By Michael Lanza
What adventures did you take in 2018 that inspired you? I hope you enjoyed at least a few. I did. The 12 photos in this story are favorite images from some of the trips I took over the past year. They included hiking in Zion (twice) and Bryce Canyon national parks; backpacking off the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in spring and returning in fall to dayhike the canyon rim to rim to rim over two magnificent days; rock climbing in Yosemite; backpacking and scrambling peaks in Idaho’s Sawtooths; and putting an exclamation point on the year with a 90-mile traverse of Glacier National Park on the Continental Divide Trail.
Scroll through these photos, each of which is accompanied by a short anecdote from the trip and links to existing stories at The Big Outside. I hope they help inspire you to start planning your adventures for 2019. After all, these are the experiences that give meaning to our lives.
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 images and my expert tips on planning those trips.
I’d love to hear what you think of any of my photos or the places shown in them, or upcoming plans you have. Please share your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom of this story.
Hiking in Zion National Park
En route to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for a backpacking trip (see below), three friends and I spent part of a day in Zion, dayhiking the Observation Point Trail with the side trip to Hidden Canyon, where we explored as far as hikers can go up that slot canyon—at one point walking beneath an owl napping on a tree branch. I’ve been to Zion several times now; these days, each return feels like a visit with an old friend whom I don’t see nearly enough.
While Angels Landing, The Narrows, and the Subway, and other trails in Zion may be better known, the Observation Point Trail delivers classic Zion scenery as soon as you step onto the trail. It passes through a narrow side canyon with water pools and soaring walls on an ascent of over 2,000 feet in four miles (one-way) that culminates at a point on the rim high above Zion Canyon—even Angels Landing looks small from up there.
I was fortunate to return a second time to Zion, in October, to spend three days hiking with my 81-year-old mom (whose hiking resume includes climbing Mount St. Helens and trekking hut to hut in Norway’s Jotunheimen National Park—both in her seventies). She and I made it nearly to the top of the Observation Point Trail—not bad for someone who’s 81—dayhiked partway up The Narrows, and hiked the half-mile Canyon Overlook Trail along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway to a stunning view from the rim of a broad tributary canyon of Zion Canyon. Those hikes featured sightings of about 10 bighorn sheep.
See a menu of the many stories about Zion National Park at The Big Outside.
Click here now to get my e-guide The Complete Guide to Backpacking Zion’s Narrows.
Backpacking and Dayhiking in the Grand Canyon
Any year with two trips to the Grand Canyon is a good one, and I managed to pull that off in 2018. In May, three friends and I backpacked for four days on the 25-mile Thunder River-Deer Creek Loop off the North Rim. While the heat was a constant challenge and the hiking is tough, we got to explore a unique corner of the Big Ditch, with rare desert oases along vibrant creeks and some of the canyon’s prettiest waterfalls. One, the spring-fed Thunder River, erupts from the face of a cliff.
Read about that trip and see more photos, a video, and my tips on how to plan and pull it off in my story “Backpacking the Grand Canyon’s Thunder River-Deer Creek Loop.”
I returned to the canyon in October, this time to the South Rim with my wife and another couple to dayhike from the South Rim to the North Rim and back again over two days. On our first morning, we descended the South Kaibab Trail—one of the 20 best national park dayhikes in America—as glorious dawn light spread across a vast sweep of the Grand Canyon splayed out before us. (My advice: Hike down the South Kaibab in early morning—at least once in your life.) The hike up the North Kaibab Trail to the North Rim is twice as long as the South Kaibab, but more varied, going from the narrow canyon of lower Bright Angel Creek to the trail’s upper section in Roaring Springs Canyon, where you walk a footpath blasted out of the face of a cliff. Little wonder that I list it among “My 25 Most Scenic Days of Hiking Ever.”
Click here now for my expert e-guide to hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim.
Rock Climbing in Yosemite
My teenage son, Nate, and I arrived in Yosemite for a few days of rock climbing the day after the Ferguson fire blew up in mid-July. While that fire grew, choking Yosemite Valley in smoke—forcing us to abandon plans to climb the Snake Dike up the Southwest face of Half Dome—we had some smoke but stunning scenery nonetheless while climbing domes and cliffs in the Tuolumne Meadows area. The trip highlight was climbing the Southeast Buttress of Cathedral Peak.
We climbed several hundred feet of beautiful granite, getting increasingly more expansive views of Yosemite as we got higher. In calm air and comfortable temps on the pointed summit of Cathedral, at nearly 11,000 feet, we felt on top of the world—and it was pretty darn special to be up there together. Given the good weather and abundant daylight left, we climbed Eichorn Pinnacle, the dramatic spire on the shoulder of Cathedral. I nabbed the photo above of Nate atop Eichorn, minutes after I had rappelled off.
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My 17-year-old called it the best day of alpine rock climbing he’s ever done. Yuh, I’d say.
