Ultimate Adventure Bucket List
Wingsuit Fly off the Eiger
“Eiger” translates to “ogre” in German, which seems a fitting moniker for the 13,000-foot (3,962-meter) beast of limestone, gneiss, shale, and ice that towers over the resort town of Grindelwald in the Swiss Alps. Its unpredictable weather, loose rock, and steep slopes have claimed the lives of more than 60 climbers, and yet its iconic 5,905-foot (1,800-meter) north face still proves irresistible. Now a new set of adventurers, wingsuit fliers, are not only climbing it but launching off it. Dean Potter (pictured) clinched the most heralded descent in 2009: After free soloing up the north face, he stepped into thin air for a four-mile, 9,000-vertical-foot (2,743-vertical-meter) flight that took two minutes and 50 seconds. The extreme sport is unquestionably one of the most dangerous on Earth, but perhaps that’s the allure: It’s the closest humans can get to true unadulterated flight.
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Himalaya, Nepal, China
Ever since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first proved in 1953 that standing atop the world’s tallest peak was possible, the mountain has been synonymous with challenge and adventure. Now, each spring, despite the storms, avalanche hazard, bitter cold, and challenging technical climbing, dozens of people–from 13-year-olds to the blind and amputees–clamor to reach the summit and clinch a new record. Despite the hubbub, the mountain remains the pinnacle of mountaineering achievements, and standing on the top is indeed, quite literally, standing on top of the world.
Surf Big Waves at Shipsterns Bluff
On the far southern coast of Tasmania, jutting into one of the Earth’s most unpredictable and tempestuous seas, lies a point break so remote and isolated it’s reachable only by boat or an hour-long wilderness trek. This is Shipsterns Bluff, a cold and dangerously unpredictable break where waves start crashing at eight feet (two meters) but can top 20 feet (six meters). The waves’ characteristic steps trip even expert surfers–recently such as Kelly Slater and Ryan Hipwood (pictured)–and swing perilously close to rock fields, but the rush of lassoing the goliath of all waves beneath the coast’s dwarfing black cliffs keeps surfers returning. “The scariest part is seeing the wave and committing to catching it,” says local surfer Charles Ward. “But once committed, it all tends to feel surreal and I forget about everything except what’s right in front of me.”
Hike the Triple Crown
The length of the United States’ three longest trails combined–nearly 7,700 miles (12,391 kilometers)–is enough to stretch nearly a third of the way around the globe, which might explain why fewer than a hundred people have clinched this Triple Crown. Walking the Pacific Crest, Appalachian, and Continental Divide Trails generally takes years and multiple pairs of boots, as hikers hoof over some of the country’s grandest features, from the Appalachians to the Rockies and Cascades. But the payoff is a rare intimate knowledge of unfathomably diverse and wild parts of the country. Between the Atlantic and Pacific, hikers take in wave-battered coastlines, primordial forests, snowcapped peaks, volcanoes, rain forests, the otherworldly geology of the desert, and, above us all, huge skies that change like moods, such as this one above Bishop Pass in California’s Sierra Nevada.
Karakoram Range, China, Pakistan
In comparison to Everest, K2–the world’s second tallest mountain at 28,251 feet (8,611 meters)–is more remote, has more unpredictable weather, and is statistically more deadly. Naturally that makes it one of the world’s most coveted prizes for top pro ski mountaineers, who in recent years have raced to tag the summit and jump-turn back down. Still, the hazards are fierce: furious winds, avalanches, and inadvertent falls are just the start. American high-altitude ski guide Dave Watson (pictured) skied from 820 feet (250 meters) below the summit in 2009 and Swedish mountaineer Fredrik Ericsson died trying in 2010. The full feat has yet to be accomplished.
Free Climb Yosemite’s El Capitan
California, United States
Two times the height of New York City’s Empire State Building, El Capitan towers over California’s Yosemite Valley like a fortress. It was precisely this taunting impressiveness that lured early climbers and established Yosemite as the birthplace of climbing in the United States. One of the most storied routes is The Nose, a beautiful schnoz of rock that has become a prize for avid climbers. Warren Harding’s first ascent of the route took 45 days in 1958, and Lynn Hill cemented her legendary status with the first free climb, previously thought impossible, in 1993. Now, speed climbers race up it in hours, but most mortals take between three and five days to sweat up the 30-plus pitches of up to 5.14. They come for the hard granite, some of the most beautiful cracks in the world, and, perhaps most of all, to follow in the footsteps of legends.
