The dictionary definition of adventure includes the words danger, risk, unknown, discovery, unusual and exciting. When it comes to “adventure travel,” I prefer to leave off most of the danger and risk, and just settle for unusual and discovery of the unknown, with a little excitement thrown in for seasoning.
Along those lines, I’m going to suggest a few trips for adventure travel for boomers that I’ve experienced. To me, these were exciting, and there was sometimes a small element of danger that occasionally quickened the pulse. But, my main motivation is discovery of something new.
Walking The Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah, U.S.A.
The United States National Park system has something for everyone, from extreme wilderness camping to driving tours where you never get out of your car. The walk up The Narrows certainly leans more toward the former, but it can be done by any reasonably fit person.
As the name suggests, The Narrows is the narrowest part of Zion Canyon. The Virgin River has carved its way down the canyon over the millennia, leaving walls that are sometimes as much as 1,000 feet high. In some places, the walls are only 30 feet apart. The hike can be done in one of two ways: starting from the top and walking downstream about 16 miles, which requires a permit, or you can enter at the bottom and walk up about 5 miles, turn around and walk back down.
There’s no path, so you’ll actually be walking on rocks in the river. Bring closed-toe water shoes and walking sticks. The water moves quickly and will try to knock you off your feet. But, if you go in the summer, it’s usually only about knee deep and not too cold.
Keep your eye on the weather. If it rains in the mountains, The Narrows can fill quickly with a flash flood. Two hikers were killed last year when just such a torrent rushed down the canyon.
Climbing Cradle Mountain, Tasmania, Australia
Again, this is a climb that can be done by a reasonably fit and flexible person.
The climb begins with a hike of a couple of miles from the Dove Lake parking area in The Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park. It’s an easy hike on wooden paths that traverse a plain of high grass, which is home to charming wombats, wallabies, echidnas and platypuses, all of which you’re almost certain to see.
But as you approach the mountain, it begins to look a bit more foreboding. The grassy marsh gives way to steepening rocky fields that present a more strenuous hiking environment. In another half hour, you’re scrambling on all fours over huge broken boulders that can be quite slippery and offer only a few hand holds. Often, the friction of your trail shoes and your palms is the only thing that’s keeping you from tumbling down the sometimes near vertical surfaces.
I made it to the top in about four hours and only feared broken bones or death maybe a dozen times. Going down is less strenuous, of course, but in some spots probably more thrilling than going up.
Be sure to take plenty of water, and, again, keep an eye on the weather. A front can move in quickly and the temperature may drop 20 degrees in a matter of minutes. Rain on the slippery rocks would be a dangerous development, indeed.
Hiking the Guatemalan Jungle to El Mirador
The Mayan archeological sites of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and Guatemala attract millions of visitors every year. Mexico, in particular, has developed many of the sites, such as Chichen Itza, into full blown tourist attractions.
But if you want the experience of the present day archeological explorers, you can take a guided expedition deep into the jungle of northern Guatemala to El Mirador, the largest city of the Mayans, and one that’s only barely been reclaimed from the relentless jungle.
The journey begins before dawn with a jolting four-hour van ride from the charming Guatemalan lakeside town of Flores to a ramshackle village at the edge of the jungle called Carmelita. The people of Carmelita are the only ones allowed to guide trips into El Mirador. When you arrive in Carmelita, you’ll be treated to lunch while mules are being loaded with the food, water, tents, etc. that you’re going to need for your next five days.
The route into El Mirador is two days and about 30 miles through a blistering hot, although mostly shaded tropical jungle. During the dry season, the only water you’ll see is the huge jugs the mules are carrying, and whatever you siphon from those jugs into your own water bottles.
This trip is both brutal and invigorating–and even oddly peaceful–at the same time. Your guides live in and understand the jungle, so there’s no time when you need to feel afraid.
However, I admit there were many times, as I listened to my own footfalls; heard the occasional bellow of a howler monkey; and kept my eye out for snakes, that this was about as adventurous as I planned on getting for a while.
There are many tour agencies in Flores, Guatemala who can arrange the trek into El Mirador for you. A good idea might be to check with the Guatemalan National Tourism bureau for their recommendations. One caveat: if you don’t speak Spanish yourself, you should go with someone who does. For the most part, the Carmelita guides speak no English.
Tom Bartel blogs about his travels at http://travelpast50.com.