The Best Adventure Photography of 2017

Our top travel and adventure photography of the year

Photo: Scott Crady

Scott Crady

At Michigan’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Bridalveil Falls pours over 150-foot-high sandstone cliffs into Lake Superior. In the winter it freezes, attracting climbers willing to risk sketchy ice and a possible plunge into the half-frozen waves below. Crady and fellow Northern Michigan University student Joe Thill de­cided to brave the conditions last February. They set up anchors and rappelled down the cliff to the base, with a third friend belaying. Then Crady jugged back up his rope, better positioning himself to shoot Thill, who was scaling ice so thin that when his pick went in he was often sprayed by the still flowing falls. “Climbing above Superior, you’re up against the elements and getting battered by snow and ice blowing off the lake,” says the 21-year-old photographer. “It’s an awesome place to climb.”

The Tools: Canon 7D Mark II, Tokina 11–16mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 100, f/4, 1/2,000 second

Photo: Crystal Sagan

Crystal Sagan

The only way to get to backcountry outfitter CMH’s Galena Lodge, in British Columbia, is by boarding a helicopter at the end of a remote road in the Selkirk Mountains. Sagan, a writer and photographer in Boulder, Colorado, traveled there in March 2016 to send steep lines in the “mind-blowingly phenomenal” powder. Toward the end of a full day of laps, the warmer, stickier snow added a new challenge. Sagan captured her guide, Joshua Lavigne, as he made this steep section look effortless. “I never spend more than 30 seconds setting up a shot in the backcountry, because I want to ski,” she says. “But every turn and line at Galena was so stunningly beautiful that I couldn’t stop shooting.”

The Tools: Nikon D700, 20mm f/1.8 lens, ISO 800, f/10, 1/800 second

Photo: Matt Baldelli

Matt Baldelli

Baldelli and his friend Matthew Holmes traveled to Moab, Utah, in March 2015 for a few days of hurling off giant rock features with a parachute on their backs. The two had met a week earlier at a BASE-jumping class in Twin Falls, Idaho, and were eager to follow it up with a visit to one of the sport’s meccas. Dur­ing the trip they stopped at Looking Glass Rock, south of town. As Holmes climbed the arch to prepare, Baldelli tucked himself underneath it and captured his friend as he leaped from the edge. “I got back as far as I could to frame him in the arch,” Baldelli says. “It was a really cool perspective.”  

The Tools: Nikon D800, 16mm fish-eye lens, ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/2,000 second

Photo: Tal Roberts

Big Wood River, Idaho

Photograph by Tal Roberts

Photo: Mary McIntyre

Mary McIntyre

This cliff band in the Alta, Utah, backcountry is one of McIntyre’s favorite spots to shoot, but recent dry winters made it impossible to ski. In March, however, the powder returned. After a storm system dropped two feet of snow, McIntyre and skier Eric Balken, both Salt Lake City natives, spent a morning sending it. The 26-year-old photographer captured Balken as he did a backflip off a 60-foot cliff, landing with a poof. “It was a beautiful backdrop, but I wanted to simplify it to the rocks, the skier, and the sky,” she says. “I wanted to make people pause and be like, ‘Wait, what is this skier doing?’ ”

The Tools: Canon EOS 6D, 14mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 125, f/8, 1/1,000 second

Photo: Sergej Schatz

Sergej Schatz

Earlier this year, Schatz, a photographer based in Hamburg, spent two months hiking and camping around Tasmania. He arrived at the Bay of Fires, on the island’s northeast coast, in March. Clear skies and a low tide allowed for an uncharacteristically calm evening on the second day. As the sun set, the bay’s rocky shoreline put on a show, and the 27-year-old photographer set his camera on a tripod to catch himself jumping across the lichen-covered granite boulders. “The colors were changing all the time, from reds to oranges,” Schatz says. “It was stunning.” 

The Tools: Sony A7 II, 10–18mm f/4 lens, ISO 250, f/4, 1/50 second

Photo: Nicole Truax

Willamette National Forest, Oregon

Photograph by Nicole Truax

Photo: Geoff Coombs

Geoff Coombs

On a chilly February day, Coombs traveled four hours north of his home in Toronto to a narrow spit of land between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay called the Bruce Peninsula. Though the water was frozen 50 yards out, that didn’t deter the Canadian freediver and his friend Andrew Ryzebol, who put on thick wetsuits and dove in. After swimming beneath the ice, Coombs took out his camera to capture Ryzebol observing its underside. “It almost looks like outer space,” says the 25-year-old photographer, which is why he rotated the image 90 degrees. “I was trying to create a photo that gives a feeling of wonder and peace.” 

