By Michael Lanza
A few weeks ago, as I hiked with my daughter up the steep Grandview Trail in the Grand Canyon, knocking off the last few miles of a three-day backpacking trip that had been wonderful on many levels, I was feeling awfully satisfied. For starters, through most of this fall, I’d had a bad itch to get out somewhere—and the Big Ditch, it turns out, is a pretty good place to scratch that itch. Plus, we’d just enjoyed three absolutely gorgeous, summer-like days of father-daughter time, and the company of two other families who joined us.
But seen from a longer view, returning to the Grand Canyon again felt like the perfect way to cap off another good year outdoors. In 2013, I got to seven national parks; five federal wilderness areas; an Idaho mountain range (the White Cloud Mountains) that might… no, should… become either federal wilderness or a national monument in the near future; and had the unforgettable pleasure of standing with my 12- and 10-year-old kids, my 15-year-old nephew, and my 76-year-old mom on the crater rim of Mount St. Helens.
Most of those trips were with my family, but I also managed to squeeze in some adult rock climbing, backcountry skiing in Idaho and the Tetons, and multi-day hikes from New Hampshire’s White Mountains to Yosemite.
So what’s my point in rattling off this list of how much fun I had this year? In part, I hope to give you some ideas for trips of your own. I’m planning upcoming stories about all of these adventures at The Big Outside (a couple of them are already posted), with lots of photos and videos, and in some cases for Backpacker magazine.
But more than that, I want to make this point: Big, life-affirming adventures don’t happen spontaneously; they require some advance planning and effort—especially if you hope to fit in several trips in the coming year. Start thinking now about where you want to go in 2014, whether it’s March, June, August, or October. Get the ball rolling. At any given time, I typically have at least a couple trips on the calendar and a few more in planning stages. And if I don’t, I start to get very anxious and feel the need to do something to rectify that shortfall as soon as possible.
So scroll through the photo essay below of images from my 2013 adventures—just for the eye-candy value, and hopefully, a little inspiration. And watch soon for my posts updating my lists of 10 Favorite Family Adventures (later this month) and my Top 10 Favorite Trips of All Time (in early January).
Family Ski Trip to a Backcountry Yurt, Boise National Forest, Idaho
This annual tradition of a four-day cross-country ski trip to a backcountry yurt, which my family has shared with another family for six years (our seventh is coming up soon), has endured through snowstorms, tired young skiers, even cancer treatment (the patient licked it and is going strong). None of us, adults or children, would miss it for anything.
Backcountry Skiing in the Teton Range, Wyoming
Five friends and I skied up to the Baldy Knoll yurt, at 8,800 feet on the west side of the Tetons, for four March days of backcountry skiing in some wickedly deep, cold, feathery powder, and touring amid some of the most glorious peaks in America.
Dayhiking and Backpacking in Southern Utah
Visiting southern Utah parks has become my family’s default spring-break adventure, and this year we hit an outstanding trifecta: a week of dayhiking in Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon national parks, and exploring slot canyons and backpacking in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Read my story about that trip, with numerous photos and videos.
Rock Climbing, City of Rocks and Castle Rocks, Idaho
I’m fortunate to live within a few hours drive of one of the best rock-climbing destinations in the country. But besides world-class cragging at the City of Rocks National Reserve and neighboring Castle Rocks State Park in southern Idaho, “The City” is a fantastic place for car camping, hiking, trail running, and letting kids run wild exploring.
I squeeze in as many June and early autumn days of adult climbing and family time there as I can every year, and 2013 was no different. I love this place.
Hut Trek, White Mountains, New Hampshire
I cut my teeth as a hiker many years ago in the White Mountains, and I try to make an annual pilgrimage to my old stomping grounds. I returned in June with a longtime hiking partner for a 24-mile, overnight trek from Crawford Notch to Franconia Notch, complete with an early-season night at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Galehead Hut. Read my story “Still Crazy After All These Years,” about how this wonderful tromp through Northeastern forest and along high, alpine ridges resurrected fond memories of many past adventures there, and see many photos from this and previous hikes in the Whites.
