The Matterhorns of North America

Grand Teton 35967549865_462dd883c4_o

The word Matterhorn smacks of the golden days of Alpine mountaineering, and summons up the signature, craggy summit that even today tantalizes climbers. Indeed, it’s the Matterhorn of the Pennine Alps—not Everest, not Mont Blanc, not Mount Fuji—that perhaps best embodies the idealized, majestic mountain, particularly its enshrined east and north faces. This windblown-looking 14,692-foot tooth of rock is the textbook example of a glacial horn: a steep-sided peak whittled by the headward erosion of ringing cirque glaciers. It has a fantastical look to it: a subtly corkscrewed slant, and the sort of fierce posture of the flagpole dorsal fin of a bull orca among whitecaps.

A bit of science here: To qualify as a true glacial horn, a peak generally must have at least three sheer faces. The Matterhorn (big "M") has given its name to a particularly extreme version of the glacial horn: those that come planed on all four faces. In other words, you don’t have to travel to the Alps to feast eyes on a matterhorn (little “m”). In fact, many of these pyramidal peaks can be found in the glaciated (or once-glaciated) heights of North America.

Let’s get acquainted with some of these mythic rock-skyscrapers, deserving counterparts of the "Mother of Mountains" studding the France-Italy border. (And let’s acknowledge as we do that this toothy bunch doesn’t account for all the continent’s matterhorns—here’s looking at you, Wetterhorn—and that a whole slew of peaks that don’t satisfy the strict geomorphic matterhorn definition—from Baffin Island’s Mount Thor to Ed Abbey's "big aching tooth" of Baboquivari in southern Arizona—nonetheless can suggest, from certain angles anyway, the appearance and monolithic presence of the great Alpine fang.)

Mount Assiniboine: Main Ranges, Canadian Rockies

There’s no mistaking the white tooth of Assiniboine, the signature North American matterhorn.

Jeff P

The 11,870-foot Mount Assiniboine along the Continental Divide border of British Columbia and Alberta—and the boundary between Banff National Park and the roadless Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park—may well be the most spitting of the Matterhorn’s North American spitting images.

Named for an American Indian/First Nations tribe, this Canadian Rockies celebrity shares with the genuine Matterhorn an almost unreal quality, and the appearance of a ferocious rock edifice that—despite both being summitted countless times—looks not only unclimbable but like a mountain that shouldn’t be climbed. (Known ascents of Assiniboine, for what it’s worth, begin with Sir James Outram in 1901.)

Mount Sir Donald: Selkirk Mountains, British Columbia

West of Mount Assiniboine (and visible from its summit) and across the grand gulf of the Rocky Mountain Trench looms a worthy matterhorn analogue in the Selkirk Mountains: 10,774-foot Mount Sir Donald, an important goal of early Canadian mountaineering. This commanding shark’s fin of a mountain—which rises nearly 8,000 feet in a bit more than two miles from the rainforest floor of the Beaver Valley just east—dominates the mighty peaks of British Columbia’s Glacier National Park, which include its lower companion horns of Uto and Eagle.

Mount Thielsen: Southern Cascades, Oregon

Mount Thielsen may lack the commanding swagger of Rainier or Hood, but it certainly has its own snaggletooth individuality.

Katie Dills

The "Lightning Rod of the Cascades": That’s the tag for this pinnacled volcanic beauty a stone’s throw north of Crater Lake, a spired matterhorn along the lines of Pilot Peak. Indeed, so many electrical bolts kiss Mount Thielsen’s exposed, whittled-down pillar—the highest peak in this ravaged reach of the Cascades—that it’s littered with fulgurites, which are lightning-melded rock bits.

At 9,182 feet, Mount Thielsen is the loftiest and most extreme of a series of dead volcanoes in the central and southern High Cascades of Oregon, honed by ice to sharp-tooth decrepitude. In Fire Mountains of the West, Stephen Harris calls them "Oregon’s Matterhorns," and they also include 7,800-foot Mount Washington and 7,844-foot Three-Fingered Jack. All Cascade stratovolcanoes reflect a war waged between constructive magmatic growth and chiseling glacial ice, and when volcanic energy ceases the icy side of the battle gains the upper hand. Mount Thielsen has been a volcano skeleton for 250,000 years or more, thus its ravaged spire: so much toothier than, say, Mounts Hood or Jefferson.

Kinnerly Peak: Livingston Range, Northern Rocky Mountains, Montana

Pyramidal 9,944-foot Kinnerly Peak is among the most spectacular summits in Glacier National Park. But because it’s tucked away in the park’s roadless and rugged northwest, it’s admired only by hikers and climbers. It makes a one-two punch with Kintla Peak—at 10,101 feet, the Livingston Range’s pinnacle—just south. (According to Summitpost, you can allegedly pick out Mount Assiniboine from the Kinnerly Peak summit under crystal-clear conditions: another matterhorn-to-matterhorn sightline.)

Grand Teton: Teton Range, Middle Rocky Mountains, Wyoming

Grand Teton crowning the Teton Range crest is one of the world’s signal mountain-scapes.


The Teton Range of northwestern Wyoming eases gently up from a long western slope to an iconic craggy crest with sheer eastern flanks, and lorded over by the 13,770-foot tusk called the Grand Teton. Compared with the unsociable Matterhorn, the Grand comes a bit hemmed in by fellow Teton Range jags—Mount Owen, barely shy of 13,000 feet, is just north across Gunsight Notch—but its classic, picturesque profile gives it as regal of a bearing (and a starring role in countless long sightlines from Greater Yellowstone mountaintops). And it remains one of the signature mountaineering magnets on the continent and a defining landform of one of the world’s most significant protected complexes.

Pilot Peak: Absaroka Range, Middle Rocky Mountains, Wyoming

Rearing west of the valley of the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone, Pilot Peak and its stubbier companion across the eons, Index Peak, create one of the most striking profiles in the Rockies. Glaciers gnawed 11,708-foot Pilot into a matterhorn spike; an arête blade connects it to castellated Index just northward.

As Tom Turiano notes in his definitive Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone, Pilot Peak has a hint of the Grand Teton’s aura, but is less prominent from lowlands and best appreciated from backcountry vantages. "From nearly every major summit in the [Greater Yellowstone] ecosystem—Grand Teton, Gannett Peak, Washakie Needles, Younts Peak, Trout Peak, Granite Peak, Mount Cowen, Gallatin Peak, and Hilgard Peak—Pilot is visible, identifiable, and spectacular," he writes.

Sloan Peak: North Cascades, Washington

Even the somewhat less dramatic east face of Sloan conveys the Cascade peak’s dominating stature.

Martin Bravenboer

"Picturesque Sloan could be called the ‘Matterhorn of the Cascades’," the late, legendary mountaineer Fred Beckey wrote in his enduring Cascade Alpine Guide. Indeed, this 7,835-foot orthogneiss blade ranks among the most striking and distinctive peaks in a range not exactly lacking in them.

With its long leadup east ridge and aloof, ramrod summit point, Sloan Peak has been compared with a high-riding ocean ship; it also looks a bit like the asymmetrical tooth of a tiger shark. Its misshapen matterhorn makes a North Cascade landmark visible from far off on all sides, and arresting even with the proximity of the giant snowhead of Glacier Peak to its near northeast.

Mount Russell: Alaska Range, Alaska

The Alaska Range may be most famous for behemoth snowpeaks like Denali, Foraker, and Hunter, but its western reaches include some savagely beautiful granite horns and towers. These include the fabled (and storm-whipped) Kichatna Mountains of the western Alaska Range, a gray fortress of rock-fangs and crowns cored by the Kichatna Spires and including the great pyramidal Augustin Peak that has enough standoffishness to suggest the Matterhorn.