The Tools: Canon 6D, 24mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/400 second

Photo: Christin Healey

Christin Healey

To capture this shot of Hamnoy, a small fishing village in Norway’s Lofoten Islands, Healey traveled with a collapsible kayak 6,000 miles from her home in Boulder, Colorado, in July 2016. After she arrived on the scenic archipelago, the 32-year-old  photographer had to wait out a storm that had settled on the exposed landmass. When the weather system began to lift, her friend Matthew Eaton paddled out while Healey climbed up onto a nearby bridge to position herself. “I wanted to incorporate the landscape and show both old and new,” she says. “The kayak is subtle, but it makes the image a little different.”

The Tools: Canon 5D Mark III, 16–35mm lens, ISO 500, f/5.6, 1/200 second

Photo: Grant Gunderson

Nozawa Onsen, Japan

Photograph by Grant Gunderson

Photo: Seth Roberts

Seth Roberts

While planning a 300-mile group kiteboarding trip on Brazil’s northeast coast last winter, Roberts learned about some large inland lagoons in the desert landscape of Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, near the end of their route. With the initial voyage complete, the Richmond, Virginia, photographer convinced a few people from the group to continue into the park to surf the lagoons. They chose the largest—one mile long and 200 yards wide—where the wind was blowing best. Roberts hiked 50 feet up a nearby dune to get this shot. “I knew it would be killer,” he says. “It’s a pristine scene, with this water that shouldn’t be there among the dunes.”

The Tools: Canon 5D Mark III, 24mm f/1.4 lens, ISO 100, f/11, 1/500 second

Photo: Jesse Selwyn

Jesse Selwyn

Selwyn isn’t a professional photographer, but he and his wife, Keri, always bring a camera along on their weekend adventures. Last fall, the Grand Junction, Colorado, couple took a break from their hospital jobs and went to Pine Creek Canyon, in Utah’s Zion National Park, shortly after a late-summer monsoon had flooded it. Donning drysuits to protect against the cold, the Selwyns spent the morning rappelling down walls and swimming through chilly blue pools. Right before the canyon’s exit, Jesse leaned out from his anchor and snapped this photo of Keri on her final rappel. “It’s one of the most beautiful places we’ve been,” he says. 

The Tools: Sony A6000, 16mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 2,000, f/4, 1/200 second

Photo: Seth Warren

Sea of Cortez, Mexico

Photograph by Seth Warren

Photo: Donica Shouse

Donica Shouse

One morning last January, Shouse and her husband, Abraham, swam into the water off the west coast of the Big Island of Hawaii with a hydrofoil board and a camera. The couple, who own an adventure­production company on the island, employed an old trick to attract marine life: placing Hawaiian ti leaves, which are used to make hula skirts, on the board’s strut. Minutes later, a pod of spinner dolphins appeared to investigate. Shouse captured Abraham on the board as they approached and began to play with the leaves. “The dolphins were very curious,” Abraham says. “I’d never seen them surround us like that before.” 

The Tools: Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 15mm lens, ISO 800, f/11, 1/1,250 second

Photo: Jasper Gibson

Jasper Gibson

Gibson and a few friends stopped at Kolob Canyon in Zion National Park last year during a fall road trip through the Southwest. They headed to the 150-foot Namaste Wall, “one of the most aesthetic climb­ing areas there is,” Gibson says. While climber Wade Watts prepared to send the 5.12c ­Huecos Rancheros route, the 24-year-old photographer positioned himself on the other side of the 200-foot-wide canyon, then captured Watts about 30 feet up the rock. “I was trying to bring in the colors of the area,” he says. “They’re so gorgeous.”

The Tools: Sony A6000, 16–50mm f/3.5–5.6 lens, ISO 1,000, f/5.6, 1/30 second

Photo: Colton Stiffler

Earthquake Lake, Montana

Photograph by Colton Stiffler

Photo: Shane Grace

Shane Grace

Grace showed up at Pipeline, on ­Oahu’s North Shore, early one morning in January to shoot some of the best waves of the season. But he wasn’t satisfied staying on the beach. During a lunch break, he decided to rent a helicopter, which arrived a couple of hours before sunset. “The light was really good,” says the 23-year-old Oahu photographer. “There are often clouds on the horizon in the afternoon at Pipeline, so you don’t always get that golden light.” Right before he ran out of time, Grace spotted Hawaiian surfer Randall Paulson threading his way through a wave. Fighting the helicopter’s vibrations, he set up the shot and hoped for the best. “You can see the water blowing up behind him,” says Grace. “He negotiated that and made it look so effortless.”

