WORLD'S TOP TEN TREKS
by Jillian Saxty
For tranquility, pristine environments, and a chance to get away from life in the modern age, there are not many activities that can equal trekking. Treks can last a few days, or several weeks. They can take you to very high altitudes, or simply to remote places and exotic environments experienced by relatively few travelers. Some of the most famous treks on the planet follow the same dusty footpaths ancient travelers followed, where not much has changed for thousands of years. Other newly discovered treks carry you into unspoiled wilderness areas with rarely- seen wildlife and spectacular views.
There are a few treks that should be on every serious hiking traveler’s “must do” list. Here we’ve compiled a Top Ten list of treks throughout the world that epitomize the joys of trekking. Some of these you will know, others you may not, but all are among the most rewarding and exciting trekking experiences on the planet.
The Mont Blanc circuit is one of the finest walking routes in the Alps. This series of paths links the seven valleys that surround Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Western Europe. To complete the whole circuit normally takes about two weeks. You can camp, but most choose to stay in classic mountain chalets along the way. Besides the glor-ious views, it’s a chance to sample the cultures of three countries rich in alpine history and cultural diversity (not to mention excellent cuisine): France, Switzerland, and Italy.
In Africa, the High Atlas Mountains rise in western Morocco at the Atlantic and head east towards Algeria. Summiting Mt. Toubkal, known locally as Jebel Toubkal (13,671 ft. above sea level), is a challenging hike, but you are well-rewarded with superb mountain views. Passing along well-traveled donkey paths will take you through Berber villages nestled between valleys and mountains. Here life is hard, but traditional culture is largely preserved. As you pass stone walls and tiny alleys you may hear children shout “Arrumi, arrumi” (literally “Roman”) — a tribute to Romans who ventured here sixteen centuries ago. This is one of the original destinations for adventure travelers!
Farther east, on the Horn of Africa in Ethiopia, the Simien Mountains are arguably the most beautiful range in Africa. Vast and remote, the highland plateau is capped by a dramatic skyline of jagged volcanic plugs and split by deep gorges and gullies. The views across this landscape are breathtaking, the striking towers and formations having been described as “the chess pieces of the Gods.” Simien National Park has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO for its endemic species of wildlife and flora, including the Gelada baboon and Walia ibex.
One of the most famous snow-capped peaks in the world rises improbably from the Serengeti plain in East Africa. Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa (19,330 ft.) and a stunning image of geometric beauty at first sight. There are several routes up the mountain, but one, the Rongai route, retains a sense of untouched wilderness lost on the more crowded Marangu and Machame trails. A relatively gentle gradient and short daily stages make it the easiest of all the routes, winding its way up from the starting point just south of the Kenya-Tanzania border to the summit of this inactive volcano, with unique vegetation offering an interesting diversion along the way.
South America is slashed from top to bottom by the mighty Andes, the world’s longest mountain range, running 4,300 miles along its entire western coast. At the southern tip, the Torres Del Paine National Park lies on the southern edge of the Patagonia ice cap and is one of Chile’s most spectacular national parks. The massive granite towers of the “Cuernos del Paine” dominate the magnificent landscape. The park is a wonderland of snow-capped mountains, rugged granite peaks, beautiful waterfalls, glacier-fed lakes, Magellanic forests and open pampas. Trekking is vigorous and camping is the typical accommodation, but one of the priceless rewards of roughing it is the incomparable view of the southern stars at night.
The most famous trek in the Americas, the Inca Trail, offers a unique and unrivalled combination of history and spectacular scenery. Starting at the powerful Urubamba River, crossing mountain passes and ascending through cloud forests, the ancient Inca road passes several ruined fortresses before reaching the fabulous lost city of Machu Picchu. This mountainous jungle hike is rated moderate, but with any high altitude trekking acclimatization is key. Every step along this ancient road system brings images and memories of the Inca people who traveled here. Viewing Machu Picchu is the unforgettable event of a lifetime.
