A jet and helicopter can get you just about anywhere quickly; remoteness isn't about mere distance. It's about removal. A truly wild locale swallows you whole. It's a place where you are least likely to run into some clod yakking on a cell phone. It's a place where the locals have no idea what a cell phone is. Maybe it's a place where there are no locals at all.
The Sonoran Desert
Plenty of Nothing
The phrase "lush desert" may reek of oxymoron, but in springtime the Sonoran—with its massive saguaros and organ-pipe cacti, as well as Mexican gold poppies, magenta owl clover, and indigo desert lupine—is just that. Motor down dusty, rarely visited roads into Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, just north of the Mexico border in Arizona, and then backpack three miles farther. Take day hikes from base camp into the Ajo and Bates Mountains, checking water holes for desert bighorn, Sonoran pronghorn, and javelina. Then head to the even more desolate, sparsely vegetated Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge to finish off your Abbey-esque week. "The silence and purity of this place is what people are looking for," says guide Howie Wolke. Fortunately for you, few people look for them so hard that they end up this deep in the desert.
Outfitter: Big Wild Adventures, 406-821-3747, www.bigwildadventures.com
When to Go: March
Bhutan: Trekking Lunana in Northern Bhutan
Nostalgic for pre-1950 Tibet? Lunana—a region of northern Bhutan that sees fewer than 75 Westerners per year—is your place. Hike five to 15 miles a day for 28 days, passing through lowland jungles en route to Laya, a mountain village close to the Tibetan border, and encounter nomadic shepherds and villagers dwelling in stone huts. Then leave humankind in the dust to travel eastward, crossing 15,000- to 17,000-foot passes beneath craggy peaks, including the world's tallest unclimbed mountain, 24,900-foot Gangkhar Puensum.
Outfitters: Geographic Expeditions, 415-922-0448, www.geoex.com; High Asia Exploratory Mountain Travel Co., 800-809-0034, www.highasia.com; Karakoram Experience, 800-497-9675, www.keadventure.com; Snow Lion Expeditions, 800-525-8735, www.snowlion.com
When to Go: September–October
Alaska: Rafting the Kennicott, Chitina, and Copper Rivers
Blast down the frothy Kennicott River and then float 150 miles in 12 days of the ever-widening Chitina and Copper Rivers along the western border of the Wrangell–St. Elias National Park, home to eagles, elk, grizzlies, and the 16,000-foot peaks of the Wrangell and St. Elias ranges. For a finale, watch skyscraper-size ice chunks calving from Child Glacier from a safe distance across the river about five miles from the Pacific; then dodge floating bergs all the way to the sea.
Outfitter: Too-loo'-uk River Guides, 907-683-1542, www.akrivers.com
When to Go: July
Mongolia: Fly-Fishing Northern Mongolia
During the course of 13 days, you'll cast into four wide rivers—the Chuluut, Soumin, Shishgid, and Tengis—for lenok (similar to North American browns), taimen (imagine a salmon-anaconda hybrid), and Arctic grayling. At night, sleep in heated domedgers on plains that evoke western Montana—sans ranchettes, ski trams, and fences. If you're lucky, nomads will visit to share their blowtorch-roasted, tuber-filled marmot.
Outfitter: Boojum Expeditions, 406-587-0125, www.boojum.com
When to Go: August–September
Argentina: Backpacking the Patagonian Ice Cap
Spend 12 days backpacking over windy passes to get to and from the rolling glacial ridges of southern Argentina's Patagonian Ice Cap. Once there, you'll spend two days covering 20 miles of the 350-mile-long glacier, the world's largest nonpolar ice cap, where the weather is notoriously inclement (even though the altitude tops out at a mere 4,000 feet), with high winds and, as a result, horizontal snow. When the sky clears, you'll discover 11,000-foot peaks surrounding the glacier and backside views of the massive granite monoliths Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.
Outfitters: Exum Mountain Guides, 307-733-2297, www.exumguides.com; Mountain Travel–Sobek, 510-527-8100, www.mtsobek.com; Expedicion Argentina, 011-541-14781-1429
When to Go: December–February