The Year in 10 Stories at The Big Outside
By Michael Lanza
At The Big Outside, I post roughly a hundred stories a year of various lengths, from gear reviews and answers to readers’ questions to regular photo galleries—and every few weeks, a feature-length story about an outdoor adventure, many of those with my family. At year’s end, I look back at those longer stories published in the past 12 months and see a pretty darn stellar menu of trip ideas for you, my readers. Here’s a look back, in pictures and brief descriptions, at 10 top stories of 2015 published at The Big Outside.
The one-day, top-to-bottom descent of The Subway in Zion National Park is one of the most coveted national park hikes in America. A well-known, technical slot canyon requiring a few short rappels and some route-finding skills, The Subway takes its name from its most-photographed corner, a bend where floodwaters have bored an oval passage that, you guessed it, resembles the most strikingly colorful subway tunnel you will ever see. But the hike varies from a primitive trail through forest and across open slickrock, to the constantly changing Subway itself, and the broad canyon of the Left Fork of North Creek below The Subway—and is glorious every step of the way.
In a party of 23 friends and family, plus six guides from Idaho-based outfitter Middle Fork Rapid Transit, my family rafted and kayaked one of the most storied, thrilling, and scenic adventures in America: floating for six days down Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Flowing like a 100-mile-long artery through the heart of the second-largest federal wilderness in the continental United States, the nearly 2.4-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the Middle Fork presents boaters with about 300 ratable rapids, a number of them pretty big whitewater—class III and IV. A really wonderful trip, it deservedly earned a spot on my list of top 10 family adventures.
Yes, reaching the summit of Half Dome (lead photo at top of this story) ranks among the highlights of this 65-mile backpacking trip south of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. But so do the amazing summit ridge of Clouds Rest (see the lead photo in my feature story about this trip, and many other, more-obscure parts of it along the way, including the view of the canyon of the Lyell Fork of the Merced River (photo above). When you’re ready to explore deeper into Yosemite than its most-famous corners, this is your first trip.
The 41-mile Timberline Trail around Oregon’s Mount Hood has long lived in the shadow of the 93-mile Wonderland Trail around Hood’s taller and more-famous stratovolcano sibling, Mount Rainier. But as Oregon backpackers know, the Timberline can go toe-to-toe with the Wonderland for scenery and probably has an edge in adventure quotient. Wondering what I mean? Read my story, which has lots of photos, a video, and trip-planning information about the classic circumambulation of this 11,239-foot volcano in the heart of the Mount Hood Wilderness.
It’s a tall order to describe any trail as the most beautiful in the world; many well-traveled hikers will contest the claim, and other trails may be equally deserving. But the Alta Via 2 through Italy’s Dolomite Mountains must be in contention for the title. It may also rank among the most adventurous maintained footpaths in the world, as my family discovered on a hut-to-hut trek of a 39-mile (62k) section of the Alta Via 2 (AV 2). “The Way of the Legends,” a roughly 112-mile (180k) alpine footpath, is also known for comfortable mountain huts with excellent food—and a reputation as the most remote and difficult of the several multi-day alte vie, or “high paths,” that crisscross the Dolomites. Read my story about that trip to learn why.
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The water of Alice Lake, at almost 8,600 feet in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, is so clear that rocks on the lake bottom look as sharp and as close as words on the page of a book in your hands. And Alice—like two other relatively accessible backcountry lakes in Idaho’s best-known mountain range, Hell Roaring and Imogene—frequently offer glassy reflections of the rocky and jagged peaks surrounding them. In this story, I write about backpacking trips I took with each of my kids to these beloved jewels of the Sawtooths, two areas you’ll want to explore when (not if) you get there.
Even in the notoriously rugged White Mountains, Wildcat Mountain and the Carter Range harbor some mind-bogglingly steep and rocky trails. So when my good friend and longtime ultra-hiking partner, Mark Fenton, and I invited three teenagers—his daughter and my niece and nephew—to join us on a 20-mile dayhike over eight summits, with 7,200 feet of cumulative elevation gain, it’s safe to say they didn’t fully comprehend what they had gotten themselves into. Besides it turning into a brutally hard day, we also enjoyed one of the most scenic and varied trails in the Northeast (a great backpacking trip, too, if you’re more sane than our crew).
Arches National Park and the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park harbor the kind of geological oddities that fascinate both kids and adults. So we almost couldn’t go wrong on a weeklong, three-family trip to the southeastern corner of Utah, where we backpacked overnight to Big Spring Canyon to Squaw Canyon and dayhiked to Chesler Park in the Needles District, then dayhiked to highlights in Arches (including Skyline Arch, photo above). See my story about these surreal places, with many photos, a video, and trip-planning information.
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Every year, I update this popular story, because every year I usually spent a night in at least one backcountry campsite that deserves a spot on this lineup that, in my humble opinion, presents an impressive Life List of places to spend a night in the wilderness. This year, I added three incredible campsites to my top 25: The Narrows of Zion National Park, Paria Canyon on the Utah-Arizona border (photo above), and Alice Lake in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains (see Sawtooth story above, too). Take a look at my 25 all-time favorite campsites and tell me what you think.
This one dates back to 2013, but it remains perhaps the most enduringly popular story at The Big Outside—it now has over 15,000 Facebook likes, a number that has nearly doubled just within the past year. In it, I share the secrets I’ve learned over the years on how to raise kids to love the outdoors. I’ll let the story speak for itself.
One Last Note: Besides the 10 stories above, some of the most-read posts and pages at The Big Outside are consistently my Gear Reviews and Ask Me pages, and many of the stories listed at my Skills page, including my “10 Tips For Getting Outside More,” “10 Tips For Keeping Kids Happy and Safe Outdoors,” and “10 Tips For Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit.”