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Excerpts
From the Print Edition, July 2002
 
Touch and Go in Iceberg Alley
By Byron Ricks

Every year, kayakers are drawn to Newfoundland by the siren song of the biggest, bluest, baddest bergs this side of Antarctica. The chase is on.

In the early warmth of spring, mammoth icebergs calve from the glaciers of western Greenland and begin a slow, 1,900-nautical-mile [3,519-meter] drift—first north with the West Greenland Current and then south with the Baffin and Labrador Currents, spending their first few winters locked in sea ice before finally reaching Newfoundland’s shores.

Then, one day, a village on the northern coast wakes to a 200,000-ton ice mountain towering over town, and everyone knows summer is coming. This is Iceberg Alley—the stretch of frigid waters running south from western Greenland and the Davis Strait to the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Nowhere else can paddlers easily get so close to the world’s great icebergs. The monsters scraping the edge of Newfoundland can rise more than 200 feet [61 meters] above the sea, dwarfing those of coastal Alaska. They are pinnacled or tabular, crystalline, electric blue, slowly turning, tumbling, melting in the heaving North Atlantic swell.

The ice is ancient—layers of compressed snowfall and air some 3,000 winters old—and so pure that its meltwater is used to distill Newfoundland’s premium Iceberg Vodka.

* * *

Even without this annual migration of ice, Newfoundland would be a world-class sea-kayaking destination. When I first paddled here five years ago, I found myself floating among a pod of feeding humpback whales right outside St. John’s, the provincial capital.

The rest of the time, I rode roller-coaster swells along raw cliffs, probed sheltered coves, and visited port towns that evoke 400 years of European settlement. Add an iceberg encounter, I figured, and the kayaking would rocket off the scale.

The trick is meeting up with the bergs. Their paths are erratic; they’ll appear suddenly and vanish just as quickly, disappearing with a change in wind or tide. Ed English, co-owner of Explore Newfoundland, one of the province’s premier guiding services, woke one morning two years ago to find a huge berg parked outside his seaside home.

“It came and sat there for ten days,” English says. “And then one day, while I watched, it just upped anchor and left. It went out 500 yards [457 meters], turned right, and was gone in 20 minutes.”

In 1999, English approached six pinnacled icebergs during a single day of exploration, and by sunset all but one had collapsed, the 175-foot [53-meter] towers crashing into the sea. “You give yourself a minute or 30 seconds nearby,” he says. “Then you’re gone.” Or should be.

As soon as I landed in St. John’s, in early June, the chase was on. On my map, I’d circled popular iceberg-sighting areas, including Notre Dame Bay and the villages of Twillingate and Fogo. But English had spotted two large bergs off Quirpon (kar-POON) Island, the northernmost point of Newfoundland.

So early the next morning, photographer David McLain and I were pushing off from the isle’s eastern coast, set on a circumnavigation. Cresting six-foot [1.8-meter] swells in Grands Galets Bay, we quickly found our first berg, a spectacular twin-spired cathedral twirling in the current.

I’d once paddled the entire Inside Passage, from Alaska’s ice-choked Glacier Bay to Puget Sound, but I’d never seen anything like this. Along with awe, what I felt was fear: Those pinnacles were exactly the kind that can collapse suddenly—and catastrophically, for anyone who is lurking too close.

Get the full story—and an Adventure Guide to Newfoundland—in the July 2002 issue of Adventure.

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Expedition Vietnam: Kayaking the Dragon Coast
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Life on Assignment: Hunting Polar Bears
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Q&A: Extreme Kayaker Tao Berman
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32 Fast and Wild Summer Escapes
By Robert Earle Howells

Be here now. (No, really.) With these seize-the-day escapes, adventure is closer than ever.

3 Sample Escapes

Sea Kayak Tour: Sechelt Inlet, British Columbia

Gateway: Seattle, Washington
Drive time: Five hours

Some of the continent’s best paddling waters lie along British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, where Sechelt Inlet slithers in the lee of Vancouver Island and between two ranges of towering coastal mountains, the Caren and the Tetrahedron.

The inlet is effectively an inland sea cut off from coastal weather and tidal currents, with a shoreline fringed by 1,800-year-old fir and cedar forests and endless estuaries and beaches—all beyond the reach of roads or trails.

