7 Adventures for the Hardcore Explorer

Do you watch "Naked and Afraid" thinking, I could totally do that? These trips might be for you.
Franco Attolini and Alex Alvarez exploring the Aktun Hu Cave System.
Exploring the Aktun Hu Cave System © Daniel Riordan Araujo
By Will Gray

There was a time when climbing Mt. Everest or skiing to the South Pole would impress your friends and earn you a place in the record books. Not any more. These days if you're looking for serious bragging rights you need to do something original – and sufficiently hardcore. Like one of these epic adventures. Don't forget your travel insurance...

Crossing the Baikal lake on skates.
Lake Baikal: Scenic but deadly © Daniel Korzhonov

1. Lake Baikal in Winter

Location: Russia
Dangers: Hypothermia, fatigue and ice submersion
Bragging Rights: 7

In the harsh winter sub-Siberian climate the world’s deepest lake freezes into a 434 mile-long frozen wilderness – the perfect arena in other words for an adventure race. Described as "longer than England, colder than vodka and harder than granite," The Adventurists are looking to hold a race there in 2015.

Would-be entrant Matt Prior said: “This is the most insane adventure I could find on the planet today. WW2 motorbike, Siberia, big frozen lake, no support, never been done before, complete lack of health and safety and all for charity. It’s not very sensible and there’s a real chance of something going wrong in a big way. Sounds perfect.”

Yvan Bourgnon and Sebastien Roubin facing winds of up to 50kts (90km/h) on a 60-hour voyage.
Cape Horn in a Beach Cat © Antoine Beysens

2. Cape Horn in a Beachcat

Location: South America
Dangers: Giant waves, strong currents and icebergs
Bragging Rights: 8

The rough seas at the southern tip of Chile’s Tierra del Fuego are one of the biggest sailing challenges on Earth. The Andes funnel "williwaw" winds can create 100-foot high waves with no warning. It’s no place for a "beachcat" – but Yvan Bourgnon and Sebastien Roubin took it on in exactly that, facing winds of up to 55 mph on a 60-hour voyage.

Bourgnon said: “It's the hardest thing I've ever done. It needed a good dose of insanity. The sea was hostile, we were always near disaster, but it was exceptional.”

Since then Yvan's been on an even bigger cat adventure. Stay tuned for more details...

Franco Attolini exploring the Aktun Hu Cave System.
Exploring the Aktun Hu Cave System © Daniel Riordan Araujo

3. Diving the Quintana Roo Caves

Location: Mexico
Dangers: Disorientation, equipment failure, drowning
Bragging Rights: 8

The world’s three longest underwater cave systems sit beneath the jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula. The longest, Sistema Ox Bel Ha, was discovered in 1998 and has so far been explored to a length of 160 miles. But it is Aktun-Hu that houses ‘the holy grail’ – a 200 foot-deep flooded black abyss called Hoyo Negro, which contains Ice Age mastodon and ancient human remains.

Cave explorer Franco Attolini said: “The immense size of Hoyo Negro is difficult to comprehend. Once you enter the pit you cannot see the floor below, and all that can be seen in front of you is a black void.”

A car drives down an extremely steep jungle path at Darien Gap.
Darien Gap: The world’s most dangerous jungle © National Geographic/Getty Images

4. Surviving the Darien Gap

Location: South America
Dangers: Disorientation, drowning, jaguars and kidnapping
Bragging Rights: 10

Described as "the most intense 90km on Earth," the Darien Gap, between Colombia and Panama, is a road-less wilderness of mountainous jungle and swamps. The only break in the Pan-American Highway from Cape Horn to Alaska, it is infested with active guerrillas, kidnappers and drug traffickers and very few travellers have ever made it through.

Robert Pelton was kidnapped there in 2003. He said: “The Darien Gap is one of the last places people really hesitate to venture to. It's pristine jungle but everything that's bad for you is in there."

This view is worth the work. © Roland Hunter

5. The World’s ‘Toughest’ Trek

Location: Himalayas
Dangers: Altitude sickness and sudden changes in weather
Bragging Rights: 6 (minus points for being served tea)

Bhutan’s borders are so hard to cross that few ‘outsiders’ get to take on the Snowman trek. The 24-day route covers 216-miles of pristine wilderness in the isolated Lunana region, with 11 passes of over 16,000 feet. It’s often made impassable by snow and although it is becoming increasingly accessible only half those who try it actually complete it.

Kevin Grange, three-time Snowman trekker, said: “You can't put a price tag on the feeling when you open your tent door and a panorama of pristine peaks explodes into view...and a hot cup of tea is handed to you.”

Traversing Greenland by kite.
Greenland by kite © polarcircles.com

6. Greenland by Kite

Location: Arctic Zone
Dangers: Freezing temperatures, crevasses and exhaustion
Bragging Rights: 9

Traversing Greenland’s immense ice cap is a well-trodden, if immense polar challenge, but a circumnavigation of the world’s largest island is a different beast altogether. Dixie Dansercoer and Eric McNair-Landry are the only people to have achieved it, using ski-kites to harness the katabatic arctic winds on a 56-day clockwise journey covering more than 2,500 miles.

Dansercoer said: “There are still things on this planet that can be considered pioneering and this is one. Now we’ve done it, we have the feeling this will become a new classic route.”

Ryan Sandes during the Drakensberg Grand Traverse record attempt.
Sandes of time © Kelvin Trautman/Red Bull Content Pool

7. The Drakensberg Traverse

Location: South Africa
Dangers: Sheer drops, exposure and snakes
Bragging Rights: 5

This 137-mile trek along the main Drakensberg ridge is one of the world’s top multi-day hikes – even though deaths are reported there every year. The trail-less route runs through eight points between Sentinel car park and Bushman’s Neck and involves a total combined ascent of 27,000 feet – almost the height of Mount Everest. Most hike it, but this year Ryan Sandes and Ryno Griesel ran it in a record time of 41 hours and 49 minutes.

Three-time traverser Griesel said: “It’s kind of this untouchable, iconic route because it’s so remote. Once you’re on top, if you want to come down, it’s six to 10 hours of hiking to get out.”

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