But the true Matterhorn of the Alaska Range must be 11,670-foot Mount Russell, which forms a perfect sword above the Dall and Chedotlothna glaciers, as remarkable as higher, burlier peaks to the northeast. Relatively few climbers ascend farflung Mount Russell, the standard route being up its North Ridge; according to experienced Alaska Range photographer Carl Battreall, the gnarly east face has been climbed but once, the just-as-gnarly west face, never.

Written by Ethan Shaw for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Erik Wolf

Nestled in the rolling foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains just 30 miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Philpott Lake is an idyllic place for fishing. The 3,000-acre lake offers anglers a consummate slice of serenity and a number of highly sought species of fish, from the deep-dwelling walleye to the largemouth bass lurking along the craggy shoreline.

“I’d say its biggest draw is the lack of development on the lake,” says George Palmer, a biologist at the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. “It’s a very pleasing place to fish. It’s almost completely surrounded by forest, and you get a sense of really being away from it all. It’s an escape from the crowds.”

Created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help reduce flooding and provide recreational opportunities in the region, Philpott Lake celebrates its 65th anniversary this year. While it harbors a number of enticing options for freshwater anglers, beefy largemouth bass are by far the most plentiful species in the lake. The bulk of largemouths weigh in at two to three pounds, according to Department of Game and Inland Fisheries surveys, but you’ll find some five pounders loitering beneath the surface, just waiting to be hooked.

“It’s a pretty stable population,” Palmer says. “You’ll regularly catch those in the 15- to 17-inch range.” Although outnumbered by largemouths, Philpott Lake also supports a sizeable population of scrappy smallmouth bass, most topping out at two to three pounds.

In addition to the bass, the lake is renowned as one of the premier walleye fisheries in Virginia, stocked with 144,000 fingerlings every year. During the spring spawn, which typically begins in March, walleye congregate in shallow spots near the lake’s headwaters and along slender arms like the Runnet Bag branch. “For walleye, it really is one of the best options in the state,” Palmer says.

Although not as abundant, anglers can hook sizeable black crappie, which can grow to be more than a foot long in Philpott Lake’s pristine waters. Both white catfish and channel catfish can also be hooked throughout the lake.

Hints and Hotspots!

Largemouth bass are abundant throughout the lake, regularly congregating around fish concealing structures likes fallen tree limbs and rock ledges. Classic crankbaits, spinners, and surface lures are often successful, in addition to lifelike imitations, and live bait like nightcrawlers, bluegills, and minnows. Meanwhile, the lake’s less aggressive smallmouths gather in the clearest water, seeking shelter in riffles and rocky ledges along the lake’s main channel, especially toward the Philpott Dam. In the summer, the smallmouths seek out cooler water, and they can be found lurking deeper within the lake’s crystalline corners. Try catching them with live bait, especially crayfish, minnows, or madtoms.

The spring spawn—usually lasting from March until early April—is undoubtedly the most thrilling season for anglers interested in catching walleye, with most adult walleye in the lake average 17-21 inches, with some reaching 6 to 8 pounds.

“If you want to catch walleye, this is the time to come,” Palmer says.

The fish flock to the lake’s headwaters, gathering along the narrow Runnet Bag branch in the northwestern corner of the lake, and in the southern portion of the lake, between the Salthouse Branch Recreation Area and the Philpott Dam. After the spawn, walleye are still easy to hook through August, although the light-sensitive fish typically seek out shade and murky water, so try leafy locations like the Ryans Branch Recreation Area. Use shiny minnow plugs when fishing the lake’s shallow-water coves—and in a pinch, try live bait like nightcrawlers or minnows.

One of the best times to fish Philpott Lake is in the moonlight. Walleye head into shallower water to feed on sporadically spawning alewife after sunset through late spring, when temperatures are still cool. Try lures that mimic the movements of the alewife coveted by the grazing walleye, or use live bait like shad. In the moonlight, the largemouth and smallmouth bass also convene in the lake’s shallow-water coves. On serene, still-water evenings, try engaging largemouth and smallmouth bass with eye-catching surface lures, playing to the fish’s predatory instincts.

Of course, night time is also ideal for hooking Philpott Lake’s catfish. Both white catfish and scarcer channel catfish are active at night, and often peckish enough to be hooked with aromatic stink or dough baits, chicken livers, herring, and classic nightcrawlers.

Who Will Love It!

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From seasoned pros with countless tales of hooking lake monsters to tots casting a line for the first time, the array of angling experiences at Philpott Lake means there is a something for everyone. The easily accessible boat launches and family-friendly campgrounds edging the water also make Philpott Lake ideal for first-time anglers of all ages, especially kids. Plus, for kids who may lose interest in fishing for trophy bass, there are also plenty of hiking trails and swimming beaches at the nearly dozen parks and recreation areas surrounding Philpott Lake, including Salthouse Branch, Horseshoe Point, and Jamison Mill. Both Twin Ridge Recreation Area and Goose Point Park feature excellent piers, which are ADA-compliant if a family member needs special accommodations.

For those new to fishing, the Fishing Tackle Loaner Program provides 24-hour rentals of rods and tackle boxes free of charge, with equipment available from several of the recreation areas edging the lake, and at Fairy Stone State Park.

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Get the lay of the land with the handy map of the Philpott Lake Blueway, a 25-mile water trail linking the lake’s nine boat launches, 10 recreation areas, and scenic wonders like Calico Rock and Bowens Creek Falls.

One of the highlights of fishing Philpott Lake is the vast array of waterside accommodations. There are nearly a dozen parks and recreation areas scattered along the shores of Philpott Lake, most offering both primitive campsites and sites with electrical and water hookups for recreational vehicles. Anglers can camp on the water—in the middle of the lake—on Deer Island, which is sprinkled with 21 primitive tent sites, accessible only by boat.

On the mainland, anglers can also snag lake-adjacent campsites at Horseshoe Point, Salthouse Branch, and Goose Point recreation areas, which also offer amenities like hot showers.

Adjacent to Philpott Lake, Fairy Stone State Park also offers overnight options like waterfront cabins, cozy yurts, and the five-bedroom Fairy Stone Lodge, perfect for epic angling trips with friends and family.

Fairy Stone State Park is known for its trout fishing, and it’s open to anyone with a valid Virginia Freshwater Fishing License (a trout stamp is not required). Parking fees are $5 daily, and annual passes are available at the park office. For more information, call the park office 276-930-2424.. Each year, an estimated 1,300 pounds of rainbow trout are added to Fairy Stone Lake.

The annual Children’s Fishing Clinic is held the first week in June at 967 Fairystone Lake Drive, Stuart, Va., at shelters 3 and 4 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Children from ages 4 to 12 are welcome to join in on the fun. The program is sponsored by Fairy Stone State Park and local fishermen. A hotdog/cookie lunch is provided. A safety program is provided, with special prizes to be won. For more information contact 276-930-2424.

Before hitting the lake, pick up fishing gear and bait at Dunham’s Sports in Martinsville and at the Philpott Marina, located at the southern end of the lake, near the Philpott Dam. Angling guides and rental kayaks and canoes can be arranged by Smith River Outfitters in Bassett. And if you’re looking to purchase a boat, Angler’s Choice in Martinsville offers plenty of options. If you are traveling from the Floyd direction, stop off at On the Water Outfitter’s for kayak, canoe or tube rentals.

No matter how you like to fish, you’ll find something to love at Philpott Lake.

Written by Malee Baker Oot for RootsRated Media in partnership with Martinsville County.

10 Triathlon Tips

Triathlon season is in full swing. With a number of great races coming up around Birmingham, including the beginner-friendly Buster Britton Triathlon on July 12th at Oak Mountain State Park, RootsRated asked local professional triathlete Hallie Blunck to share a few tips for a smooth, fast race. Here’s what she said:

1. Pick a local race.
This makes it easier to train on the course before the big day, making you feel more comfortable on race day and less stressed over logistical details. Focus on your race!