Cross the Sahara Desert
The world’s great sea of sand, the Sahara Desert, stretches 3.3 million square miles (8.5 million square kilometers) across North Africa, nearly 3,000 miles (4,838 kilometers) long from the Atlantic to the Red Sea. A great challenge, it has lured many explorers, who have braved dust storms, hostile tribes, thirst, and intolerable heat to experience a frontier of epic proportions. Nowadays, the bravest of adventurers cross it on foot, camel, or 4-by-4 vehicles, outfitted with plenty of emergency survival gear, but there is still little help out there if something goes wrong. Only a handful of outposts and nomads punctuate the dunes, and explorers can go days without seeing anyone or anything but desert.
Set a New Kayak Waterfall Record
Washington, United States
Attempting a new waterfall record in a kayak requires a lot of scouting, an acceptance that you’ll probably get at least a little hurt, and, perhaps most important, an unquestionable belief in one’s own immortality. And yet, in recent years, waterfalls have proven an irresistible, if dangerous, frontier for young-gun pro kayakers seeking eternal bragging rights. “The motivating factor for all of this was just that I thought it was possible,” says Tyler Bradt, who clinched the record in 2009 with a 3.7-second freefall over 186-foot (57-meter) Palouse Falls in eastern Washington (pictured). “I wanted to do it, I guess, because I can.”
Descend Into an Active Volcano
Vanuatu, South Pacific
As a general rule, lava is best seen from a great distance. That is, of course, unless you’re a group of daredevils who, led by Kiwi adventurer Geoff Mackley, descended 640 feet (195 meters) into Vanuatu’s Marum Volcano to witness the explosive bowels of the Earth firsthand in 2010. The resulting video, in which a man in a heatproof suit came within 300 feet (91 meters) of a viciously boiling lake of lava, went viral. It’s pretty clear that live volcanoes are unpredictable and their craters offer all sorts of inhospitable challenges: toxic gas, extreme heat, tumbling rocks, and unwarranted explosions. Just because it’s insane doesn’t mean that it’s impossible.
Climb, Swim, or Surf the Poles
In an age of dwindling frontiers, seeking new territory to explore has spurred more adventurers to the extremes of the Earth–and in particular, the Poles. In recent years, a six-person expedition explored the huge winter waves off Norway’s Lofoten Islands by surfboard (pictured), cold-water swimmer Lewis Gordon Pugh freestyled a kilometer across the North Pole in nothing more than a Speedo, and pro skier Chris Davenport took a team of athletes to ski unnamed peaks in Antarctica. These are places where an explorer must chart his or her own course and goals. What drives them is something immaterial. Perhaps it’s the thrill of braving some of the world’s coldest places, the heady feeling of isolation, or simply the innate human love for accomplishing what hasn’t been done before.
Ski the Hahnenkamm Downhill Race
Nowadays, liability lawyers would never let a race like the Hahnenkamm Downhill happen. But in 1931 race organizers paid no heed to potential lawsuits when they created what would become arguably the most hair-raising downhill course on the planet. Over two miles, the run drops 2,800 vertical feet (853 vertical meters) with gradients of up to 85 percent and off-camber turns that buck even the toughest racers. Those who stay upright have been clocked speeds up to 87 miles an hour (140 kilometers an hour). Of course, qualifying is one of the hardest parts–the race now attracts the world’s top skiers–but spectating is an extreme sport unto itself. Some 85,000 Swiss and Austrian fans, waving flags, blowing horns, and ringing cowbells, crowd the course and, come evening, compete for beer in one of Austria’s most storied winter bacchanals.
Megatransect the Amazon
Despite its obvious perils–from jungle-borne diseases to leeches, jaguars, baseball-size tarantulas, and prehistoric river creatures–the Amazon has attracted a who’s who of luminous adventurers, such as Percy Fawcett, Theodore Roosevelt, and, of course, Indiana Jones. It continues to do so today: Brit Ed Stafford, who finished his more than 4,000-mile (6,437-kilometer) trek along the length of the mighty river in 2010, was the most recent. Nowadays, it’s perhaps not so much the lure of Inca treasure or the lost city of El Dorado that draws adventurers, but the promise of pure adventure that lies in one of the last great frontiers.
Climb the Seven Summits
Humans are perhaps the only species that self-impose challenges, and standing at the highest point on every continent, such as Russia’s Mount Elbrus (pictured), has long been a coveted one to conquer. Accomplishing this requires serious mountaineering skills, time, money, and guts. But those who succeed share the honor with a few hundred people, depending on which seven peaks you consider the highest, which is debated with regard to Oceania. Still, since the first titles were clinched by Dick Bass and Pat Morrow in 1985 and 1986, respectively, the Seven Summits have attracted climbers from all walks: 17-year-olds and 73-year-olds, skiers and climbers, Japanese and Latvians, Kuwaitis and Chileans. Perhaps the lure of mountains is indeed universal.
