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Adventure Travel 2006:
The 25 Best Trips

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In our annual tribute to adventure travel, we crown the 25 best new trips, the top destinations, and more.
Adventure travel


November Weekend Getaways

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Try these 12 frost-free weekend getaways, sorted by region.
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Adventure Travel 2006: The Sports Trips Atlas
Text by Robert Earle Howells   Photograph by PatitucchiPhoto
Photo: Skiing Chamonix, France
HAUTE AND COLD: The lay of the land from the Aiguille du Midi, looking toward the Mont Blanc massif, Chamonix, France

Like the great books of world literature, there is an essential canon of Great Sports Trips that any well-rounded adventure athlete should have on his or her résumé. Whether you bike, paddle, surf, ski, dive, climb, or all of the above, we've selected a global hit list—from must-do classics to next big conquests to off-the-chart challenges. Take your pick, pack your gear, and make the world your playground. 

THE SPORTS
    Skiing >>

    Rafting >>

    Mountaineering >>

    Diving >>

   
Surfing >>

    Mountain Biking >>


    Multisport >>



SKIING

If you haven't already...
The Haute Route, France, Italy, and Switzerland
 
It's the world's most famous backcountry skiing trek. Snaking over vast snowfields and dramatic glaciers, the Haute Route between Chamonix, France, and Zermatt, Switzerland, links the Alps'(and Europe's) flagship summits, Mont Blanc (15,781 feet or 4,810 meters) and the Matterhorn (14,692 feet or 4,478 meters), for a top-of-the-world ski odyssey. In classic Euro fashion, the route traverses from refuge to refuge (dormlike, but tidy and spectacularly situated). It's not a trip for lone wolves unless you're adept at orienteering, navigating glacial crevasses during occasional whiteouts, and translating avalanche bulletins from French or German. Use randonnée instead of telemark skis; and opt for extra width for more confident downhills. If you start at the Swiss end and do the full 50-mile (80-kilometer) route beginning in Saas-Fee, you'll descend some 50,000 feet (15,240 meters) over about 19 runs. Remember: The Haute Route is more about amazing scenery and a sense of accomplishment than perfect powder. Go with Selkirk Mountain Experience ($3,990 for ten days; www.selkirkexperience.com), and you'll bag peaks along the way. OnTop Mountaineering ($2,250 for nine days; www.ontopmountaineering.com) offers a two-day Mont Blanc add-on ($740). After a cable car assist, an overnight refuge stay, and a 5,250-foot (1,600-meter) climb, you reach the roof of Europe and, sacre bleu, the 8,200-foot (2,499-meter) downhill of your dreams.
 
If you have...
10th Mountain Division Hut Association System,
Aspen to Vail, Colorado

 
With 31 backcountry huts accessible from numerous Aspen-, Vail-, and Leadville-area trailheads, you can fashion your own three- to six-day haute route in the Rockies. Most huts ($28; www.huts.org) are above 11,000 feet (3,353 meter) and sleep 8 to 16. Bring your own food and sleeping bag.


Skiing: Expert Opinion:
"The Haute Route is second to none. The snow and weather conditions are
always variable, so even if you've done it 20 times, you never know what you're going to get. And just to finish at the Matterhorn, that itself is worth the trip."

Mike Hattrup, American Mountain Guides Association ski mountaineering guide, former mogul specialist, U.S. Freestyle Ski Team

RAFTING

If you haven't already...
Middle Fork Salmon River, Idaho
 
Any serious lovers of white water will dare to declare a blasphemous preference for Idaho's Middle Fork Salmon River over even the Grand Canyon/Colorado River juggernaut. We'll simply tout the Middle Fork as a compelling alternative to the intensely popular (read: overcrowded) grail of all white-water trips. With a 3,000-foot (914-meter) drop over a free-flowing, hundred-mile (161-kilometer) stretch through the Salmon-Challis National Forest, which includes at least a hundred distinct sets of rapids, the Middle Fork certainly doesn't stint on thrills. Allow six or seven days, and go early in the season—as soon as May—for maximum froth and the best shot at catching 25 miles (40 kilometers) at put-in that can be inaccessible after July. The rapids range up to Class IV, with a steady diet of IIIs. But the Middle Fork is not defined by white water alone. The shoreline ambience is coniferous, alpine, and framed by steep canyon walls at the outset that gradually yield to rolling grassland. Watch for bighorn sheep on the cliffs, black bears and elk almost anywhere, bald eagles overhead, and ancient rock art high up on canyon walls. Hot springs are scattered along the length of the river; one, called Sunflower, spills over a rock to form a natural riverside hot shower. Side hikes lead to mining ruins and fly-fishing streams (the main river is darn good, too, primarily for cutthroat trout). Trek up Loon Creek for a swim and a hot-spring dip, and to Veil Falls to see a cascade plummeting from a rock overhang into a natural amphitheater. The river's moment of truth comes near the end: Impassable Canyon, a thrill-ride wave train between sheer granite walls. Numerous outfitters run the Middle Fork; some, including OARS ($1,783 for six days; www.oars.com), provide a choice of boats, including dories and individual duckies (inflatable kayaks that are a blast to paddle on Class II stretches).