The Tools: Nikon D810, 200–500mm f/5.6 lens, ISO 800, f/10, 1/2,000 second

Photo: Daniel Stewart

Daniel Stewart

Stewart and friends Christian Foster and Sam Butler spent 12 chilly days last winter kayaking the length of the Grand Canyon. On the second day of the 280-mile journey, the group reached a section of the Colorado River called the Roaring Twenties—ten miles of quick-fire rapids. The British Columbia photographer noticed the light on the river and pulled ashore to take a photo of Foster and Butler navigating the white­water. “It captures that feeling of being really small in this huge world,” Stewart says. 

The Tools: Nikon D810, 50mm f/1.4 lens, IS0 400, f/8, 1/1,250 second

Photo: Micky Wiswedel

Micky Wiswedel

Last December, Wiswedel and free-soloist Matt Bush traveled 45 minutes east of their homes in Cape Town, South Africa, to Paarl Mountain, a huge granite rock that’s popular with local climbers. The 39-year-old photographer rappelled down to Bush, who was nearly 300 feet in the air but still had one last pitch to go. “It was important to capture the height of the move and the distance to the ground,” Wiswedel says. “I wanted to show the perspective of being alone and vulnerable on the wall.”

The Tools: Sony a7R II, Canon L Series 16–35mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 320, f/3.5, 1/640 second 

Photo: Jesse Selwyn

Buckskin Gulch, Arizona 

Photograph by Jesse Selwyn

Photo: Charlie Munsey

Charlie Munsey

In January 2017, the largest winter storm in 22 years blanketed southern Washington. For kayakers Will Pruett, Russ Sturges, and Fred Norquist, that meant it was an ideal time to go paddling. They headed to the Little White Salmon River, a world-renowned Class V run that flows into the Columbia. Munsey, who lives ten miles away in White Salmon, followed the group, postholing 1,000 feet down to the river in waist-deep snow to position himself. He captured Pruett moments after he descended 30-foot Spirit Falls. “I just hoped one shot would come out that wasn’t blurry,” he says.

The Tools: Nikon D700, 28–80mm f/3.5–5.6 lens, ISO 100, f/22, 1/6 second

Photo: Jason Hummel

Jason Hummel

Hummel grew up 30 miles from Washington’s Mount Rainier and has spent decades exploring the state’s peaks. One of his favorite alpine treks is the Ptarmigan Traverse, in the North Cascades, which spans 35 miles over glaciers at elevations above 7,000 feet. Last August, Hummel and four friends embarked on the traverse, summiting five mountains in five days. On the fourth day, they topped out on 8,920-foot Dome Peak. Looking down, Hummel saw his friends walking past the mountain’s north shoulder. “I loved the lines and curves, and the climbers themselves were perfectly spaced,” says the 38-year-old photographer. “When you’re in such a gorgeous place on such a beautiful day, all you need to do is pull your camera out, line everything up, and take the shot.”

The Tools: Nikon D810, 24mm f/1.4 lens, ISO 320, f/16, 1/500 second

Photo: D. Scott Clark

D. Scott Clark

Clark has photographed skiers, mountain bikers, and ice climbers—but BASE jumpers have proved to be among the most difficult to capture. “You have so little time to compose your shot,” he says. “They are gone in an instant.” To set up this photograph of Sarah Watson, the pair arrived at the I. B. Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho, before sunrise. While Watson prepared to launch into Snake River Canyon, the Colorado photographer rappelled 15 feet off the bridge to position himself directly underneath her jump. “A lot of people shoot from the bridge with the jumper below,” he says. But Clark wanted the image to be more immediate. “I love the natural energy and grace,” he says.