2. Join the local triathlon club.
In Birmingham it's the Vulcan Triathletes . With many active dedicated members means you will have access to great knowledge and resources from those who've been in the sport for a while. Training can be mentally and physically challenging. The camaraderie of a group ride can help you overcome those worries. The group is also a great local resource to find  local coaches that fit your lifestyle, goals and fitness level.

3. Borrow gear.
Triathlon can quickly turn into an expensive sport if you try to go "all in" up front and buy everything you need for your first race. It's completely fine to borrow a bike, bike shoes, a helmet, or a wetsuit (or all of the above) for your first race.

4. When you do buy gear, quality matters.
Splurge on a good pair of bike shorts to train in and triathlon shorts or tri suit to race in. Your training will be more enjoyable, sustainable and your delicate parts will thank you.

5. Practice the transitions.
Three segments, two transitions: swim to bike, bike to run. Your legs will feel like Jell-O after the bike, but that feeling goes away. Vulcan Tri offers beginner clinics that teach about race transitions in detail, so you can practice them again and again. On the other hand, don’t fret too much about transitions. If you are just starting, focus on being comfortable first. No need to add stress about forgetting your cycling gloves to shave a few seconds off the overall time. For professionals every second matters. For age group competitors don’t stress out. Transition performance will improve with more experience.

6. Practice open-water swimming.
It’s very different from swimming in a pool. There is no black line on the bottom to follow. Practice sighting for buoys and swimming with a wetsuit, which changes your position in the water and can chafe the skin of your neck. You want to know what those hotspots might be beforehand. (I use SkinSake Athletic to protect my skin.) Practice with a group too. Some newcomers get rattled by all the bumping that happens on the swim leg.

7. Ask a lot of questions.
Triathletes are very welcoming family and happy to give advice and help you out, even if it's on race morning.

8. Know the rules.
Regarding your helmet (it needs to be buckled before you mount your bike), drafting on the bike (illegal in most races), the mount/dismount line (don’t ride across it), accepting outside assistance (often grounds for DQ), and rescue boats (you are allowed to stop and hold onto a buoy or rescue kayak to rest, as long as you don’t use it for forward progress). Most events offer a detailed athlete guide that outlines all the rules and regulations.

9. Follow the same nutrition habits for training and racing.

Your stomach will thank you. One of the key rules of a successful triathlon experience is don’t try anything new on race day.

10. Invite friends and family to watch and cheer.
It goes a long way. Share the experience and inspire someone to join you for the next triathlon.


Written by Eddie Freyer for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Team Magic Photography

Pair Your Outdoor Adventure with a Craft Beer in Helena

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Montana ranks second in the nation for breweries per capita, and the state’s capital city is home to many of them. Located in Central Montana near where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains, Helena is a community that enjoys the great outdoors and a great craft beer. This combination often translates into a leisurely, scenic afternoon hike followed by a friendly rendezvous at a local brewery. Whether your tastes lean more toward an intensely citrus IPA or a full-bodied ale, Helena’s breweries will quench your thirst after a day of adventuring. Here are a few favorite ways to enjoy the outdoors and take advantage of the creative beer-making that Helena has to offer.

Mount Ascension/Ten Mile Creek Brewing

The 5,262-foot Mount Ascension is a Helena landmark, and getting to its peak is one of the area’s top adventures. The 3.2-mile loop is rated as moderate and offers stunning views of Helena and the surrounding area. The dog-friendly trail is popular with hikers, trail runners, and mountain bikers, and it is the perfect place to work up a sweat before retreating to Ten Mile Creek Brewing, which is only three miles away from the trailhead. Beers are brewed using water from nearby Ten Mile Creek — so when you take a sip, you’re truly tasting Montana. With a variety of home-crafted brews on tap, from Bullwhacker Brown Ale to Queen City IPA, Ten Mile Creek offers a relaxed brewery experience with a rotating event schedule.

Spring Meadow Lake State Park/Lewis & Clark Brewing

After your activity of choice, stop by Lewis & Clark Brewing Company.

Helena CVB

Located on the western edge of Helena, Spring Meadow Lake State Park features a 30-acre, spring-fed lake, and it’s a popular spot for fishing, swimming, hiking, and biking. A .8-mile trail circles the lake for hikers and runners, while the 4.6-mile rails-to-trails path connects the park to the Centennial Trail and downtown Helena. After your activity of choice, stop by Lewis & Clark BrewingCompany, which serves up hand-crafted, unpasteurized beers made on site. The brewery is housed in a historic building downtown and hosts a steady stream of activities and special events on its indoor and outdoor stages. Beer connoisseurs will appreciate the local ingredients used in many brews, and some of the spent grain from brewing is used in the food, such as bratwurst buns and pizza crust.

LeGrande Cannon Boulevard/Brewhouse Pub & Grille

The LeGrande Cannon Boulevard Trail is a 6.3-mile out-and-back that winds through Mount Helena City Park. A popular route with mountain bikers, the trail is also a relaxed hike with stunning views of the Helena Valley. Take the time to explore some of the many side trails to see where they lead. Just a mile down the road is Helena’s Brewhouse Pub & Grille, which is often brimming with people — and for good reason. The pub features excellent food offerings, a variety of local and mainstream brews, and a relaxed, inviting atmosphere. Downstairs at the Brewhouse, open from 3 p.m. Monday to Saturday, features its own menu and mellow atmosphere.

Dry Gulch Short Loop/Blackfoot River Brewing Company**

Just a mile from the trail, you’ll find the Blackfoot River Brewing Company.

Helena CVB

Just south of Helena between Mount Ascension and Rodney Ridge, the 3.7-mile Dry Gulch Short Loop is a moderate-rated hiking and mountain biking trail that features plenty of switchbacks and good tree cover that offers shade and a solid workout. Mountain bikers in particular like the singletrack here. Just a mile from the trail, you’ll find the Blackfoot River Brewing Company. The cozy taproom produces a variety of local favorites, including Tartanic, a Scottish-style ale, the Smooth Cream Ale, and the American Strong Ale. All are hearty post-adventure favorites. Each week a new beer rotates through the "beer engine" — often an eclectic choice such as Orange IPA or Bloody Mary ESB.

Backside Trail/Gulch Distillers

In the Mount Helena City Park, the Backside Trail is a lightly trafficked three-mile loop that’s popular with hikers and trail runners. The trail is moderate in difficulty and offers a quad-burning climb, as well as a section through some grassy woodlands filled with ponderosa pine. Just 1.1 miles from the trail, Gulch Distillers is a good option for those looking for something more than beer. Helena’s only micro-distillery is tucked into a historic gulch. Spirits are fermented, distilled, and bottled on the premises, using only Montana-grown grains. The historic location is just downstream from one of Helena’s first gold strikes, and the spirits’ names reflect the historic weight of the area. Flintlock Bourbon Cask Spiced Rum, Guardian Gin, Triple Divide Vodka and Burrone Fernet tempt palates of all preferences.

Helena’s breweries will quench your thirst after a day of adventuring.

Helena CVB

Bonus Option

Want your adventure and alcohol in one stop? Head to BroadwaterHotSprings and Tap Room, home to a series of natural hot springs and pools filled from an artesian well and cooled with natural cold springs water. The outdoor pools are open year-round and beautifully crafted, offering a respite for road-weary travel warriors. After your soak, take advantage of the Springs Taproom & Grille. The restaurant uses local ingredients wherever possible, and a wide variety of beers and wines are available. If you’re more in the mood for recovery, this adventure may be right up your alley.