If you have...
Futaleufú River, Chile
 
The Futaleufú is 60 miles (97 kilometer) of rollicking white water: Class IV, Class V, and one section that's just plain unrunnable, all framed by snowcapped Patagonian wilderness. From December through April, take a ten-day, 60-mile (97-kilometers) trip with Earth River Expeditions ($3,000; www.earthriver.com) and make cushy base camp in a hand-hewn, wooden cliff dwelling with an 18-person hot tub. Along the way explore waterfalls and slot canyons, and zip-line across a harrowing Class VI stretch. Then check off "Fu Fighter" on your to-do list.
 
Done it all? Try...
Grand Canyon, Arizona
 
The Colorado has some of the biggest river waves on Earth.  And given the grandeur of the surrounding defile (and no-frills, backcountry camping to satisfy the most avid escapee of modern civ), running the Grand is, still and always, the ultimate rafting voyage. From May through September, Arizona Raft Adventures runs 14-day trophy trips, which include 225 miles (362 kilometers), plus side hikes ($3,200; www.azraft.com). Then take a bow: You've paddled one of the wonders of the world.

Rafting: Expert Opinion
"I just ran the Middle Fork Salmon a few years ago. It's such a great, great river. Beautiful clear water, huge pine trees, incredible camping on sand-bar beaches. It's a challenge to raft and an ideal introduction to white water."

—Pasquale Scaturro, rafting legend, mountaineer, founder of Exploration Specialists International

MOUNTAINEERING

If you haven't already...
Mount Rainier, Washington
 
Hulking Mount Rainier lords over the Northwest with such aloof dominance that it simply demands to be climbed, and 5,000 or so a year rise to the challenge. But don't be fooled by visitor stats: Rainier is the real thing, the signature peak of the lower 48. Its 14,411 feet (23,192 meters) of perpetual snow and ice make it not only the most glaciated summit this side of McKinley, but also a proving ground for any mountaineer harboring Himalayan dreams. Still, Rainier is a prize unto itself. Hero shots of you standing atop Columbia Crest, fumaroles rising from the volcano's summit crater, Puget Sound far below, will haunt your dreams for years to come. Climb it on your own if you trust your rope team and your crevasse-rescue skills are beyond reproach. Otherwise go with Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (www.rmiguides.com). RMI is on the mountain every day from late May through September; they know the route, know when to tweak it to suit the weather, and spend a full day teaching the basics—cramponing, ice-ax arrest, rope travel, rest-stepping, and pressure-breathing—that will get a fit, determined client to the top on a two-day climb ($795). Opting for a five-day climb ($1,195) gets you the kind of detailed lessons and expedition-style experience that will serve you later on Seven Summits mountains from Alaska's McKinley (20,320 feet or 6,194 meters) to Russia's El'brus (18,510 feet or 5,642 meters), or even Antarctica's Vinson Massif (16,067 feet or 4,897 meters), all of which can be guided by RMI. The standard Rainier route is up Muir Snowfield out of Paradise (5,420 feet or 1,652 meters) to Camp Muir (10,100 feet or 3,078 meters). After dinner and a nap, you'll rise around midnight for a headlamp ascent of Cowlitz and Ingraham Glaciers, proceed up Disappointment Cleaver as the day dawns, and dodge crevasses and bulges the last 1,200 feet (366 meters). Then it's a short walk across the crater and up the crest. Say cheese: You've nailed the hardest climb in the contiguous United States.
 
If you have...
Grand Teton, Wyoming
 
The Grand (13,770 feet or 4,197 feet), signature spire of Wyoming's spiny Tetons, is a hard-rock alternative to icy Rainier. The classic summit ascent is a two-day summertime climb via the Exum Ridge that culminates in a 13-pitch, heart-thumpingly exposed route up the pinnacle. Although steep and strenuous, it's not a technically demanding route—more thrill than skill. Still, you need to know climbing and rope-management basics, which Exum Mountain Guides teaches in a two-day course ($260; www.exumguides.com). For $410 more they'll guide you on the climb. The view from the summit is worth every penny.
 