The town of Sechelt is a 40-minute ferry ride plus a 30-minute drive north of Vancouver, putting it within easier reach of Seattleites than Vancouver Island. Numerous bed-and-breakfasts in the folksy town cater to kayakers, so you’re positioned for a quick morning put-in after the drive up.

Sechelt outfitters provide rental boats, gear, and guides, although experienced paddlers will have no problem proceeding sans Sacajawea—just pick up a map with your boat and paddle away; you can’t get lost. As soon as you dip your paddle, you begin seeing great blue herons, ospreys, and bald eagles, and flirtatious seals shadow your course. There’s no prologue.

You’re in the wilderness.

Once under way, you can paddle as hard or easy as you want and stop at will—at beaches for swimming (surprise—the water’s warm) or gathering clams and oysters for dinner, at eight different marine parks for camping.

The parks are scattered along both sides of the inlet (which is never wider than a mile [1.6 meters]) making for easy improvisation—maybe lunch and tide-pooling at 9-Mile Beach Park and camp at Kunechin, maybe a side trip up Tsoonie Narrows to play in some gentle rapids.

Along the way, you might glimpse bears or cougars, or spot goats up on the mountain slopes. All the parks have fresh water, tent sites, fire rings, outhouses, and picnic tables, though you’re free to camp on any open beach.

Opt for the east shore for a spectacular sunset view, the west shore to imbibe some morning sun with your coffee. Be sure to govern your outgoing journey knowing that return ferries to Vancouver run at 6:30 or 8:30 p.m.
 

California Rock: San Jacinto Mountains

Gateway: Los Angeles, California
Flight time: Three hours

The place: When summer sun scorches Joshua Tree's quartz monzonite, southern California rock climbers retreat to the cool sanctuary of Idyllwild, at 5,400 feet [1,646 meters] in the San Jacinto Mountains. There, two fabled crags—Suicide and Tahquitz—offer stellar, Yosemite-quality granite without the long drive (two hours versus seven), the crowds, and the hairy bivouacs.

The payoff: Unlike Yosemite's granite, the rock at Suicide and Tahquitz isn't glacially polished, meaning it's more pocketed and knobby. Accordingly, this is a good place to develop the skills necessary for big-wall ascents: Just ask renowned climbers Royal Robbins and Yvon Chouinard, both of whom cut their teeth here before moving on to Yosemite.

The plan: At Suicide—a mile-long [1.6-kilometer], 400-foot-high [122-meter] cliff inscribed with more than 300 routes—Graham Crackers is a beginner-friendly route. Advanced climbers can head for the crag's most famous area: Sunshine Face, a highly featured section of golden granite with three-pitch routes rated a stiff 5.10b and up. At Tahquitz, the marquee challenge is Open Book, a 5.9 crack route that for a time was considered the country's most difficult climb. Once you clear an initial overhang, you're into the long fissure, which is unbolted, so bring some wide cams and follow the inside corner all the way up this spectacular monolith. For guides and instruction, try Vertical Adventures (800 514 8785 [U.S. and Canada only]; www.vertical-adventures.com), which runs two-day seminars for U.S. $175 per person. To reach Suicide and Tahquitz, take Interstate 10 east to Banning and State Route 243 south to Idyllwild, which has several small motels; there's camping nearby in Mount San Jacinto State Park (+1 909 659 2607; www.sanjac.statepark.org). The half-hour hike in to either rock is from Humber County Park, a few miles north of town.

Cenotes, Yucatán Mexico

Gateway: Miami or Houston
Flight time: 1.5 to Hours

The place: Down in the Yucatán Peninsula, the hotbed of diving's lunatic fringe—the cavers—there's a lure almost as compelling as the area's vast underground networks and not nearly as arcane: cenotes, stunning limestone caverns filled with fresh water so clear and pure (200 feet [61 meters] of visibility) that your dive partners appear to float in midair. The cenotes are sinkholes where the thin limestone crust has given way to create apertures to Yucatán's underground rivers and labyrinthine cave systems.

The payoff: Cenotes offer a taste of cave diving without the claustrophobia, and anyone with open-water certification can dive them in the company of a registered cave guide. (The stipulation is that you dive during daylight.) Which means that within a few hours after leaving Miami or Houston, you can enter an underground, underwater dreamscape of stalactites and stalagmites, columns and flows—a realm of stunning light and color and primeval magnificence.

