The scenery, both above and below water, is outrageous. A wild coastline with sheer cliffs, deserted islands, protected coves, sea caves, and white-sand beaches makes the Sea of Cortez off of southern Baja one of the world’s premier sea-kayaking destinations. Pack snorkel, mask–and plenty of limes to make ceviche with super-fresh shrimp (local fishermen might be about the only other folks you’ll see).
Challenging “norte” winds die down by late spring, making for mellower paddling–especially across open water. Still, be prepared for 80- to 90-degree temps, sometimes as high as triple digits. Get the day’s paddling done early.
Put in near the town of Agua Verde (warning: the road is burly), then paddle south. First night: Camp at Punta Puerte Prieta, a tucked-away, nook. Second night: Crash on the beach near Los Burros, a tiny fishing village (read: a couple shacks and a panga). Get up early and paddle 3 miles out to Isla San Jose, then spend three days exploring inlets (be sure to snorkel on the greener, angel-fishier east side). Make your way 25 miles back to Agua Verde over the next few days. Camp wherever you find secluded beaches, and bring all your own drinking water.
Fly into Loreto, about 35 miles north of the put-in, or La Paz (60 miles away)–where you can rent boats and gear and get permits for Isla San Jose at Mar y Aventuras (kayakbaja.com). They also do guided trips.
Life List: Yukon
Traverse the Yukon Territory’s Tombstone Range
Step 1: Practice Winter Mountaineering
Up in the Yukon, passes often stay icy until the end of July, which means you’ll need to bring an ice axe and crampons–and know how to use them. Brush up on your snow skills with the American Alpine Institute (mtnguide.com). Choose from six 4-day courses ($790) in the Sierra Nevada and Colorado’s San Juan Mountains from January to March.
Step 2: Navigation Know-How
Buy a GPS. Figure out how to use it. Go to backpacker.trimbleoutdoors.com/backpacker/usinggps.aspx for reviews, FAQs, and jargon.
Step 3: Learn Wilderness First Aid
If you need help in the Yukon, you better be able to help yourself. You’ll be off-trail in truly wild country much of the time. Take a three-day, advanced wilderness first-aid class before heading out. nols.edu/wmi, soloschools.com, or wildmed.com
Step 4: Late May – Scale Mt. Shasta
Everyone needs a starter peak, and this 14,162-foot summit is one of the best, thanks to the steep, beginner-friendly route up Avalanche Gulch (allow two days). Climb it after winter storms have subsided–but before the snowpack melts to expose unstable scree. Get weather and avy info at shastaavalanche.org.
You’d have to commit a serious crime to find more solitude. At times, you’ll be sure–in a good way!–that it’s just you and the grizzlies. Tombstone Park is a transition zone between boreal forest and Arctic tundra, where you’ll find a huge variety of plants and animals. Plus, it almost out-Patagonias Patagonia: think granite pinnacles and and hanging valleys, not to mention pingos (dome-shaped hills pushed up by freezing groundwater) and palsas (oval depressions with ice lenses).
Snow is mostly melted by July (though it can dump any time of year). In late June, wildflowers start to peak down low, where you’ll see dozens–if not hundreds–of different flowers. Passes may be icy, so bring an axe and crampons just in case.
The classic trip begins at kilometer 58 on the Dempster Highway. Take the steep, marked trail 7 miles to Grizzly Lake. Side trips from here include Perilous Pass (about 1.5 miles one way). Then hike over Glissade Pass to Divide Lake, crossing tundra–there’s no maintained trail. Continue three more miles over Tombstone Pass to Talus Lake. Camp here; spend the next day hiking to the base of Tombstone Mountain (few climb it; it’s steep, with brittle rock). Backtrack to Divide Lake to camp. Hike out via the North Klondike Valley, an 8.7-mile trip to the Tombstone Campground with a half-dozen creek crossings en route.
Nuts and Bolts
Fly into Whitehorse (330 miles from the park) or Dawson City (68 miles). Free camping permits are required to stay at Grizzly, Divide, and Talus Lakes; reserve them at email@example.com. Bear canisters are a must.