Done it all? Try...
Mount Everest, Nepal
 
While everyone and their dog seems to be summiting these days, nothing's more extreme than standing at 29,035 feet (8,850 meter) on the highest place on Earth. But it's a possible dream for a determined mountaineer with high-altitude experience, a hall pass for the months of April and May, and $65,000 to fork over to superstar guides, including Mountain Madness
(www.mountainmadness.com) and Alpine Ascents International
(www.alpineascents.com). Mountain Madness also offers two saner, but still thrilling options: Trek to Everest Base Camp as part of the support team ($3,150), and/or climb to Camps I and II on the notorious Khumbu Icefall ($7,600). The view's still dang good, and hey, you're climbing on Everest!

Mountaineering: Expert Opinion:
"If you want to see whether you'd like to start mountain climbing, Mount Rainier really tests your abilities. I've worked there as a guide since 1982, and we've taken hundreds of people to the summit. Denali notwithstanding, it's probably the most challenging and physically demanding climb in the U.S."

Ed Viesturs, six-time Everest summiter, first U.S. citizen to climb all 14 of the world's 8,000-plus-meter peaks

SCUBA DIVING

If you haven't already...
Palau, Micronesia
 
If fate were to deal you the dilemma of having to choose a single underwater dive for the rest of your life, that would have to be the Blue Corner off the coast of Palau. This nook of sprawling Micronesia is scuba's Garden of Eden. Every year legions of divers journey across the world to commune with an aquatic menagerie of 1,500 species of reef fish and 700 corals, and this paradise remains undiminished by discovery. Reef sharks prowl, manta rays take wing, huge schools of snappers and barracudas sweep by you on the currents. Follow them into a coral-top wonderland filled with hordes of vibrantly colored fish. As fate would have it, you aren't limited to a single dive; the fabled Blue Corner is but one of 70 or so prime spots within an hour's cruise of Koror, Palau's lodging-rich base-camp island. You can explore steep coral drop-offs, hidden caves, and encrusted World War II ships and planes entombed at various depths. Don't miss the 475-foot (145-meter) Japanese oiler, Iro, lying at a rakish angle from 25 to 90 feet (8 to 27 meters) below. For an even more alien environment, try snorkeling in the Jellyfish Lakes, isolated saltwater bodies swarming with millions of nonstinging jellyfish. Many guides and dive operators work from live-aboard boats, but a land-based stay lets you mingle with the locals on lush topside Palau. Sam's Tours ($119 a day; www.samstours.com) caters to North American divers. Go kayaking with Planet Blue Sea Kayak Tours($90 for a one-day tour; www.samstours.com) and they'll give you a crash course in World War II history as you paddle dazzling lagoon nurseries where baby sharks and other aquatic newbies are discovering the crystal waters along with you.
 
If you have...
Cayman Islands
 
The Caribbean rival to Palau boasts stunning visibility in 80-degree water teeming with such tropical marvels as puffers, triggerfish, stingrays, tarpon, and turtles. Cayman Brac is the hot tip: uncrowded, with pristine dive sites, a scuttled Russian frigate to explore, and quick access to the deep, steep, advanced wall dives off Little Cayman. Brac Reef Beach Resort's Reef Divers operation knows all the best spots ($540 a week; www.bracreef.com).

Done it all? Try...
Antarctic Peninsula, South Pole
 
If you've had your fill of temperate seas and tropical fish, then it's time to dive among orcas, leopard seals, and ice shelves in the vivid  waters of the South Pole. Big Animals Photography Expeditions' Ultimate Antarctica II ($13,500; www.biganimals.com) is an extreme aquatic adventure: 20 nights and 3,300 nautical miles (6,112 kilometers) aboard a converted Russian icebreaker from Ushuaia, Argentina, to the Antarctic Peninsula. The next trip begins December 27, 2006, and has space for only 21 divers. Dry-suit experience is a prerequisite. Bragging rights? You haven't just been to the end of the Earth, you've been under it.

Diving: Expert Opinion:
"Palau has been my elusive Shangri-la—I'm planning my first trip there this year. It is one of the most enchanting underwater places. It's at the crossroads of a high diversity of fish, corals, and invertebrates. Many describe it as heaven-on-Earth."

