LEAVE THE ROAD, TAKE THE TRAILS 10 Hiking Trails That Must Be On Your Bucket List
He is the original Rough Rider, the first president to win a Medal of Honor and the only man to make the name Theodore desirable. Yes, I’m looking at you, Teddy Roosevelt. An enthusiast of the wilderness, Roosevelt knew of the restorative power of nature.
It’s Valentine’s Day 1884 and Theodore is 25. In that day’s span, death claimed his wife and mother. I don’t care how many notches are carved into your bed-post, that sh*t is going to hurt. Being the man he was, Roosevelt finished his current stint as a New York State Representative then dropped everything to move out west. He spent three years in the Badlands of North Dakota, where he indulged in such grit-inducing activities as cattle ranching, boat-thief wrangling and bear hunting--Grizzlies, to be specific. Later on in life he would proclaim, “I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota."
Now, I’m a son of civilization like the rest of y’all. The most dangerous things in my daily life involve either burning my tongue on fresh hot coffee or getting into a car wreck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. As men, we love wild things; experiences that get us in trouble and make us feel like we still have a couple of rocks hanging between our legs. And after all, what is wilder than nature?
Roosevelt understood this about the wilderness. He knew that our roots can only grow in forests and outbacks, and that the feeling of freedom one gets when stepping on to a trail is not the same as the feeling gained among the trees in the park where you walk your dog. To be alone in nature with nothing but a pack on your back to keep you alive…that is wild. When you are miles from the nearest roads without a cell-phone signal--if that is even still possible--and the thought enters your mind that you might die out here: This is the wild we seek.
So, check out these wilderness walks and get primitive. And while you’re out there keep these words from Ted in mind; “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.”
APPALACHIAN TRAIL // U.S.
It’s the AT. The Catalina f***kin' Wine Mixer of hikes. We’ve all heard of it, whether reading about a certain Olympic bomber, Bill Bryson’s bear-centric book, or hearing about it from that college buddy who nixed Spring semester to hike it. This triple crown trail treads through fourteen states and two national parks. Challenges along this well-worn footpath include the bloodsuckers of New England[mosquitoes], the hundred-mile wilderness in Maine and that nagging voice in the back of your head telling you to stop. After walking 2,200 miles try not to feel a sense of accomplishment as you stand atop Mount Katahdin and reflect on your newly shucked oyster.
PACIFIC CREST TRAIL // U.S.
The Tupac to the East Coast’s Appalachian, this trail skirts the left coast of the states. Starting from the south, you only have seven hundred miles of desert left to cover before reaching the Sierra Nevada. When you get to Kennedy Meadows, break out the ice axes and crampons for the High Sierra snow fields. Keep trekking and you’ll switch to the rocky spine of the Cascades, a range of mountains and volcanoes. It’s okay, they’re still sleeping. This trail is far lonelier than its eastern counterpart, but wider due to it being mostly horse path. In 2,659 miles, and four to six months, you’ll find yourself breathing easy in British Columbia.
CONTINENTAL DIVIDE TRAIL // U.S.
The Belmont Stakes, the forgotten trail, the red-headed step child of the Triple Crown hikes. [Be cool now, I’m a ginger.] Only two hundred people a year even attempt this 3,100-mile hike from Mexico to Canada. This is also the longest and most difficult of three. Mainly cattle paths and dirt roads, this track is still being defined. Also, being the Continental Divide, you can take part in the glory that is America’s backbone. As you trek North, let flow to the right and you’ll fill the Atlantic Ocean and to the left will increase the sea-level of the Pacific. Given California’s current drought, they probably need the liquid more.
TE ARAROA // NEW ZEALAND
If you didn’t know any better, you might think The Lord of the Rings films were nothing more than a bunch of dudes in capes walking around New Zealand. So, live it up hobbit-style while tramping--the Kiwi word for hiking--this trail through the land of the long white cloud. Te Araroa roughly translates to “The Long Pathway”, but don’t judge the country by their trail naming skills. Views along the path speak for themselves as you walk between mountains, rain forests and volcanoes. In the 1,864 miles, from Cape Reinga to Bluff, trampers will have to ford 60 rivers [hopefully, not whilst being pursued by Ring Wraiths] and cross beaches that are only passable at low tide.
