Stunning landscapes and dangerous paths set the scene for these hiking trails from around the world. Courage, determination and preparedness will get you through these hikes, but be wary of the dangers. Plenty have succumbed to the pitfalls on these paths.
Have a look at these spectacular naturescapes with danger in the wings. Yikes! Some of these places are downright scary. Make sure you're fit as a fiddle before heading out to any of these places and… have your gear in tip top shape.
Share your experiences if you've taken on any of these treacherous hikes or if you have any on your hiking bucket list.
Granola Optional, Guts Required
Talk to most mountaineers, trail runners, or mountain bikers, and they’ll tell you that hiking is the weak sibling of adventurous outdoor sports. A little too slow, a little too granola, not enough adrenaline.
But some of the most dangerous adventures in the world involve simply putting one foot in front of the other. Exposure, wild animals, guerrilla fighters, heat—just some of the variables that can turn a walk through the mountains into a flirt with death. And while many people complete these routes unscathed, they’re dangerous enough that a few mistakes can leave you seriously injured—or dead.
1 Huayna Picchu, Peru
The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu can be a tough trek, and it takes a few casualties each year. But the real danger begins when you follow the trail past the mythical city and up Huayna Picchu, aka the “Hike of Death.” The old Inca staircase is carved out of granite and climbs about 1,000 feet in less than a mile. Plus, the route is full of rotting, crumbling rock, slippery stones, and exposed corners. Many people tackle the route totally unprepared—we’re talking flip-flops and no water.
Clouds and mist make the journey more difficult, and in some sections hikers must cling to old steel cables. Going up is the easy part. Coming down the steep slope often paralyzes travelers with fear. But it’s worth the pain—the view from Huayna Picchu on a sunny day is the best bird’s-eye view of Machu Picchu below.
2 The Maze, Utah
The most remote section of Canyonlands National Park receives about 2,000 visitors per year, and not because it isn’t worth visiting. The red rock labyrinth known as the Maze is difficult to reach, almost impossible to navigate, and full of dead-end gullies. It always presents the danger of rockfalls (think James Franco in 127 Hours) or deadly flash floods.
The sheer danger of the place—which rangers emphasize to any visitors, insisting on detailed itineraries and good communication—has kept fatalities in the area to zero, though there was a double suicide in the summer of 2013. Deaths and accidents in the rest of Canyonlands, however, are a regular occurrence and show just how deadly the Maze would be—if anyone could get there.
3 Mount Hua Shan, China
Pilgrims have climbed to the temples on the five spires of Mount Hua Shan for centuries. Almost all of the climbs are treacherous, with nearly vertical stairways and few handholds. However, the plank trail to the South Mountain is a different story. Called the most dangerous hike in the world, it consists of wooden platforms bolted onto the mountainside.
Trekkers need to hook into an iron chain paralleling the boards, which hover thousands of feet above the ground. Even getting to the trail is difficult and includes a climb up a vertical rebar staircase. At one point, the planks disappear entirely and hikers must use small divots carved into the rock. There are no official death statistics, but the rumor is that 100 people per year die on Hua Shan. Multiply that over centuries and it may be the deadliest peak in the world.
4 The Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea
The Kokoda Track has seen plenty of death in its time. In 1942, it was the scene of intense fighting between the Japanese and Australians. The route lay almost dormant until the past decade, when adventurous trekkers discovered the 60-mile slog connecting the outskirts of Port Moresby to the village of Kokoda.
In 2009, 13 people died in a plane crash en route to the trailhead, and four more hikers died on the trail, which takes up to 11 days to complete. They faced malaria, extreme heat, frigid nights, and daily bone-soaking afternoon rains. The route itself has been called a StairMaster in a steam room, with ankle-deep clay muck, slippery roots, and portions that become waterfalls. As you might expect, the death toll and the harsh conditions started to deter trekkers.
Since the ill-fated 2009 season, the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea have spent millions of dollars bringing more modern facilities to the trail. You still have to watch out for all the dangers listed above, but the wild route is changing rapidly.
5 Drakensberg Traverse, South Africa
The stat that is often repeated about the Drakensberg Traverse is that before 1985, 55 people lost their lives here. After that, we guess, officials got tired of counting, but deaths are reported almost every year on the 40-mile trek through Natal National Park that crosses some of the most exposed—and beautiful—alpine terrain in the world.
