as a perversion of Islam, the Taliban quickly overran most of the country and imposed their iron-fisted version of koranic law. Adulterers faced stoning; women's rights became nonexistent. Only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates recognize their government as legitimate, but it is generally thought that the rest of the world will have to follow suit if the Taliban complete their takeover of the country. The only thing that still stands in their way are the last-ditch defenses of Ahmad Shah Massoud.

The sun set, and the valley edged into darkness. It was a clear, cold November night, and we could see artillery rounds flashing against the ridgeline in the distance. Hundreds of Taliban soldiers were dug in up there, waiting to be attacked, and hundreds of Massoud's soldiers were down here along the Kowkcheh River, waiting to attack them. In a few hours, they would cross the river by truck and make their way through the fields and destroyed villages of no-man's-land. Then it would begin.

We wished Massoud's men well and walked back to the truck. The stars had come out, and the only sound was of dogs baying in the distance. Then the whole front line, from the Tajik border to Farkhar Gorge, rumbled to life.

Get the full story of Junger's harrowing time on the front line in the March/April 2001 issue of ADVENTURE. (Subscribe today.)

ADVENTURE Online Extra
Life on Assignment: Sebastian Junger
The best-selling author tells what it took to get close to one of the world's most dangerous men.


related web sites

*Arches National Park Guide
Part of Destinations, National Geographic's series of in-depth, online travel guides.

*Bryce Canyon National Park Guide
Photos, maps, driving tours, and more from National Geographic's Destinations guide.

*Canyonlands National Park Guide
Get the info you need to get up and go to this nearly roadless refuge.

featured product

Trails Illustrated CD-ROM: Canyon Country and Southwestern Parks

U.S. $44.95
The Topo! GPS interactive map engine provides everything you need to plan a route, find a campsite, print the perfect map, and keep track of where you've been.

More in our store

Canyon Confidential
By David Roberts

There's more to Utah's Canyon Country than the crowded national parks. But finding solitude—in winding slots, in cathedrals of rock, and in obscure, ruin-sheltering gorges—will test your skills. And your backcountry ethics.

It was an Anasazi encounter in 1987 that awakened me to the canyon country. One day while I was on a trip into Bullet Canyon, an offshoot of Grand Gulch, in southeastern Utah, I visited Perfect Kiva and Jailhouse Ruin. These are diminutive cliff structures, nothing on the scale of the famous villages of Mesa Verde National Park. But I was stunned by these ruins as I had never been by the park's Cliff Palace, which has 21 kivas and 150 rooms, or Spruce Tree House, which has 9 kivas and 140 rooms. The Bullet Canyon sites looked as if they had been abandoned a week earlier, not 700 years ago, for no one (yet) had rebuilt them into museum-worthy dioramas. I found potsherds and corncobs lying in the dirt, tiny yucca knots tying together saplings for the roofs, and, at Jailhouse, baleful white moonlike pictographs above a high ledge. That night, I camped near a spring that had once slaked the thirst of the Ancient Ones.

From that modest outing grew a consuming passion, even an obsession. During the past 13 years, I've made some 90 trips to the Southwest, virtually all of them with the goal of seeking out obscure ruins and rock art deep in little-known canyons. And though the entire Southwest—which, culturally and topographically speaking, extends well into the Mexican states of Sonora and Chihuahua—is rich in wonders, I've settled on a favorite realm within that seemingly limitless wilderness. My own "land of lost content," in A.E. Housman's wistful phrase, is the canyon country of southeastern Utah.

Last spring, I made three new excursions into this endlessly intricate terrain, following my own style of desert travel—going fast and light, with a minimal number of companions. Every day, I discovered something that I had never seen before. But I also encountered large troops of decidedly nonminimalist campers ensconced in locations where I had anticipated isolation. I had to wonder how much, as a writer, I had contributed to the burgeoning popularity of the very canyons whose solitude I had celebrated in print. I would have been more worried, though, if I had found there were no longer any way to be alone in the canyons.

Read the full story, and unlock the quiet corners of canyon country, in the March/April 2001 issue of ADVENTURE. (Subscribe today.)


related web sites

*Adventure Racing New Zealand's self-proclaimed adventure-school dropout joins a film crew competing in the Southern Traverse.

*Wild Onion Urban Adventure Race
Register for this year's race, and relive Wild Onion 2000.

featured product

Destination City Map: Chicago

U.S. $7.99
Explore Chicago with a large-scale central city map, richly layered with tourist- and business-travel locations and information.

