Walks on the Wild Side

Exploring the most enchantingly rugged places on earth is easy. Just follow our guide to the world's ten classic treks, put one foot in front of the other—and don't forget to take it slow.

Waking dream: above the clouds on the Milford Track, New Zealand     Photo: Richard Hamilton Smith

The exhilaration of the moment still resonates with me: After three days of airplanes, buses, Nairobi hotels, and jeeps juddering along dirt tracks, we arrived at the end of the road—a place called Chogoria, on the lower flanks of Mount Kenya. My fellow trekkers and I laced up our boots, shouldered our daypacks, and strolled off into the African wilderness. I breathed in great draughts of cool mountain air as my leg muscles unwound. The sun warmed my face through a sharp blue sky.

Forgive the hyperbole, but to me, trekking is a very good approximation of heaven on earth. I love the sense of going somewhere, of a journey to a destination rather than a mere aimless wander. I love the remote landscapes and the local people going about their regular business. I love the walking, the mindless putting of one foot in front of the other. I love the utter distance from my normal life.
"Trek" is an old word. It comes from South Africa, an Afrikaans word that meant a journey by ox wagon. But commercial trekking is not even as old as the Beatles. What's considered to have been the world's first commercially guided trek commenced on February 25, 1965, when three Midwestern women—a pediatrician, a retired bacteriologist, and a school superintendent—set off on foot from Panchkhal, Nepal, bound for the Tengboche Monastery near Mount Everest. They walked for 35 days and 150 miles, accompanied by three Sherpa guides, nine porters, and Colonel Jimmy Roberts, a retired British Indian Army officer who had wrangled permission from the king of Nepal to walk through areas previously off-limits to foreigners. The women paid $450 each. Roberts's trekking operation eventually morphed into Mountain Travel Nepal, one of the first adventure-travel companies, and an industry was born. Today an estimated 150,000 trekkers a year stream through Nepal alone.

The comic-stripswamp trekker Pogo Possum once lamented that he was "confronted with insurmountable opportunities." He could well have been talking about the vast array of treks and outfitters available today. Some routes, such as New Zealand's Milford Track and Patagonia's Torres del Paine Circuit, are easy enough to navigate independently. On others, including Bhutan's famed High Lunana Trek and Inner Dolpo in Nepal, guides are mandatory. But they all lead deep into unfamiliar places and far from the habits of home. We've chosen ten classic treks—some famous, some soon to be—as starting points: Think of them as the tips of the icebergs, the peaks rising out of the clouds. (Eleven others can be found in Outside Books' new adventure-travel title Trekking, to be published this month by W.W. Norton and from which many of these routes are excerpted.) If you're having trouble deciding—Pakistan or Peru, Kilimanjaro or Kailas, Dhaulagiri or the Dolomites—put your list on the wall and throw a dart. You can't miss. —David Noland

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