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A Hiker's Guide To Surfing and Snorkeling

Use your backpacking skills at the best surfing, climbing, trail running, and even paragliding spots

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Run: There and back again–in all due hasteJay Heinrichs

A wise person once said that a full pack makes a hiker as gear-dependent as a scuba diver. My corollary goes something like this: A near-empty pack makes a hiker faster, tougher, and far more skillful.

“I hope it also gives you a sense of direction,” my wife said helpfully when I began experimenting with overnight trail runs 15 years ago.

I’m resistant to improvement, apparently. I still manage to get spectacularly lost and still whimper when I can’t locate a thick bed of pine needles. But I do rely more on skill than equipment now, I can go farther without bonking, and I’ve acquired a ruthlessness in packing (and a tolerance for energy-bar diets) that pays dividends on longer hikes, summit bids, and jet-lagged business trips. What’s more, with my light load I can move through the forest like a deer: swiftly, silently, almost effortlessly.

Surely the best thing about adventure running, though, is the chance to mess with time–both to stretch it and to shorten it. Once during a 2-day, 30-mile run through the Kinsmans in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, I stopped by a stream that flowed over round babyheads and discovered that if I gazed at the water for more than half an hour I could make the rocks move, or seem to. I stared until my legs fell asleep and then ambled on, having enjoyed a long siesta but still well within reach of camp.

Other times, I’ve left the house before dawn Saturday morning, zipped through as much of a mountain range by Saturday noon as I would in a full weekend of walking, and still made it home on Sunday before my teenage kids roused themselves. Some might scoff at my Peanut M&M dinners, bivy-sack accommodations, and quick-footed pace, but to put a backpacker’s spin on trail running is to declare that a compressed adventure is better than no adventure at all.

Harriman/Bear Mountain State Parks, NY

Just 35 crow miles from the Big Apple, these adjoining parks are not only a convenient outlet for jangled Tri-Staters, but also the perfect place to test your overnight running game. A 300-mile trail network offers endless loop opportunities, and numerous shelters let you leave the tent behind. A weekend is easily enough to cross the parks; add a day or two for a circuit that hits high ridges on either edge.

Guide: Harriman Trails, by William Myles ($17).

Contact: New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, (201) 512-9348;

Trinity Alps Wilderness, CA

Twelve lakes, six passes, three peaks. You can tag them all in 3 days on this 45-mile loop in northern California’s granite- and water-rich (but crowd-poor!) Trinity Alps. Start at the Big Flat trailhead, and connect the Caribou Trail with Stuart Fork, Deer Creek, and Swift Creek. Steep switchbacks and superb views of Mt. Shasta punctuate miles of flower-lush meadows that offer the finest in high-country running.

Guide: Hiking California’s Trinity Alps Wilderness, by Dennis Lewon ($19).

Contact: Shasta-Trinity National Forest, (530) 623 2121;

Timberline Trail, MT. Hood, OR

Mt. Rainier’s Wonderland Trail is a stellar trek, but this 41-mile, round-the-volcano route gets our nod as the better weekend adventure. In 2 days of running and hiking, or 3 days of vigorous walking, you’ll see plenty of wildlife (including black bear and elk), waterfalls, and wildflowers-and make it all the way around the mountain. Regular views of Hood’s distinctive summit and sprawling snow fields will ease the pain of 8,600 feet of elevation gain.

Guide:Backpacking Oregon, by Douglas Lorain ($17).

Contact: Mt. Hood National Forest, (888) 622-4822;

Climb: Go where the crowds are thinner than the air.Michael Lanza

When you crest the steep trail to Jackass Pass and see Pingora Peak for the first time, you feel like, well, a jackass. The granite pillar is one of the most stunning sights in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, but the sheer, clean walls look unclimbable. Pingora’s neighbors are equally intimidating: Warbonnet, Sharks Nose, Overhanging Tower, and Wolf’s Head are just a few of the 12,000-foot peaks that form the giant arc of walls known as Cirque of the Towers.

But stay a moment. You’ll soon see the scramble through boulders and billiard balls to the foot of Pingora’s South Buttress, then the easy, roped climb to a comfortable ledge just below the summit. From this perch, the Cirque makes sense; its vertical topography gels into a less foreboding symmetry. And you’ll love the exposure: 2,000 feet straight down, Lonesome Lake looks like a puddle, one you might hit with a well-aimed rock.