More in our store

Into the Great Wild Onion
By Craig Vetter

To win Chicago's "original urban adventure race," you've got to paddle, pedal, skate, and run the fastest to the finish line—dodging rafts of trash and obeying traffic signals along the way. Some say it's tougher than the Eco-Challenge.

It wasn't the sort of instruction you'd hear at your ordinary climb-the-mountain, run-the-river, cross-the-desert, hack-the-jungle adventure race. Then again, these 52 teams were about to step off into an entirely different sort of jungle. "If you are faced with a life-threatening emergency," said race director Will Burkhart, "break the seal on your cell phone and dial 911." Burkhart, a 34-year-old seasoned adventure racer from Denver, was warming up the crowd for Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley, who would soon mount the lakeshore stage huddled in a trench coat against the only wind anywhere that's named after a meat-eating bird—they call it "the hawk." By the next morning, Saturday, October 7, 2000, the temperature would hit a record low of 30°F [-1°C]. The racers, in teams of three, were looking out from North Avenue Beach over a roiling Lake Michigan, getting ready to bolt toward the lit skyline of Chicago and embark on an odyssey in which they would run, climb, paddle, mud walk, bike, stumble, scramble, rappel, and skate for nearly a hundred miles [161 kilometers], or for 24 hours, or until they reached hypothermic collapse, whichever came first.

It was being billed as the "original urban adventure race," and the three organizers—Burkhart; John Hamill, a 41-year-old firefighter from Evanston, Illinois; and John O'Connor, 39, a Chicago health-club manager—had named it "The Wild Onion," a rough translation of the Illiniwek Indian word "Checaugou." Their promise: "It'll make you cry."

O'Connor and Hamill had come up with the idea of an urban challenge while using city venues to train for adventure races in Wisconsin and Michigan. "The city had so many resources," O'Connor says, "we just thought, Hey, why not string them together and make a race of it?" They spent most of a year designing a course that covered the city to its limits north and south, east and west, up and down. Burkhart ran the course six weeks before the race, in balmy weather, and managed not to get lost, mugged, or otherwise Chicagoed—though he still returned with a review worthy of the city's gritty reputation. "It was hell," said the former marine, winner of 4 of the 23 adventure races he's entered.

Run wild with the rest of the Onion bunch—read the full story in the March/April 2001 issue of ADVENTURE. (Subscribe today.)


related web sites

*Desert Trail Association
The source for trail guides for eight of the Nevada and Oregon sections of the Desert Trail.

*Desert Survivors
More on the conservation group that helped map the trail.

featured product

Trails Illustrated CD-ROM: Pacific and Western Parks

U.S. $44.95
Plan routes, view elevation profiles, and print custom maps with our GPS-ready topo maps.

More in our store

Taking the Dry Road
By David Darlington

Where the newest Mexico-to-Canada hiking route crosses the Mojave Desert, visitors find Joshua trees, singing dunes, and solitude. Everything, in fact, except a trail.

From the heights of the Granite Mountains in the southwestern reaches of Mojave National Preserve, Bob Ellis and I surveyed the California desert. In every direction, mountain ranges lay slung across the landscape. To the northeast was the monumental 7,000-foot [2,134-meter] Providence range; below that edifice were the Kelso Dunes, third highest in the country, and the rounded landmass of Cima Dome, home to the world's largest forest of Joshua trees. To the southwest, we could see a hundred miles [161 kilometers] to the 10,000-foot [3,048-meter] profile of the San Jacinto Mountains, near Palm Springs.

Despite the nearly divine scope of our vision, the southernmost reaches of a new hiking path called the Desert Trail were still twice as far as the horizon. In the opposite direction, the route stretched more than a thousand miles [1,609 kilometers]; eventually, it will extend to Canada. Embraced by wilderness activists like Ellis, who's on the board of directors of a conservation group called Desert Survivors, the route is similar to the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails, except that there are no signs or markers—or, for that matter, trails. Instead, it's a corridor where people can find their way with guidebooks, maps, and compasses. In California, the final legs of the route have just been mapped out, and the last in a series of guidebooks completed. The Desert Trail, at least this part of it, is open for business.

Steve Tabor, the president of Desert Survivors, has single-handedly mapped most of the California miles. Ellis and I were Tabor's first guinea pigs, following the instructions he planned to publish. Tabor had designed the trail to hit the desert's high spots—regardless of how steep or hot the climb. "I wanted to go through wilderness areas, which tend to be centered in mountain ranges," he says. "They have more canyons, more springs, more wildlife, more life zones. Valleys are boring."

Get the lowdown on the dry road, including an Adventure Guide to Mojave National Preserve, in the March/April 2001 issue of ADVENTURE. (Subscribe today.)


bottom nav line
bottom nav line adventure