Making It Happen
There are several camp sites at the Whitehouse trailhead, just off Route 89, from where you can begin your adventure. Permits are required to hike Paria Canyon; get the latest information from the Bureau of Land Management. You must adhere to the ‘leave no trace’ policy, which means picking up any evidence you were there, including your poo, bagging it and carrying it out with you.
CLIMB MT RORAIMA, VENEZUELA
‘Inaccessible, except by means of balloon.’ That was the verdict on Mt Roraima in 1872. By the latter half of the 19th century, several Western explorers had set their eyes on the highest of Venezuela’s strange table-shaped mountains, and all had determined it quite insurmountable – its foliage too dense, its situation too remote, its upper flanks too extraordinarily sheer.
A sloping ledge naturally hewn into Roraima’s southern flank means that those of reasonable fitness willing to brave its humidity, downpours, slippery rocks and biting flies can negotiate the vertical cliff s of the upper reaches, and attain the summit, without recourse to climbing ropes or hot-air balloons.
Hikers attempting to top this 2810m massif today still follow Im Thurn’s historic route.
There’s an eerie atmosphere on Roraima’s singular summit – nightmarish rocks, strange sands and streamlets, a crystal valley and bug-eating plants that have evolved in lofty isolation from the land around.
Then there are the views – clouds permitting. Often the mesa is draped in a dramatic tablecloth of wispy white (it rains virtually every day).
But when the linen is whipped off, the vastness is revealed; from here, you can look out over three countries – Roraima marks the meeting point of Venezuela, Guyana and Brazil – and across to other tepuis, which all have their own secret summits.
Making It Happen
Roraima sits within Canaima National Park. You cannot climb it independently – you must book a tour or hire a local guide. Most trips take six days from Paraitepui: three days up (though this could be squeezed into two); a day on the summit; two days back down. Paraitepui itself is a rough 28km drive off the Trans-Amazonian Highway at San Francisco de Yuruaní.
DIVE ICELAND’S TECTONIC PLATES
Iceland’s Silfra Rift is more than just a crack in the Earth’s crust. It is the only place in the world where you can go for a swim, stretch out your arms and be touching Eurasia with one hand and America with the other.
That’s because it is one of the few, and certainly the most exhilarating, places on the planet where it’s possible to dive between two tectonic plates, which is literally the stuff that makes up the Earth’s crust.
Cutting a swathe from the shore into a glacial lake, the rift lies within the majestic Þingvellir National Park – declared a Unesco World Heritage Site for its natural and geological uniqueness. All you have to do is slip on a dry suit, plunge into the 50-year-old water and have your mind blown.
There are so many elements that make this the most surreal, jaw-dropping experience you will have in your lifetime. For a start, every moment you are submerged, you’re shielded from death by just a few centimetres of dry suit.
Silfra Rift off Iceland is the only place you can dive between, and touch the tectonic plates of both Eurasia and America. Picture: Iceland Explorer/Facebook. Source: Supplied
Frequently cited by veteran divers as the clearest dive-able water in the world, Þingvellir Lake is fed by glaciers around 50km away, as the melting ice water resurfaces via underground wells. Visibility at the Silfra Rift literally extends to end-of-sight.
What that means in practice can’t be truly comprehended unless you’re actually down there fathoming it, gasping at every gaping lava rock formation leaping out in spectacular vibrant detail like some mind-bending etching by Escher that wills itself into your mind.
Making It Happen
The Sport Diving School of Iceland is a good place to begin. As the oldest dive centre in Iceland, the school has pioneered diving the Silfra Rift since 1997. The rift lies within the Þingvellir National Park, an easy drive by jeep from Reykjavík, which means you can typically do your dive in a day and be back at your hotel before night. Your guide will supply your dry suit, tanks and everything else you need, so all you have to do is turn up and be blown away.
ICE TREK ARGENTINA’S MORENO GLACIER
Spilling down from the Chilean border on Cerro Pietrobelli, in the chilly heights of the Patagonian Andes, Perito Moreno Glacier is a pin-up of world ice. In tourism terms, it is a phenomenon, drawing thousands of people every summer’s day, who arrive from the nearby gateway town of El Calafate.
Among the rock rubble at the edge of the glacier you’ll be equipped with crampons – a set of spikes that are fitted to your shoes to give you grip and traction while hiking on the ice. If you have never used crampons before, this is the perfect adventure to trial them, with treks following smooth and safe lines across the ice. At this level, it’s as simple as remembering to walk with your legs slightly further apart than normal, to avoid catching a spike in your trousers or leg.
The trek across the ice provides a showcase of glacial features as you wander past crevasses, seracs and sinkholes, with views back over the glacier to the grey surface of Lago Argentino. At trek’s end you’ll even get to taste the glacier, with a final stop at a makeshift bar for a gut-warming whisky on ice…ice that’s been chipped straight from Moreno Glacier.