Tonight you’ll camp back in the valley, but your tent can wait. Linger in the sun, which shines brighter at this altitude, and feel the slow ebb of adrenaline as the excitement of scaling a big wall gives way to a mellower appreciation of high, hard-to-reach places. Out here, in the remote ranges where backpackers climb, the world is different–wild, unhurried, never crowded. It’ll take more than a rappel to get back to the parking lot, and that’s worth braying about.

Cirque of the Towers, Wind River Range, WY

This premier backcountry area offers routes of all difficulties, including several classics on 11,884-foot Pingora (the South Buttress is rated 5.6). Hike about 9 miles from the Big Sandy Campground trailhead, roughly 40 partly gravel road miles southeast of Boulder, WY. Black bears and marmots are notorious thieves here; hang food well.

Guide: Climbing and Hiking in the Wind River Mountains, by Joe Kelsey ($25).

Contact: Pinedale Ranger District, Bridger-Teton National Forest, (307) 367-4326; Washakie Ranger District, Shoshone National Forest, (307)


Wallface, Adirondack Mountains, NY

While many northeast cliffs lie a short walk from pavement, New York’s tallest wall rises an imposing 800 feet above Indian Pass, 6 miles into the mountains. And getting to its base requires a struggle through dense forest and around huge boulders-all part of the adventure of climbing Wallface. Several six- to seven-pitch routes ascend the broad cliff, including Mental Blocks (5.7), The Diagonal (5.8), and Pleasure Victim (5.11). The best camping is near Indian Pass.

Guide: Climbing in the Adirondacks-A Guide to Rock and Ice Routes, by Don Mellor ($25).

Contact: Adirondack Mountain Club, (518) 668-4447;

Prusik Peak, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

Even in the roof-of-the-world landscape of the Enchantment Lakes Basin-an alpine paradise of sweeping granite slabs, wildflower-strewn meadows, waterfalls, glaciers, and lakes strung together like pearls on a necklace–Prusik Peak steals your eye, its razor-sharp ridgelines culminating in a pointed summit. The six-pitch South Face (5.9+) and easier West Ridge (5.7) offer superb rock in an incomparable setting. Reserve a backcountry permit months in advance for this popular area.

Guide: Selected Climbs in the Cascades, vol. 1, 2nd edition, by Jim Nelson and Peter Potterfield ($27).

Contact: Leavenworth Ranger District, Wenatchee National Forest, (509) 548-6977;

Surfing: Killer swells without the crowds.Mike Harrison

For all its soulful, shoot-the-tube appeal, surfing has a real problem. Namely, the crowded lineups and “my wave” territorialism that pervades big-name breaks. But those with the will to walk have found a solution. From the Lost Coast of California to the shores of Assateague, intrepid surfers are poring over maps and lashing boards to backpacks.

Last summer, two friends and I packed into a remote headland in Hawaii’s Volcano National Park. Hiking by headlamp to avoid the blast-furnace heat of midday, we could see the pulsing orange glow of lava in the distance. At dawn, we awoke to a turquoise bay stacked with corduroy swell. And the nectar: no competition save a pod of spinner dolphins.

Paragliding: Space: The Final Frontier.Dan A. Nelson

The moment of addiction: I was floating over Washington’s Chuckanut Mountain, thousands of feet above the Pacific Northwest Trail, when a bald eagle glided in beside my wingtip. Together, we surfed thermals all the way to Sammish Bay.

Jumping off a cliff, even with a paraglider strapped to your back, will not be fully appreciated by your insurance agent. But you’d be surprised how quickly you can learn to fly and how easily you can take this sport hiking. Paragliders weigh as little as 30 pounds, and they pack small enough that ultralight aficianados are known to fly from camp to camp. Others dayhike into backcountry launch spots (check local regulations) to set sail from ridges and mountaintops.


Snorkeling: See what’s down under when you swim with the fishes.Jonathan Dorn

It’s one thing to catch a mess of salmon at a remote camp in southeast Alaska. It’s quite another to dive in wearing nothing but goggles so you can swim elbow to dorsal fin with hundreds of spawning fish. If you can get past the teeth, you’ll find that few experiences match the rush of mingling with a migrating herd.

For a few extra ounces in your pack, a mask and snorkel let you explore uncharted wilderness terrain. Dive a coastline for lobsters, mussels, and starfish. Follow the hidden curves of flooded canyons. Or just satisfy your curiosity for what lies beneath the surface of your favorite mountain lake.

How to Pack for Backcountry Skiing

Get to know the winter safety gear you need in your pack.