The most daunting part may be the beginning. Two rickety chain ladders take trekkers to the ridge, where animal tracks, herding trails, and rock scrambles are cobbled together to make up the trail. But the rewards are worth it, including a stop at the Amphitheater, a rock cliff that is three times larger in area than El Capitan.
6 Cascade Saddle, New Zealand
If you want all those Lord of the Rings vistas, you have to travel to Mt. Aspiring National Park on New Zealand’s South Island. But you might want to skip the route to the Cascade Saddle, an 11-mile, two-day trip through beech forest and alpine meadows. Despite the views, in the past few years at least 12 people have lost their lives in the saddle, mainly from falls while descending when the rock was wet and slippery. A German trekker fell to his death in July 2013, prompting the local coroner to demand that officials either close the path or reengineer it to make it safer.
7 Kalalau, Hawaii
The Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast is Hawaii at its best—isolated jungle, steep volcanic slopes, and a pristine undeveloped beach at the end. But the 22-mile round-trip hike through paradise can turn sour quickly. The path’s three major stream crossings can swell rapidly during a rain, and falling rock, especially around waterfalls, is always a concern. Crawler’s Ledge, three-quarters of the way through the trek, can turn into a dicey walk along its sheer ledge during the rain.
The trail has taken several lives and caused countless accidents, but the narrow path isn’t the biggest danger. More than 100 people have met their end while swimming on the trail’s remote beaches, and the transient community living on the shore can be rough. Two years ago, a drug addict threw a Japanese hiker off a cliff, setting off a four-month manhunt.
8 El Caminito del Rey, Spain
In the El Chorro Gorge in Spain’s Malaga province, the Caminito del Rey (Little King’s Path) hangs 100 feet up on sheer cliffs. The two-mile concrete and steel path was built more than 100 years ago to serve workers on a local hydroelectric plant, but over time it has become a destination for adventure seekers, especially as sections of the pathway have crumbled. Officially closed to the public, hikers still play Fear Factor on the route, which requires spidering over 10-foot sections of missing trail. Even if the state finishes a reconstruction of the path, the Caminito will still stay on the list of top vertigo-inducing trails.
9 Mist Trail, California
The 14.5-mile Mist Trail is one of the most popular routes up Yosemite National Park's Half Dome. Though up to 3,000 hikers escape the trail unscathed every day in the summer, there are a few tricky spots that could leave you seriously injured if you're unprepared. According to a Yosemite hiking website, more than 60 people have died on Half Dome and the trail leading up to it.
Steel cables assist climbers on the last 400 feet of the ascent, but this final assault still poses a challenge. You need to be in excellent shape to make it up, and rainfall makes the cables extremely slippery. If there's any threat of lightning, the cables' exposed position becomes extremely dangerous. Five people have died on Half Dome in the past nine years alone, and most of those accidents happened when the rock was wet.
10 Via Ferrata, Italy and Austria
Europeans in the 15th century once scaled the Via Ferrata (Italian for “iron way”) with ladders, and the route was later used during World War I by specialized troops. Today, routes through the Dolomites are much more accessible thanks to new steel cables, ropes, wooden walkways, and suspension bridges. See the problem?
The routes and cables are well maintained, but your safety hinges on snapping a specialized carabiner setup (called a via ferrata set) to the anchors on the cable supports.
Then, you'll scale sheer faces and edge around tall ledges. Deaths have happened on routes of all difficulty levels under a variety of circumstances. In 2009, one British woman plunged to her death on an intermediate hike after slipping on snow and falling 600 feet. Another death in Austria happened because of a gear failure.
To see 10 more dangerous hikes listed in the article click here.
SOURCE: Jason Daley & Melanie Wong at OutsideOnline.com
IMAGES: ARTICLEINTRO by Nick Taylor, ARTICLE1 by David Stanley, ARTICLE2A by Nick Taylor, ARTICLE2B by terratrekking, ARTICLE3 by Frank Kehren, ARTICLE4 by Arthur Chapman, ARTICLE5 by Valerie Hukalo, ARTICLE6 by Ben Beiske, ARTICLE7 by 25kim, ARTICLE8 by Gabi, ARTICLE9 by OakleyOriginals, ARTICLE10A by Monty VanderBilt, ARTICLE10B by Chipps, HEADER by Robin van Mourik, FEATURED by Martin Jansen, all on Flickr