The world’s scariest hikes
A thrill-seeker’s guide to a selection of hair-raising hikes across the globe…
El Caminito del Rey, Malaga Province, Spain
El Caminito del Rey – or the King’s Little Pathway – is a ramshackle trail threaded along the dramatic walls of El Chorro gorge in the province of Malaga. The 1,200m-long walkway was built at the turn of the century to help workers construct nearby hydroelectric plants. Although it is officially closed and some sections are incomplete, many tourists still risk the route, using harnesses and climbing gear to traverse the gaps in the path.
The walkway is 1 metre (3.3 ft) in width, and rises over 100 metres (330 ft) above the river below. Constructed of concrete, resting on steel rails supported by stanchions at around 45 degrees into the rock face, it is currently in a highly deteriorated state and there are numerous sections where part or all of the concrete top has collapsed. The result is large open air gaps that are bridged only by narrow steel beams or other support fixtures. Very few of the original handrails exist but a safety-wire runs the length of the path. Several people have lost their lives on the walkway in recent times and after two fatal accidents in 1999 and 2000, the local government closed both entrances.
In June 2011, the regional government of Andalusia and the local government of Málaga agreed to share costs of restoration (including car parking and a museum) of €9 million. The project will take approximately three years to complete. Many of the original features will remain in place and the new materials that are used will be in keeping with the old design, however it is unlikely that anything will detract from the hair-raising drop below.
Mount Hua, Shaanxi Province, China
Mount Hua is located near the southeast corner of the Ordos Loop section of the Yellow River basin, south of the Wei River valley, at the eastern end of the Qin Mountains, in southern Shaanxi province. It is part of the Qin Ling Mountain Range that divides not only northern and southern Shaanxi, but also China.
The Hua Shan plank walk is often dubbed “the most dangerous hike in the world”. Consisting of steel rod ladders, narrow planks of wood and a rusty chain to hook on to, the walk is popular with pilgrims visiting temples on the sacred mountain. At the foot of the mountains is the Cloister of the Jade Spring, which is dedicated to Chen Tuan. Additionally atop the southern-most peak there is an ancient Taoist temple which in modern times has been converted into a tea house.
The Hua Shan walk has claimed dozens of fatalities over the decades and has won a hard-earned infamy, but this has only enhanced its appeal to daredevils from around the world eager to pit their wits against this notorious route. Many Chinese still climb at nighttime, in order to reach the East Peak by dawn —though the mountain now has many hotels. This practice is a holdover from when it was considered safer to simply be unable to see the extreme danger of the tracks during the ascent, as well as to avoid meeting descending visitors at points where pathways have scarcely enough room for one visitor to pass through safely.
Wayna Picchu, Peru
Wayna Picchu is the murky peak that looms over the wondrous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, situated at a bend of the Urubamba river in southern Peru. For intrepid hikers, getting to the top involves a high-altitude walk – nicknamed the “hike of death” – up ancient stone stairs, with sheer drops along the sides. The ultimate rewards are panoramic views of Macchu Picchu and the Urubamba valley at the top.
The number of daily visitors allowed to enter Wayna Picchu is restricted to 400. Advance purchase of tickets online will guarantee admission. A steep and at times exposed climb leads to the summit. Some portions are slippery and steel cables provide some support during the one-hour climb. At times during the rainy season, the tours are closed. The climb is not recommended for visitors in poor physical condition.
From the summit, a second trail leads down to the Gran Caverna and the Temple of the Moon (a misnomer). These natural caves, on the north face of the mountain, are lower than the starting point of the trail. The return path from the caves completes a loop around the mountain as it rejoins the main trail.
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park is justly celebrated for its spectacular secnery, abundance of flora and fauna, and for the many opportunities it affords to the committed hiker. At Half Dome in the eastern section of Yosemite Valley, top climbers can freestyle their way up a sheer, 1,500m rock face, while regular hikers can ascend the dramatic peak with the help of a cable ladder. Originally onstructed in 1919, the cable walk takes you up the final 120m to the summit.
Long considered inaccessible, Half Dome may now be ascended in several different ways. Thousands of hikers reach the top each year by following an 8.5 mi (13.7 km) trail from the valley floor. After a rigorous 2 mi (3.2 km) approach including several hundred feet of granite stairs, the final pitch up the peak’s steep but somewhat rounded east face is ascended with the aid of a pair of post-mounted braided steel cables.
From 1919 when the cables were erected through 2011, there have been six fatal falls from the cables. The latest fatality occurred on July 31, 2011. Lightning strikes can be a risk while on or near the summit. On July 27, 1985, five hikers were struck by lightning, resulting in two fatalities.
Mount Kinabalu, Sabah state, Malaysia
The via ferrata protected climbing route close the summit of Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia allows the adventurous hiker to access one of the highest hiking paths in the world.
Situated in the northernmost region of the island of Borneo (the island is split between the three nations of Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia), Mount Kinabalu, which at 4,095m is Malaysia’s highest mountain, offers incredible views of the Crocker mountain range as well as of the surrounding nature reserve of Kinabalu park.
The Mountain Torq via ferrata is situated just below the summit of Mount Kinabalu,. Despite its altitude, Kinabalu is one of the world’s most accessible peaks and many tourists make the high-altitude trek to the top.