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Backpacker Magazine – October 2012

Killer Trips: Gravity

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

by: Kelly Bastone

Angels Landing Trail (photo by Carlo Acenas/Tandem)
Angels Landing Trail (photo by Carlo Acenas/Tandem)

[poor footing]
Rattlesnake Ledge Trail, Rattlesnake Mountain Scenic Area, WA
The hike
Rarely does such little effort yield such great rewards. Climbing 1,160 feet over two miles, the Rattlesnake leads to a lofty outcrop floating above Rattlesnake Lake with cloud-nine views of hulking Mt. Si and the turquoise waters below. From the Rattlesnake Lake trailhead, the path hugs the shoreline for a quarter-mile before shifting into stair-step mode. Switchbacks tame the ascent through thick forests of Noble firs and pines. Emerge from the forest at mile 1.4 to a walloping panorama of lakes rimmed by towering peaks.

The risk Snakes are the least of your worries. A 15-foot-deep fissure slices through Rattlesnake Ledge and has trapped scenery-drunk hikers. Plus, the rock itself is a crumbly mix of basalt and granite. “It’s like walking on BB’s,” attests King County SAR member Scott MacColman, who’s helped to rescue (or recover) the nine hikers who have lost their footing and tumbled off Rattlesnake Ledge in the past 10 years. “Once you start to slide,” cautions MacColman. “There’s nothing stopping you for 600 feet.” (360) 825-1631;

[knife edge]
Angels Landing Trail, Zion NP, UT

Wear sticky soles on this 2.3-mile ascent of a blade-like ridge to airy Angels Landing. Enjoy panoramas of golden cliffs and towers, but don’t stumble: You’ll freefall 1,000 feet. (435) 772-3256;; Trip ID 570825

Chimney Top Trail, Red River Gorge NRA, KY

The hike to this cliff edge and its center-balcony view of lumpy 10-foot-long Half Moon Arch is easy (just .3 mile one way) and fast. But the Wiley Coyote way down is even faster, should you get cocky on the 600-foot knob—it shoots like a gangplank into space. (606) 784-6428;

Hermit and Boucher Trails, Grand Canyon NP, AZ

Two of the Big Ditch’s most adventurous routes present a serious hazard: These elevator-shaft-steep trails pass through the crumbly Supai formation, where ever-shifting boulders obscure the routes, challenge your footing, and provide evidence of the canyon’s continued erosion. (928) 638-7875;

[sheer face]
Half Dome, Yosemite NP, CA

Even with a permit process that thins crowds, the cables route up Half Dome still serves up vertigo-inspiring exposure and a potential fall of 400 feet. (209) 372-0200;; Trip ID 60564

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