Summer Vacations : Adventure Travel : Some Holiday Getaways Can Be Risky Business

<i> Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section</i>

A kamikaze descent with a mountain bike down the switchbacks off Mammoth Mountain’s 11,053-foot summit in the High Sierra. . . .

Combining wilderness horsepacking in the Wallowa Mountains of Oregon with white-water rafting on the Deschutes River. . . .

Backpacking across the 10,000-foot Beartooth Mountain plateaus, granite peaks and glaciers of Montana. . . .

Discovering little-known white-water adventures in Michigan and the Poconos of Pennsylvania. . . .

Riding nature’s roller coaster in Alberta, and diving among the submarine peaks in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. . . .

From coast to coast, from the Canadian and Mexican borders and beyond, adventure vacation travels are offered this summer to suit every mood and interest.

These adventures can be both harrowing or part of the swiftly growing “soft adventure” market.

But let’s start with the spine-tinglers.

Mammoth’s New Kamikaze

My wife and I first went to Mammoth Mountain, in California’s eastern Sierra, when Dave McCoy opened it in 1944 with one rope tow. Now the world-famed ski resort has become a vacation destination for every season.

You can check out the latest attractions for the active traveler through the Adventure Connection, headquartered at Mammoth Mountain Inn at the base of the main ski area.

Summer adventures are highlighted by mountain biking, which has been called the fastest growing sport in America. Two- and three-night biking/lodging packages feature a gondola lift with your bike to the 11,053-foot summit of Mammoth Mountain.

From there the thrilling kamikaze descent rolls down steep switchbacks, cliffside corners, radical downhills and wide-open straightaways. The two-night package at $150 per person, double occupancy, includes breakfasts, mountain bikes and helmets, a self-guide map of mountain trails and the guided kamikaze descent. Call toll-free (800) 228-4947.

Above the alpine lakes in northeastern Oregon, the Wallowa Mountains rise to 10,000-foot peaks. Three days of horse-packing among the wildlife of this seldom-seen wilderness, and two nights of camping are part of a seven-day, six-night package offered by Portland-based Personalized! Outdoor Adventures.

You meet your pack horses and guide at Wallowa Lake after driving old pioneer routes beneath the waterfalls of the Columbia River and through Nez Perce Indian lands.

The horse-packing is followed by two action-filled days of white-water rafting down the Deschutes River, as French fur trappers of the 19th Century so aptly named what became “The Chutes” to English-speaking pioneers.

From there you are on four wheels again over the snow-capped Cascade Mountains back to Portland. Tour dates this year are June 18 and Aug. 6 and 27. Price per person is $988. For more details and reservations, call Personalized! Adventure Tours at (800) 248-0414.

The Sierra Club again offers outings throughout the United States and in many nations around the globe.

The July 23 to Aug. 1 backpacking adventure in Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness is recommended for “well-seasoned, well-conditioned backpackers who want to experience one of America’s premier alpine wilderness areas.”

It begins with a trek across the 10,000-foot Beartooth Plateau, descends East Rosebud Canyon, then climbs to Sundance Pass. The trail days are alternated with camping days to scale challenging peaks and observe wildlife. All trip members help carry food and commissary gear in addition to personal belongings, and share cooking and cleanup chores.

Michigan White Water

The cost is $435 per person for the club’s nearly 500,000 members. Adult non-members add $33 for a year’s membership, students and seniors add $15. For details and the complete list of 1989 adventures, rated from easy to strenuous, contact Sierra Club Outings, 730 Polk St., San Francisco 94109, (415) 398-5384.

The initial prospect of finding highly challenging white-water paddling in Michigan came as a surprise. A canoeing magazine described the western Upper Peninsula as “offering the most challenging, interesting and little-known white-water paddling in the Midwest.”

The Piers Gorge stretch of the Menominee River near Iron Mountain was described as Mid-America’s “fiercest piece of running water.” We’ve canoed the peninsula and wondered how we could have missed so much nearby white water during our student days in Wisconsin.

This summer Michigan will have more than 100 canoe rental and supply bases. Organizers stress that all you need to take is “the will to ride or tame a river.” Free canoe lessons are being offered, and there are combination packages with bed and breakfast inns.

For details and a Start Your Summer Now brochure, contact the Michigan Travel Bureau, P.O. Box 30226, Lansing, Mich. 48909, (800) 722-8191.

Only two hours from either New York City or Philadelphia, Lehigh River Gorge State Park in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania is becoming one of the most popular white-water rivers in America. You can take it mild or take it wild.