Written by Jess McGlothlin for RootsRated Media in partnership with Helena CVB.

Featured image provided by Helena CVB

10 Must-Do Hikes in the Mountain West

Wyoming Big Sandy Pass Trail Lonesome Lake below the Cirque of the Towers

From Montana’s Livingston Range to the Lechuguilla Desert of southern Arizona, the U.S. region known as the Mountain West is brimming with top-caliber hiking destinations. Narrowing down a list of 10 standouts is no small feat, but we took a stab at it anyway, choosing from the eight states that make up the U.S. Census Bureau’s Mountain West zone.

Take note: These aren’t the 10 best hidden hikes in the Mountain West; none of these routes are particularly obscure. In fact, several rank among the most celebrated trails in the country—and for good reason. A journey into the maw of one of the world’s most sublime canyons, backcountry skylines gloriously rock-torn, adventures in wide-open heights and close-hemmed halls of stone: These destinations highlight the scenic punch and variety characteristic of this outdoor playground and its seemingly infinite opportunities for adventure.

1. The Chinese Wall, Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, Montana

As you might expect from a mighty watershed frontier, the Continental Divide in North America comes mantled in some pretty heady scenery along most of its length. And one of its most dramatic expressions comes in the heart of one of the largest roadless areas in the Lower 48, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex of northwestern Montana. Deep within the "Bob"—named for an early champion of the federal wilderness area and a hardcore long-distance hiker—about a dozen miles of the Divide between Larch Hill Pass and Haystack Mountain separates the Flathead and Sun basins in the guise of a slanted, east-facing limestone ledge 1,000 feet high: the famous Chinese Wall.

Hike in the lee of this great pale escarpment via the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail from the Benchmark Trailhead, or climb to its spine at Haystack Mountain. Whichever way you go, be sure to keep an eye out for grizzly bears, a suitably majestic beast to go along with the big terrain.

2. The Thorofare, Greater Yellowstone, Wyoming

You’ll also be walking in the shadow of the grizzly on this legendary backpacking route into the roadless wilds of far southeastern Yellowstone National Park and the adjoining Teton Wilderness. You’ll tramp down the eastern shores of Yellowstone Lake—the largest above 7,000 feet in the U.S.—to its southeast arm and the willow-clad delta of the Yellowstone River, then upstream along the meandering channel between the Two Ocean Plateau and the Absaroka Range. Somewhere on the National Forest land beyond the park’s southeastern boundary is the anonymous chunk of turf farthest from a road in the Lower 48 states. But the entire high-elevation valley is deliciously remote and charged with the presence of the silvertip bear, equally cantankerous moose, and those aforementioned grizzlies.

3. Big Sandy Trail, Wind River Range, Wyoming

This heavily used trail to the iconic Cirque of the Towers in the southern Wind Rivers serves as a classic gateway to Wyoming’s vast uncrowded high-country wilderness. Like the similarly breathtaking Titcomb Basin to the north, the gray battlements of the Cirque—one of the emblematic mountain vistas in the West—are worth seeing even if you’ll likely have company.

Reached by a long-slog blacktop-to-dirt drive from U.S. 191 near Pinedale, the Big Sandy Trail, an old American Indian route, follows the Big Sandy River to Big Sandy Lake, then on a steepening track past North and Arrowhead lakes to 10,800-foot Jackass Pass. Here you’ll gain your introductory prospect of the Cirque of the Towers, which cradles Lonesome Lake (which is not particularly lonesome in summer and fall) in its hard granite embrace. These prongs, spires, and prows—which include Warbonnet, Wolf’s Head, Pylon Peak, Warrior, Shark’s Nose, Lizard Head (at 12,842 feet, the high point of the Cirque of the Towers), and gloriously standoffish Pingora—create some of the most esteemed climbing walls in the Rockies.

Keep soaking in the granite garden by trekking farther to Shadow Lake on the "back side" of the Cirque of the Towers.

4. Alice Lake, Sawtooth Range, Idaho

The jags, towers, and cliffy brows of the Sawtooths represent a pinnacle (so to speak) of Idaho’s prodigious mountain scenery, and Alice Lake—one of 300-plus tarns chiseled by glaciers into this snarled-up range—makes a fabulous introduction. Set at about 8,600 feet, Alice Lake reflects the west face of 9,902-foot El Capitan and a ripsaw rampart southward.

Reach this rockery tarn via the Tin Cup Trailhead at Pettit Lake. The trail muscles some 5.5 miles upslope through mixed conifer woods and high glades, making multiple stream crossings en route. Alice Lake is a popular day hiking or overnighter destination, but can also serve as a springboard for longer adventures in the southeastern Sawtooth high country. You can undertake a memorable 19-mile loop by journeying on to Twin Lakes, up and over a high pass, and dropping down to big Toxaway Lake.

5. Highline Trail, Uinta Mountains, Utah

The Uintas are geographic trivia—one of the only west-east-trending mountain ranges in the Western Hemisphere—and also one of the country’s conterminous grandest alpine expanses, rivaling Colorado’s San Juans, the burliest range in the Southern Rockies, for sheer extent of alpine territory. The Highline Trail shows off the storm-licked splendor of the High Uintas Wilderness on a week-plus, nearly 100-mile trek between Hayden Pass and U.S. Route 191, much of it above the 10,000-foot contour.

Lonesome tarns, rusty Precambrian pyramids and fins, windswept tundra passes, staggered canyons—oh, and did we mention the thunderstorms? This is a Rocky Mountain roof-of-the-world traverse of the highest order.

6. The Maroon Bells, Elk Mountains, Colorado

Geographically speaking, the Elk Mountains lie close to the heart of the Southern Rockies, and two of their half-dozen fourteeners—the Maroon Bells—form arguably that skyscraping region’s scenic culmination. Given the paired loom of 14,156-foot Maroon Peak and 14,014-foot North Maroon, plus the eye-catching red of their capping Maroon Formation sedimentary layers, and it’s no surprise they’re said to be the most photographed summits in Colorado.

They’re also plenty well-loved, so don’t come here seeking solitude; treat it as a pilgrimage to one of the great landmarks of the American Rockies. The hike to Crater Lake puts you at the very foot of the Maroon Bells, but the views just keep expanding if you trek up to Buckskin Pass, which can also be strung together with West Maroon, Frigid Air, and Trailrides passes in a roughly 30-mile backpacking loop.

7. Wheeler Peak, Snake Range, Nevada

The crown of relatively little-visited Great Basin National Park, of the Snake Range and essentially of Nevada (though Boundary Peak in the White Mountains on the California line modestly outranks it), 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak is a special mountain. The Snakes are their own sky-island range, loftiest in the eastern Great Basin, and rising from the sagebrush sea of that cold desert to subalpine aspen forests and wizened bristlecone-pine groves. (In 1964, a bristlecone 4,844 years old was chopped down on a Wheeler Peak moraine.) Wheeler Peak is also known for its small glacier, one of the southernmost in the U.S.

An 8.6-mile round-trip hike from the trailhead above Wheeler Peak Campground takes you to the rubbled summit with its head-spinning Basin-and-Range panorama. It’s not a demanding hike, but well worth doing.

8. The Narrows, Zion Canyon, Utah

North Fork Virgin River’s world-famous gorge and its domeland surrounds are so knock-you-over-the-head scenic that any trail in Zion National Park verges on the unreal. Two, though, attract the lion’s share of attention: Angel’s Rest—the up-top, vista-rich one (strictly for non-acrophobes)—and the Narrows, the shadowy, amphibious, down-low one through the twisty, high-walled slot forming the head of Zion Canyon.