The Tools: Canon EOS 5D Mark III, 16–35mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/800 second

Photo: Michael Hanson

Hood River, Oregon

Photograph by Michael Hanson

Photo: Michael Neumann

Michael Neumann

Neumann first saw Iceland’s Godafoss (which means “waterfall of the gods”), on the Skálfandafljót River, during a 2013 trip and dreamed of returning to shoot it. “All I was missing was a red kayak and a skilled pilot,” says the Ger­man photographer. In February 2016, he got his wish in the form of German paddler Matze Brustmann. Approaching the waterfall, the river was almost completely frozen—except for one eddy, around 60 yards from the 35-foot drop, where Brustmann put in. He cleared the falls, then fought a strong current that was pushing him toward a cave. Brustmann’s timing proved crucial—two hours later water levels rose, causing chunks of ice hanging over the cave’s mouth to crumble.“Running this line was good for the picture but not easy for the paddler,” Neumann says. 

The Tools: Nikon D4, 80–400mm f/4.5–5.6 lens, ISO 100, f/6.3, 1/800 second

Photo: Ismael Ibanez Ruiz

Ismael Ibañez Ruiz

When it comes to action shots, Ruiz has a passion for the unex­pected. “I’m always browsing the Internet and Google Earth to find treasures,” the Spanish photographer says. That’s how he discovered this building in a Basque Country office park, some three hours from his home in Burgos. Ruiz came up with a plan: he’d have a friend, cyclist David Cachon, bunny-hop along the edge of the roof. “The challenge was finding a time when nobody would be there,” says Ruiz, 38. “The area is full of people from Monday through Saturday.” So early one Sunday last fall, Cachon took a tentative first run, then perfected his form while Ruiz captured the moment.

The Tools: Nikon D810, 70–200mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 1,000, f/5.6, 1/800 second

Photo: Carson Meyer

Carson Meyer

Meyer and skier Sam Schwartz had spent many winters exploring the Jackson, Wyoming, backcountry together, but neither noticed this cave until a sunny day in February 2016. The 20-year-old photographer was rappelling down Gothic Couloir, a 200-foot-long chute in No Name Canyon, when he discovered the opening just below the lip. Realizing that it was the perfect vantage point, Meyer wriggled in to catch Schwartz, 21, as he cleared the 30-foot drop. “In that canyon, you don’t really have the option to circle around and try again,” says Meyer. “It was our one-shot wonder.” 

The Tools: Canon EOS 7D Mark II, 11–16mm lens, ISO 1,000, f/9, 1/1,600 second

Photo: Gordon Petersen

Churchill, Manitoba 

Photograph by Gordon Petersen

Photo: Jeremy Koreski

Jeremy Koreski

Koreski was on a late-summer job at the Nimmo Bay Resort in British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest when he ran into Adrien Mullin, one of the resort’s guides. Mullin had just spotted a pristine alpine lake during a helicopter tour and wanted to go back and explore it. When the two arrived, freediving gear in tow, they found clear blue water that was more than 100 feet deep. Shortly after jumping in, Koreski, who lives on Vancouver Island, captured this split-level shot of Mullin. “The water looked tropical, and then above you saw snow-covered mountains,” Koreski says. “It was surreal.”

The Tools: Canon EOS-1D X, 15mm fish-eye lens, ISO 400, f/7.1, 1/500 second

Photo: Liam Doran

Liam Doran

On the second day of a ski trip last March, the Swiss Alps provided Doran and a small group of skiers with perfect conditions—blue skies and a foot of fresh snow. The team hiked to a bowl on the edge of the Adelboden ski area to take advantage of the previous day’s sizable dump. Doran, who lives in Breckenridge, Colorado, shot American Sven Brunso coming down the face of Seewlehorn Peak. “The relief there was just massive,” Doran says. “You really feel small in the Swiss Alps.”

The Tools: Canon 7D Mark II, Sigma 10–20mm f/3.5, ISO 200, f/9, 1/1,250 second

Photo: Andrew Strain

Andrew Strain

Last spring, after traveling 30 hours from Whistler, British Columbia, Strain landed in Akureyri, in northern Iceland, and immediately boarded a helicopter bound for the mountains of the Hidden Land Peninsula. Strain was exhausted, but when you get a chance to heli-ski in Iceland with Olympic snowboarders, “you do what you can to stay awake,” says the 32-year-old photographer. Strain watched Scotty Lago and Greg Bretz shred a line down a long ridge, and when they stopped to wait for the helicopter near the shadow of the peak they’d just descended, he knew he had a good shot. “I didn’t direct them, they just ended up there,” he says. “It’s such a simple composition.”

The Tools: Nikon D810, 70–200mm f/4 lens, ISO 200, f/8, 1/1,000 second

Photo: Michael Sakas

Kulob, Tajikistan

Photograph by Michael Sakas