Great Escapes

A caving expedition in Belize

Descending into the Mayan Underworld

We’d been underground for five hours, as deep as 600 feet below the surface of the jungle in a cave the Belizeans call the Mountain Cow Cave. The cavern has been rebranded for tourists as the more picturesque-sounding Crystal Cave, though few tourists make it here. Unlike the more famous and accessible Actun Tunichil Muchnal cave, which sees thousands of visitors per year, Crystal Cave only sees a few hundred, most only peeking into its impressive foyer. I could see why. It was not for the faint of heart.

An Offshore Account

Photo Essay: Diving and Decompressing in Belize

After a long and fairly uneventful dive on an unnamed reef out in South Water Caye, I clambered aboard Splash Belize’s dive boat, shed tanks and weights and stripped off my wetsuit. The big diesels rumbled to life and Captain Malcolm steered toward a small island in the distance. As we drew closer, I could make out a few small panga boats and some activity on the beach. Then came a distinctive smell: barbecue.

Neighbors a World Away

Photo Essay: Haiti, Three Years After the Quake

On January 12th, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Perhaps "shook" is an understatement. The quake destroyed 250,000 Haitian residences and 30,000 commercial buildings and claimed (depending on who you ask) between 100,000 and 300,000 lives. In the days that followed the quake, foreign aid poured into Haiti, along with monetary pledges from nations all across the world. But numbers never quite capture a country's conditions, culture or people, as GP staffer K.B. Gould discovered during a recent visit.

Hiking Hut to Hut in the White Mountains

Don’t Underestimate the Whites

For thru-hikers of the AT, the White Mountains are a cruel joke, coming near the end of a months-long journey that begins in the gentle hills of Georgia. With nary a flat mile the trail follows the spine of the Presidential Range before exiting into Maine and the final miles to Katahdin. But while the Whites can be cruel, they are also kind. Among the rocky steeps is a series of huts where a weary hiker can find a soft bed, warm smiles and hot meals. I came to the White Mountains of New Hampshire with too much confidence and they kicked my ass. With the trail's highest point barely above tree line and only one thousand feet higher than the starting point of my June ascent of Mount Rainier, I figured hiking here would be easy. I was wrong.

Part II of III in The Mountain Series

At the Foot of the King: A Short Hike in the Swiss Alps

For alpinists everywhere, including those confined to armchairs, the name, “Eiger” conjures up excitement, fear and dread. Considered the most daunting climb in the Alps, the mountain’s north face, the “Nordwand”, is a 6,000-foot sheer wall of crumbling, often ice-coated, rock that is continually scoured by rockfalls and avalanches. First climbed in 1938, it has been the scene of countless adventures, tragedies and one Clint Eastwood movie. The name and the image of the Eiger were etched in my brain for years, and I read everything I could about the mountain. So to see it there, across the valley from the sundeck of the Berggasthaus First, seemed like a dream; I could hardly take my eyes off it.

Part I of III in The Mountain Series

The Easy Way Up: Heli-Hiking in the Bugaboos

The rotor wash from a Bell 212 helicopter is startlingly strong. Though I was getting used to the pick up and drop off routine -- kneel, huddle together, cover your face -- every time the helicopter landed I was nearly blown off my feet. Peering out the side window as we lifted straight up from a postage-stamp-sized rock atop a peak called "Kickoff", I noticed that getting blown over here would have meant a very long fall. Note to self: don’t be the guy at the back of the huddle. Helicopter travel is addictive. Though it's loud and uncomfortable, it's the swiftest and most scenic way to get from Point A to Point B in the mountains. There’s also a certain Green Beret appeal to being whisked off a remote peak by a Huey. Purist hikers and climbers may call it cheating (I used to be one of them), but reserve judgment until you’ve hiked for five hours and 5,000 vertical feet in some of the wildest backcountry in the world and can get back to the lodge in ten minutes for a beer by a crackling fire. I came to this newfound appreciation after a week of up and down in the Bugaboo Mountains of British Columbia.