You can join the masses wading upstream into the Narrows from the end of the popular Riverside Trail at the Temple of Sinawava, or drop down from Chamberlain’s Ranch on a more adventurous 16-mile trek. The latter requires a permit; from the Temple of Sinawava, you don’t need one as far upstream as Big Spring.

There are countless quieter slot canyons in the Colorado Plateau, but the Narrows is legitimately wondrous, and if you combine it with remoter adventures (including those farther up its course), you might even enjoy the oohing-and-aahing camaraderie of it all. It’s a communal National Park experience on par with watching Old Faithful erupt or staggering all scenery-drunk around Yosemite Valley.

Accessible and well-visited though the lower portion of the Narrows may be, it’s also dangerous given the potential for flash floods. Check in at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center for the most up-to-date forecast and flood hazard rating, and don’t play the odds.

9. North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon, Arizona

Hike from montane woods to hot desert in one 14.2-mile swoop on the North Kaibab Trail, the only maintained route connecting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River. It’s popular but not as much as its South Rim counterparts (the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails), and given the "Big Ditch’s" one-of-a-kind topographical breadth, it serves up mega-scale scenery not many hiking trails can match.

The North Kaibab Trail drops from the Kaibab Plateau’s conifers at 8,241 feet to the Colorado nearly 6,000 feet below. From Coconino Overlook less than a mile down-trail, it descends southeastward to Supai Tunnel and Redwall Bridge in Roaring Springs Canyon—named for a weeping limestone cliff reachable by a 0.3-mile spur—then cants southwestward into Bright Angel Canyon (Cottonwood Campground, 6.5 miles and 4,200 feet down from the trailhead, offers a good first-night stopover). A mile past that, a side trail leads to Ribbon Falls. Near its end, the North Kaibab Trail traverses the tight Vishnu Schist confines of the Box before attaining Phantom Ranch and the bridge to Bright Angel Campground at the bottom of the canyon.

After a night or three down here, you can retrace your steps back to the North Rim or add a "Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim" feather to your cap by climbing the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim.

10. Bull Pasture/Estes Canyon Loop, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona

Braving grizzlies at the Chinese Wall, you’re within easy reach of the Canadian border. On the very opposite side of the country, this short but mesmerizing walkabout in the heart of the Sonoran Desert shows off rugged scenery that is, ecologically speaking, more Mexico than the U.S. Remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument lies in an awesome, sparsely settled expanse of the Sonoran that also includes the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Mexico’s desolate Pinacate backlands.

This 3.5-mile loop links the Bull Pasture and Estes Canyon trails on the western flanks of the Ajo Mountains. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to admire the eccentric namesake cactus, which barely makes it north of the border, as well as the Sonoran Desert’s defining species, the monolithic saguaro, plus a whole slew of other desert plants. The impressive stature of both the organ pipe and saguaro cacti complements the burliness of the Ajos’ craggy bosses. And the views from the Bull Pasture leg unfurl far south across the Sonoyta Valley into Sonora, Mexico.
Written by Ethan Shaw for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by John Strother

Is Spring Here? Here’s How to Tell from Nature’s Cues and Clues


No season in North America packs a punch like winter, which means no season inspires such verging-on-religious gratitude like spring. As the equinox approaches, outdoor lovers can savor the vernal unfolding by spotlighting a few noteworthy natural harbingers.

Of course, some of the best-known signs of the season include deafening spring-peeper choruses out East, desert superblooms in the Southwest, and early-flowering trilliums all over, to name a few. But what about some of the lesser-known phenomena those hitting the spring trails or waterways might come across—the swarthy swamp-cabbage, for example, or even a snake or two? Here, nature’s extra-special ways of signaling that spring is on the way.

The Magic of Snowmelt

How cold would you guess that water is?

Anita Ritenour

So snowmelt may seem an overly obvious sign of spring, but many outdoor enthusiasts don’t really pay it much mind, focusing instead on flashier symptoms of the season like flower petals and singing birds. But melting snow creates its own beautiful spectacles—and stark hazards—so backcountry ramblers should keep a respectful eye on the snowmelt.

Wandering a thawing-out snowscape is tough and wet work, but it’s cool to see up-close: meltwater channels among (and within) the drifts; frigid pools and rills at snowfield rims; gleaming firnspiegel ("snow mirror") expanses where an icy lid overlays a melting subsurface. Snowmelt also behaves differently around trees, with those iconic “thaw circles” of bare ground around their bases. They’re formed because tree trunks absorb more solar radiation than the reflective snowpack and cause the snow around them to change directly to water vapor, or sublimate, which creates pits and then thaw circles. (In deciduous woods, they may be important green-up sites for early spring ephemeral wildflowers.)

There’s peril, too, amid this ongoing, often stop-and-start thaw. Statistically speaking, this is the most dangerous avalanche season, given springtime’s lengthening days, freeze-thaw cycles, and percolating, destabilizing meltwater—not to mention the burgeoning numbers of backcountry users. Of course, snowmelt time also means high-volume, supercharged rivers that are hazardous—often impossible—to cross. But as long you’re steering clear of them via sensible safety practices, you can appreciate the temporary scars of those wet slab avalanches on the slopes and the roar of the barreling meltwater rivers as evidence of a landscape waking up.

The Buzz of Bumblebees

It’s not all about chirping birds: Buzzing bees make themselves heard in spring, too.


Their large size, heavy coat of bristles, and ability to shiver to warm up flight muscles mean bumblebees kick off the pollinating season early—you may even spot them careening around on a warm late winter’s day. In leafless woods that are still mostly clad in winter gray or brown, a big bumblebee makes a highly conspicuous harbinger of spring on its noisy, drunken-looking flightpath.

The Curious Skunk Cabbage in Bloom

It’s not quite as cheerful as wildflowers, but the flowering of the skunk-cabbage is nevertheless a harbinger of spring.

Aaron Carlson

Whether in a sodden hollow in the eastern backwoods or a red cedar swamp in the Pacific Northwest, spring comes early, bold, and almost unsettling with the flowering of the giant wetland herb called skunk cabbage. A bit of botanical background on this stinky plant: The eastern and western versions aren’t closely related, though both brandish huge, tropical-style leaves. In addition, the flower structures that often precede the glossy foliage—some of the first blooms of spring—differ. Eastern skunk cabbage shields its flower stalk within an infernal-looking hood—technically speaking, a spathe—of mottled purple; the western skunk cabbage’s spathe is a comparatively cheerful banana-yellow.

The namesake skunky odor of these plants when blooming attracts flies and beetles, adding a distinct seasonal scent to the bottomlands.

The Flutter of Spring Wings

Once you know how to spot an osprey, you’ll be able to see them much more easily—especially during the springtime.

Stephanie Pluscht

Birds epitomize springtime like nothing else for many people: the pulses of migrants large and small through backyards and local wetlands, the riotous symphonies of love-crazy songbirds. Birders, naturally, love this time of year.

But even outdoorsy types who don’t know a wren from a warbler can key into the vernal onset by watching for some of the big high-flying raptors clocking back to their breeding grounds. A slew of hawks appear in the Lower 48 this time of year, including a handful of relatively easily distinguishable species just about anybody can learn to recognize—two of them found across most of the conterminous U.S. and an exotic third one outdoors folks in the Southeast may luck out and see.

Keep your eyes out for ospreys, those hook-footed "fish hawks" (or “seahawks,” for all you 12s out there) that winter in the Neotropics and far southern U.S. but start returning to North American waterways in spring to reoccupy or build their massive stick nests. Ospreys are easy to identify with a little practice: They’re big and slender, boldly black-and-white plumaged, and flap a lot in a jouncy, almost bat-like sort of flight. Watch one long enough and you’ll probably see its steep fishing dive.

