First In:Sights Unseen

No one knows exactly why Greenland’s ice cap is melting three times faster than it was just five years ago, but the rapid retreat probably has something to do with moulins, or glacial mills—extremely deep crevasses carved by rivers of snowmelt, which erode glaciers from within. Scientists studying the moulins face a twofold challenge: The Indlandsis ice sheet is hard to get to and almost impossible to get into, with ice over 10,000 feet thick in places. Enter Le Groupe Militaire de Haute Montagne, a gang of France’s most elite climbers, who hooked up with French glaciologist Luc Moreau and mounted an expedition nearly 500 feet down into the second largest glacier in the world (the first is in Antarctica). Though Moreau is still processing data from the trip and plans to return next year, his teammate Patrick Robert can already share one bit of extreme-camping wisdom: "Sleeping on a glacier," he says, "is an exercise in humility." —Ryan Bradley

Stepping off the ferry, I thought, this must be what it was like when the first visitors stepped into Kathmandu," recalls Kevin Thompson (pictured) of his arrival in Arunachal Pradesh. Kevin and I had come to this remote Himalayan state in northeast India, along with five other rafting guides, to make exploratory descents of the Subansiri and Siang Rivers—and even after leading paddling trips across the globe for 15 years, I had never seen anything like it. We ran big-volume, Class III to IV+ rapids and drifted past misty, forest-lined beaches. It didn’t take long to confirm what we had suspected: This region had the makings of a world-class whitewater destination.

Home to hundreds of rivers and tributaries and 26 major tribes, Arunachal Pradesh has been closed to foreigners for much of the past 50 years, due to a long-standing border dispute between India and China. As a result, its lush landscape and native cultures have remained virtually untouched. The locals, most of whose ancestors came from neighboring Tibet, still speak an array of Sino-Tibetan dialects. With the state easing its visa restrictions, a handful of intrepid travelers are seeing firsthand, as we did, the potential for ecotourism, and the area’s leading whitewater outfitter, RiverIndia, is entering its third season (14 days, $2,000; Large-scale energy development, however, is also on the horizon. Of the 168 new dam projects slated for northeast India, 22 would affect the great Subansiri, which may earn the distinction of having first and last descents in the same decade.—Bridget Crocker

Of the 1,200 wildfires that tore through California last July, the Big Sur blaze (officially known as the Basin Fire) proved the most destructive, scorching thousands of acres a day, closing a 35-mile stretch of iconic Highway 1, ripping through redwood forest, and burning down many of the structures that populate Big Sur's wild hills—the same quiet shacks where Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac sought inspiration. It was fitting, then, that in a place known for its fiercely independent residents, Big Sur's last and best line of defense was Big Sur itself. Ignoring evacuation orders issued by authorities, locals fought the inferno on their own terms. On July 2, at Apple Pie Ridge, photographer Kodiak Greenwood and seven others battled the Basin Fire using not much more than garden hoses. Lighting illegal backfires with hand flares, the Apple Pie Eight, as they came to be called, held off the advancing flames for nearly two days, sparing the town from destruction. Speaking on the condition of anonymity (one individual was later arrested for the backfires and faced criminal charges), a California state fire captain remarked, "Those guys did a heck of a job up there. This thing probably would have made it all the way down into town if it weren't for them. Unbelievable, really."—Ethan Stewart

The Texas Water Safari began as a bet in 1963 and has since grown into the world's toughest canoe race. Each June, competing teams run 260 miles down the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers, from San Marcos to Seadrift and the Gulf Coast, in no more than a hundred hours, often paddling through the night. Teams are permitted to carry water, ice, and one cell phone per boat. Flares and antivenom kits are required. Racer Tom Goynes, who has won the Safari seven times, claims it's not the mosquitoes, fire ants, wasps, water moccasins, or gators you need to worry about. "Go slow and steady," he says, "cause it's the heat that'll get ya." Temps routinely top 100°F, and anything below 80 percent humidity is considered bone-dry. "We Texans have a real advantage," says Goynes, "especially the ones without air-conditioning."—Ryan Bradley