Unclean and loving it

The Road Less Traveled: Taking On the Trans-America Trail in the Land Rover LR4

When you’re looking to travel from coast to coast, you’ve got several options; planes are the fastest, trains are probably the cheapest, the interstate is a good DIY choice. But for the adventurer, the Trans-America Trail (TAT) is one of the best. The TAT is a westbound dual-sport motorcycle trail across America on unpaved roads. Sam Corerro, original founder of the TAT, spent years passionately pursuing his goal of charting a coast-to-coast, off-pavement motorcycle adventure. After studying reams of maps and personally surveying thousands of miles of unpaved roadway, Corerro finalized this 5,000-mile route across America in 1999. Over a year ago, Land Rover, too, had the idea to travel across the continental United States completely off road, and we recently joined them for a long leg of the trip.

That wetsuit ain't for show

Setting Sail: A Journey to the Channel Islands

When I first received the invite for a Wilderness Collective trip I had many reactions, which were, in no particular order: "I haven't camped since I was six" and "I hope the people don't suck" and "it'll be nice to go on a pleasant, Instagram-worthy tour off the coast aboard a yacht in order to roast marshmallows on an island". Our destination would be the Channel Islands archipelago, eight land masses situated over 30 miles seaward from the shores of California's coast. The multi-faceted trip would not, in fact, be about yachts and butler service. I didn't know that yet.

Tagging sharks in the Bahamas

To Catch a Tiger

Sharks are hot right now, despite, or perhaps because of, their scarcity. People love them, vilify them, study them or eat their fins. Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” is one of the year's most highly anticipated television events, up there with the Super Bowl or finale of “The Bachelor.” Still, they’re very endangered due to a combination of targeted fishing to satisfy the appetite for shark fin soup, pollution, coral reef degradation or as bycatch in nets and on long lines. This last method, which claimed an estimated 97 million sharks in 2010 alone, accounts for 80% of shark deaths annually and is the subject of an ongoing study being conducted by scientists at the Cape Eleuthera Institute in the Bahamas. We endured a bumpy ride in a tiny turboprop to visit this remote outpost and see what they were finding. Along the way we came face to face with this top predator of the deep.

Mount Rainier - 14,410 feet

Climbing the Volcano

Mount Rainier rises 14,410 feet above the landscape two hours to the southeast of Seattle. It towers above its surroundings, dwarfing the smaller peaks of the nearby Tatoosh Range and creating its own weather systems. It is the largest and most heavily glaciated peak in the lower 48 states. From the city on clear days, it is a beacon, almost a benevolent presence. Yet Rainier is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the Western Hemisphere. Should it ever erupt again, the resulting mudslides and ash would threaten not only Seattle but much of Washington state and beyond. For climbers, Mount Rainier presents a tantalizing challenge given its accessibility to a major urban center and the established routes that zigzag up its flanks. Its topography and numerous glaciers and crevasses make it an excellent training ground for bigger climbs in the Alps and Himalayas. Only about half those who attempt to summit it succeed each year, the other half turned away by weather, unstable conditions or fatigue. It was also the scene of one of the worst mountaineering accidents in North American climbing history when an ice fall killed 11 climbers in 1981. It sounded like a good challenge.

Come for the Uranium, Stay for the Adventure

72 Hours in Moab

Forty miles south of an absolutely barren stretch of I-70 on the Colorado-Utah border sits the unlikely adventure travel capital of the Southwest desert. What Moab, Utah lacks in vegetation it makes up for in the sheer volume of red-rock activities local adrenaline junkies have dreamed up. We came to Moab with one thing in mind: to summit Ancient Art Tower -- but our free days were easily filled with stunning hikes in Arches National Park, exceptional sport climbing and bouldering along the Colorado river, and more than few local craft beers and wines.

Moments from a day on the PCH

Pacific Coast Cruising: Driving California’s Iconic Highway

Twisting against cliffs carved by tempestuous ocean waves, the Pacific Coast Highway is a dazzling drive. Carved by nature and intrepid men armed with dynamite, the PCH meanders through California's natural vistas: endless forests of firs and redwoods, towns steeped in history, pounding surfs, vineyards. It's intoxicating. On the heels of yesterday's dive into the art of the road trip, we thought it fitting to share our photo essay from a recent journey of California's iconic highway.

