As a British military commander, Tom Bodkin spent seven years cliff-hanging in Iran’s Zagros Mountains and training for jungle warfare in the rain forest of Brunei. After leaving the armed forces in 2011, he created Secret Compass, a company that sends adventurous travelers on Special Forces-like missions.
“We look for the wildest places we can find,” Bodkin says. “The highest peak in Ethiopia, a remote coast in Madagascar, and the ancient petroglyph sites of Panama.”
Secret Compass’s newest offering is its most challenging journey yet: a 16-day hike through Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, also known as the Land of Fire and Ice. The trip takes place once a year in August (sign up now), when three expert guides lead a maximum of 12 participants through the area’s thermal springs and geysers, 30 active volcanoes, and streams filled with Arctic salmon. Hikers are required to bring their own gear and carry as much as 66 pounds on their back. There aren’t any porters, and a high cardiovascular fitness level is essential. The group sleeps in tents on the volcanic plateaus and, occasionally, in huts used by volcanologists. The weather can change in a matter of hours, so it’s essential to pack for both snow and scorching sun.
More than 10,000 brown bears roam the region, but don’t worry (too much): Guests are monitored round-the-clock by search-and-rescue teams.
“Having to be fully self-sufficient in this wilderness was a good reminder of how much we take for granted in our modern lives,” says Ashley Eylenburg, a 49-year-old software engineer at MasterCard who went on the inaugural trip last summer. “And the out-of-this-world landscapes are something I’ll never forget.”
Aug. 27-Sept. 11; $4,530. Meals, domestic transportation, and lodging included; secretcompass.com.
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