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From the Print Edition, August 2003
The Rockies Done Right: Hiking the Canadian Rockies
Long or short, the mountain hike of your dreams can be found among the 500 trails of the Canadian Rockies. By Ben Gadd

Amazing hiking is easy to find in the Canadian Rockies. Nearly 500 trails wind through parks along the Alberta-British Columbia border. This massive, century-old trail network extends some 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers) and offers quick access to backcountry solitude, abundant wildlife, and big payoffs in high-country beauty.

The only hard part is picking just one trail to hike. My favorite leg-stretcher when driving the Icefields Parkway is the Parker Ridge Trail, at the northern end of Banff National Park. In just 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) I can hike up from my car through open meadows and isolated stands of subalpine fir to the broad, treeless crest of the ridge, where civilization is out of sight and earshot. This is one of the best views in the range: the Saskatchewan Glacier, a thousand feet below on the floor of a steep-walled valley, and, to the north, the glittering dome of the Columbia Icefield.

The 12-mile (19-kilometer) Carthew-Alderson Trail in Waterton Lakes National Park, which abuts Montana's Glacier National Park, is the best day hike that takes in a full complement of mountain scenery. From Cameron Lake, at the end of the Akamina Parkway, the route switchbacks through subalpine forest up to the airy ridge on Mount Carthew, where striking brick-red rock is patched with white starwort. From here, you can see the two tiny Carthew Lakes, royal blue against green meadows. Descending, you reenter the forest at Alderson Lake and enjoy welcome shade for the final miles down the rugged valley of Carthew Creek to Cameron Falls.

For day hiking from a backcountry base camp, you can't do better than to pitch a tent at Lake O'Hara, in British Columbia's Yoho National Park. Within a three-mile radius are 25 lakes and some of the range's highest and most rugged peaks. The finest overnight hike—minus a heavy backpack—is on Yoho's 13-mile (21-kilometer) Iceline Trail. From the trailhead on the frothy Yoho River, hike out of a forested valley to smashing panoramas above the tree line. Wind north along the upper flanks of Michael Peak and the Vice President through a powerful landscape that was covered by Emerald Glacier until 80 years ago: You can walk right up to the now receding sheet of ice.

Bunk at the Alpine Club of Canada's Stanley Mitchell Hut, a spacious log cabin that sleeps 26, then complete the loop the next day by heading over the shoulder of Whaleback Mountain. Drop down past Twin Falls—twice the rumble—and return to your vehicle on the easy Yoho Valley Trail.

As for multiday high-country hikes, the most magnificent is the 27-mile (43-kilometer) Skyline Trail through the heart of Jasper National Park. Much of the route is above tree line; the most dramatic stretches follow the crest of the Maligne Range. What can you see along the way? About half the park, which, at 4,200 square miles (6,759 kilometers), is one big view. Four thousand feet below, the crisscrossing channels of the Athabasca River glint in the sun. Ahead on the trail? A herd of caribou, perhaps, outlined against the sky.

Find out about more great Rocky Mountain adventures in Idaho, Colorado, and Utah in the August 2003 issue of Adventure.

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Related Web Sites

Photo Gallery: Jasper to Glacier by Bike

Hiking the Canadian Rockies

Homegrown Rocky Mountain Treks

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More Adventure From nationalgeographic.com

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*Trails Illustrated Map Catalog

Journey to Water World: Kayaking French Polynesia's Tuamotu Archipelago
The destination: Paradise, the 78 tiny Tuamotu islands, 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers) from the nearest continent. The transportation: Five fully loaded sea kayaks. The motivation: To paddle and dive some of the Pacific's richest coral reefs and deepest blue lagoons—before they disappear forever. By Jon Bowermaster

Red and yellow, orange and blue, our small flotilla of five kayaks stands out starkly against the intense indigo ocean, the green lushness of the palms, and the bright white of the blanched beaches.

We raise sails off Paati, a tiny pile of sand on the south side of Rangiroa, the world's second largest atoll. The giant V of my yellow plastic sail, known around the world as a Polynesian triangle, strains instantly in the mara'amu—the southeast wind that seems especially strong this year. Thankfully, it's too early in the season for hurricanes.

Just ahead of me, chattering brown gents plunge to the sea for food. Schools of silvery, finger-size flyingfish skip over my bow. Through the crystalline waters swims a parade of colorful parrotfish and butterflyfish, manta rays and stingrays, ugly giant eels—and sharks, always sharks. A trio of dolphins breaks the surface and swims alongside me for a quarter mile as my boat is borne up and down through the whitecaps.

Our arms ache from navigating in the strong breezes, so we decide to rig three boats into a trimaran using bungee cords and brass hooks. The configuration is an imitation of—or a tribute to—the multihulled sailing canoes that were first used to explore these seas many centuries ago.

With the first gust, we accelerate again. "I've ridden wild horses tamer than this," whoops real-life Colorado cowboy Pete McBride. "This . . . is . . . what . . . I'm . . . talkin'. . . about! Hang on!"