Sylvia Earle, oceanographer, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, known as "Her Deepness"
 
SURFING

If you haven't already...
Kauai, Hawaii
 
A tiny island with superb breaks, this is a one-stop feast for seekers of ultimate surf. Whether you're a vacationing tyro or a big-name pro, there's a wave here with your name on it. The zoo atmosphere of other hallowed surf shrines (the north shore of Oahu, for example) is largely absent on aloha-drenched Kauai (www.kauai-hawaii.com). Variety is Kauai's particular spice. Even at Hanalei Bay, six- to eight-footers (one- to two-meters) are the norm in winter, and soft beach breaks like Pine Trees' two- to four-footers (0.6- to 1.2-meter) satisfy anyone who's not out to prove great mettle. Among the mettle-testers are Cannons and Tunnels. The former is beefy and hollow; when it's up, you'd better be confident of your big-wave résumé. Tunnels requires a long paddle out, but on mellow days it's fast and fun. When the waves build, though: experts only. Beginners love protected, reliable Poipu Beach. And PK's at Poipu is nothing to sneeze at, with two- to eight-footers in the shadow of luxury resorts. Pakala Beach has the perfect wave on the south shore, but it's a local secret. To know when a swell is running, just look for cars parked along the rock walls. If you need to get up to speed on your board skills, try neophyte-friendly Margo Oberg Surf School ($57 for two hours; www.surfonkauai.com). Respect the locals, and they'll gladly share their slice of paradise.
 
If you have...
Panama
 
This emerging surfing mecca has great waves, tropical bliss, and two coasts to choose from. Santa Catalina on the Pacific side has consistent, 4- to 20-foot (1- to 6-meter) breaks and seldom more than a handful of surfers in the water. It's best from March to June. Bocas del Toro, an archipelago off the Caribbean side, is your best bet from December through April. Find digs on either coast through www.panamasurftours.com.
 
Done it all? Try...
Samoa
 
Best surf on the planet? Maybe. What is certain is Samoa's year-round big swells and its surf-frontier feeling: paradise undiscovered. When the big south swell rears up, a left-hand point break called Boulders on Upolu Island is one of the world's great waves. A pro surfer hangout called Galu Mana (www.samoaunderground.com) has paddle-out access. Not for beginners.

MOUNTAIN BIKING

If you haven't already...
Crested Butte, Colorado
 
Like playing ball in Cooperstown or running a marathon in Greece, mountain biking Crested Butte is a direct link to the sport's genesis: Locals started riding clunkers in the woods here nearly 30 years ago. This Rocky Mountain resort town is now home to both the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame and the original Fat Tire Bike Week (next year it's in June). Here knobby rubber is revered above all, and yours can ply a network of stellar singletrack and jeep roads that lace together aspen forests, river canyons, mining ruins, and ski-area downhills. Most rides are marked by long climbs and smooth descents, not so tough that they beat you down or so technical that you can't gawk at the meadows, wildflowers, expansive views, and, come fall, an eruption of golden leaves. The 30-mile (48-kilometer) "401" ride is a local favorite: Pedal out to the old mining town of Gothic, climb past Emerald Lake, soar above tree line through fields of helmet-high wildflowers, top out in Schofield Pass, and rip down a packed-dirt singletrack back to the world of campers and condos. Another must-conquer is the 25-mile (40-kilometer) Dyke Trail with its final, exhilarating downhill through sun-dappled aspen groves. Grab a chair lift up Mount Crested Butte to access an ever growing number of trails that will deposit you at the base of the mountain, where you can recount the day's exploits over a microbrew at The Eldo (+1 970 349 6125), a local hang next to the post office downtown.
 
If you have...
Moab, Utah
 
Where Crested Butte is mountains and forest, Moab is all fiery rock and desert air, and favored by lovers of technical riding. Trails splay out into Canyonlands National Park (home to the dazzling White Rim Trail) and across buttes and bluffs. The famous Slickrock Trail starts just outside of town. Rim Tours ($185; www.rimtours.com) guides red rock rolls for all levels of riders.
 
Done it all? Try...
New Zealand
 
In the glaciated Southern Alps of New Zealand's South Island, quiet trails overlook emerald meadows and deep alpine lakes. Wanaka Lake and Village near Queensland is the nexus for everything from challenging circumnavigations to heli-bike downhills on the country's highest trails with Alpine & Heli Mountain Biking ($226; www.mountainbiking.co.nz).
 