One unexpected winged sign of spring is that dark, tottering, low-angled V up in the sky made by a recently returned turkey vulture. These sharp-nosed "buzzards"—which evacuate much of the central and northern U.S. in winter, but often return on the early end of things—get a bad rap. But in addition to performing essential scavenger duties across their vast range, they give daily master classes in the art of soaring with minimal effort.

Meanwhile, if you’re down in the Everglades or elsewhere in the Florida wilds in February and March, you may luck out with a glimpse of arguably the handsomest raptor in the Americas, if not the world: the swallow-tailed kite. These impossibly graceful black-and-white tropical birds, named for their extravagant scissored tailfeathers, return to the Sunshine State from South America this time of year to nest, and it’s always a thrill to see one looping over the jungle hammocks and pinelands.

Serpent Emergence

Watch where you sss-tep.

Brian Greer

Many species of snakes in middle and higher latitudes spend the winter in communal hibernacula, which are essentially snake dens. It’s not unusual for overwintering membership to run into the hundreds, and for multiple species of snakes—garter snakes, bullsnakes, racers, rattlesnakes—to share the same hibernaculum. In spring, snakes gradually emerge from these winter refuges, often situated in outcrops, talus, rock piles, or caves, and spend a few days or weeks basking on sunny warm afternoons before retreating back inside at night. While you’re out on an early spring hike, you might spot such lethargic serpents, possibly in intimidating quantity. Appreciate them from a distance, leave them alone, and they’ll do the same.

Emergence from hibernacula tends to roll right into romance. You may also see "breeding balls" of snakes this time of year, made up of multiple males coiled around an impressively stoic female.

Written by Ethan Shaw for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Bureau of Land Management Califo

Climb Spain’s Highest Peak and Other Adventures on Tenerife


Summit fever has swept through the bunks of Altavista Refuge, a modest stone hut perched at 10,700 feet on the volcanic flanks of Mount Teide. Rustling bodies wake me at 4:30 am after a fitful night’s sleep disrupted by squeaky beds, thin air, and anticipation of an alpine start. Adventure trumps beauty sleep. I toss aside the blanket, lace my shoes, grab my pack, and we’re off, hiking the steep trail of sharp black lava rocks that climbs 1,500 feet from the hut to the top of Mount Teide, Spain’s highest peak. The sky is dark as ink, yet lit by a gazillion twinkling stars.

At 12,198 feet, Mount Teide juts up from the Atlantic Ocean on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. Claimed by Spain since 1821, the Canaries are a cluster of seven volcanic islands off the northwest coast of Africa. Tenerife is the largest and tallest, a rugged landscape rimmed by 250 miles of coastline and 70 beaches. It’s a magnet for sun worshippers, a concept that seems foreign from where I stand high on a mountain in the dark with cold wind whipping my face.

The beam of my headlamp leads me to the summit, where I huddle among rocks and wait for the sun to rise. I warm my hands in the steam of fumaroles—volcanic vents that seep hot sulfurous gas, a reminder that Teide is still an active volcano. As dawn’s glow slowly lights up the sky with brushes of blue and pink, the island fans out below, displaying deep gorges and dreamy beaches, desert dunes and cloud forest, vineyards and goat ranches.

I came to Tenerife for Mount Teide, but I went home having discovered so much more on this island, whose 785 square miles—nearly half in protected nature areas—is brimming with unique landscapes and the adventures that go with them. Here are eight ways to explore.

1. Climb Mount Teide

The trail up 12,198-foot Mount Teide ascends through a lunar-like lava landscape.

Terry Stonich

Teide's volcanic tip rises straight from sea level to 12,198 feet in the middle of Tenerife. Trails traverse the lunar-like lava fields of Teide National Park, which cradles the mountain and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For first dibs on the summit and the chance to bask on the peak in dawn's light, hike to Altavista Refuge to spend the night. Day trippers who want to save the sweat can take a cable car to 650 feet below the peak but need a permit to hike to the top.

2. Kayak in the Shadow of Los Gigantes

With a backdrop of crystalline waters and colorful cliffs, kayaking along Los Gigantes is a can’t-miss.

Terry Stonich

The eastern edge of Tenerife plummets to the sea in Teno Rural Park, where "Acantilados de los Gigantes" (cliffs of the giants) tower some 2,000 feet, their sheer rock faces notched with ledges and alcoves where birds nest. The best way to take it all in is from the seat of a kayak, with stops for snorkeling in the crystalline waters. Outfitter Teno Activo is a solid choice for an operator to lead the way.

3. Go Underground at La Cueva del Viento

The underground world at Cueva del Viento makes it easy to picture how this lava tube formed 27,000 years ago.

Terry Stonich

You don’t have to dig deep to get a sense for Tenerife’s volcanic roots—Earth’s fire has left behind lava at nearly every turn on the island. But venture below the upper crust and you’ll start to understand the intricacies of how molten rock flows. The perfect way to do just that is by wandering through the underworld at La Cueva del Viento, a cave that formed 27,000 years ago and is part of a 10.5-mile system of lava tubes. Don’t forget the flashlight and headlamps, especially if you’re afraid of the dark.

4. Get Misty in the Anaga Mountains

Hiking trails abound in the Anaga Mountains, where mist-shrouded laurel forests nudge up against arid landscapes, creating astounding biodiversity.

Avery Stonich

At Tenerife’s northeastern tip, Anaga Rural Park protects the Anaga Mountains, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Drive along the spine of the mountains on TF-12 to see "horizontal rain," a weather phenomenon that occurs when prevailing wind hits steep slopes and creates dripping mist. Laurel trees suck this moisture from the air, growing into a blanket of lush cloud forest, while a completely different landscape—complete with cacti—cloaks dry hillsides. Explore it all via trails traversing scenic ridges and descending to rocky shores. Stop at the visitor center in Cruz del Carmen to discover the best hiking spots, or hook up with Anaga Experience for a guided trek.

5. Drink Wine and Make Mojo Sauce

Mash garlic and peppers into mojo sauce while sipping fine wines at Bodegas Monje.

Avery Stonich

A visit to Bodegas Monje is the perfect way to while away an afternoon while soaking up some of the Canary Islands’ culinary and wine culture. On the property’s 42 acres of steep hillside overlooking the sea, the fifth generation of the Monje family grows seven varieties of grapes, including six unique to the Canary Islands. Take a winery tour followed by a leisurely lunch on the outdoor patio. Or sign up for a mojo workshop to learn how to make wrinkly potatoes and mojo sauce—signatures of Canarian cuisine.

6. Lose Yourself in La Laguna

A stroll through the colonial streets of La Laguna offers a trip back in time through this 15th-century town.

Avery Stonich

As if Tenerife didn’t have enough reasons to brag, it also charms with La Laguna, a colorful colonial town established in the 15th century that is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wander the narrow streets of the old quarter, explore the historic churches and other religious buildings, and stop for tapas at a street-side café.

7. Go Whale Watching

Chances are high that you’ll come across pilot whales; hundreds of them live in Tenerife’s waters year-round. These snub-nosed cuties can grow up to 16 feet long.

Doc TB

Twenty-one species of whales and dolphins frolic in the waters around Tenerife, making it one of the world’s top spots for cetacean viewing. Year-round residents include bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales, while sperm whales, orcas, and sei whales are some of the bigger beasts you might see. Whale watching tours depart from southern harbors on excursions that last from two to five hours.

8. See Shepherds Pole Vaulting

Faced with tending goat herds in rugged terrain, Canarian shepherds adopted a unique form of travel: pole vaulting up and down steep hillsides and across ravines. "Salto del Pastor," or shepherd jumping, is no longer a common practice, but some energetic locals carry on the tradition for fun or sport. To see it in action, check out El Cardón’s Secrets of Punta de Teno tour, which includes a demonstration.