Five of us have come to paddle and sail what may be the world's greatest island paradise: the remote Tuamotu Archipelago, in the heart of the South Pacific. One of five island groups that make up French Polynesia, the Tuamotus arc northwest to southeast over roughly 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) of ocean, 4,000 miles (6,437 kilometers) from both Australia and South America and 200 miles (322 kilometers) north of Tahiti, the best-known island in the region.

Unlike Bora Bora and the other lush, high volcanic islands that comprise the more familiar parts of French Polynesia, the pancake-flat Tuamotus, home to 14,700 Paumotu, are fragile rings of sand and coral enclosing central lagoons. There's little on the atolls themselves beyond scrub grass and coconut palms. Beneath the waters, however, is one of the world's most diverse ecosystems. A friend of mine, French kayaker and writer Karin Huet, lured me with stories of sharks, black pearls, and incredible dive spots. We plan to kayak to a half dozen of the Tuamotus, including Rangiroa, Fakarava, Tikehau, Toau, and Faaite. Over five weeks we will paddle roughly 300 miles (483 kilometers).

Mesmerized by my red bow plowing through the blue sea, I think about what it must have been like for the early navigators who came here. The entire Pacific was first explored in this way 4,000 years ago by men in small canoes not much bigger than our kayaks. These mariners sailed and paddled thousands of miles, from the south of China to Fiji, then to Samoa, Tonga, and New Zealand. Known as tipairua or pahi, these expedition canoes were crewed by 4 to 20 men who used the stars, currents, and tides to navigate vast stretches of ocean. Tahiti was found like this; so were the Marquesas, the Tuamotus, Hawaii, and Easter Island, centuries before white men arrived by wooden ship. Still, these remote islands were among the last places on the planet to bear the weight of humans.

In years to come, journeys such as theirs and ours may become impossible. There is a strong chance that the 78 islands (actually, 76 thin circles of coral rubble, sand, and rock, plus two high islands) making up the Tuamotus are not long for this world. Some of the living, breathing, still growing reefs will very likely disappear in the next 50 to 100 years, due to their inability to keep pace with an ocean that is predicted to rise as much as two feet in the next century. Coral will bleach and die off, and an increase in storms could, some scientists predict, obliterate life here—just three to ten feet above sea level—within decades. The seat of a kayak seems the perfect place from which to investigate, as visitors have done for millennia, whether or not these isolated Pacific specks are in fact paradise on Earth—and what their future holds.

Get the full story in the August issue of Adventure.

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Online Extra
See spectacular outtakes from photographer Peter McBride's assignment in the Tuamotu Islands, and hear writer Jon Bowermaster's audio dispatches from the French Polynesian paradise >>


The Thin White Line (excerpted from The Cruelest Miles)
In 1925 a deadly diphtheria epidemic swept through icebound Nome, Alaska. The only hope for survival—antitoxin—sat 674 frozen miles (1,085 kilometers) away. There was only one way to get it to Nome in time: by dogsled. By Gay Salisbury and Laney Salisbury

By January 25, 300,000 units of antitoxin had been located in Anchorage. That amount wouldn't be sufficient to wipe out the epidemic, but Welch hoped it could at least keep it in check for a little while. The problem was how to get the serum to Nome. With the Bering Sea icebound, only the land route was viable. In winter, mail and supplies were shipped to the ice-free port of Seward in southeast Alaska and then traveled 411 miles (661 kilometers) north to Nenana on the state's only major railroad. From there, mail teams took about 25 days to cover the 674 miles (1,085 kilometers) west to Nome. It was a start-and-stop route, divided among several mushers, with overnight rests.

But board of health member Mark Summers had an idea: Cover the route using fast dogsled teams, running one east from Nome to meet the serum that would be relayed west from the railhead at Nenana. The teams would meet halfway on the trail, at Nulato. The run from Nome would be grueling, but Summers knew one man who could do it: a scrappy Norwegian named Leonhard Seppala.

At 47, Seppala was as strong as he'd been the day he had arrived in Nome to search for gold in the summer of 1900. He was a rare natural athlete, a man of unusual strength and endurance. While the majority of mushers would have considered 30 miles (48 kilometers) to be a hard day's drive, Seppala often traveled 50 (80 kilometers), sometimes even 100 miles (160 kilometers), logging 12 hours at a stretch on the trail. In a single winter, he covered 7,000 miles (11,265 kilometers).

Seppala would have to travel more than 300 miles (483 kilometers) to Nulato, on one of Alaska's most hazardous trails. Much of it ran along the blizzard-prone coast of Norton Sound, with a dangerous 42-mile (68-kilometer) shortcut across the frozen water. Depending on conditions, this shortcut could be either a long stretch of glare ice—a slippery sheen that had been ground down by wind and sand—or a course littered with crevices, giant pieces of ice rubble, and tiny frozen spears that could shred a dog's paws. The biggest risk, however, was getting separated from shore: With little warning, the ice could break up and carry a team out into the Bering Sea.

