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The Greatest Outside Adventure Stories Ever Told

Close calls with wildlife, harrowing river trips, and classic tales of misadventure

Into the Mountains

Tim Klein and Jason Wells were weekend warriors. They were also two of the best climbers to ever ply their trade on Yosemite's most iconic wall. So the climbing world was stunned when they died on some of its easiest terrain.

Some of the world's most passionate athletes are high pointers, climbers who will do anything to reach the tallest point in every state, county, or whatever other designation they can dream up. A lot of those peaks aren't so tall—like Delaware's 447.85-foot Ebright Azimuth—but there's plenty of challenge in this quest. Just ask John Mitchler, who had knocked off everything on his dream list except the tallest spot in a remote U.S. territory: Agrihan.

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Climate change is melting the glaciers and permafrost of the Mont Blanc massif, revealing crystals hidden in pockets once covered in snow. Simon Akam tagged along on an expedition with one of the area’s most legendary hunters, a daring French alpinist who completes dangerous climbs to discover specimens worth tens of thousands of dollars.

No one knew if it could be done. But when Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler climbed Mount Everest without oxygen in 1978, they smashed one of the last barriers of human performance. Almost 40 years later, both legends talk about their first ascent by “fair means”—and the long-running feud that followed.

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Who knew that it’s easy to find great backcountry skiing in Scotland? Nobody, because it isn’t. But that doesn’t stop a committed group of hard-asses from clicking their boots and heading into the mud, rain, and heather in search of stoke.

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Aspen’s Michael Ferrara is bringing attention to a little-known problem: post-traumatic stress disorder among the people who save our lives

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For some climbing rangers in Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park, every ridgeline holds the memory of a rescue, every peak a body bag. It's more than they can handle alone.

The U.S. military has always excelled at training soldiers, but they've had a tougher time helping them adjust to peace. The author joins 11 combat veterans in Nepal as they test the most promising new postwar therapy: adventure.

River Journeys

During the Great Flood of 2011, the Mississippi was an unleashed monster, with deadly currents and a flow rate that could fill the Superdome in less than a minute. Defying government orders, Delta native W. Hodding Carter and two wet-ass pals canoed 300 miles from Memphis to Vicksburg—surfing the crest, watching wildlife cope with the rising tide and assessing 75 years of levee building.

Whitewater kayaker Hendrik Coetzee had decided to call it a career after a decade of first descents on the wildest rivers in Africa. The river’s most feared predator had a different ending in store.

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How two rival teams fought storms and sleep deprivation to claim an 18-year-old paddling FKT

Reeling from her husband’s request to divorce after 25 years of marriage and two kids, Florence Williams was experiencing debilitating grief. An accomplished reporter, she decided to explore the science of heartache to see if she could find a cure. In this excerpt from her new book, ‘Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey,’ she heads out for a 120-mile solo paddle on Utah’s Green River, with a too heavy portable toilet and a shattered heart.

Perilous Seas

Donovan Hohn

Every hour of every day, behemoth container ships cruise the highways of ocean commerce, loaded with stereos and lobster and plastic air fresheners. And during the winter storm season, massive waves from out of nowhere can wreck these arks of global trade.

James Nestor

The freediving world championships occur at the outer limits of competitive risk. ­During the 2011 event, held off the coast of Greece, more than 130 athletes assembled to swim hundreds of feet straight down on a single breath—without (they hoped) ­passing out, freaking out, or drowning. Meet the amazingly fit, unquestionably brave, and possibly crazy people who line up for the ultimate plunge.

The odds of being attacked by a shark are less than one in 11 million, which makes it nearly impossible to find people to turn to when you become that one. Enter a support group of survivors called the Bite Club—the most exclusive club nobody wants to join.

It swims at 20 miles per hour and can carve out hunks of human flesh. It's one of eeriest beasts in the ocean—it's the Humboldt Squid.

At the bottom of the biggest underwater cave in the world, diving deeper than almost anyone had ever gone, Dave Shaw found the body of a young man who had disappeared ten years earlier. What happened after Shaw promised to go back is nearly unbelievable—unless you believe in ghosts.

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Sperm whales are extra­ordinarily intelligent animals with deep family traditions and the ability to communicate across oceans with sonic clicks. But when Rowan Jacobsen had a close encounter with one in the Caribbean, he saw a creature far stranger than he'd ever imagined.

Epic Travel

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The Darién Gap is a lawless wilderness on the border of Colombia and Panama, teeming with everything from deadly snakes to antigovernment guerrillas. The region also sees a flow of migrants from Cuba, Africa, and Asia, whose desperation sends them on perilous journeys to the U.S. Jason Motlagh plunged in, risking robbery, kidnapping, and death to document one of the world’s most harrowing treks.

When Maggie Shipstead set out to report on women-only expedition travel, she was driven by a desire to learn new skills in a low-bro-factor environment. But six days exploring Alaska with the state’s first woman-owned adventure outfitter turned out to be regenerative in ways she didn’t expect.

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To travel the Pony Express, riders had to brave apocalyptic storms, raging rivers, snow-choked mountain passes, and some of the most desolate, beautiful country on earth. To honor the sun-dried memory of those foolhardy horsemen, we dispatched Will Grant and a 16-year-old cowboy prodigy to ride 350 miles in a hurry.

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Go to Argentina and find the best steak on earth, we told him. It was a dream assignment for our favorite swashbuckling gourmand—until he found himself staring into el ojo de la vaca.

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GPS units in hand, obsessed adventurers are roaming the world to claim a new set of firsts: 16,232 places where major lines of latitude and longitude intersect. Sound geeky? Not when your sweet spot is at 17,000 feet on the side of a remote Bolivian volcano.

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Wim Hof's teachings about breath work and the health benefits of cold plunges have attracted millions of followers who swear it has cured everything from depression to diabetes and makes them happier and stronger. Our writer traveled to Iceland (naturally) for a deep dive with the man and his methods.

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At the planet's biggest ice-fishing tournament, held every January in Brainerd, Minnesota, 10,000 contestants battle 20-below temperatures for a $150,000 purse. Ian Frazier slips and slides among wily fish, cheese curds, and some of the greatest nearly frozen anglers he's ever seen.

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The craziest rock-climbing event in the world happens annually in the Ozarks of Arkansas, in a u-shaped canyon with enough routes for 24 straight hours of nonstop ascents. They call it Horseshoe Hell, but don't be fooled: for outdoor athletes who love physical challenges with some partying thrown in, it's heaven.

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Cory McDonald's main goal was to restore his health on the Pacific Crest Trail. Becoming a YouTube star, getting stalked, and meeting the perfect girl were just exhilarating extras.

Wild Encounters

Jason Daley

When she realized a mountain lion was stalking her, Dee Gallant knew exactly what to do—blast some heavy metal

Jason Daley

After losing his bear spray, Colin Dowler was caught with nothing but a tiny Buck knife

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A University of Colorado Boulder skier tells the story of a camping trip gone awry

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When Kyle Dickman set out on a month-long road trip with his wife and infant son last spring, he was fueled by a carefree sense of adventure that had defined his entire life. Then he got bit by a venomous snake in a remote area of Yosemite National Park, and the harrowing event changed everything.

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There’s nothing like an attack by flesh-eating bacteria to get your midlife priorities straight

To live in the small town of Haines, Alaska, is to live with bears, with roughly one brown bear for every nine human residents. Last winter, a local snowboarder woke a hibernating brown bear in the backcountry and was severely injured, furthering tensions between food-stressed bears and anxious local residents. But in most encounters, it’s the bear that ends up dead, prompting the question of what it means to coexist.