By Michael Lanza
What adventures did you take in 2017 that reinvigorated you? I had a good year. The 10 photos that follow are favorite images from a list of trips I took over the past 12 months that included trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc in the Alps and exploring the rainforests and volcanoes of Costa Rica, backpacking in Wyoming’s Wind River Range and Utah’s Dark Canyon Wilderness, dayhikes in the Columbia Gorge and up the most beloved peak in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, backcountry skiing in the High Sierra and Sawtooth Mountains, and whitewater kayaking in my back yard on Idaho’s Payette River.
As the people of Costa Rica like to say, “Pura vida,” which is Spanish for “pure life.”
Some of the brief write-ups accompanying the following images link to existing stories at The Big Outside. Watch for my upcoming stories about some of the places in these photos to be published in coming months at this blog, each with numerous photos and expert trip-planning advice.
I think these images illustrate why the outdoors is so central to my life that I’ve built a career around it for more than two decades. I hope you find inspiration in one or more of these pictures for a future trip… or just draw a few minutes of vicarious pleasure from them.
Please share your thoughts about them or any place shown here, or upcoming plans you have, in the comments section at the bottom of this story.
Adventuring in Costa Rica
For years, I had heard about the national parks and variety of outdoor adventures possible in Costa Rica. So when my 14-year-old daughter, Alex, said she wanted to go there over spring break in March (my wife and our son had already signed up for a school-sponsored trip to Ecuador that week), and then my 80-year-old mother, Joanne Lanza, leapt at the opportunity to join us, we took off for several days packed with adventure.
We went zip-lining hundreds of feet above the rainforest of Arenal Volcano National Park; took a guided tour of the trails and hanging bridges in the cloud forest of Santa Elena; went waterfall rappelling; snorkeled the reefs off the Osa Peninsula; and hiked a rugged little peak named Cerro Chato, on the coast of Corcovado National Park, and along the vividly aqua-colored Rio Celeste in Volcan Tenorio National Park (photo above). We saw a variety of monkeys and other wildlife that were firsts for us. I will eventually post a story about that trip to Costa Rica at The Big Outside.
See a menu of all of my stories about international adventures at The Big Outside.
Buy gear smartly. See my stories “The Best New Hiking and Backpacking Gear of 2017”
and “Holiday Gift Guide 2017: 35 Great Outdoors Gifts.”
Backcountry Skiing Above Lake Tahoe
For four cold, windy, and sometimes stormy days in February, I joined two old friends and longtime backcountry partners exploring the Sierra Nevada mountains above Lake Tahoe. With the weather upping the avalanche hazard, we stuck to lower-angle, safe terrain, and skied until our legs barely had the strength to board our flights home. With the copious snowfall totals the Sierra accumulates in a typical winter, and the abundant backcountry access around Tahoe, it should be on the radar of all snow-sports aficionados.
Gear up for winter. See my reviews of “The Best Gloves For Winter” and the Outdoor Research Skyward Jacket.
Backcountry Skiing in Idaho’s Sawtooths
The snow came in frequently and cold last winter in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, which made for some of the best backcountry skiing locals have seen in years. A small group of friends and I, using a cabin several miles from the nearest plowed road (and not open to the public) as a base, spent a few days exploring 3,000-vertical-foot runs down peaks towering well over 9,000 feet, and touring an area of the southern Sawtooths where we saw no other tracks. Frigid temps in the single digits created the kind of blower powder that backcountry skiers dream of.
See my story “Hidden Paradise: Backcountry Skiing Idaho’s Sawtooths,” and all of my stories about backcountry skiing at The Big Outside.
Backpacking Utah’s Dark Canyon Wilderness
With Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument plastered all over the news for the past several months—as our President Trump considers drastically reducing the area designated by President Obama in December 2016—I decided last May to finally get to a corner of that 1.35-million-acre monument that I’d long wanted to explore: the Dark Canyon Wilderness. So a friend and I backpacked a 40-mile loop down Woodenshoe Canyon, up a stretch of Dark Canyon, and up Peavine Canyon.
