2011 Trips of the Year
We present our Trips of the Year, everything from whitewater rafting in Siberia to mountain biking in Argentina to the greatest multisport vacation in Alaska.
The philosophy behind Alaska Wildland Adventures’ new Ultimate Alaska trip is simple: guests try just about everything the 49th state has to offer. The eight-day journey begins and ends in Anchorage, and in between clients will sea-kayak with puffins in Kenai Fjords National Park, dogsled outside the gold-rush town of Girdwood, ride horses through the Chugach Mountains’ Sitka spruce forests, raft (or fish for rainbows) on the Kenai River, and hike the northernmost rainforest in North America following a floatplane flight. Nights are spent recuperating at AWA’s three lodges, including its two-year-old private log cabins located on a rocky beach in the middle of Kenai Fjords National Park. Views from the porches include Pedersen Glacier, sea otters, mountain goats, and bears aplenty. $4,495; July 4–11 and August 7–14; alaskawildland.com
: Trek Nepal
Hiking Nepal Tengboche MonasteryThe trail to Nepal‚Äôs Tengboche Monastery
See the top of the world without the circus of Base Camp on REI Adventures’ new Everest Lodge-to-Lodge trek. On the 14-day trip, up to 15 guests hike through the lush, rugged Dudh Kosi river valley (elevation: 8,600 to 11,300 feet) before climbing out to views of Everest, Lhotse, and Nuptse. By day, explore remote villages such as Thame, once an important stop on the ancient salt-trade route that’s accessible by traversing the slopes of Khumbi Yulha, a sacred mountain. By night, crash in simple, clean family-run lodges and fill up on traditional Nepalese fare. Highlight: an evening at the Tengboche Monastery with monks chanting, meditating, and playing traditional drums and horns. $2,850 plus $299 for round-trip airfare between Kathmandu and Lukla; trips run monthly from March through May and September through December; rei.com.
: Heli-Ski Greenland
Is Greenland the next Chugach? Arne Hardenberg, a former member of the country’s Olympic alpine ski team, thinks so. He leads a weeklong sail-and-ski trip on Greenland’s west coast. Up to 12 guests maximize their six days of chasing corn snow by sleeping in bunk beds on the Kisaq, an 83-foot wooden ferry. The helicopter follows the ship and shuttles guests from sea to 6,500-foot summits surrounding the 50-mile-long Eternity Fjord. Afternoons are spent sea-kayaking, water-skiing behind the Zodiac, or fishing for your own halibut dinner. April’s the best month for snow, daylight (14 hours), and temps, which hover in the high twenties. Tours start from Maniitsoq, a couple hours’ flight north from the capital, Nuuk, and motor four hours north to Eternity Fjord. $13,100; greenlandextreme.com.
: Float Bhutan
Bhutan ForestBhutan opened two new districts to travelers last September
Northwest Rafting Company co-owner Zach Collier was one of just 25,000 travelers admitted to Bhutan last year. His first move: befriending Ugyen Dorji, local river outfitter and kayak instructor extraordinaire. This fall, the duo will host two commercial rafting trips through the 14,824-square-mile country, focusing on the Mo Chuu (Mother River) and Po Chuu (Father River). The whitewater ranges from Class II to Class IV, with confluences marked by prayer flags for good luck. Rather than a traditional multi-day float, expect half-day river trips with take-outs to mountain-bike and visit Buddhist temples. Nights are spent at a luxury base camp in the Punakha Valley featuring safari tents, home-cooked meals, and Himalayan views. $4,900; October 24–November 7 and November 7–21; nwrafting.com.
: Climb Africa
Three weeks, three countries, and three 16,000-plus-foot peaks. That’s the ambitious premise behind a new itinerary from KE Adventure Travel. The trip starts with four days of acclimatization on the sharp, scree-covered slopes of 16,350-foot Mount Kenya. After summiting, drive to the Tanzania border for a five-day rapid ascent on the wild northern side of 19,340-foot Kilimanjaro. From there you’ll fly over Lake Victoria, the largest tropical lake in the world, to Uganda for an eight-day trek up glaciated, 16,750-foot Mount Stanley. Don’t expect posh accommodations: digs are safari tents and base-camp huts, and meals consist of mountaineer fare (porridge, coffee, pasta). Do expect some of the most remarkable views in Africa. $6,525, including park fees; July 7–30 and December 22–January 14; keadventure.com.