THE SULTANS TRAIL // ISTANBUL TO VIENNA
This is what you get when you combine a cheap European backpacking trip with world domination – at least, if your name was Suleiman the Magnificent. Follow in the footsteps of one of the world’s greatest leaders as he led an army from Istanbul [not Constantinople] to conquer Vienna. Although Suleiman never captured the Austrian capital, you can still celebrate the end of your 1,400-mile journey by listening to the bells of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The instruments are molded from the iron of Ottoman cannons. The distance is the only challenging element of this hike through fourteen of Europe’s lesser-travelled countries. For a wilder hike, take a detour through the Carpathian Mountains.
TORRES DEL PAINE FULL-CIRCUIT TRAIL // CHILE
The Andes, man! They’re the second tallest mountain range in the world. Coming in for South America, this isn’t the Inca Trail. Everyone hikes the Inca trail. This eight-day course will take you through Patagonia, across the southern steppe, through burnt birch tree forests and past colossal grey glaciers. The full-circuit trail also takes you around the entire park and guarantees that intimacy you crave with the Patagonian wilderness. On your final day of camping you will get to witness the splendor of the sun rising on the granite towers that give the park their name. And if the weather is bad, well you can always come back.
DRAKENSBERG GRAND TRAVERSE // SOUTH AFRICA
A short canoe ride across the Atlantic will drop you off near this hike. Hell, it’s not even a hike, more-like eight checkpoints. Drakensberg translates in Afrikaans to Dragon’s Mountain, and your first checkpoint is climbing a steel ladder up to the top of Sentinel Peak. Why a ladder? Because it’s a sheer cliff face! Your next seven checkpoints along the 136-mile traverse involve summiting seven of the highest peaks in South Africa as you watch the entire African continent drop off five-thousand beneath you. Each night you’ll have the choice to sleep along the escarpment or cozy up in a cave. Bonus: Keep an eye out for 40,000-year-old cave art.
SNOWMAN TREK // BHUTAN
Bhutan? Where the hell is that? Close to Nepal, this country is landlocked by China. But in this part of the world you are more cut off by the Himalayas than any repressive government. Did I say that? Although only 221 miles, this adventure takes almost a month to complete, mainly because the lowest point on this trek is still at 9,000 ft. The trail winds through eight Himalayan passes beneath the mountain range that claims nine of the world’s ten highest peaks. From Himalayanexpeditions.com, because I’ve never been there, “Bhutan has an aura of authenticity which engages your heart and mind while trekking.” Oh, and your lungs too.
GREAT WALL OF CHINA [WILDERNESS WALL] // CHINA
Most of us ‘Muricans spent the better part of a childhood afternoon digging toward this ancient wonder of the world. Reaching from the Gobi Desert to the Yellow Sea, this landmark took more than 1,800 years to build. Saying that, this isn’t even a hike, it’s a nearly impossible journey. Only one non-Chinese man is known to have walked the entire wall, William Lindesay, and it only took him nine months, one bout of the plague, a deportation and nine arrests. How legal it is to hike the wild portions of the wall isn’t certain, but isn’t it always better to ask forgiveness than permission? If only I knew how to ask forgiveness in Chinese.
SHACKLETON’S ROUTE // ANTARCTICA
Besides the march of the penguins, what hike is there to complete at the bottom of the world? Only the toughest hike in the world. An expedition so difficult that the last man to try it, Henry Worseley, died. Granted, he attempted it alone and unassisted. Even the first duo to complete the 1,200 mile-long Shackleton Route without assistance, Cecile Skog and Ryan Waters, still had to call in an airdrop. If you do make it down to the great white desert, I suggest the far shorter route Shackleton took from his South Georgia landing point to the Stromness Whaling Station. Although it’s only 32 miles, you’re hiking in the footsteps of one of the last great explorers.