The Whitewater Marathon on the wild I and II sections of the river is for the most adventurous rafter, a dawn-to-dusk spine-tingler during the longest white-water day in the eastern United States. The mild section III is an introduction to rapids--running without getting your feet too wet.

The day of wild marathon rafting, offered through May and again in October, is $54 per person. The milder trips are available daily July 1 through Sept. 15 at $28 for adults and $17 for ages 18 and under. Combinations are offered.

There are also classes in kayaking.

Contact Whitewater Challengers Inc., P.O. Box 8, White Haven, Pa. 18661. Call (717) 443-9532.

Pocono Mountain Lodge has 129 rooms at $21.95 per person, double occupancy. Call (717) 443-8461.

The 3.3 million acres of mountains, canyons and forests in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico are one of the least-traveled wilderness areas in the nation. That was reason enough for American Wilderness Experience Inc., based in Boulder, Colo., to include the Gila on its 1989 list of adventures around the world.

Six-day horseback trips into the Gila Wilderness are offered from April 24 to Sept. 30. The trek starts by van from El Paso, Tex., to the Mongollon mountain town of Glenwood, N.M. Camping gear and food supplies are trucked to the trailhead, where you saddle up for the climb from desert to alpine vistas.

For the next six days you’ll be under the watchful eyes of eagles, antelope and mountain lions. Mesas and meadows flow together with canyons, trout streams and ancient stands of oaks and sycamores.

The cost of this horseback adventure is $795 per person, $750 for seniors and children 18 and under. Contact American Wilderness Experience, P.O. Box 1486, Boulder, Colo. 80306, (303) 444-2632.

Colorado River adventures can be more than the fascinations of its 200 miles through the Grand Canyon. Above the canyon are classic white-water runs with such names as Wild Horse Rapids, Skull, Sock-It-to-Me and Last Chance. There are no fewer than 11 major rapids within the six miles of Westwater Canyon.

If your summer vacation doesn’t permit time for 12 days through the Grand Canyon or even five days in its upper section, think about two or three days and 20 to 45 miles for the classic white-water runs farther upstream.

The two-day adventure is $225 for adults, $125 for youths 10 to 16. Contact Dvorak’s Kayak & Rafting Expeditions, 17921-B U.S. Highway 285, Nathrop, Colo. 81236, (800) 824-3795.

Backroads Bicycle Touring is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a 52-page catalogue of 47 intineraries throughout North America, Europe, the Pacific Rim and Asia. In recognition of mountain biking as the nation’s fastest-growing sport, four premier mountain-bike tours have been scheduled for this year.

There is one each in Arizona, Idaho, Anza Borrego National Park in Borrego Springs, and Point Reyes Seashore north of San Francisco.

Highlights of the six-day Arizona tour include the forests, mountains and lakes around Sedona, the Red Rock Secret Mountain Wilderness and Tuzigoot National Monument. Including lodge and cabin accommodations, the tour costs $867 per person. The seven departures are May through October.

For details on all 1989 tours, contact Backroads Bicycle Touring, P.O. Box 1626, San Leandro, Calif. 94577. Call (800) 533-2573.

Alberta Roller Coaster

Adventure travel is growing swiftly throughout Canada.

In Alberta alone there are more than a dozen designated white-water rafting adventures in addition to the mountain trails, climbing and fishing.

Wet suits and tents are provided for Otter Rafting Adventures on the Upper Red Deer River below the eastern slopes of the Canadian Rockies. All you need to take is a sleeping bag and your personal gear. The white-water roller coaster will give you pauses for the panoramic views of the Rockies that are only possible from the river.

The two-day rafting trip costs $179 per person. For a copy of the complete “Alberta Adventure Guide,” contact Travel Alberta, 333 S. Grand Ave., Suite 3535, Los Angeles 90071, (800) 424-3687 or (213) 625-1256.

Sea of Cortez Diving

Diving is becoming the fastest-growing adventure in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.

The warm waters off Loreto and La Paz invite descents into coral coves, pinnacle rocks, submarine peaks and sheer walls rising more than 100 feet beneath the surface. The waters are home to more than 800 species of sea life. You may even learn to ride the back of a friendly 50-foot whale shark.

If you’re not an experienced diver, you’ll want to start with diving lessons. The Fantasia Dive Shop in Loreto is at the Presidente Hotel Loreto. The complete three-hour course for beginners to qualify for official diver certification is $75. Day diving trips are $52.

Rental tanks, regulators, fins, snorkels and masks are available. Baja Expeditions out of La Paz operates weeklong scuba trips for $1,095 per person. Make bookings through your travel agent.