The plan: Fly down to Cancún on Friday (an hour and a half from Miami, two from Houston) and Aquatech Dive Center in Akumal (+1 866 619 9050; www.cenotes.com) will pick you up and have you condo-ensconced at its beachfront dive center/resort within an hour, with time for a predinner swim, snorkel, or sea kayak paddle (rooms start at U.S. $120 a night, kayak included).

You can easily dive two cenotes the next day. At Dos Ojos ("two eyes"), for example, you can enter through one cerulean iris, explore the showy decorations, and swim over to the other eye. A second dive might take in Gran Cenote. From above, it looks like a little lake dotted with lily pads, but it's actually the opening to one of the finest cave systems in the world, and a cavern gilded with decorations.

The cenotes also make for superb snorkeling if there's a non-diver in the family. You could continue a monomaniacal assault on the cenotes the next day, but it'd be a shame to forsake the warm Caribbean and the Mesoamerican Reef, the second largest in the world (it runs from Cancún to Honduras), just offshore. It's a five-minute boat ride out to the vast coral and its populations of loggerhead and green turtles, and it's equally easy to throw in a night dive for lobster and shrimp.

If you're milking your full three days, consider a dry-land finale; Aquatech can arrange a tour that includes a visit to the Mayan ruins at Cobá (a very cool alternative to crowded Chichén Itzá) and a monkey-watching hike near Punta Laguna, followed by a refreshing lake swim and stops in little pueblos on the way back. Or continue diving: Since the cenotes and the reef are shallow (25 to 35 feet [8 to 11 meters]), you have no decompression worries, and can hop on a flight soon after your forays in Yucatán's subterranean dream world.

Get all 32 getaway guides, including maps and photos, in the July 2002 issue of Adventure.

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Destination Guide: Vancouver, British Columbia
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The Joy of Fear
By Jim Thornton

The human mind is the product of millions of years of evolution. But a single moment of risk can still bring out the animal within. Jim Thornton explains the new science of adventure psychology, the uses and abuses of adrenaline, and the lure of life on the edge.

Just as his Spirit of ’76 was approaching 400 miles an hour [644 kilometers an hour] on Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats, Elwin “Al” Teague smelled burning rubber. The scent alerted him but did not scare him. The thought crossed his mind that a belt might be overheating, but he rationalized that it would hold for the rest of his second run of the day.

A year earlier at Bonneville, in 1991, Teague had set the international land-speed record for wheel-driven vehicles (as opposed to jet- or rocket-propelled cars) with a two-run-timed average of 409.986 mph [659.809 kph]. At such speeds, his two-ton streamliner travels approximately the length of two football fields per second, or, as Teague puts it, “almost as fast as a bullet.”

On the day’s first run, Teague had backed off the throttle shortly after hitting 417 mph [671 kph] on the hard-packed salt. When his crew later asked him why, Teague had trouble articulating his reasons. The car just didn’t feel right, he said. Something seemed off.

Like many adventurers who engage in—and ultimately survive—high-risk pursuits, Teague had long ago learned to trust his intuition, a para-rational early warning system that transcends logic but nevertheless can prove more powerfully protective than the most in-depth cognitive analysis.

On the few occasions he’s ignored such pricklings—emotions akin to fearfulness but not exactly identical to it—he has invariably regretted it. Like, for instance, his dismissal of the burning rubber. “What I should have done,” he says today, “is get off the throttle as soon as I smelled it.”

What Teague didn’t know at the time was that his pencil-shaped vehicle’s front axle had frozen in place, and the attached tire—pressurized to a hundred pounds per square inch [5.8 kilograms per square centimeter]—had stopped spinning and was sliding along the salt.

With such tremendous frictional forces, it didn’t take long before the rubber melted through. Four seconds after his first whiff of rubber, the front wheel exploded, tearing off part of the vehicle’s nose. The streamliner’s Lexan windshield instantly became encrusted with a blizzard of salt, blinding Teague to everything in his path.