A Photo Essay

Dispatches From Cuba: Photos and Stories From a 20-Day Journey

It started with an email from my buddy. Condor, Meet you in the lobby of the Islazul Gran Hotel De Camaguey @8am on March 18th, 2013. I will be in touch - Peregrine. Actually, we’d talked about the possibility of a Cuba trip when Mycah — his name isn’t always Peregrine — and his wife found out the she’d been awarded a fellowship to study urban agriculture there. I had not booked my tickets. I wasn’t really sure I’d go because it was near a grand between the flight to Cancun and the next one to Havana, plus I’d been traveling a lot the past year. I told him it was 50/50. Then in early March I was offered a quick business trip to Cancun ending in mid-March. You don’t balk when serendipity tugs at your Johnson, so I shot off a quick email reply: F*ck it. Tickets booked. See you there.

Knobby tires meet sleep deprivation in a sea of sand

Peril and the Prize: The Dakar Rally

While the vast majority of race-hungry viewers across the country watch NASCAR, Indy and the American Le Mans Series, a race of an altogether different kind occurs on another continent -- and both death and destruction are almost guaranteed. That race is the Dakar Rally (a.k.a., the Paris-Dakar Rally), where professionals and amateurs alike venture out into the treacherous unknown in all manner of vehicles to see if they can claim the coveted title of one of the most skilled and hard-as-nails drivers the world has ever seen. There's little in the way of tarmac to plant your tires on in this rally bonkers off-road endurance race that pits man and vehicle against mile upon mile of wheel-swallowing sand, water, dirt and rocks. And if you make the mistake of thinking it's just about driving fast, you might as well stick to your barcalounger and bouts of Gran Turismo 5 in the safety of your parents' basement.

On Safari in Kenya

Where The Wild Things Are: 10 Days in Kenya

The Masai Mara National Reserve on Kenya's southwestern border with Tanzania is blanketed with large mammals, so heavily in fact that it takes a day or two to register that the animals are real and not holographic or cutouts from a National Geographic photo spread. This is what happens when you combine a life spent mostly staring into a computer with the ease of international travel. One day I'm in Crown Heights, Brooklyn; 24 hours and four airplane meals later, I'm on safari in the African savanna.

The watch company that came in from the cold

Saxon Snow: To the Heart of German Watchmaking with A. Lange & Söhne

Gear Patrol's Jason Heaton travels to Saxony, home of A. Lange & Söhne, to explore the region, experience the watchmaker and learn its storied history. Read on for our short film, photo essay and his story -- filled with snowy drives, German culture, precision watchmaking and an incredible company that came out of the cold.

Slipping through time, nearly untouched, in a Belizean Cave

Immaculate Tomb: Exploring Actun Tunichil Muknal

In the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve of Western Belize, late in 1989, Dr. Thomas Miller jumped into a tributary of the Roaring River and swam inside an unnamed cave’s vine-covered mouth. But the American geologist wasn’t in pursuit of a lost Maya relic; he was there to study geomorphology: the formation of caves. What he found, however, led him to contact Dr. Jaime Awe, director of the Belize Institute of Archaeology, who recorded his findings in 1992.

Reaping Row C

Seeking Effervescence: Harvesting Champagne with Veuve Clicquot

The straightforward instruments used to harvest grapes by hand haven't changed much through the years: A pair of picking shears (sharp and oiled, please), a generously proportioned basket and, God willing, decent weather and bottomless espresso. The process itself remains just as simple an affair. Choose a starting point within the grapevine row, look for mature grape clusters, aim shears slightly below the attached stem -- snip -- gently place cluster into basket. Repeat until basket is full.

Cidade Maravilhosa

Rio is Rising: 72 Hours in Rio de Janeiro

Preface: Recently, on an invitation from our friends at Veuve Clicquot, we ventured 4,800 miles south to Rio de Janerio, or what its Portuguese forebearers serendipitously misnamed River of January. Seeking insight and photographic proof of Rio’s reputation for both vice and enchantment, we discovered a city quivering to the beat of music and culture,...