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Activity Guide: Extreme
Conquer your fears. Feel the adrenaline hit you like a punch in the stomach. Jump from dizzying heights, dive into mysterious depths, get battered in freezing waters, leap offjagged rocks, scale epic peaks ... you get the drift. If you’ve always wanted to enter the world of extreme sports, then get on with it while you still can. Whether you want to add an element of danger to your travels, have promised yourself to tick off a few entries on your bucket list this year, or just want to update your Facebook profile picture with something that’ll make all your mates sick with envy, one of these extreme adventures should do the trick.
Base jumping in Norway
Known as the base jumping mecca for thrill-seekers, Preikestolen in southwestern Norway is a dizzying cliff overlooking the dense, green valleys of the gorgeous, fjord-rich Ryfylke region.
At a stomach-flipping 604m (1982ft) high, this rock formation – known as ‘the preacher’s pulpit’ – has a flat top that measures 25mx25m, drawing hordes of masochistic travellers who like to picnic on high and peer over the edge.
The mountain plateau is believed to have been formed by melting glaciers at the end of the Ice Age, nearly 10,000 years ago, and was once used for pagan rituals. Preikestolen now receives hundreds of thousands of googly-eyed gawpers a year.
Considering its flat top, hurl-worthy height and views over the icy blue Lysefjord below, it comes as no surprise that, in the past 15 years alone, more than 30,000 base jumps have been performed off Preikestolen and in the surrounding Kjerag Mountain area.
Indeed, Norway is considered by many to be the base jumping capital of Europe, as it has the sheer cliffs and deep fjords ideal for a heart-pumping jump. Even better is the fact that the extreme sport is perfectly legal in the Lysefjorden area.
Still, some adrenaline junkies have base jumped to their death here. Nine fatalities have been reported in the Kjerag Mountain region, so it should be remembered that this rush can come at a price.
Hiking the Caminito Del Rey, Spain
Snaking its way along the cliff walls of the El Chorro gorge in Málaga, Spain, is the 110-year-old El Caminito Del Rey, the world’s most dangerous hike.
The one-metre-wide trail was built for workers to travel between two power plants. With rusting supports and gaping holes in the path, it’s no surprise two hikers have died attempting this 350ft-high walk. As a result, it’s being restored, so may not be so extreme by the time you get there.
Standing at more than 553m, Toronto’s CN Tower is the tallest free-standing structure in the western hemisphere and is a national symbol of Canada.
It’s also home to the audacious EdgeWalk, which holds the Guinness World Record for the highest external walk around a building. Those who dare can tether themselves to the tower and walk hands-free for 150m along the ledge – which is just 1.5m wide.
Do you dare?
Volcano Bungee, Chile
If the average bungee jump isn’t quite extreme enough for you, the volcano bungee jump near Pucon, Chile, may be more your style.
A helicopter will fly you over an active volcano (white-hot, bubbling and all), from which you’ll bungee jump 106m towards the caldera.
Considering you’re dangling from the helicopter’s cord within just 200m of boiling molten lava, it’s little wonder that this is one of the world’s most dangerous bungee jumps.
Whale Kayaking, Alaska
Make whale-watching a little more adventurous and go kayaking alongside them – a great way to get up close and personal with these gentle giants.
Submerged land formations, temperate waters and strong tidal currents make Point Adolphus Alaska’s most active whale feeding area, and one of the best spots to catch humpback whales surfacing. Keep an eye out for other marine wildlife, such as sea lions and killer whales, paddling alongside you, too.
White water rafting, Zambia
Hidden rocks, sharp drops, rough currents, stinging spray – it’s all just part of the extreme sports fun if you’re white water rafting on the notorious Zambezi River.
The section that the most daredevil of rafters aim for is the gorge below the Victoria Falls, before the churning, plunging rapids flow into Lake Kariba and become calmer. White water rafting falls into classes between one and six, with six categorised as dangerous and effectively unnavigable. You guessed it, the waters on the Zambezi River below the famous Falls have been classified by the British Canoe Union as grade five, with “extremely difficult, long and violent rapids, steep gradients, big drops and pressure areas”.
Think you can take on the rapids, no sweat? Even the ones nicknamed Oblivion and The Devil’s Toilet Bowl? Perhaps you’ll find the crocodiles more of an issue then. These critters are commonly found living in parts of the Zambezi River, but we’re assured they’re usually considered small and harmless. Usually, that is...
Everest Base Camp trek, Nepal
Clearly, you won’t quite be following in the footsteps of Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay’s historic conquest of the world’s highest mountain, but you can at least go part of the way – to the Everest Base Camp.
This classic trek in the Himalayas will give you gaspworthy views of the 8848m Mount Everest. You’ll trek past some of the world’s most remote mountain paths, glaciers, valleys and high passes to reach the foot of the beast. Then a gruelling hike to the 5545m Kala Patthar will deliver views of Everest, Lhotse and the other peaks of this epic region.
Tour operators say you’ll need to be in very good shape to manage walking these kinds of distances at high altitudes, especially since you’ll be carrying a backpack and covering demanding terrain.
Any keen divers among you likely associate your underwater adventures with the constant sound of your own heavy breathing, and a sturdy oxygen tank on your back. Freediving is completely different. No scuba gear is used, but instead you just hold your breath. Enthusiasts rave about how it makes you feel part of the deep sea world, as there’s nothing between you and the marine life you’re seeing. Off the coast of Thailand’s Koh Tao, a popular site for freediving training, you’ll be getting up close and personal with schools of tropical fish and colourful coral gardens.
Conversely, this serene experience is often listed as the second most dangerous sport in the world (after base jumping from buildings) as the risks are significant, from the relatively minor, such as passing out underwater and burst eardrums, to more serious ailments such as severe fatigue or ‘lung squeezes’ (when divers go deeper than their lungs can handle, resulting in coughing up blood). Or, of course, you can drown.
Canyoning is the Marmite of extreme sports – some people love it, some people hate it. If you think clambering your way over terrifyingly slippery rocks, jumping into freezing pools of water and abseiling down plunging waterfalls sounds like a recipe for disaster, give it a miss. If it sounds like the ultimate adventure then get yourself over to the south of France, pronto. Parts of the Alpes-Maritimes region seem like they were designed especially for canyoning, with jagged mountains ideal for climbing, their steep slopes and fast-running streams perfect for sliding down.
You definitely need to be a strong and confident swimmer, as you’ll frequently find yourself in deep water, sometimes with a strong current. Some of the more remote canyons can only be reached by a tough hike, so be ready for that too.
There are lightweight canyoning experiences available, but the rougher ones will really test your bottle.
Sky diving, Hawaii
It’s the ultimate rush: flying above the clouds, then falling through the skies at an adrenaline-pumping rate of 120mph before letting your parachute open and coasting slowly down to earth. There are stunning sites all over the world where you can do this, but many say the views in Hawaii are unmatchable.
A skydive over Oahu on a clear day lets you see the other Hawaiian islands, whales frolicking in the water, and as you approach the landing area, views of Diamond Head, Pearl Harbour, Kaena Point and the North Shore coastline. Completely exhilarating, but unless you’re petrified of heights, not much danger.