Immediately, a riot of firing nerves and surging stress hormones turbocharged Teague’s body and mind. In people who suffer panic attacks, a very similar physiological discharge leads to extreme anxiety, racing thoughts of death or insanity, and a kind of impotent frenzy. But in Teague, the same bouillabaisse of fight-or-flight chemicals had the opposite effect, one that quite possibly saved his life and perhaps even those of some of his spectators.

In the milliseconds following the explosion, Teague recalls, he suddenly became hyperaware of everything around him. Though he was traveling blind at nearly 400 mph [644 kph], it was as if time itself had begun to move in slow motion. He felt no sense of fear or panic, only an intense focus on the job at hand—keeping the streamliner aimed straight ahead as he wrestled it to a stop.

Over his decades at Bonneville, Teague, now 61, had seen plenty of vehicles windmill, pencil roll, and even dig nose first into the salt and then somersault until reduced to a heap of shrapnel. Pinioned inside a safety cage by a six-point seat belt, he knew there was a chance he might survive such a worst-case scenario. But not a great chance.

Teague had only seconds to execute a lifesaving sequence of maneuvers—take his foot off the accelerator, shift into neutral, orient himself by looking through the side of the windshield, torque the steering wheel hard to the right to counter drift, deploy the small parachute, deploy the larger one.

But even as all this was happening, he felt unhurried, as if he had all the time in the world. “Your brain becomes so expanded,” he says, trying to explain a phenomenon he admits he doesn’t fully understand. “Your senses just open up so much.”

It is as if, when you really need it, nature provides your gray cells with an instant upgrade in processing speed.

The Spirit of ’76 finally came to a safe rest some 20 yards [18 meters] away from dozens of parked spectators. Only then did Teague’s emotions wash over him. “It probably took an hour and two beers,” he jokes, “and then I started to calm down.”

 

Online Extra
Forum: Fear Factor
What’s given you an adrenaline overdose, and how did you cope?

Get the full story in the July 2002 issue of Adventure.

Subscribe to Adventure today and Save 62 percent off the cover price!

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White Cliff: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
By Gary Moore

It was an extraordinary sight: a white cliff soaring skyward from the remotest jungles of Mexico. But why hadn’t anyone else ever seen it?

When you’ve dangled like a spider above a green abyss, inching up a crude homemade ladder of vines and sticks on the face of a quarter-mile-high [0.4-kilometer-high] cliff, in a wilderness that almost no outsider has ever seen before, you don’t easily forget.

My experience on that cliff has stayed with me, though it happened more than 20 years ago. It came during a time in my life that was crowded with fantastic blunders, extraordinary discoveries, and no small amount of blind fear.

I was dangling on the ladder because I was in the process of making a long hike. A very long hike. For a credulity-straining distance of 3,000 miles [4,828 kilometers], I plodded along, crossing the deserts, jungles, chilled peaks, and smoggy cities of Latin America, with no rides taken en route.

I never know whether to say this as a boast or a confession. (Foolhardiness loves to call itself romance.) My paseo grande took ten months, sometimes at the rate of 20 miles [32 kilometers] a day but often more slowly. In the jungle, there’s a lot of mud.

Somehow the image, the experience, that has most remained with me from that place and that time has always been the great pale cliff that I scaled in the middle of nowhere in Mexico, just a few hundred miles south of the U.S. border, in a roadless wilderness that only a lost and disoriented walker could find.

When I chanced upon it, I was wandering without compass, map, or much knowledge; talking about it later, I always felt like a ranting prospector crawling out of the Black Hills, babbling about the mother lode.

For more than two decades, I’ve longed to prove that the cliff really exists, that I did conquer it. To me, it symbolizes the stubborn, secret fact that hidden wonders can abide, even in a crowded world.

Scaling the cliff, I was able to see far below, like a vision of paradise, a crystal-clear river that I had swum. Meanwhile, far above waited another sensation, the exultation I would feel upon making it up the cliff alive—though this was tinged with the awareness that I was still quite lost, with many hardships ahead. Here was my crucible of loveliness and fear, my One Hundred Years of Solitude, all stirred together in a soup of sweat and pain and desire.

Get the full story in the July 2002 issue of Adventure.

Subscribe to Adventure today and Save 62 percent off the cover price!

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Discovering Mexico
Spend a week in Mexico with a National Geographic photographer whose dispatches introduce you to everyone from pilgrims at Guadalupe to mariachi bands in the capital.

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July 2002:
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