Read my story about that climbing trip, “When Your Kid Gets Better Than You.” And see my stories “Roof of the High Sierra: A Father-Son Climb of Mount Whitney,” “Backpacking 150 Miles Through Wildest Yosemite,” “The 10 Best Dayhikes in Yosemite,” and a menu of the many stories about Yosemite National Park at The Big Outside.
Yearning to backpack in Yosemite? See my e-guides to three amazing multi-day hikes there.
Backpacking and Climbing Peaks in the Sawtooths
Since I moved to Idaho 20 years ago, it has come to feel like a year isn’t complete until I’ve walked through the Sawtooth Mountains. Fortunately, I made 2018 very complete with a few trips there, starting with backcountry skiing in late winter, followed by a pair of August hikes: backpacking with my family and various adult and teenage friends, and a long, mostly off-trail dayhike to scramble a pair of 10,000-foot peaks with three friends.
On that four-day backpacking trip of a bit under 30 miles, from Redfish Lake to Pettit Lake, we hit some of the nicest valleys, passes, and mountain lakes in the Sawtooth Wilderness: the Redfish Creek valley (which always looks to me like it belongs in Yosemite), Cramer Lakes and Cramer Divide, Edna Lake, and personal favorites Toxaway Lake, Twin Lakes, and Alice Lake, plus the magnificent pass that separates them.
I can help you plan a Sawtooths trip or any other trip you read about at my blog. Find out more here.
Two weeks after that, I was back to hike-scramble the highest peak in the Sawtooths, 10,751-foot Thompson, and a neighbor a few miles to its south, 10,470-foot Horstman Peak. Both involve steep hiking and exposed scrambling on rock that no sane person would describe as stable—especially Horstman, which has very complicated route-finding and a summit ridge that’s both thrilling and unnerving. Both summits, cold and windy that August day, gave us vistas spanning most of the Sawtooth Mountains, the bucolic valley of the Salmon River, the White Cloud Mountains to the east, and the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness to the north. We made that long day even longer by descending off Horstman into the bushwhacking-and-swampy hell of Fishhook Creek—a mistake I’ve made in the past and vowed never to repeat, and this time I mean it.
Watch for my upcoming stories about both of those trips at The Big Outside. Meanwhile, see my stories “The Roof of Idaho’s Sawtooths: Hiking Thompson Peak,” “Ask Me: What Are the Best Hikes in Idaho’s Sawtooths?” and all of my stories about the Sawtooths at The Big Outside.
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Backpacking Glacier National Park
After wildfires forced three friends and I to abort plans for a roughly 90-mile, north-south traverse of Glacier National Park on the Continental Divide Trail in September 2017, we returned in September this year with a permit for the exact same itinerary. And once again, wildfires threatened to nix our plans—an annual threat to backcountry plans anywhere in the West under the new normal of climate change (and as you’ve read, wildfires affected three of the trips I’ve written about in this article).
But snow and rain right before our arrival tamped down the flames and smoke, and we pulled it off this year in bluebird late-summer weather. We hiked for six days from Chief Mountain Trailhead at the Canadian border to Two Medicine, mostly on the CDT, but adding on the wonderful, high traverse from Pitamakan Pass to Dawson Pass above Two Medicine, overlooking a sea of icy peaks in the heart of Glacier.
The trip gave us the complete Glacier experience: glassy lakes reflecting jagged peaks, mountain passes with panoramas of endless chains of rocky peaks and soaring cliffs, plus sightings of bighorn sheep and one grizzly bear that refused to politely yield the trail to us. After almost three decades of wilderness backpacking all over the U.S. and around the world, rarely does a new trip immediately leap onto my list of all-time top 10 backpacking trips—but this one did just that.
Watch for my upcoming feature story about this trip at The Big Outside. Until then, see my short blog post about that trip, “Photo Gallery: Backpacking the CDT Through Glacier National Park,” and all of my many stories about Glacier National Park at this blog.
Click here now for my e-guide to backpacking the Northern Loop in Glacier!
Hiking in Bryce Canyon
In October, after our three glorious days of hiking in Zion, my mom and I moved on to the higher and chillier terrain of Bryce Canyon National Park for a dayhike that, in my humble opinion, is the best one in Bryce.
Bryce may not have the scale, area, or diversity of scenery and experiences that’s found in Zion, Grand Canyon, and other Southwest parks.
But going back there reminded me just how inspiring it feels to walk amid that stone skyline of multi-colored hoodoos—especially once you venture beyond the busier (but still very pretty) Navajo Loop onto the Peek-a-Boo Loop, which sees fewer hikers even though it has some of the finest scenery in the park.
See my blog post “Photo Gallery: The Best Hike in Bryce Canyon,” and a menu of the numerous stories about hiking and backpacking in southern Utah at The Big Outside.
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