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Backpacker Magazine –

Adventure Travel 2013: North America

Go high and low to find the best adventures in North America this year.

by: Backpacker Editors

British Columbia. (Photo by Francois-Xavier De Ruydts)
British Columbia. (Photo by Francois-Xavier De Ruydts)
Kenai Fjords, Alaska. (Photo by Francois-Xavier De Ruydts)
Kenai Fjords, Alaska. (Photo by Francois-Xavier De Ruydts)
Baja Isla Espiritu Santo. (Photo by Leon Werdinger)
Baja Isla Espiritu Santo. (Photo by Leon Werdinger)
Quetzaltrekkers. (Photo by Frits Meyst)
Quetzaltrekkers. (Photo by Frits Meyst)
The volcanoes of Southern Mexico. (Photo by Frits Meyst)
The volcanoes of Southern Mexico. (Photo by Frits Meyst)

[best water pressure]
Canyoneering British Columbia

Popular for years in New Zealand, this brand of watery descent is now gaining a toehold in North America. Right now, British Columbia is ground zero. Lynn Canyon Park, just 10 miles outside Vancouver, offers adrenaline-pumping waterfall rappels, like the drop down 179-foot Lynn Waterfall (opposite). Where the rivers cut into the ground, narrow canyons shoot water faster than fire hoses, as in Cypress Creek in Cypress Provincial Park (this page). The sport is still in its infancy, so first descents abound. Access Typically allowed in provincial parks, but contact rangers first since the sport is so new ( Info

[best way to see an iceberg]
SUP in Kenai Fjords, Alaska

In the glass-flat waters around Kenai Fjords National Park, stand-up paddleboarders can get close enough to coastal ice chunks (like this one, in Bear Glacier Lagoon) to chip off cubes for afternoon cocktails. A multiday excursion (boat-supported or not) winds past coastal glaciers and rock formations along the untamed coast. Better yet: The huge, 10-foot tidal exchange means coastal terrain is constantly changing; paddlers can thread arches at high tide that sit high and dry during low tide. Not exciting enough? That same tidal exchange creates surfable waters for more experienced SUPers. Guide Ocean Swell Ventures; price depends on itinerary; Season May to September

[best DIY sporting event]
Grand Teton Triathlon, Wyoming

Give the incredibly fit some time, some difficult-yet-beautiful terrain, and maybe a free meal—and they’ll turn their Saturday into an epic, good-natured grunt fest. That’s what happened in July when seven men left Jackson Hole, Wyoming’s town square at 2:30 a.m. for the second running of the Grand Teton Triathlon. Competitors (if you call them that—they’re more like your crew of one-upping buddies) biked 21 miles to Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park, swam 1.3 miles across it, ascended the Grand unroped (10 miles), and then did the whole thing again in reverse. What’s on the line? Fun, primarily, but the first woman to finish will surely get what the race’s founder (maker-upper?), David Gonzales of the environmental nonprofit TreeFight, got at the inaugural run: a self-proclaimed world record. Info

[best circumnavigation]
Isla Espiritu Santo, Mexico

Baja is a study in contrasts,
and what better way to experience them than from the cockpit of a sea kayak? Until recently, most kayaking around Isla Espiritu Santo required a guide (or BYO kayaks), but now, experienced paddlers can rent boats in La Paz. A seven-day trip around the 31-square-mile island slides past white-sand beaches filling the margins between the island’s red-hued central mountains and the transparent-turquoise Sea of Cortez. Surrounded as it is by salt water, the island itself has no reliable source for potable water, which means you’ll need to pack yours (a gallon/person/day). Start the 4.5-mile crossing from Playa Tecolote in calm winds (or hire a shuttle for around $60). Camp in whichever bay looks inviting, then spend time snorkeling in waters teeming with enough marine life that Jacques Cousteau once called the area “the world’s aquarium.” Nights, take in the sunsets and star show. Continue north to Isla Los Isolates and swim with sea lions near their busy colony. On the island’s east side, sandy bays give way to jagged cliffs, offering more solitude; continue to good camping at white-sand Playa Bonanza. Outfitters/rentals Baja Outdoor Activities ($155/week sea kayak;; Sea and Adventures, Inc. ($170/week; Permits Required, $5/person/day; pick up at Calle Ocampo 1045, La Paz Note Pack out all human waste. Season September to May 

[best adventure philanthropy]

Blending world-class hiking, culture, and social good, Quetzaltrekkers, a non-profit, volunteer-run organization, operates one- to six-day tours through Guatemala’s jungles, up its volcanoes, and into its mountain villages where trekkers can swap stories with local residents and experience life as they do. (Best bet? The three-day trek to Lago de Atitlán, which passes through highland Mayan villages en route to the grand-finale sunrise over the Antigua and Atitlán volcanoes.) Fresh-cooked, locally sourced breakfast and dinners are included, along with picnic lunches; expect to sleep on the floor in various unheated outbuildings. You’ll be thankful for the guide, as most paths are entirely unmarked. If you come prepared with standard backpacking gear (waterproof boots, rain pants), you’ll likely have an edge on the Spanish-language students doing the trek on a whim. After administrative costs, all the money raised goes toward providing education and housing to village kids. Cost/info $25-$150 donation;


[best high-altitude hike]
The Volcanoes of Southern Mexico

Pico de Orizaba (18,409 feet) and Itzaccihuatl (17,342 feet) don’t just rise from the central Mexican plains; these glaciated stratovolcanoes tower 10,000 feet above them. Best part? Both climbs are nontechnical. You’ll need ice axe and crampons, but ropes are optional (though still a good idea for novices). Most climbers tackle Itza first (to acclimate) via La Arista del Sol (The Ridge of the Sun). From the parking lot at La Jollita, the 3,000-vertical-foot climb takes five to eight hours. The standard route on Orizaba, the third-highest peak in North America, is up the Jampa Glacier from the Piedra Grande Hut (free; sleeps 60; can be loud). Start pre-dawn; afternoons are often cloudy, and expect to share the route with other climbers during the dry season from November to March. Guide Orizaba Mountain Guides, nine days, both summits; $1,450/person;



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