The Great Bend, a 120-mile U-turn in the Yangtze that the Chinese call the "River of Golden Sands," is a remote stretch of deep canyons, world-class whitewater, and ancient temples. It's also one of China's premier rafting runs—but not for long. Two dams already under construction will flood hundreds of miles of wilderness along its banks, forcing thousands to relocate and turning yet another section of China's mother river into a vast silt lake. (Not far downstream is the Sichuan Basin, epicenter of the deadly earthquake in May that killed at least 68,000 people and damaged 400 dams in the region, posing a significant risk of further flooding.) This past April guide Travis Winn, 24, led a multinational team of scientists and conservationists down the Great Bend as part of the Rivers in Demand project (, which mounts expeditions to the world's most threatened watersheds. Winn's Last Descents River Expeditions specializes in guiding trips on China's endangered rivers ($4,000 for eight days on the Upper Yangtze;—Kyle Dickman

While acclimatizing for a first ascent of the 19,200-foot Shafat Fortress in Kashmir's Zanskar Range last August, Colorado-based climbers Micah Dash, 31 (pictured), and Jonny Copp, 33, tackled smaller obstacles around base camp, like this granite boulder in the Suru River Valley. The high peaks of the Zanskar Range form a formidable borderland between Pakistan and northernmost India, and many of the mountains are unclimbed. Two weeks after taking this shot, Copp was knocked cold by a slab of falling ice directly below Shafat's summit. He came to and finished the climb. "The end result," he says, "was a cracked helmet and a solid headache the rest of the route."—Ryan Bradley

There's no flag on the summit of Cortes Bank. The 4,000-foot peak is a hundred miles off the California coast and six feet under the Pacific Ocean. On January 5, 2008—as gale force winds swept down from the north, harbors from B.C. to Baja were closed, and the Coast Guard was put on high alert—four big-wave surfers found a colossal swell at Cortes. During a three-hour lull in the storm, they rode the largest waves ever surfed, some over 80 feet tall. "We had to use all our ability just to stay connected to our boards," says Grant "Twiggy" Baker (pictured here on a 60-footer). "We knew that any mistake would have very severe consequences."—Ryan Bradley

Black ash and scoria deserts, green and turquoise mosses, orange hills giving way to rhyolite peaks—the Technicolor landscape surrounding Landmannalaugar is as surreal and saturated as Dorothy's Oz. Sign up for a jeep tour in Reykjavik and travel 40 miles east into Iceland's highlands ($1,380 for a group of four; Landmannalaugar's austere mountain hut, booked first come, first served, makes up in location what it lacks in luxury ($25 per person; +354-568-2533). Just out the door, glacial waters and volcanic springs feed the natural pool that gives the place its name: "hot springs of the people."—Ryan Bradley

Along Oman's northeast coast, where the Wahiba Sands give way to the Arabian Sea, superheated winds whip up surfable swells and strange desert formations, like the "blowout" pictured here. This is the land of 600-foot dunes, 120-degree days, and the Bedouin, whose nomadic tent camps are a far more common sight than surfboards. The opening of a new surf school in Salalah may soon change that ( Travelers can hitch a ride with GAP Adventures, which runs eight-day tours in the country ($1,050;, or rent a 4x4, drive inland to the village of Al Wasil, and hire a Bedouin guide for a trip through the dunes ($1,200;—Ryan Bradley

Five-story icebergs crowd Alaska's Bear Lake, newly formed by the Bear Glacier as it carves a fast retreat through the Kenai Mountains in Kenai National Park. Getting to it is a challenge even by Alaska standards: From Seward, Liquid Adventures shuttles you up a shallow spillway to the lake—a five-mile-long fissure between jagged peaks—where you'll paddle among hundreds of giant ice cubes while black bears and eagles keep an eye on the proceedings ($649 for an all-inclusive overnight kayaking trip;—Ryan Bradley

A solitary oryx enjoys rare grass sprouting in the Namib Desert—a 1,200-mile expanse of ancient dunes, red rock mountains, and surreal vistas along Namibia's Atlantic coast. Though namib means "an area where there is nothing," zebras, spotted hyenas, leopards, and lions are found here, particularly in late fall and winter, when heavy rains coax life from the parched soil. During an eight-week helicopter trip across Africa, depicted in Michael Poliza's new book, Eyes Over Africa (teNeues, $125), the photographer captured this image near one of the safari camps in the Wolwedans Collection ($275 per person, per night;—Ryan Bradley

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