12 Favorite Photos From 2015 Adventures

Posted On December 7, 2015 at 12:08 pm by / Comments Off on 12 Favorite Photos From 2015 Adventures

By Michael Lanza

Did you get outdoors enough this past year? I like going through the photos from all of my trips of the past 12 months to remember those good times and remind myself to start thinking about where I want to go next year. I’m sharing here 12 of my favorite photos from my 2015 adventures, including several with my family. This list includes six national parks, two international trips, a multi-day descent of a world-class whitewater river, classic hikes from the Presidential Range to Zion and the Grand Canyon, and the summit of the highest peak in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains.

Enjoy. I hope these images inspire you to visit one of these places in 2016, or to start planning a big adventure—or perhaps a dozen of them—for next year.


Dawn at Banner Ridge yurt, Boise National Forest, Idaho.

Dawn at Banner Ridge yurt, Boise National Forest, Idaho.

Annual Family Ski Trip to a Backcountry Yurt

For the eighth year in a row, my family and another kicked and glided on skinny skis out to a yurt in the backcountry of Idaho’s Boise National Forest to spend three nights in January completely unplugged: no cell service or wifi, just solar-powered lights, a propane stove, an outhouse, and a warm, dry yurt. We spent four days skiing, sledding, and eating. None of us, kids included, can imagine not making this annual trip. But it’s less about skiing than it is about disconnecting from civilization and enjoying a beautiful forest and mountains and the company of family and friends.

Read my story about this most-recent trip and see all of my stories about our annual family yurt trip.


David Ports hiking in the Wonderland of Rocks, Joshua Tree National Park.

David Ports hiking in the Wonderland of Rocks, Joshua Tree National Park.

Rock Climbing at California’s Joshua Tree National Park

When I had a work-related trip to southern California in February, with a couple of days free to return to Joshua Tree, I emailed my good buddy, David Ports, and he scheduled a business trip to the area for the same time—because that’s what good friends do. We jammed as much climbing, hiking, trail running, and laughing into two days as we could (and adhered to one of my 10 Tips For Getting Outside More).

I’ll write about that trip soon at The Big Outside. Meanwhile, see my story about a family trip to Joshua Tree, and all of my stories about adventures in California.


Jeff Wilhelm trekking the Dusky Track in New Zealand's Fiordland National Park.

Jeff Wilhelm trekking the Dusky Track in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park.

Adventuring in Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

In March, I returned to New Zealand for a third time on assignment for Backpacker magazine. My good friend and regular backcountry partner, Jeff Wilhelm, packed a lot of adventure into just nine days in New Zealand’s biggest national park, in Fiordland: We trekked hut to hut on the Kepler and Dusky Tracks, dayhiked to Gertrude Saddle, and capped off the visit with a half day of sea kayaking in spectacular Milford Sound.

Look for my feature story about the Dusky Track in Backpacker in 2016 and I’ll also eventually write about it at this blog. Meanwhile, see all of my stories about adventuring in New Zealand at The Big Outside.


My son, Nate, hiking Angels Landing in Utah's Zion National Park.

My son, Nate, hiking Angels Landing in Utah’s Zion National Park.

Hiking Angels Landing, Zion National Park

Our son, Nate, was five when my wife and I first hiked with him up Angels Landing, the iconic and enduringly popular summit 1,500 feet above the floor of Zion Canyon. Our daughter, Alex, was three that year and not quite ready for Angels. But at the end of March, en route to go backpacking in Paria Canyon, we killed an afternoon with a family dayhike to the top of Angels. Reaching it in late afternoon, we found relatively few other hikers up there, and got an uncrowded view of the gorgeous, late-day light streaming across the canyon. I’ve been up Angels Landing a handful of times, and it never gets old.

See all of my stories about Zion National Park and my stories about hiking and backpacking in southern Utah at The Big Outside.


Backpacking Paria Canyon, Utah-Arizona

Backpacking Paria Canyon, on the Utah-Arizona border.