Written by Avery Stonich for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Avery Stonich

How to Make Your Life Adventure Ready


Some epic adventures are worth quitting your life for. We're talking about the months-long bike tours, the overland trips, and the long distance backpacking trips. In between the epics, though, are a thousand tiny ways to get into the woods, from impromptu paddles to single-night backpacking trips.

It’s not always easy, and there are plenty of reasons to stay on the couch: assembling gear takes time and effort, adventure buddies can be hard to find on short notice, and weather turns on a dime. But if you use these simple, weeknight-tested techniques to keep your life adventure prepped, you'll be able to get out the door with minimal fuss, keep your backcountry skills on point, and stay ready for the next big trip.

1. Assemble an Adventure Kit

If all your cookware is packed beforehand, you'll be able to get out of the house (and into the backcountry) with minimal fuss.
If all your cookware is packed beforehand, you'll be able to get out of the house (and into the backcountry) with minimal fuss.


When you hear the call of the wild, don’t waste half an hour looking for your headlamp. Keep camping equipment stashed in bags to throw in the back of the car, then stuff into a kayak, bike pannier, or backpack.

The basics: Packing for a full wilderness expedition takes a bit more thought, but the bare necessities for an overnight outing can live in a duffel bag. On the list: sleeping bag, sleeping pad, headlamp with extra batteries, water bottles, and a tent.

Mess kit: Stuff a gym bag with all the things you’d hate to forget—basics include a camping stove, pot, silicone bowls and cups, a coffee cone with filter, utensils, salt, oil, and a water treatment system. It’s worth throwing in some imperishable foods, too, so you don’t have to think about dinner: a packet of Tasty Bites, a bag of couscous, granola, and dried milk might not be gourmet camping fare, but that’s not the point.

First-aid plus: Make a dedicated bag and keep it on hand for every outing. In addition to the usual first aid kit items—bandages, blister treatment, ibuprofen, antibacterial cream, ACE bandage—keep it stocked with the small things that fall through the cracks when you’re packing. Include parachute cord for bear hangs, more extra batteries, duct tape, a multi tool, compass, an emergency blanket, backup water treatment like iodine or Aquamira, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, lighter, sunscreen, and cash.

2. Keep your Gear in Working Order

It’s easy to throw punctured bike tubes into dark corners, repack your soot-clogged camping stove, and put off repairing a leaky sleeping pad. But making a discipline of keeping your kit trail, road- or woods-ready means you won’t be fixing flats and scrambling while your friends wait in the driveway.

3. Write A Wish List

When the trail beckons, it's important to be prepped.
When the trail beckons, it's important to be prepped.

Andy Spearing

An evening of clear weather and free time can make your mind go blank, leaving you scratching your head and scanning maps. Having a standing list of tiny adventure goals will let you skip this time-wasting step, and keeping it tacked to your bedroom wall serves as a reminder to leave the Netflix queue for a rainy day. Divide your list by season, so when you think of the ultimate kayak camping trip in the middle of January, you won’t forget about it when the weather warms up.

4. Roll Call

Not all your besties will be ready to hit the trails at a moment’s notice, but you probably know somebody who is. Start spreading the word about overnight trips and mini-expeditions, and you’ll see would be tiny-adventurists perk up their ears—put them on a list of partners-to-be. Send out a text blast to the likely candidates when inspiration strikes, and find out who bites.

Of course, it might not work. If you’re coming up empty handed (or just want to cast a wider net), there are a zillion outdoors-oriented MeetUp groups, or you can join a volunteer trail crew, help out at an adaptive program, and join the adventure-focused social networking site Gociety. The key point? Don’t be shy—when you spot a friendly-looking person sending a boulder problem, paddling your favorite river, or cruising the camping section of your local outdoors store, snag their contact info and make an adventure buddy.

5. Learn to Love the Woods by Yourself

Solo camping in the wilderness.
Solo camping in the wilderness.

Petrified Forest

On some days, though, all your friends are working and you’ve got to hit the trail alone. Being open to camping on your own means far more opportunities to make it happen, with nothing to distract you from counting stars and practicing bird calls at sunrise.

If you’ve been aspiring to make some solo trips, but are intimidated by the thought of making it happen, a micro adventure is a good way to ease into the experience of exploring alone. With a solid kit and a little practice, you might just find your solitude groove, throw out your address book, and never go back.

Hopefully, these tips will allow you be prepared next time adventure calls. Once you're out there, be sure to share your adventures with us by tagging #RootsRated.

Written by Jen Rose Smith for RootsRated.

Featured image provided by Ville Koivisto

Why Charlotte Ranks Among America’s Top Cities for Trail Running

The US Whitewater Center is just one of the great places to trail run in Charlotte.

It’s no secret to Charlotteans that their city is an amazing trail running town. It looks like the word is out. The December issue of Trail Runner magazine gave Charlotte props as one of their “8 Best Trail Cities.” We appreciate the nod—and couldn’t agree more.

In the article, the magazine makes note of a few of the ever-expanding greenway systems that continue to connect diverse sectors of town (thank you Carolina Thread Trail). It mentions the nearly 40 miles of trail at Anne Close Springs and more than 20 miles (it grows so fast it’s hard to keep up) of singletrack at the U.S. National Whitewater Center. And it includes two top trail races: Tuck Fest, the weekend-long festival of all things outdoors, and the Charlotte Running Company Trail Races, which for many kicks off another race year each January.

In celebration of the Queen City’s recognition, we spoke with a few folks deeply involved in trail running to learn why Charlotte has a singletrack mind.

The Charlotte area's trail race calendar continues to fill with a variety of events, like Mill Stone races at ASCG.
The Charlotte area's trail race calendar continues to fill with a variety of events, like Mill Stone races at ASCG.

Craig Marshall

“The Charlotte area has a variety of trails with varying degrees of difficulty, something for every trail runner.” – Craig Marshall, Treasurer for the Rock Hill Striders and RD of the Mill Stone 50K at ASCG.

The trails around Charlotte are indeed diverse. There are more than 100 miles of singletrack and even more greenway. From fast and furious to a mild ride, it’s easy to find your running experience.

Up north, the trail system at Lake Norman State Park includes 30 miles of fast flowing, non-technical terrain through dense tree cover while the cross-country trail at Davidson College is a smoother path with rolling hills, the perfect morning run.

Kings Pinnacle at Crowder Mountain.
Kings Pinnacle at Crowder Mountain.

Patrick Mueller

To the west, about 10 miles past the USNWC, the trails at George Poston Park are the antitheses of those that wind through LNSP. One tight turn after another leads runners–and bikers as these are multi-use trails–around multiple loops, culminating in the big climb up Spencer Mountain. And Crowders Mountain , the home field for the most elite runners in the city, offers the most challenging vertical around.

Down south of town, the bumpy and fun run through the 6-ish miles at Col. Francis Beatty park is a convenient after work stop for those traveling on the 485 loop. The sort-of-still-a-secret trail system that has sprung up around Baxter Village in Fort Mill, SC,  includes several miles of moderate track near some fantastic post run food and drink venues.

Finally, the eastern Charlotte area represents with one of the oldest trail systems in the area at Reedy Creek Park and one of the most fun runs at Sherman Branch. The 10 or so miles of foot-only trails at Reedy Creek connect rugged singletrack and wide gravel road around small lakes, past playgrounds, and near an off-leash dog park. The trails at Sherman Branch have plenty of hills to make them fun but the swooping turns and long straight-a-ways allow for a swift pace.

Group runs make even the toughest trails around Charlotte easier.
Group runs make even the toughest trails around Charlotte easier.

Craig Marshall

“The community is very supportive of each other regardless of your level of experience.” – Brian Niekras, organizer with the Charlotte Trail Runner and Mountain Biker Meetup group.

