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Killer Trips: You

Our favorite high-risk, high-reward adventures in North America.

[summit fever]
Mt. Hood, OR
The hike
Rising to just 11,250 feet, Mt. Hood still looks plenty monstrous, thanks to its precipitous prominence high above the surrounding valleys. This dramatic topographic relief is a magnet for the summit-hungry—10,000 attempt it annually. Feeling the urge? Cut your teeth on the south slopes, which aren’t as technically demanding—from the Silcox Hut at 6,950 feet, it’s a straightforward climb to the Hogback (the saddle between Crater Rock and the summit). Catch your breath and regroup, then cross the omni-present bergschrund to the Pearly Gates, a steep, often rime-rimmed pitch to the peak, where the glacier-covered world drops beneath your boots.

The risk Hood shocks climbers with quick-moving, violent weather. But done-in-a-day routes make climbers feel they can beat the odds. Some feel they have invested too much planning and expense to call off their bid. Others, like Jarod Cogswell, simply underestimate the storms. He’d summited Hood 15 times before attempting the Leuthold Couloir in January 2003. “The forecast called for a slight chance of light rain in the afternoon, but our plan was to be off the mountain before then,” Cogswell explains.

Excellent climbing conditions (firm snow) lured the group upward despite the accumulating clouds. Once the storm closed in, iced-up goggles and milky skies made visibility too poor to backtrack, so they continued to the summit ridge where darkness trapped them—stoveless—amidst 60-mph winds and -40°F temperatures. Two feet of snow fell that night. They survived by building a snow cave, but Cogswell suffered frostbite on all fingers and his partner lost part of a thumb. Now, Cogswell serves on Portland Mountain Rescue, the same team that saved his group the following morning. Free permit required May 15-Oct. 15 and year-round on Hood’s south side; (503) 668-1700; fs.usda.gov/r6

[route planning]
The Maze, Canyonlands NP, UT

Few trails penetrate this labyrinth of sandstone fins, knobs, and interconnecting canyons—and that’s both the reward and the risk: Devising your own route (and staying found) through The Fins (a trailless zone north of Ernie’s Country) can uncover never-glimpsed arches. (435) 259-2652; nps.gov/cany

[fading trail]
The Kekekabic Trail, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, MN

Wilderness rules prohibit permanent trail markers, and riotous Northwoods vegetation often snuffs this lightly used, 38-mile trail, but heightened navigational senses make hikers more likely to spot resident moose and bear. (218) 626-4300; bwcaw.org

[outdated map]
Trout Peak, Kaniksu NF, ID

Trail #57 is easier to find on a map than on the ground—the faint switchbacks fade into a nest of recently-downed trees two miles into the five-mile (one-way) route. But huckleberries reward hikers in July and August, and the 5,226-foot summit feels like your own private island in the sky. (208) 443-2512; fs.fed.us/ipnf

[unprepared for the unexpected]
Tuckup Trail, Grand Canyon NP, AZ

Just getting to this Toroweap district trail demands sand-driving skills and spare tires (25 percent of visitors experience at least one flat), and the Tuckup Trail disappears after two miles. Payoff? Easy walking on one of the Grand’s rare patches of flat trail and its best pictograph panel, Shaman’s Gallery, at mile three. (928) 638-7875; nps.gov/grca

[impatience]
Appalachian Trail, Mt. Katahdin, Baxter SP, ME

Many northbound thru-hikers are so eager to snap their photo atop Katahdin that they brave wintry weather in ultralight summer gear. Sandal-shod pilgrims wearing grocery bags over naked toes are frighteningly common come October. (207) 723-5140; baxterstateparkauthority.com

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