Making It Happen
Mini treks on Moreno Glacier are operated exclusively by Hielo y Aventura. The company operates bus services to the glacier from El Calafate, 80km away. El Calafate has flights to and from Buenos Aires.
KAYAK MOSQUITO BAY
Puerto Rico is a Latin–Yankee hybrid, geographically floating betwixt Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, culturally wafting between its island heritage and adopted Americanism. It is white-sand beaches and Afro-Carib beats; it is strip malls, drugstores and multilane highways. But there’s one thing (or rather millions of tiny things) that are resolutely neither.
Pyrodinium bahamense are ancient species of dinoflagellate – or minuscule spheres of sea gunk, to you and me. They like the vitamins released by the roots of red mangrove trees, the relative lack of any pollution and the limited tidal exchange of their favoured bays. And because they like it here, they treat us to their unique pyro-tastic show.
There are fewer than 10 places worldwide where this phenomenon occurs, and Puerto Rico is arguably the most spectacular. There are three bioluminescent bays on the archipelago: Phosphorescent Bay at La Parguera (though pollution has severely diluted its dinoflagellates); Laguna Grande at Fajarado; and – best of all – Mosquito Bay, on the small island of Vieques.
Here, you can head out after sundown in a kayak and watch as the world beneath you starts to glow. This is not a physical test of an adventure, but a chance to see nature at its most beautifully bizarre.
Making It Happen
Ferries leave Puerto Rico for Vieques daily, and take an hour. Night-time kayak and electric-motored boat tours of Mosquito Bay run from Esperanza; see Golden Heron Ecotours. Check a lunar calendar, as trips are best under a new or partial moon. Laguna Grande, at Fajarado, near Puerto Rico’s airport, is a more accessible option. Don’t take boats with nonelectric motors – they pollute and damage dinoflagellates. Don’t swim.
MOUNTAIN BIKE MOAB’S SLICKROCK TRAIL
Most people associate Utah with deserts and Mormons, but to mountain bikers the western town of Moab could be an acronym for Mother of All Biking towns.
Pinched between Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Moab’s surrounds are a mat of sand and red rock – the so-called ‘slickrock’ that makes mountain biking here so magnificent. Named because its surface was so slick for horses, the ancient Navajo sandstone is more like stickrock for mountain bikes, allowing riders to almost defy gravity as their wheels grip to steeply sloped rock.
The trail that attracts the vast bulk of mountain bikers is the Slickrock Trail, arguably the most famous mountain bike route in the world. Originally designed for trail bikes, the 20km loop rolls across Swiss Cheese Ridge and the Lion’s Back, a rock ridge looming above Moab. Its orange rock is like a set of cycling moguls, with ledges that drop into pits of sand followed by stiff climbs back out.
But there’s no need to get fixated on the Slickrock Trail: Moab has myriad bike experiences and great natural beauty to help dilute the adrenalin rushes. Novices can admire the swirling patterns in the rock as they curl around Bartlett Wash, or pass dinosaur footprints on the Klondike Bluff s Trail. Experienced riders will want to add Porcupine Rim and Poison Spider Mesa to their resume – these trails are almost as famous as Slickrock – while multiday desert rides beckon the most adventurous on the White Rim and Kokopelli trails.
Making It Happen
Great Lakes Airlines flies to Moab from Denver and Las Vegas, while Greyhound has buses to Green River, around 80km away, with shuttle connections to Moab. In town, a number of companies offer bicycle shuttles to trailheads. Bike stores abound, but book ahead for mountain bike hire. The Slickrock Trail is in Sand Flats Recreation Area.
RACE A RICKSHAW
To paraphrase the office sticker cliché: you don’t have to be mad to drive here, but it helps. India’s roads aren’t for the faint of heart; whether you’re on foot, pedalling a bike or jammed into a bus, the mayhem of packed city streets and truck-crammed highways is enough to bring on palpitations in anyone…except rickshaw drivers.
Helming a canvas-topped, unstable three-wheeler with questionable brakes requires the kind of unshakable confidence and offensive driving tactics that would make a Manhattan cab driver kneel in awe.
The autorickshaw is such an icon of the Subcontinent, that it was only a matter of time before someone dreamed up the idea of a pan-Indian rickshaw odyssey. And so, in 2006, the first Rickshaw Challenge was born.
The Rickshaw Challenge was born in 2006, and various replicas have since been staged around India. Picture: rickshawchallenge.com. Source: Supplied
There’s usually a charity fundraising element too. Fancy it? Prices for rickshaws vary depending on engine and body size, manufacturer and bartering skills, but you’ll need around US$1000 for the rickshaw, plus a modicum of mechanical know-how, plenty of chutzpah – and a blemish-free karma.