 
MULTISPORT

If you haven't already...
Whistler, British Columbia
 
Overachieving athletes who can't commit to a single-sport vacation should cast their lot for Whistler. The site-to-be of the 2010 Winter Olympics is a nearly unrivaled summer multisport mecca for an astounding range of disciplines. The village of Whistler (2,190 feet or 668 meters), nestled in a lake-studded valley at the base of twin ski mountains Whistler (7,160 feet or 2,182 meters) and Blackcomb (7,494 feet or 2,284 meters), is bisected by frothy Fitzsimmons Creek, and the paved 18.6-mile (30-kilometer) Valley Trail gives total area access.
 
Lifts on both mountains put the high country within reach. On Blackcomb, that means Horstman Glacier, where groomed half-pipes serve summer snowboarders, or the Blackcomb Buttress, for guided, low class-5 rock climbing with Whistler Alpine Guides Bureau ($332 a day; www.whistlerguides.com). On Whistler the newly-opened-for-summer Peak Chair conveys you to heathery high alpine country and 30 miles (48 kilometers) of Whistler Mountain trails that connect with the glacial backcountry of huge Garibaldi Provincial Park. The monolithic Black Tusk rock formation is the park's signature goal. Partway up Whistler Mountain is the Whistler Mountain Bike Park ($84 a day; www.whistlerblackcomb.com) where freeriders plunge on plush suspension bikes along a network of groomed trails and jumps. The new Freight Train trail drops 2,200 feet (671 meters) in five miles (eight kilometers). Low-lying highlights include Alta Lake, favored by windsurfers, and Green Lake, which is surrounded by the 14-mile (23-kilometer) Green Lake Loop mountain biking trail (a cross-country alternative to the freeride ruckus on Whistler). Joining these two lakes is the River of Golden Dreams, which makes for a leisurely canoe or kayak paddle.
 
In classic can't-make-up-your-mind fashion, Backroads Whistler offers a Paddle Pedal trip ($42; www.backroadswhistler.com). Canoe or 'yak on Golden Dream, pick up a bike ($25 a half-day), and ride back to put-in. Bored? Paddle or raft the Class II white water on the Birkenhead River with Whistler River Adventures ($74; www.whistlerriver.com). Ride cable zip lines high above Fitzsimmons Creek with Ziptrek Ecotours ($82; www.ziptrek.com). Or, make the 35-minute drive down to Squamish and do Multipitch 101 on the Stawamus Chief, 2,100 feet (640 meter) of granite looming above Howe Sound. Squamish Rock Guides teach and guide it ($147 a half-day; www.squamishrockguides.com). Fine, you say, but can you scuba dive?
Yep. Porteau Cove Provincial Park just outside of Squamish was one of British Columbia's first underwater parks: several wrecks, plus artificial reefs that draw scads of critters. If you suffer from multisport personality disorder, Whistler's got your cure.

If you have...
Dominican Republic
 
Windsurfing put Cabarete on the adventure map thanks to year-round strong winds and warm water (plus a friendly beachfront village with no shortage of bars and digs). But now kiteboarding is all the rage. Kite Excite rents gear and teaches via radio helmets ($58 an hour; www.kitexcite.com). But the diving and mountain biking are phenomenal, and local river canyons are full of waterfalls and pools, hence the new "cascading" craze: hike-climb-swim adventures like Iguana Mama's one-day 27-waterfall foray ($60; www.iguanamama.com). They also give mountain biking tours ($40 a day).
 
Done it all? Try...
Fort William, Scotland
 
Highlands games of a different order play out in the shadow of 4,409-foot (1,344- meter) Ben Nevis (Britain's highest peak). With its extensive network of forest trails and some of Scotland's wildest rivers, the region around Fort William is acrawl with bikers, climbers, hikers, rafters, and paddlers. Macs Adventure (www.macsadventure.com) runs week-long mountain biking trips ($994). Vertical Descents (www.verticaldescents.com) guides rafting trips on the River Garry ($74), canyon trips in the Allt Nathrach ($64 for two hours), and day-climbing on local crags ($166).

Multisport: Expert Opinion: 
"Whistler's a geographic anomaly, a freak of nature. I don't know of any other place in North America where in one day during the summer you can go snow skiing, mountain biking, kiteboarding, paragliding, kayaking, bungee jumping, and climbing. There must be something you can't do there, but I can't think of it."

Will Gadd, mountain biker, rock climber, mountaineer, kayaker, current world record distance holder for paragliding
 


Pick up the November 2005 issue for more great adventure travel ideas, news, and articles by award-winning writers.



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