1.) Bright Angel Trail (Grand Canyon National Park)
2.) Angel’s Landing (Zion National Park)
After glancing upon this 5,800 feet sliver of a monolith with sheer walls on both sides, an early explorer of Zion National Park proudly exclaimed “only an angel could land upon it!” Of course, man was not content to let only angels bask in the greatness of such a view. Using switchbacks, cables, and sheer determination we clawed our way onto this narrow rock fin that at times doesn’t exceed a width of 10 feet. While the hike is strenuous, climbing 1,500 feet in a little less than 3 miles, the final ½ mile is where things get dicey. Hikers navigate across a narrow neck, clinging to steel cables that have been hammered into the sandstone rock. On one side, a drop of over 1,200 feet runs shivers through your body. The drop of 800 feet on the other side is no more comforting. Surprisingly, the National Park Service claims Angel’s Landing has claimed only five victims. Not surprisingly, most think there have been a lot more.
3.) Mount Hua Shan (China)
Ancient emperors of China often made imperial pilgrimages to the country’s high mountains. There are five such renowned mountains in China’s long history, but none had more dedicated monks than the ones who took up residence on Mt. Hua Shan. To get to the summit, visitors must hike steep stone steps, climb rebar ladders that have been built into the cliff, and hug the mountain wall while walking tiny ridges less than a foot wide. The only thing between you and a vertical drop of thousands of feet are shoddy wooden planks and a skinny metal chain that has been bolted into the rock. Considered to be the world’s most dangerous hiking trail in the world, some death toll estimates are as high as 100/year! In true communist fashion, Chinese officials put the death toll at a comforting 0. Truly, just a walk in the park!
4.) Kalalua Trail (Hawaii)
6.) Via Ferrata (Italy and Austria)
Italian for “iron path”, Via Ferratas are climbing routes that can be found primarily in the Alps. The paths were originally used by the military to travel the mountains during WWI. The most famous via ferratas occur in the Dolomite range, a warzone between Italy and Austria during this time period. Using metal ladders and anchored cables, climbers are able to ascend high into the mountains without needing any hardcore mountaineering skills. But scaling sheer cliffs and narrow ledges isn’t meant for everyone. In 2009 a British woman fell to her death after slipping on a particularly snowy section. Even with new and improved equipment, falls are not out of the question. Recalls were made for several different manufacturers after a man’s gear failed and he plunged to his death in 2012.
7.) El Caminito del Rey (Spain)
Contrary to its name, the Little King’s walk was not made for the king. Instead, it was originally built for his men, hydroelectric plant workers who needed to travel between two nearby falls. Even in its heyday, the traverse was intense. At one yard wide, the concrete path has no handrails and skirts sheer cliffs that sit 300+ feet above the Granado river. Since 1905, the walkway has fallen into major disrepair. Much of the concrete has crumbled and whole sections have disappeared, leaving just rusty steel beams sticking out. This makes it even more fun for the thrill seekers though. Ignoring the closed signs, they clip into a thin steel rope and try their luck. When a couple of hikers died in 2000, the government of Spain decided to take action. Plans to reconstruct the route are already being put into place. They may indeed make the walk safe for a king.
8.) Half Dome (Yosemite National Park)
One of America’s most iconic hikes, is also one of its most dangerous ones. Rising 5,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley, Half Dome is recognized worldwide. Every years thousands of people attempt to summit the granite monolith. Though the 12 mile roundtrip hike is for the most part unremarkable, the final 400 feet is the danger zone. Here, visitors climb the steep barren rock using metal cables to assist them. Any bit of moisture on this smooth stretch can turn the possibility of falling into reality. Overcrowding on this section also becomes a liability when late afternoon storms roll in. In 1985, 5 climbers had front row seats to a lightning show. All 5 were struck, but somehow 3 managed to walk away alive.
9.) The Inca Trail (Peru)
The Incans were masterminds of engineering. Sculpted from the peak of an 8,000 foot mountain, their ancient city of Machu Picchu was recently voted on of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Its remote location makes it fairly difficult to get to. One of the most popular ways to reach this pinnacle in the sky is via the 27 mile long Incan Trail. En route, hikers exceed elevations of 13,000 feet, pass areas of crumbling rock and dilapidated trail, and must climb floating stairs. Yes, floating stairs. The Incans invited the steps that seemingly float out of the wall. While it is thought that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Incan emperor of the time, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to live up there. Death is a step away on all sides.
10.) Pacaya Volcano (Guatemala)
An easily accessible volcano, only about 19 miles from the capitol city, Pacaya was mostly unremarkable until 1965 when it ended a century of dormancy with a bang. Since then, its continuous eruptions have lured in tourists hoping to catch glimpses of the lava flows that regularly slide down its slopes. Sadly, several have been caught off guard by sudden explosions that send hot ash and debris up to 1,500 feet in the air. Nearby villages have since been evacuated, yet still the tourists come. Watch the activity from a safe distance or risk becoming another victim to the volcano’s fiery wrath.