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For years, adventure-travel outfitters have used so-called exploratory trips to work out kinks in new offerings. Veteran guides suss out routes, lodging options, and, say, the local yak-butter tea, then refine the itinerary before it shows up in next fall’s catalog. But as it turns out, some high-end travelers actually like kinksthe unscripted agendas only add to the authenticity (as well as the price). With outfitters opening up more and more exploratory trips to their experienced clients, we picked out 2009’s four most intriguing options.
1. Trek the Dhaulagiri Range, Nepal; One World Trekking
Think of the Dhaulagiri as the Annapurna Circuit’s mean cousin. One World’s planned monthlong march will cover roughly 130 miles among the 26,000-foot peaks of western Nepal. Travelers will get rare face time with Magar tribesmen, camp in high-elevation grazing settlements, and rope up to climb 17,586-foot French Col. “This is for experienced trekkers who’ve done theAnnapurna thing,” says One World founder Andy Crisconi. October 6November 4, $3,900; oneworldtrekking.com
2. Paddle the Pantanal, Brazil; ROW Adventures
According to ROW founder Peter Grubb, no American outfitter has ever led a paddling-and-camping trip in Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands. But he plans to take up to 12 hardy canoeists there next August. The 11-day journey starts at the 269-foot Iguaçu Falls, on the Argentina border, and ends 600 miles (and a few jet rides) to the north. Grubb doesn’t know exactly what will happen between those two points, but expect long days on the lower Cristalino and Claro rivers, where parrots, howler monkeys, caimans, and jaguars still own the jungle. August 1425, $3,900; rowadventures.com
3. Trek Northern Kenya; Mountain Travel Sobek
In 1886, Hungarian explorer Count Samuel Teleki set off through northern Kenya’s deserts in search of a mystical oasis. Two years later, he found the 180-mile-long Lake Turkana. Hopefully, Sobek’s camel-supported re-creation of Teleki’s trek, this May, won’t take quite that long. The route, which no one has completed since Teleki, starts at Mount Kenya and heads north 300 miles. Days will be spent poring over maps, picking routes, and exploring the remote Northern Frontier District along dry riverbeds. Each evening, the team will bed down in private mobile camps. Turkana’s green waters might look inviting at journey’s end, but don’t dive inthe lake is infested with crocs. May 30June 28, $18,000; mtsobek.com
4. Heli-Ski Argentina; Andes Ski Tours
Where the Cordón del Plata and Cordón del Portillo ranges meet in western Argentina, there are some 500,000 acres of untouched powder. Starting this August, Buenos Airesbased Andes Ski Tours will fly groups of four to the area for the first time. Following 25-minute heli rides, clients will shred previously unskied chutes, bowls, and 50-degree pitches at 14,000 feet. Seven-day outings from August 15 to September 15, $9,500; andesskitours.com