Seppala was the fastest musher in Alaska, and his record was legendary, earning him the nickname King of the Trail, so his chances of succeeding were good. But George Maynard, Nome's mayor and an advocate of aviation, suggested one last option: to fly in the serum. Board members were skeptical. Winter flights were extremely dangerous. Besides, in all of Alaska, there were only two or three planes—dilapidated surplus craft from World War I, with open cockpits—and two pilots, both of whom were out of state at the time. Maynard persisted: A Justice Department agent in Fairbanks on business had flying experience, and one of the planes, the Anchorage, could be put back in flying shape within three days; the flight itself would take no more than six hours.

The decision whether to send the serum by dog team or by plane would have to be made by the territorial governor, Scott C. Bone. The weather had turned bitterly cold. For more than a week, temperatures in the interior had been at their lowest levels in nearly 20 years; could a pilot survive a flight in an open cockpit in temperatures of minus 50 degrees (-10° Celsius)? With snowstorms and gales over the past several days creating havoc, Bone could only imagine the danger of flying a plane over the Bering Sea if a storm kicked up. Snow and ice could clog the water-cooled engine, and engine failure usually meant death. Also, the days were shorter in January, and the pilot would have a limited number of daylight hours in which to fly safely; flying at night was a risky proposition. The Anchorage had no navigational tools save an unreliable magnetic compass. The pilot would have no lights to guide him along the route and no radio to warn him of an approaching blizzard. Until the late 1930s, the average plane in Alaska was expected to crash twice or even three times a year. If the plane went down, the serum would go down, too, and so would Nome's chance to fight the epidemic.

Late on the afternoon of January 26, Bone made his decision: He chose the dog teams. At a time when American innovation and ingenuity were changing the world with production lines and radio communication, Bone put his faith in the folk wisdom of Alaska's natives. The airplane might be the way of the future, but for the people of Nome, the dog team was the only hope for the present.

Get the full story in the August 2003 issue of Adventure.

Online Extras
Author Gay Salisbury describes the behind-the-scenes story of writing The Cruelest Miles. Plus, hear an archival interview from one of the original 1925 mushers here >>

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One Way Out: The Aron Ralston Story
For the intensely driven Aron Ralston, Utah's Bluejohn Canyon looked like an easy day hike. But after spending five days trapped in its depths, he knew getting out alive would require drastic action. What he did next stunned the world. For Ralston it was just "a matter of pragmatics." By Laurence Gonzales

On April 24, 2003, Aron Ralston drove from his home in Aspen, Colorado, hiked up Mount Sopris, near Carbondale, with a friend, and skied down. He then drove to Moab, Utah, where he mountain biked the famous Slickrock Trail. He camped at the Horseshoe Canyon trailhead, just outside of Canyonlands National Park, on the night of Friday, April 25. This was a fairly typical weekend for Ralston.

At 27, he had organized his life around the nonstop pursuit of outdoor adventures. He'd abandoned an engineering career for a job in a mountaineering store in order to make time for his relentless hiking, climbing, and skiing. He was planning his second ascent of Mount McKinley in Alaska, and this trip was part of his training.

In the morning, Ralston filled his backpack with three liters of water, four candy bars, and two burritos. He also packed climbing gear, including a rope, a harness, rappelling equipment, extra slings, and carabiners. As always, he carried his camera equipment, batteries, a CD player, and some CDs.

He rode his bike about 15 miles (24 kilometers) against a very strong headwind, then locked it and continued on foot to reach his assignation with a place called Bluejohn Canyon. Bluejohn is a slot canyon that slices through the scrub plateau just beyond the boundary of the national park. It's nearly invisible until you're right on top of it.

As Ralston climbed into the canyon on April 26, it was like entering the womb of the world, red and dark and narrow. He made a short rappel over a lip, then followed the winding course of the classic sandstone slot. Twelve days later, in a crowded press conference at St. Mary's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Grand Junction, Colorado, Ralston would give the first detailed account of the excursion that would alter the course of his life. "It was a rather serpentine canyon," he said of Bluejohn's lower section, "somewhat technical, and very giving of its solitude. I was quite alone there."

He'd gone about five miles (eight kilometers) when he came to a section where a series of large boulders hung wedged between the walls of the canyon. From a distance it looked as if the canyon ended in a sort of hole, but by clambering over and under these chockstones he was able to work his way through. Finally he came to a boulder hanging over a drop of about two and a half meters. "At that point, I saw that there were some good handholds around the back side of the chockstone. I grabbed onto those and lowered myself off the front side of it."

Embracing the stone, which weighed about 800 pounds (363 kilograms), Ralston stretched to reach a secure foothold below. "As I put a rotating torque force on that intermediate chockstone, it rotated enough that it slid on its pinch points, where the canyon wall was constricting it and holding it in place. And as I was at full extension at that point, I dropped and then had to try to push off of the now falling boulder in order to get out of its way."

He managed to jerk his left hand out. It took only a second. But the rock gripped his right in the hearty handshake of a brute: Welcome to eternity.

Get the full story in the August 2003 issue of Adventure.

Online Extras
Utah Search and Rescue volunteer Rex Tanner talks about how Aron Ralston could have prevented his tragic self-rescue here >>

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August 2003

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