The Pacfifc Northwest Trail
The PNT is one of the newest additions to the network of National Scenic Trails in the United States. This 1,200 mile trek largely runs parallel to the Canadian border and has terminuses at the Chief Mountain Border Crossing east of Glacier National Park, MT, and Cape Alva on the Olympic Peninsula in Washinton. It traverses three major mountain ranges (the Rockies, the Northern Cascades, and the Olympics) and a variety of terrain, from snowy passes, to semi-arid highlands, to temperate rainforests and beaches.
Due to its newness relative to some of the more well-known national trails, much of the PNT is rough, scarcely travelled, and only lightly marked. As such, navigation is a challenge and progress is earned harder than on more developed trails. Other hazards include unpredictable mountain weather, variable seasonal snowpack, wildfire, and animals such as grizzly bears and mountain lions.
The Te Araroa
The Te Araroa trail is a 3,000 km (1,800 mile) long trail running the length of New Zealand, with termini in the North at Cape Reigna and the South at Bluff. While it only officially opened in 2011, the idea has been in the works since 1975. As with many long distance trails, its completion was a labor of love from a myriad of professionals and volunteers spanning decades, all sharing a common goal; to make a world class walking trail that showcases the variety of landscapes and cultural identities of New Zealand.
Its implementation was based on that of other national trails, such as the Pennine Way in the UK, and the Appalachian Trail in the US, and shares the same philosphical gensis in the musings of naturalist writers the world over.
Any long walk (or tramp, to use the Kiwi term) is at least part a study in geology, and in this regard the Te Araroa is no slouch. The path follows the Pacific Plate boundary, and meanders along beaches, through jungles, across glacially fed rivers, and over volcanic mountains forged in tectonic distress eons ago.
The Triple Crown
The "Triple Crown" of American hiking refers to three of the largest, most difficult, and well recognized of the National Scenic Trails in the U.S.: The Appalachian Trail (AT), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). Together, they comprise around 8,000 miles of trail all running roughly north-south, along the three main mountain ranges that straddle the country.
The AT is the oldest and shortest at a "mere" 2,100 miles. It was originally conceived by Benton MacKaye in the 1920's as a rustic route connecting a series of work-farms that would offer the residence of the increasingly crowded and urbanized East coast a chance for some rural renewal. This socialist ideal found little traction, however, and it wasn't until the involvement of a man named Myron Avery that the dream became a reality. He streamlined the trail's proposed purpose, brought multiple states on board, and got the dirty business of building tread done. Today, the AT crosses 14 states, has a highest point of 6,643 feet at Clingman's Dome on the North Carolina-Tennessee border, and is thru-hiked by thousands of people from the world over every year. Despite crossing dozens of environs, the AT has a reputation of being a "long green tunnel", as its relatively low elevation results in lots of heavily forested walking and few grand views. This makes for a more... psychologically challenging trail, that drives roughly 80% of prospective thru-hikers to abandon their designs.
The PCT is the possibly the most scenic of the trails, running 2,700 miles from the Mexican border in California to the Canadian border in Washington. Recently, it has gained notoriety as the setting for the book "Wild". After starting in a semi-arid region, it quickly climbs to the High Sierra, passing by Mt Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states. From there it transitions to the Cascade Range, a series of volcanic mountains which includes such highlights as Lassen Peak, Mt Shasta, Three Sisters, Crater Lake, Mt Thielsen, Mt Hood, Mt Adams, and Mt Rainer. This varied trail can challenge hikers with sparse water sources in Southern CA, miles of route-finding in the snowbound Sierras, and many tricky creek fords.
The CDT is the most notorious of the three. Called "The King of Trails", it span from the country's southern border in New Mexico to its northern on in Montana. Throughout its course it strives to follow the Continental Divide, the topographical line that separates the country's two main watersheds; on the eastern side, rainwater falls and ultimately makes its way to the Atlantic, while the western slopes drains to the Pacific. Like the PCT, it traverses desert-like regions and wades through the rocky, red scar of the Gila River canyon before climbing in to the rugged and snowy Rocky Mountains in CO. Next, it trudges across the arid Great Divide Basin in Wyoming, passes through the fabulous Yellowstone National Park, and undulates along the Idaho/Montana border before making its way north. Ultimately it ends in "Crown of the Continent", the spectacular Glacier National Park, on the shores of Waterton Lake.
Camino de Santiago; Ruta del Norte
The Camino de Santiago, often shortened to "The Camino", is known as the Way of St. James in English. Its eponymous saint was a supposedly one of Christ's apostles who spread the faith to what was then the end of the Earth on the Iberian Peninsula. As Christian history tells it, he returned to the holy land and was beheaded. His body was transported by ship back to where he preached , but it sank in a storm off the coast of Spain. Miraculously, it washed ashore undamaged and covered in scallops, which then became his symbol. From there, the whereabouts of his remains were unknown for centuries until a vision of a shimmering night sky supposedly revealed the location of the relic to a bishop. He founded the holy city of Santiago de Compostela atop his tomb, which translates to St. James's Field of Stars. Over time, the site became a Christian pilgrimage destination, with routes from all over Europe winding their way to the city in northeastern Spain and terminating at the cathedral there. Unlike other trails, The Camino refers to any walk that ends in Santiago (technically it has to be over 100 km to be called a pilgrimage), and thus there isn't really ONE single route; anything can qualify, though obviously a number of standard routes has arisen. Furthermore, there is no notion of the reversibility of the trail, as every route must end at the church. We elected to hike the Northern Route which traditionally starts in France and follows the coast along the Bay of Biscay, but due to time constraints we had to start further west in Bilbao. Given that some 20,000 people walk the "main" route each year, we wanted something a little less crowded and that afforded more room for variation.