We got close-up looks at ruins of stone dwellings built by Ancestral Puebloan people several hundred years ago. We saw natural arches eroded into soaring, castellated walls of Cedar Mesa sandstone, and hanging gardens where water seeped from cracks in those walls. Starting and finishing our hike at over 8,000 feet in the Manti-La Sal National Forest, we hiked through beautiful aspen groves that stretched for miles and forests of thick, old-growth ponderosa pines that stood in beautiful contrast against the red canyon walls.
See my photos from that trip in this short blog post about it, and watch for the feature story I’ll post about it in 2018.
Dayhiking in the Columbia Gorge
On a half-day hike with my wife and daughter on the Oregon side of the Columbia Gorge, our first stop was the base of Elowah Falls, which plunges more than 200 feet over a cliff of black rock into a lushly green base along McCord Creek. Just a 1.5-mile round-trip hike to the waterfall’s base, this is an easy one for families with young kids, but can be combined with other trails for a longer outing.
See my story “Nature in Your Face: Hiking the Columbia Gorge.”
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Trekking the Tour du Mont Blanc
In July, my family, joined by eight friends and extended family, including, once again, my 80-year-old mom (we just can’t seem to keep her in her house), took a nine-day trek on one of the most popular and majestic trails on the planet, the Tour du Mont Blanc in the Alps of France, Italy, and Switzerland. A roughly 105-mile footpath encircling 15,771-foot Mont Blanc, the TMB crosses 10 or 11 mountain passes (depending on which route variants one takes), the highest approaching 9,000 feet.
Besides being one of the most stunning hikes on the planet, the TMB offers rare logistical convenience: It passes through towns and villages and crosses roads frequently, which allowed us to spend most nights in hotel beds (and three nights in mountain huts, although we could have done more) and some of our group to take advantage of public transportation to skip or shorten a hard section or sit out a rainy day.
See my story “Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc at an 80-Year-Old Snail’s Pace.”
I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Find out more here.
Whitewater kayaking Idaho’s Payette River
Weekend afternoons kayaking the class III Main and Cabarton sections of the Payette River near our home in Boise are regular fare for my family in summer. But when my 19-year-old nephew, Marco, said he wanted to come out with his buddy, Liam, for a week of Idaho-style paddling, rock climbing, and mountain biking, we treated them to both of those favorite stretches of the Payette. In the above photo, my son, Nate, in his hard-shell kayak, shows Marco and Liam (in a two-person inflatable kayak) the line through one of the many rapids we ran together.
Read my story about another big adventure those three boys shared, “Big Hearts, Big Day: A 17-Mile Hike With Teens in the Presidential Range.”
Backpacking in Wyoming’s Wind River Range
Every time I hike into the Wind River Range, I ask myself why I let so much time go by since my last visit. In September, two friends and I wound up there accidentally, after wildfires forced us to abandon plans for a six-day traverse of Glacier National Park. Our consolation prize was no disappointment.
Hiking a 39-mile loop from Elkhart Park, we made an up-and-down tour, mostly above 10,000 feet, of several dozen alpine lakes (most of them had gorgeous campsites and probably great fishing) and three 12,000-foot passes. We reached one of those passes, Knapsack Col at the upper end of Titcomb Basin, via an off-trail route that added a spicy flavor to our trip. The lead photo at the top of this story was also taken on this trip, in spectacular Titcomb Basin.
For mountains like the Winds, you want one of my picks for “The 5 Best Rain Jackets For the Backcountry.”
Hiking Utah’s Mount Timpanogos
And finally, in early October, my wife, Penny, and I dayhiked possibly the most popular peak in all of Utah: 11,749-foot Mount Timpanogos, the second-highest peak in the Wasatch Range. Our timing was perfect for that 16-mile round-trip with roughly 5,000 vertical feet of up and down from the Aspen Grove Trail: We saw mountainsides crowded with aspen trees burning golden with fall color. I’ll write about that hike later at The Big Outside.
Want more? See my “20 Best National Park Dayhikes” and “Extreme Hiking: America’s Best Hard Dayhikes.”
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