Backpacking Paria Canyon in Utah and Arizona.

Paria Canyon is, without question, one of the great multi-day canyon hikes in the desert Southwest. A tributary of the Colorado River, it straddles the Utah-Arizona border in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness (between Kanab, Utah, and Page, Arizona), and flows into the Grand Canyon at Lees Ferry. Backpacking for five days with our friends, the Serio family, we walked for miles between sheer walls in a kaleidoscope of red and orange, streaked with coal-black water stains, that tower hundreds of feet overhead and close in tightly in the upper canyon. One of our campsites in Paria made my list of 25 favorite backcountry campsites.

Look for my feature story about this trip, with many photos, a video, and information for planning this trip yourself, coming up at The Big Outside.



The campsite just beyond Royal Arch in the Grand Canyon.

The campsite just past Royal Arch in the Grand Canyon.

Backpacking the Grand Canyon’s Royal Arch Loop

Last May, I finally got around to ticking off a trip that’s been on my to-do list for a number of years: backpacking the Grand Canyon’s remote and very rugged, 34.5-mile Royal Arch Loop. Considered the most difficult of the established hiking routes on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, the route includes long stretches that lack a discernible trail (although it’s marked with cairns), some difficult and exposed scrambling, and a 20-foot rappel. But the scenery was as good as it gets, and the campsites outstanding—including site in the above photo, a minute’s walk past Royal Arch, sure to make the next update of my list of 25 all-time favorite backcountry campsites. And, not surprisingly, we saw just a handful of people.

I’ll write about this trip, sharing many more photos, a video, and trip-planning information, in 2016 at The Big Outside. Meanwhile, see all of my stories about Grand Canyon National Park.


Star Lake and Mount Madison in New Hampshire's Presidential Range.

Star Lake and Mount Madison in New Hampshire’s Presidential Range.

Dayhiking the Northern Presidential Range

My son, Nate, his 17-year-old cousin, Marco Garofalo, Marco’s 16-year-old buddy Liam Lynch-Galvin, were all game for a huge dayhike in one of the toughest places to pound out big miles: New Hampshire’s Presidential Range. So in June, my good friend and ultra-hiking partner Mark Fenton and I took the boys out for a 17-mile, 6,800-vertical-foot romp over the four summits of the Northern Pressies: Madison, Adams, and Jefferson, all 5,000-footers, and the tallest peak in the Northeast, 6,288-foot Mount Washington. It turned into a 15-hour day that concluded long after dark with five pairs of very tired legs—and a story that I’m confident will long outlive Mark and me.

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I’ll post a full story about this day, with more images, later at The Big Outside. Meanwhile, read my story about a previous, 20-mile “Death March” of the Presidential Range; my story about dayhiking 20 miles through the Wildcat-Carter-Moriah Range in the White Mountains; and my story “Still Crazy After All These Years: Hiking in the White Mountains,” in which I reflect on my long, personal history in the Whites while on a two-day hike with Mark from Crawford Notch to Franconia Notch. See also this Ask Me post where I describe all of my favorite hikes in New England.


The "kids raft" running Cliffside Rapid, Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho.

The “kids raft” running Cliffside Rapid, Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho.

Rafting Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River

In July, my family and 19 friends and relatives took one of the most storied, thrilling, and scenic adventures in America: floating down Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Led by guides with Idaho-based outfitter Middle Fork Rapid Transit, we spent six days running class III and IV rapids on this river that flows like an 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. We were about a far from pavement, cell service, and wifi as one can get in the Lower 48.

See my feature story about whitewater rafting and kayaking Idaho’s Middle Fork of the Salmon River, with lots of photos, a video, and trip-planning information.


My wife, Penny, on the 10,751-foot summit of Thompson Peak, highest in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains.

My wife, Penny, on 10,751-foot Thompson Peak, highest in Idaho’s Sawtooths.

