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The Wild Bunch

Come plunge down China’s biggest sand dune, gallop headlong across the Argentine pampas and clamber up Yosemite’s Half Dome as we present our annual adventure issue, brimming with the world’s best ways to get your adrenaline pumping

FANGS FOR THE MEMORIES
Deep in the Alaska wilderness, the big dogs don’t always do what they’re told

We noticed the wolf at the same time. He was big.

I had just finished stuffing my pockets with cheese and reindeer sausage—Alaska backpacking is hungry work—and now a fierce gray carnivore stood 15 feet from our picnic. I realized we probably smelled pretty good, to a wolf. My Manhattanite girlfriend grabbed my pocket knife and clutched it with both hands. She was terrified.

“Take a picture,” I whispered. I was raised in the Alaska wilds but had never seen a wolf this close.

“Shoot it,” she hissed back. Her knuckles were white on the knife handle.

“Hey, wolf!” I yelled and waved my arms. My voice echoed across the dry riverbed. “Mr. Wolf! Go away, please!” I sounded ridiculous. My girlfriend apparently thought so too, and pulled out our other blade, the Leatherman we used to open cans. She brandished them both.

Mr. Wolf did not run. He appeared fascinated by the fresh meat that shouted and trembled before him. When I hollered he literally licked his chops. My choices were limited. Running would mark us as prey. Throwing rocks seemed foolhardy, like slapping a bouncer. And it was our fifth day in Denali National Park, a tract of wilderness the size of Massachusetts, and we had yet to see another backpacker. We were completely alone.

Except, of course, for the wolf. He was my size, sinewy muscles over a rangy frame with a big head and bigger teeth. He was so close I imagined he could do me in just by stretching his neck.

Days before, we had wandered past our intended campsite into the aptly named Bear Draw, where, right on cue, three grizzlies appeared. At the sound of my voice, though, they made for the opposite side of the valley—clearly choosing to avoid us.

This beast was different. He sniffed the air. Checked the angles. I hefted our can of bear spray. I had never used anything like it, save for a childhood incident in which I “accidentally” maced a buddy in the face.

I knew I should check the breeze— spraying upwind would blind us, too—but when I tried to spit, my mouth was dry. This was bad. My girlfriend’s father already thought she would die in Alaska. I couldn’t let him be right.

“OK, babe. Let’s back away,” I said. “Slowly.”

We took a few clumsy steps backward. The wolf cocked his head, but did not follow.

“C’mon, babe. Take the shot.” “I hate you,” she said. Nevertheless, she snapped a picture from so close it could have been taken in a zoo.

We continued our slow retreat (to where, we didn’t know). The wolf stalked us from the tall spruces that bordered the riverbed. Finally, after 30 sweaty minutes, he vanished for the last time, probably as bored as we were terrified.

“You know, I think I could have taken him,” I said. “He wasn’t that big.”

She gave me that patented Park Avenue eye-roll. Both blades were still up and ready. —Joshua Saul

Easy Going
Six luxury shortcuts that tame the great wild world

1. A long-distance mountain biking trip can put the fear of God into even the most practiced tire changer—but not on a journey through the Kathmandu and Kali Gandaki valleys in Nepal led by Sacred Rides. In addition to full ride support, the trip includes bottled water, all meals at restaurants and overnights in hotels, lodges and teahouses.

2. The contemporary minimalist Mashpi Lodge is located in a 2,600-acre private reserve in an Ecuadoran cloud forest that contains dozens of plants and animals found nowhere else. You won’t even have to hike to enjoy them, as you can zip around via private tram or simply view them through your floor-to-ceiling windows.

3. What with their pipes and desks and porters, even the great turn-of-the-century safarists didn’t exactly rough it. You can do them one better on Micato’s Grand Safari. It features stays at some of the most luxurious hotels in Africa, including the Mount Kenya Safari Club, which has hosted Sir Winston Churchill and Clark Gable.

4. One of the appeals of Patagonia is the immensity of its pristine, uncaring wilderness, which can make planning a trip there plenty intimidating. The new Singular Patagonia hotel aims to ease that anxiety with excursions to the region’s farthest corners arranged by skill level, as well as a spa for when you return satisfied, but sore.

5. Hiking, biking and rafting are great, but if you expect to arrive at your five-star hotel on the back of an elephant, you would do best to contact Butterfield & Robinson. Its Indochina Bespoke Grand Journey can include long-distance biking, cruising Vietnam’s Perfume River and, yes, riding an elephant. To your hotel.

6. Indiana Jones had to hike far and endure poison dart attacks when exploring ancient temples, but that’s only because he couldn’t stay right next door at a luxury resort. Mayaland Hotel, located on the grounds of Mexico’s Chichen Itza, was built by the head of the expedition that reconstructed the temple. —Jacqueline Detwiler

Single-Track Mind
Bombing down an ancient trail on Taiwan

The Neng Gao, a centuries-old trail that transects a 12,000-foot-high rocky spine on the island of Taiwan, is full of surprises: massive landslides that occasionally wipe out entire sections of trail; the native Taiya, who still hunt boar in the forest. Also: Overcooking a corner on a mountain bike could mean a fatal fall. But at a post-ride dinner in a small village restaurant high in the mountains, the risks of Neng Gao fade quickly from memory. It’s the summit I’ll remember— a green, grassy saddle caressed by plenty of wind and radiant sunshine—and the sensation of whipping down a ribbon of trail past waterfalls, hemlock spruce and fog. —Joe Lindsey

WORDS FROM THE WILD
“I think we just took a little more time in the planning. Two other groups had tried, and we basically built on the work they had done. But we went in faster, with more supplies, and we got in there with the right river flow, when it was low. The planning part is great; it gets you really involved. You feel like you’re giving the river the respect it deserves.” —Matt Wilson, owner of Colorado-based 4 Corners Whitewater, on leading the team that recently made the first descent of Peru’s Huallaga River

One Response to “The Wild Bunch”

  1. Alan M. Astengo Says:
    May 9th, 2012 at 7:43 am

    I first climbed Half Dome with my friend, Eric Hipple, when were 17. We were determined to make it in 3 hours. We did it and did not expect that this would be that big of a deal. It is a memory that both of us will never forget

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