Making It Happen
Access to the main starting points is easy, with international airports at Chennai, Mumbai, Kochi and Delhi, and domestic flights, trains and buses serving other endpoints. At the time of writing, two established companies – Chennai-based Rickshaw Challenge, which launched the first rally, and the Adventurists, a UK organisation – arranged rickshaw adventures across India. Avoid travelling in monsoon season – June to October across much of India.
ROW ACROSS SIBERIA’S LAKE BAIKAL
Lake Baikal forms part of Siberia’s version of the African Rift Valley. It’s the deepest on Earth – achieving a maximum depth of 1632m, and averaging roughly 750m. Looking on maps like a banana (a 636km-long banana), Baikal has the sort of shape that simply invites you to paddle from one side of it to the other. Standing at the lake’s edge, peering at a fortresslike wall of emerald mountains that mark the far shore, the urge to make that journey just gets stronger.
It’s all about choosing the right window. In good weather you require only a modest level of fitness, and little more than a beginner’s proficiency on the oars. By all means, take things rather leisurely; row as slow as you want, and as zigzag a course as desired.
Thus, a row across Lake Baikal is not the average Siberian’s idea of a day out. They’ll think you unhinged for not packing at least an outboard motor. Understandable, since a typical fishing boat here looks more like something you’d find plying the brooding waters of the North Sea. But Baikal contains not a trace of salt – it is regarded as having some of the purest water on Earth.
Making It Happen
To cross via the Selenga River delta, put in at Selenginsk (60km from the river mouth and four hours by train from the city of Irkutsk, or an hour by train from Ulan-Ude). On the far shore, head southwest for 60km to reach Bolshoye Goloustnoye, and get a taxi to Irkutsk. Carry food for five days, plus camping gear, insect repellent, warm clothing and a waterproof shell. If you’re not travelling with your own boat, it’s feasible to purchase a reasonably cheap Russian-made poly or fold-up kayak at a fishing and hunting supplies store in Irkutsk or Ulan-Ude.
TRAMP THE MILFORD IN NEW ZEALAND
Every day, busloads, carloads and planeloads of people squirm through the mountains of Fiordland National Park to visit New Zealand’s postcard-perfect Milford Sound, but once it was only walkers who could make it to these shores.
A path to the long-inaccessible sound was made possible with the discovery of 1069m Mackinnon Pass in 1888 by Quintin Mackinnon and Ernest Mitchell. This alpine saddle immediately became – and remains – the midpoint and centrepiece of the Milford Track, opening up access to Milford Sound decades before the road was carved through the mountains. It wasn’t until 1966 that independent walkers were allowed onto the Milford Track.
Dubbed the ‘finest walk in the world’ by the London Spectator in 1908, the 53.5km track has since gained such popularity that access is now heavily regulated. If the experience is regimented, the landscape you’ll experience is far from it. The descent follows the headwaters of the Arthur River, passing by 580m-high Sutherland Falls, the highest waterfall in New Zealand, and a string of other waterfalls cocooned inside rainforest. The four-day tramp ends at Sandfly Point on the shores of Milford Sound.
Making it Happen
Bookings must be made ahead of time to walk the Milford Track in season (late October to late April); they can be made on the Department of Conservation website. The Milford Track has a long history of guided tramps, which are operated by Ultimate Hikes.
WALK WITH WOLVES IN YELLOWSTONE
Yellowstone National Park boasts true marvels: exploding geysers, thundering waterfalls and some of the largest herds of bison and elk on the continent. It’s also one of America’s most popular parks, visited by over 30,000 people per day in the peak months of July and August. But hike a mile away from a road, and you’ll lose 99% of the tourists. Trek into the park’s remote southeastern corner, known as the Thorofare, and you’ll lose pretty much everybody.
The spectacular valley is bordered to the north by huge Yellowstone Lake, to the east by the brooding, volcanic Absaroka Mountains, and to the south by the Bridger-Teton Wilderness. Apart from the odd ranger’s cabin, the land is home only to populations of grizzly bears, wolves and elk.
A trek into the Thorofare is a physical and logistical challenge, involving at least a weeklong trek into the heart of nowhere, so you need to have excellent wilderness skills, including experience of fording rivers and camping safely in grizzly country. There are no easy escape routes if you run into trouble.
Whichever way you do it, for sheer primeval wildness and immersion in the natural world, with the right preparation and back up, there’s not an adventure for a thousand miles that can beat it.
Making It Happen
Backcountry camp sites need to be booked well in advance, especially in August, and you need to pick up permits in person. Bridge Bay Marina offers boat shuttles to the northern point of the lake’s Southeast Arm. Outfitters can arrange horse trips into the Thorofare, mostly from the Bridger-Teton Wilderness to the south, and companies like Wildland Trekking offer guided trips.