Hiking the Highest Summit in Idaho’s Sawtooths, Thompson Peak

Thirty-three summits in Idaho’s best-known mountain range, the Sawtooths, rise above 10,000 feet. The highest of them, 10,751-foot Thompson Peak, lies about 6.5 miles and 4,200 vertical feet from the trailhead at Redfish Lake, and a big chunk of that involves rugged, off-trail hiking and scrambling. That means it’s within dayhiking distance, but it’s a very full day. I’d been up it a few times before, but my wife, Penny, had not, and decided to remedy that glaring omission from her outdoor CV as an Idahoan.

So in July, she and I (with our kids in summer camps) set out in a cool, morning fog that hung thickly over the Sawtooth Valley. Four-and-a-half hours later, I snapped this photo of her in a notch right below the short, third-class scramble to Thompson’s summit (which we did, of course, stand on). We had the crown of the Sawtooths to ourselves on that weekday, with a sweeping view of the entire Sawtooth Range, Goat Lake 1,700 feet below us, and the White Cloud Mountains across the valley.

I’ll share more photos from that day and info on hiking Thompson Peak in coming months at The Big Outside. Meanwhile, see my story “Ask Me: What Are the Best Hikes in Idaho’s Sawtooths?” for a description of the standard hiking route to the summit of Thompson as well as other great dayhikes and backpacking trips in the Sawtooths. And see all of my stories about Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, including stories about climbing two other very prominent Sawtooth summits, McGown Peak and Mount Heyburn.

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The Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park, in the Canadian Rockies.

The Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park, in the Canadian Rockies.

Backpacking the Rockwall Trail, Kootenay National Park, Canada

In August, we took a family trip to the Canadian Rockies, the focus of which was a four-day backpacking trip on the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park. While many people visit neighboring Banff National Park (for good reason), Kootenay and another Canadian Rockies national park, Yoho (where we also took a classic dayhike on the Iceline Trail), are equally stunning but see far fewer people. And the 34-mile (54k) Rockwall, which passes below a chain of soaring cliffs, jagged peaks, and hanging glaciers that extends for miles, truly deserves to be on any list of the world’s most-scenic, multi-day hikes.

Look for my feature story about that trip, with many photos, a video, and trip-planning information, in 2016 at The Big Outside.


Hiking in Yellowstone National Park

This fall, I had an opportunity to spend a couple of days hiking in Yellowstone. I ticked off some trails I hadn’t gotten to before, but I also wanted to revisit a favorite footpath: walking the North Rim Trail high above crumbling cliffs of golden rock dropping nearly a thousand feet into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. There, I followed the Brink of Lower Falls Trail to a platform erected right at the spot where the Yellowstone River launches itself violently over 308-foot Lower Yellowstone Falls—where I grabbed the lead photo at the top of this story, looking down canyon.

I’ll share more photos from that trip in coming months at The Big Outside. Meanwhile, see all of my stories about Yellowstone National Park and its neighbor, another favorite park of mine, Grand Teton.


My 15-year-old son, Nate, backpacking in Idaho's White Cloud Mountains.

My 15-year-old son, Nate, backpacking in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains.

Backpacking in Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains

There are three new wilderness areas in my home state of Idaho as of August 2015, including one in the heart of a mountain range that locals have loved for decades: the White Clouds. When a friend who’s a longtime backcountry ranger in Idaho’s Sawtooth National Recreation Area told me his favorite spot in the White Clouds is Quiet Lake, my son, Nate, and I decided we had to go see why. So in early October, we backpacked several miles of rugged, off-trail terrain, tagging a summit at nearly 11,000 feet—I got the above shot of him en route up that peak—and camped beside Quiet Lake, at over 9,200 feet beneath the nearly vertical north face of 11,815-foot Castle Peak, tallest in the White Clouds. And we had the lake to ourselves.

I’ll write more about that trip in 2016 at The Big Outside. For now, see all of my stories at this blog about Idaho’s White Cloud Mountains.

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