Payoff Want to live utterly in the moment? You could spend years learning to meditate, or you could spend seconds clinging to a rock face thousands of feet in the air. Up there, life is distilled to colors, scents, sounds—and the occasional joyous whoop. And even beginners can feel it on a via ferrata (iron cables and ladders bolted to rocks, which you clip into with a harness and ’biner). I’ve been climbing for 20 years, and thought it would be tame by comparison. Wrong. The exposure is real, but so is the safety. —Michael Lanza
Do it Italy’s 75-mile Alta Via 1, which winds through the sky-stabbing spires of the Dolomites. The eight- to 10-day trip starts near Lago di Braies, then roller coasters south over pink limestone ridges—with about 2,500 feet of elevation change a day. Sleep in alpine huts called refugios. Highlight: the Via Ferrata del Marmol, a sheer, 2,000-foot scramble. Go late June to late September; avoid August’s crowds.