March 8, 2012
This world was made for walking, and so were people—and one blog post is hardly enough to do justice to the subject of great trails. So, after Tuesday’s listing of a few of the world’s greatest trails, I’m revisiting the topic to include several more routes worth walking.
New Zealand South to North. “Tramping” New Zealand from its most southerly place, at Slope Point, to its most northerly point, at Cape Reinga, is a thought that breezes through the minds of many travelers as they peruse their Kiwi maps—and a few people take the notion into action. I met several Americans during my recent travels in New Zealand who were spending as long as six months making this journey. The preferred route seems to include Nelson Lakes National Park, Arthur’s Pass National Park and the spine of the Southern Alps, keeping a walker in the high-country wilderness, virtually free of roads or people, for hundreds of miles. This walk crosses more than 10 degrees of latitude between the subtropical north, where the waters are lukewarm and home to marlin and other tropical fishes, to the frigid south, where the cold and rough weather is the stark signature of Antarctica. If your boss won’t give you half a year’s leave, then consider any of the Great Walks of New Zealand—marked trails which, for better or for worse, are highly regulated and managed.
Continental Divide Trail. One of America’s great long-distance trails, the Continental Divide bisects the country between Mexico and Canada. It runs 3,100 miles and traverses desert plateau, prairie and the Rocky Mountains. Only 70 percent of the trail is usable, however, and in many places erosion, development and road-building threaten the sanctity of this long, long walk. As on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest trails, black bears occur the length of the Continental Divide Trail and can add an element of excitement to each night, when food must be hung from a tree or, better, stuffed into a bear canister. Along the northern reaches of the trail, hikers are likely to encounter moose and elk, with the ever-present possibility of seeing those most legendary creatures of the North American wild West—the grizzly bear and the wolf.
Lycian Way. The Lycians lived on what is now called the Tekke Peninsula of southwest Turkey, establishing a culture influenced by the Greeks and eventually smothered by those lovely Romans. Today, a 320-mile walking trail bisects the heart of old Lycia, running from Antalya to Fethiye through some of Turkey’s most classic coastal scenery. Great mountains rocket upward from the subtropical Mediterranean coast into altitudes of almost two miles. Hikers will find plenty of ups and downs, plus ruins of the Lycian era. Pensions and lodges are available, but camping out is easily done, accepted by locals and, in parts of the high country wilderness, necessary. When to go? Mid-winter is chilly, but by spring the weather is mild. Mid-summer is sweltering, but by fall the days are balmy, the sea temperatures bathtub warm and the figs and pomegranates spilling from the trees. Now, the problem with Turkey is that’s it’s so darn big and full of wonders. In the far east, travelers find tremendous potential for high adventure, though care should be taken to avoid politically unstable regions. The Kaçkar Mountains, abutting the eastern Black Sea coast, are an alpine area crisscrossed with trails and populated by brown bears and wolves. In the northwest, the Sultan’s Trail begins in Istanbul and leads all the way to Vienna.
Trails may occasionally cross the 3,000- foot altitude mark in New Zealand, while in Turkey’s Toros Mountains passes of 7,000 feet and more can be expected. In the Alps and the Rockies, the lowest point between two peaks is commonly a lofty and chilly 10,000 feet above the sea—but even that’s nothing compared to the heights of the the Himalayas. On the Annapurna Circuit, trekkers must be in top shape and with a healthy set of lungs, for the air is thin at altitudes of more than 15,000 feet—and the scenic views unmatched almost anywhere else. Hikers will pass close to the 26,545-foot Annapurna and the 26,810-foot Dhauligiri, among other tremendous peaks. The route runs 186 miles along ancient inter-village footpaths and trade routes. The trail hits a high point at Thorung La of 17,768 feet, and the whole thing can be completed in 15 to 20 days. Unfortunately, the route is heavily used, and tourist infrastructure has taken root along much of the way. Free camping is feasible, but many hikers seem to feel it’s a superfluous effort to camp when so many lodges and tea houses are available. Kind of kills the spirit of raw adventure, I think.
Australian Bicentennial Trail
From tropical crocodile habitat in the North Queensland rain forests to the temperate wine country of Victoria, and with plenty of snakes in between, this 3,331-mile trail connects the north of Australia to the south via the East Coast of the continent. The trail passes through 18 national parks and provides walkers a representation of the dramatic diversity in wildlife, climate and terrain to be found Down Under. Dogs and motorized vehicles are prohibited, so leave your ATVs and canine companions at home before you spoil the walk for the rest of us. Beware of crocodiles in the north, where swimming in creeks, rivers and swamps may be plain foolery.
Talking About Walking
The Inca Trail, the Rim of Africa Trail, the Cinque Terre Trail in Italy and so many others around the world far exceed what I can describe here. Please list other hikes below, whether long or short, wild or even semi-urban, that deserve mention. Finally, I finish with several fine quotes from men and women who touted the virtues of walking and its benefits for community, body and soul.
“Thoughts come clearly while one walks.” —Thomas Mann
“My father considered a walk among the mountains as the equivalent of churchgoing.” —Aldous Huxley.
“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” —Friedrich Nietzsche
“Walking is man’s best medicine.” —Hippocrates
“There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country. A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken at the right tempo. Even a bicycle goes too fast.” —Paul Scott Mowrer
“The best remedy for a short temper is a long walk.” —Jacqueline Schiff
“A dog is one of the remaining reasons why some people can be persuaded to go for a walk.” —O.A. Battista
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