It’s true. The community of trail runners, from 100-miler buckle collectors to casual 3-mile joggers, and the groups that make the sport possible, are the backbone of a great trail town.

Meetups such as the 1,700-member strong Charlotte Trail Runner and Mountain Biker group host several runs each week at the best sites around the city. Covering the routes on- and off-road, the Rock Hill Striders organize several regular group runs and races south of Charlotte.  Always willing to offer advice and encouragement, even the best runners in these groups were beginners once and are happy to help newbies.

The Ultra Running Company has become the hub for trail runners in Charlotte, holding viewing parties for significant off-road races and offering a range of brands not easily found elsewhere. Their living room-like setting is a place to chat about FKTs, DNFs, and PRs— or at least try to figure out what that means.

Of course, there would be nowhere near the running options if it weren’t for the Tarheel Trailblazers. Sure, they are a mountain bike group, but these superheroes of the singletrack are responsible for the creation and maintenance of more than 100 miles of the best trails around Charlotte.

Through volunteerism and land conservation, the Carolina Thread Trail continues to secure beautiful paths all over the central Piedmont. From paved greenways to the sweeping hills of Crowders Mountain’s Ridgeline Trail, the eight pointed star that symbolizes the CTT has sprouted up along hundreds of miles of trail.

Even through the toughest trials on the trail, Charlotte's trail runners have fun.
Even through the toughest trials on the trail, Charlotte's trail runners have fun.

Anji Nussbaumer

“There is a race almost every weekend in the city or out on the trails that caters to every facet of runner there can be, from one-mile races to 50 milers, road to trail, even a race on the airport runway” – Anji Nussbaumer, elite team member for INKnBURN and top female finisher of several Carolina ultra-distance races.

It wasn’t so many years ago that trail runners in Charlotte had to wait for one of a few chances to compete in their sport. Now, those same athletes have to choose from multiple events on any given weekend.

The USNWC is home to several popular races. Anchoring the schedule at the beginning of the year on Jan. 16 is the multi-distance Charlotte Running Company Trail Race, nicknamed the “hoodie race” in honor of the popular sweatshirt provided to each participant. A color run, a winter 5K with frigid water plunge, duathlons of running and paddle boarding, and holiday themed events round out the 12 months of USNWC competitions.

Super challenging ultra-distance trail races continue to grow in number and prominence. Events at South Mountains State Park, Uwharrie National Forest, and the USNWC–all of greater-than-marathon distance–take advantage of the rolling hills, beautiful forests, and local mountains that surround the city. Just down the road from Charlotte, Anne Close Springs Greenway plays host to the Mill Stone 50K in February. The twisty course is tough enough for a challenge but the layout—the race is made up of three 10.6 mile loops—makes for a fantastic first ultra-distance attempt.

This is, of course, just a start. There are too many groups, venues, and events to list here. We hope the good folks at Trail Runner magazine will visit again soon. They’ll have plenty of ground to cover.

Written by Rob Glover for RootsRated in partnership with OrthoCarolina.

Featured image provided by Craig Marshall

Motorcycle Adventures in Southwest Virginia


Sturgis, South Dakota, is what pops into most people’s minds when they think of motorcycle adventures. While this rip roaring party of a motorcycle rally is perhaps the most iconic, it hardly speaks for the lot of ‘em—there are a variety of places and ways to embark on a motorcycle adventure across our grand country.

If you’re on the hunt for a spot steeped in natural beauty with options from serene rides to blood-pumping dirt road adventures, look no further than Southwest Virginia. Housing key sections of the increasingly well-known Dragon Motorcycle Series and offering some of the most customizable motorcycle touring you can get, zooming through Southwest Virginia on two wheels is a trip to remember.

Two Slices of the Dragon Motorcycle Series

A taste of what you can see along the Back of the Dragon.
A taste of what you can see along the Back of the Dragon.

Virginia State Parks

Occupying central Southwest Virginia including Smyth, Tazewell, and Wythe counties is a twisty and turny motorcycle ride that’s unlike any other. The Back of the Dragon begins in Marion and terminates in Tazewell. This middle section is part of the larger Dragon Series that includes the Tail of the Dragon in North Carolina and Tennessee, the Head of the Dragon in West Virginia, and the Claw of the Dragon also in Virginia.

The Back of the Dragon is located smack in the middle of the five loops that compose the Claw of the Dragon which means an almost unthinkable amount of ride options couched in the secluded, tree-filled scenery of Southwest Virginia. Ranging from 62 to 224 miles in length, there’s plenty to explore, but the Back of the Dragon is particularly beautiful. The route meanders along a cliff through its entirety, offering stunning and far-reaching views of the land below between eyefuls of luscious trees dotting a barely trafficked road. For the best experience, tackle it at sunrise or sunset—the area really lights up and it feels almost other-worldly.

Once you tackle this part of the Dragon, it’s going to be almost impossible to stop you from wanting to see the rest. You’ve been warned.

Custom Tours for Any Traveler

GearHead will provide visitors guided motorcycle tours of the area.
    Renee Sklarew
GearHead will provide visitors guided motorcycle tours of the area.
Renee Sklarew

Whether it’s the Dragon that’s got you hooked or something else, GearHead Moto Tours in Pearisburg (which spun out of motorcycle repair shop of the same name) offers all-inclusive motorcycle tours to enthusiasts of all stripes. In talking to Terry Rafferty, the owner of the whole shebang, about his business, his passion for what he does is practically palpable. He explains that when it comes to the kinds of tours people can book, "Nothing is impossible. That’s kind of the motto here. I’m here for the people, to give them the best time possible and show them Giles county. There are so many beautiful areas."

Rafferty went on to explain that the team, which includes his other guide Derek Snider, is really energetic about what they do because it’s their passion. "I’m so fortunate to be able to do what I do every day," he adds.

When it comes to what he does, the sky's the limit. GearHead serves everyone from solo travelers to corporate staff members looking for a fun team building experience. While their tours work best in pods of four or so, soloists can take advantage of the events GearHead advertises on its Facebook page and snag a single spot. The best is that Rafferty totally gets solo travel, explaining that they’ll pair people in a party of one with others on a trip, but that you’ll still get your own room and bathroom accommodations to stay in. "None of that awkward dual occupancy stuff," he notes.

GearHead can outfit you with a motorcycle as well.
    Renee Sklarew
GearHead can outfit you with a motorcycle as well.
Renee Sklarew

GearHead tours can be hard to define because they’re so customizable. The company recently took a couple on a romantic retreat tour, putting them up in a nice cabin and bringing in chefs to cook for them. On the other end of the spectrum, another recent tour included camping and the GearHead team cooked for the guests. On other outings, Rafferty will take guests to sample local restaurants. "What we’re trying to do is give the flavor of the place to our customers," he says. “There’s everything from nice dining spots to mom and pop places. When people come here they’re trying to get away from having Starbucks every morning.”

The terrain you cover and how you cover it is just as much up to you as where you stay and what you eat. They’ve got dirt roads for riders looking for technical challenges, two-lane paved routes for those trying to relax a bit, and access to trails on private property to ensure that you have an experience unlike any other. The key to offering such a variety of adventures are the dual sport motorcycles they use—essentially street-legal dirt bikes that can traverse diverse terrain.

One of Rafferty’s favorite spots to take his guests is Butt Mountain Fire Tower Overlook where visitors can see three states at once. "It’s also where Dirty Dancing was filmed," Rafferty adds as an aside.

All you need to participate is a motorcycle endorsement on your license and proof of motorcycle insurance if you plan to drive. They provide you with everything else—all the riding and safety gear you could possibly need to have a great time in Southwest Virginia.

Written by Cinnamon Janzer for RootsRated in partnership with Southwest Virginia.

Featured image provided by Virginia State Parks