Backpacking Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains
My chosen home state is riddled with mountain ranges—many of them obscure, remote, and off the radar of most backpackers. But many locals consider the White Cloud Mountains the best, undiscovered gem in the Gem State. In early July, my 12-year-old son and I took our annual father-son trip backpacking for three days into the Big Boulder Lakes area, a magical realm of alpine lakes shimmering beneath gleaming peaks of white stone.
A 28-mile Dayhike Through Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains
Just a couple of weeks after my son and I explored the Big Boulder Lakes, two friends and I knocked off a 28-mile loop just a few miles to the south. Circling the heart of the White Clouds, we crossed three passes—one involving a very steep, exciting, off-trail scramble—and walked past one stunning, isolated mountain lake after another, and below the crown of the range, 11,815-foot Castle Peak.
Dayhiking Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains
A year doesn’t feel quite complete to me without spending at least a day in my state’s best-known mountains, the Sawtooths. My family and another set out to hike the range’s highest peak, 10,751-foot Thompson Peak—a big day. But as these things sometimes go, we instead stopped at the cliff-ringed alpine lake below Thompson’s soaring northeast face and enjoyed a frigid swim.
Climbing Mount St. Helens, Washington
I’m a big believer in embracing serendipity. So when permits became available to me at the last minute to climb St. Helens with my 12- and 10-year-old kids, my 15-year-old nephew, and my 76-year-old mom, I snapped them up. At times during that 11-hour day, I had serious doubts about whether we were going to make it. But standing at the crater rim—at the apex of what I consider hands down one of the best dayhikes in America—was a moment I suspect none of us will forget.
Dayhiking in Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
After several visits to this park, I still discover new, special spots every time I return. In July, on an early-morning hike by myself up the Eagle Peak Trail, I walked among meadows bursting with wildflowers, then reached the ridge crest to find “The Mountain” suddenly dominating the skyline, seeming to fill half the sky itself. I also took the same family crew from St. Helens on a bluebird-day hike at Paradise (photo above)—which never disappoints.
Backpacking in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, Washington
The 44-mile Spider Gap-Buck Creek Pass trek in the Glacier Peak Wilderness (also shown in lead photo, above) has become an under-the-radar classic among Cascades backpackers. I wondered whether the off-trail, snow climb and descent over Spider Gap would be too steep and dangerous for my kids. But we took it safely—waiting until after the sun had softened the snow, and skirting the steepest section of the descent into the Lyman Lakes basin—and they knocked it off with skill and confidence. And as it has every time I’ve hiked in this part of the greater North Cascades range—one of my favorites—the beauty of the Glacier Peak Wilderness blew me away again.
Backpacking in Sequoia National Park, California
Going through my photos from this six-day, 45-mile loop from Mineral King in the High Sierra, I’m convinced this was one of the most photogenic trips I’ve ever taken. Soaring cliffs and jagged peaks of clean, immaculate granite, a constellation of glimmering alpine lakes, pockets of rare Sierra solitude, high passes with infinite views, and a forest of backcountry (read: no throngs of tourists) reward the substantial effort demanded by this hike.
Backpacking in Yosemite National Park, California
I’ve long had a big hike in the southeastern corner of Yosemite on my to-do list. So this year three ultra-hiker friends and I knocked off a three-day, 65-mile loop from Tuolumne Meadows that included some of the park’s scenic highlights: the summits of Clouds Rest and Half Dome, Red Peak Pass and Vogelsang Pass, and a huge swath of some of the most remote backcountry in this flagship national park.
Dayhiking in the Desolation Wilderness, California
When the Yosemite wildfires foiled my plans for a multi-day hike in the park’s vast northern quadrant (giving me one objective already on my 2014 trip list), a couple of friends and I settled for a long dayhike to a series of stunning lakes in this granite redoubt above Lake Tahoe. It wasn’t a bad consolation prize at all.
Backpacking in the Grand Canyon, Arizona
What better way to cap off a year of adventure than backpacking in the Grand Canyon? Over three days, we descended the very rugged New Hance Trail to spend a night by the Colorado River, climbed up to Horseshoe Mesa’s sweeping mid-canyon views, then ascended the cliff-hugging goat path aptly named the Grandview Trail. November, it turns out, is an excellent month to get out into the wilderness. You just have to pick the right spot.