The Kokoda Track in rarely-visited Papua New Guinea is one of many walking tracks that existed long before Europeans came into this part of the world. During the course of World War II, the Japanese decided to use this trail as a means of launching a ground attack against the Australians in Port Moresby. You can complete the route of the campaign by starting from the village of Kokoda and eventually heading west to Owers’ Corner perched high on the Sogeri Plateau (not far from where Australian troops first turned back the Japanese advance). This trek crosses the central spine of Papua New Guinea, paying homage at all the main WWII battle sites. You’ll gain an appreciation of the rugged beauty of the region, including the impressive Owen Stanley Range, and the virtually untouched culture of the Papuans.
Asia holds the world’s highest mountains, but in China, one classic place to trek isn’t on a peak; rather, it’s on the longest man-made structure in the world. There is an old Chinese saying that goes “...you are not a man until you have been to the Great Wall!” This famous icon, which in its “modern” incarnation was mostly built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), ultimately reached a length of 8,852 kilometers (5,500 miles), according to a recent two-year comprehensive survey. Most of the Great Wall runs along a crest of hills on the southern edge of Inner Mongolia. Usually you hike on the Wall, mostly along parts that have been restored, but sometimes you will travel on paths next to the massive fortification. Either way, you’re in for a cultural and historical treat, if you are relatively fit and don’t mind camping or staying in simple guesthouses.
Northern India is home to the Markha Valley in Ladakh. In this area, known as “Little Tibet,” the classic trek combines stunning mountain panoramas and barren hillsides with pretty villages and lush meadows. Ladakh is isolated for many months of the year by snow and is, therefore, one of the best places to experience the unique culture of the High Himalaya. Meeting nomadic families as they herd their yaks or paying a visit to a monastery where butter lamps are lit by an elderly nun leave indelible memories of your journey through this gloriously illuminated and stark landscape.
Finally, your trekking accomplishments would not be complete without a trip to Nepal, and Everest Base Camp in particular. To start the trek, you typically swoop down a mountain valley on a flight from Kathmandu to Lukla, gateway to the Everest region. From here you head to the bustling Sherpa “capital” of Namche Bazaar, then on to the magnificent Thyangboche Monastery. Your goals are the 18,192-foot summit of Kala Patar, recognized as the best place to view Mount Everest and the historic Everest Base Camp. Combine your trek with an exploration of Kathmandu’s temples, shrines and bazaars and you have a thoroughly exotic and satisfying journey.
We hope this Best-of-the-Best sampler has whetted your appetite for outdoor adventures that will leave a lifetime of fond memories.
FOR MORE INFORMATION contact the Adventure Center, which offers affordable versions of the world’s top treks at ,www.adventurecenter.com or call 800-308-6455 to speak with an adventure travel specialist.
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TIPS FOR A GREAT TREK
1. Respect cultural differences. Local customs and traditions may be different from your own, and communities in remote trekking locations are often more traditional and conservative than in urban areas. Take the time to learn what behavior is acceptable or what is considered rude in terms of dress, social interaction and general attitude. Slow down and smile.
2. Respect wildlife. View animals from a safe distance; do not approach, touch, feed or harass them.
3. Take photos with care. Always ask permission to take photos of people, and respect their wishes if they refuse.
4. Learn a few phrases. Knowing a few words goes a long way; people appreciate the effort and it’s a great ice-breaker.
5. Support local artisans. Support the local economy by purchasing locally crafted goods and souvenirs, but do not buy products that exploit wildlife, contribute to habitat destruction or come from endangered species.
6. Stay on the trail. Straying off the trail while hiking can cause erosion and other environmentally harmful impacts.
7. Do not litter. Even if local standards are low please be sure to leave no trace of your visit.
8. Be prepared for the physical challenges. Build up your fitness well before your trip with increasingly regular aerobic exercise that will prepare you for multiple days of hiking. Make sure you put plenty of miles on your boots before you set off on your trek.
9. Give yourself time to adjust to altitude. If your trek will be at high altitude, try and arrive in the high-altitude region a few days early to begin your body’s adjustment to the altitude before your start your trek.::