Dive the Blue Holes
When vacationing divers dip into the upper levels of Bahamas’ blue holes–flooded inland caves formed originally from limestone–to take a look around, they are unwittingly close to some of the world’s most dangerous diving. Farther below lies a kingdom of passageways that holds fossils and ancient formations. The very few who pass through the layer of toxic gas to reach these lower levels find pinhole passageways where a technical failure or wrong turn could spell doom and one errant fin could obliterate 10,000-year-old rock structures. But those who do venture into the watery veins of the Earth discover whole ballrooms full of tightly packed stalactites, prehistoric human remains, and fossils of now extinct crocodiles and tortoises. These caves are, quite literally, another world.
Road Bike from Alaska to Argentina
Between Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay and Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego, there’s some 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers) of highway, two of the world’s steepest mountain ranges, and more than a dozen countries. Biking such a distance takes upwards of two years, making it not so much a trip but a lifestyle. The challenges are formidable, from flat tires in remote areas and wild South American drivers to long, lonely stretches of Alaskan highway. But the upshot is that riders gain an intimate knowledge of scenery across North and South America, from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia (pictured), and meet a remarkable diversity of people along the way. “I knew this challenge would be tough, I knew I would see incredible places. I knew I would experience fear, sadness, loneliness and sometimes delirious happiness,” wrote Dominic Gill, who rode a tandem, picked up passengers, and filmed his experience for the documentary Take a Seat. “What I didn’t expect was to have my faith in humanity so massively reinforced over two years of trusting in people.”
Solo Sail Around the World
Magellan didn’t at first intend to circumnavigate the planet; He was simply looking for a shortcut to the Spice Islands. Now the journey is taken in its own right, and, most recently, by a growing number of teenagers competing for the title of youngest solo circumnavigator. Still, the seas are just as tempestuous as they were centuries ago, with the ever present danger of unexpected storms and 100-foot (38-meter) rogue waves capable of snapping masts like crostini. Done alone, the experience verges on spiritual, offering an intimate understanding of the true vastness of the world and the minuteness of our humanly existence. That is perhaps why a successful solo sail feels less like a conquest and more like an allowance of passage by the grace of the sea.
Swim With Great White Sharks
Thanks to the Jaws movie franchise, entire generations of otherwise adventurous people mortally fear great white sharks. Except for a few brave souls, that is, who have swum with them cageless and unharmed, such as adventurer Jeb Corliss, whose team is pictured off Mexico. Those few have figured out that even though the apex predators are some of the world’s largest sharks, humans aren’t their natural prey. “We swim less than a foot away and it just passes by,” says Amos Nachoum, a big-animal photographer who runs trips to see megafauna in the wild. Swimming with great whites takes patience, vigilance, the humility to retreat quickly, and, perhaps above all, guts. But, says Nachoum, “it is a spiritual experience. It’s the unbearable lightness of being, seeing the beauty of such a creature.”
Run the Mont Blanc Circuit Ultramarathon
France, Italy, Switzerland
Running 100 miles (161 kilometers) anywhere could be called superhuman, but the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc between France, Italy, and Switzerland adds a few mind-fraying twists to the challenge. Be prepared for more than 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) of total climbing, hour-long scrambles up dishwasher-size boulders, and knee-busting descents. But there are reasons runners keep going; among them, the views of Mont Blanc and heartening cheers from villagers at every turn. “At the finish, they were stacked six people deep on the fence lines, leaning in, taking pictures, high-fiving,” says Seattle-based runner Krissy Moehl, who won the women’s division in 2003 and 2009. “I felt like a baseball or football star.”
Paddle the Bashkaus River
Even in a land known for extremes, Siberia’s Bashkaus River stands out. In a remote backwater near Mongolia, it tumbles 32 feet (8 meters) per mile for 130 miles (209 kilometers). (By comparison, the Colorado River drops eight feet (2 meters) per mile through the Grand Canyon.) The gradient churns up a maelstrom of rarely run rapids, jagged rocks, and traps known as siphons, all sandwiched between stunning but inescapable gorge walls. “It was the toughest and most rewarding experience that I have ever been through,” says pro kayaker Sam Sutton, part of a 2010 Adidas-sponsored expedition (pictured). Of the few who attempt it, those who succeed reach the fabled riverside memorial built for six expert kayakers who perished there in 1976. Inside lies the Book of Legends, inscribed with the names of those who’ve faced one of the world’s most difficult rivers–and lived to tell the tale.
Complete the Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race
The Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race is much more of an expedition than a race. Often stretching more than 350 miles (563 kilometers), it takes teams of four up to ten days to travel through some of the roughest and most remote corners of Patagonia. Here, there are no topographical maps, and racers use satellite images to navigate as they trek, climb, mountain bike, and kayak on a course that changes every year. The clock never stops and many teams net just a few hours of sleep. But along the way, they see places few humans have seen: skyrocketing peaks in the Torres del Paine, vast expanses of the Southern Continental Ice Field, and the raw, turbulent waters off notorious Cape Horn.