10 Extreme Ways to Enjoy the Outdoors

Tandem skydivers posing for camera
Photo: Joshua M [CC by 2.0]/Flickr

When good weather arrives, it's time to head outside. But what if you're tired of the same old, tame old wilderness pursuits like hiking, biking and tent camping? Well, hold on to your hats (and boots and backpacks, too). Here are some bold open-air diversions — like sky diving, at left — that let you enjoy nature to the extreme. Just don't try them without proper training, robust equipment and plenty of "leave no trace" respect for the places you pass through. (Text: Sidney Stevens)

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Volcano boarding

Peter Gene/Flickr.

Snow boarders who don't covet the cold and wet are in luck. There's now a warmer, drier version called volcano boarding, and just like it sounds, you barrel down the barren ash slopes of a volcano (the more active, the better) at death-defying speeds. That's right: hike to the summit, take in the outstanding views, then hurl yourself to the bottom on a specially constructed sled-like board. Cerro Negro, a young, 2,388-foot volcano in western Nicaragua, is the site of some intense boarding, as is Mount Yasur, an ever-erupting 1,184-footer on the island of Tanna, part of the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.

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Canyon swinglining

Youtube.

If the playground swings didn't supply the rush you longed for as a kid, this sport might just fulfill your childhood yearnings — especially if you love the towering grandeur of canyon walls and crave the mind explosion of sailing headlong through them like a bird riding the wind. It's called swinglining, and as this video of madcap (emphasis on mad, as in deranged) canyon swingers in Moab, Utah, attests, pictures really are worth a thousand words. What more can we say? You'll either be satisfied with the vicarious thrill of watching from the safety of your computer screen or those canyon walls will be calling your name.

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Peakbagging

destination arctic circle/Flickr.

Intrepid outdoor adventurers often hope to conquer a mountain peak or two in their lifetimes, but peakbaggers take mountain climbing to a whole new level. These goal-oriented extremists aren't necessarily aiming for the highest peaks — rather they're all about quantity (i.e., putting as many peaks "in the bag" as possible). Munro baggers, for instance, strive to climb all 283 Munros in the Scottish Highlands (the highest is 4,409 feet). To up the competition, some try to "bag" as many peaks as possible in a day or scale every peak in record time. Name a mountain range and there's probably a group of baggers — e.g., the Adirondack Forty-Sixers, the California Thirteeners, British Columbia's North Shore baggers, and even a group of fledgling New Zealand baggers.

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Canopy camping

Touch The Sky Tree Climbing Adventures.

Gorillas do it, chimpanzees do it, and now you can, too. For treehuggers seeking a taste of their evolutionary past and some arboreal-induced Z's, several canopy-camping tour operators now let you climb into the treetops and snooze among the leaves. Granted, you get a specially made hammock rather than building your own nest, and most tour operators offer gourmet meals and other amenities, but this primal experience is sure to help bring out your inner primate. If nothing else, hanging far above the relentless rush of modern life may score you your first decent night's sleep in years.

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Extreme caving

NeilsPhotography/Flickr.

There's something irresistible about caves — how they beckon to be explored, reminding us, perhaps, of our prehistoric past. But not all caves are created equal. There are those you stroll through to admire the stalactites — and there are those that require some extra chutzpah to probe. Take cave diving, for instance. Underwater caverns can be breathtaking, but you need some major diving derring-do to take the plunge. Then there's vertical caving and glacier caving, both of which require high-octane rappelling by rope into deep caverns and back up again. Beginning spelunkers, take note, and don't go it alone.

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Urban exploration

Kraetzsche (busy)/Flickr.

Who says all the beauty is in nature? City dwellers who can't steal away for a real wilderness jaunt can still partake of extreme outings right in their own back yards. It's called urban exploration, or urbex for short, and it's attracting a growing cult following. The idea is to plumb the recesses of hidden and forgotten places in the built environment — everything from under-city catacombs, sewers and transit tunnels to above-ground relics like abandoned buildings and even ghosts towns. Besides thrill-junkies seeking a creepy romp among the ruins or the adrenaline surge of infiltrating prohibited places, many urbexers are also photographers and videographers with an astute eye for the surreal beauty of decayed and dying spaces.

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Cliff-face camping

OMGshots.

Some adrenaline hounds aren't content just to climb the sheer sides of cliffs. They like to camp on them, too ... and we don't mean just pitching a tent at the edge. Rather, these intrepid cliff dwellers enjoy affixing tents or sleeping platforms over the sheer sides of cliffs (with nothing underneath except air and, of course, the rocky bottom far below) for what must surely be some electrifying shut-eye. Talk about active dreaming. Sleeping on the edge isn't for everyone, but at least one cliff-hanging daredevil has found a way to capitalize on his precipitous passion by using it to raise money for charity.

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Extreme scuba diving

Lars Plougmann/Flickr.

Forget the tranquil waters teeming with colorful sea life off white, sandy beaches. Some people like a different kind of diving experience that takes them where few men (or women) have gone before. We're talking mangroves, fjords, beneath the ice and other watery netherworlds. If you don't mind some extreme conditions like frigid cold and maybe even a crocodile or two, this is your chance to see some of the planet's murkier (but just as spectacular) underwater realms — extreme otherworldly beauty like undersea mountains, shipwrecks, kelp forests and much, much more.

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Waymarking

kevinzim/Flickr.

This one's kind of like geocaching. But instead of GPS-toting treasure hunters hiding and locating goodie-filled containers in extreme spots around the world, waymarking involves geographically pinpointing and describing the locations of natural and human-made sites for other high-tech explorers to find and enjoy. "Waymarked" spots cover the planet and include some weird and wacky sights — everything from omnivorous trees, impact craters, and balanced rocks for outdoorsy adventurers to Quonset huts, abandoned toll houses and unusual garage door art for the urbex set.

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Coasteering

Scott Hamilton Photography/Flickr.

Most of us love the seaside — ocean views, rocky coasts, inlets, coves and caves — but we're content to admire these sites from afar. Not so coasteering buffs. For these extreme sea lovers, admiration means getting up close and personal — i.e. donning a wetsuit and helmet and scrambling from rock to rock, scaling craggy cliffs, diving into the water, maneuvering into sea caves, etc. — all without the aid of boats, craft or much of anything at all. The sport began in the U.K. with its abundance of difficult-to-reach rocky coastal bluffs. However, coasteering is now gaining an international following in places like South Africa, Mallorca, Cyprus and most any remote spot with a stretch of rugged coastline.