: Bomb Patagonia
Rio Manso ArgentinaOver Argentina's Rio Manso
La Confluencia Lodge, a 16-year-old operation in Argentinian Patagonia, sits at the isolated confluence of the glacial Río Azul and Río Encanto Blanco. In the surrounding river valley, the lodge owner’s son—a former Argentinian downhill mountain-bike champion—has carved a five-mile maze of singletrack. So it was only natural that when British Columbia–based outfitter Sacred Rides began scouting its first mountain-bike trip in Patagonia, they looked here. Result: a nine-day lodge-based trip during which guests cruise through alpine meadows and forests, do morning yoga by the river, kayak Class II–IV rapids in the bright blue water (beginner lessons are available), and unwind in the lodge’s outdoor hot tubs. Highlight: an overnight trip featuring a 12-mile ride, a kayak trip to an isolated riverside cabin, a steak dinner, and a bonfire party. $2,250 plus $400 to rent a full-suspension Cannondale bike; November–March; sacredrides.com.
: Paddle Polynesia
Moorea is one of the most beautiful islands in the world, a playground of jagged volcanic peaks and turquoise lagoons. The best way to explore it is in the unofficial local vehicle, an outrigger canoe. Tahiti Expeditions’ Moorea Outrigger Expedition offers a nine-day circumnavigation, during which guests paddle 37 miles of bays and reefs in a six-person outrigger and can opt to dive and snorkel with dolphins, surf, or hike tropical valleys on the side. Nights are spent camping on white-sand beaches or lounging in five-star hotels (guests choose). On day seven, indulge in a traditional feast of fish, taro leaves, plantains, and fruit pudding, all steamed in a pit oven between hot rocks and woven mats. From $2,850; tahitiexpeditions.com.
: Trek Mongolia
Open steppe and emerald meadows. Forested valleys and thick marshland. Turquoise alpine lakes and glaciated peaks. Western Mongolia’s 2,456-square-mile Altai Tavan Bogd National Park, in the Altai-Sayan eco-region, near the Chinese border, has it all. Explore the park on Tusker Trail’s 15-day, 100-mile Mongolia Trek—16 guests, six camels, a local guide, and a cook cover eight to ten jaw-dropping miles per day by foot and horseback, traversing around the Five Holy Peaks of Altai and keeping eyes peeled for argali, lynx, and Saker falcons. Digs are sturdy mountain tents, as well as the ger camps of nomadic Kazakhs on days two and 12. If you’re lucky, your hosts may show you a thing or two about their 1,000-year-old tradition of hunting with golden eagles. $5,140; tusker.com.
: Rafting Siberia
When Echo River Trips asked Vladimir Gavrilov, who literally wrote the book on Russian whitewater (Rivers of an Unknown Land), to lead a trip on his favorite river, expenses be damned, he picked the Kaa-Khem. The 166-mile float begins with an Mi-8 helicopter dropping you in the heavily forested southern province of Tuva, 50 miles north of the Mongolian border. With its vodka-clear waters, exceptional fishing, and swift current—one particularly rambunctious ten-mile section of river offers more than 30 Class III and IV rapids—the Kaa-Khem is reminiscent of the Middle Fork of the Salmon. Except for its location: near the geographic center of the Asian subcontinent, about as far from an ocean as you can get. Then there are the fish. The Kaa-Khem is home to both feisty grayling and harder-to-find taimen, leviathans that feed on mice and that Vlad and his buddies try to land using fur-wrapped pieces of wood with huge hooks. $5,660; July 24–August 7; echotrips.com.
: Ride France
Cyclomundo’s six-day, five-night ride from Lake Geneva (1,220 feet) to l’Alpe d’Huez (6,100 feet) is both beautiful and brawny. Over the course of the 224-mile trip, cyclists tackle some of the hairiest climbs in the French Alps—including Tour de France regulars Colombière and Galibier—taking in views of Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva en route. Cyclomundo offers a self-guided option—lodging, meals, a GPS, maps, and a bike mechanic are provided, but a guide is not. So if you need motivation, take the fully outfitted option, which comes with the same provisions but also a guide, a support vehicle, and a peloton of up to 15 other travelers. $910 self-guided; $1,250 guided; cyclomundo.com.