Hiking seems like a family-friendly outdoor adventure. It's not rock climbing or cliff diving, so what could possibly go wrong? In this "journey of a thousand miles" blog, we explore five of the world's deadliest hiking trails, and some of the things that can go wrong.
- Denali National Park and Reserve - Mt. McKinley, Alaska — The Denali National Park spans some 4.7 million acres, and is a natural and rugged park. There are no trails and people who come to explore the park just wander off into the wilderness alone or in small groups. The dangers at Denali are many. The greatest threat to human life is the weather. Sudden storms that drop the temperature to below freezing, blizzards, snow, rain, and wind are all possibilities. With the rain and snow comes the threat of landslides and avalanches. If the weather doesn't kill you, then the wildlife might. This is the land of grizzly bears, wolves, and whatever else lurks in this foreboding place.
- Mist Trail - Yosemite National Park, California — The Mist Trail stretches seven miles round trip, and takes you to the summit of Half Dome with little more than guide cables to help you ascend the top. It is a physically demanding trail that people brave to view the spectacular sights of Yosemite. The confirmed death count from hiking this trail ranges around 60 deaths. It is the last section of the trail when people are at the greatest altitude where people fall. The over spray from Nevada Falls and the aged granite combine to make the steps slippery.
- The Maze - Canyonlands National Park, Utah — The maze is a little piece of the Martian landscape right here on Earth, and it is about as hospitable too. There is no water. There is no food. The nearest ranger station is some 2 hours by 4x4 over a landscape that is desolate, remote, and treacherous. You must face all of that just getting to the maze. Once there, you face a trail of sorts that are nothing more than gaps between rocks that wind aimlessly. Many of the trails lead to dead ends - no pun intended. The danger here is from the desert environment and the lack of water. Heat stroke makes you delusional and you hear the ghosts. The lack of water makes you crazed. People die here doing stupid things looking for water. If the heat and lack of water don't get you, then the snakes, scorpions, and spiders might. Besides the heat, the biggest risk to life is from falling rocks. There's no place to go when you can barely squeeze through the gaps in the rocks that is the trail; you're a sitting duck for even the smallest of boulders.
- Huayna Picchu Trail, Peru — Perched above the amazing Machu Picchu is the Huayna Picchi Trail which climbs some 2,693 meters in altitude. The trail is as treacherous going up as it is coming down. One misstep and you plummet off the cliff. There is a single strand of cable that acts as a guide and handhold. That is all you get amid the steep steps and decaying, slippery stones. The climb is nearly vertical and requires a great deal of physical fitness. The danger here is not always from tripping or falling, but from your heart giving out or your body failing. If you manage to make the summit, the view is spectacular. If you don't make the summit, there is no shame in turning around and living.
- Mount Hua Shan, China — It doesn't get much more dangerous than the trail to the south mountain of Mount Hua Shan in China. The ascent to the top is a place of death. The rumors depict a place where 100 people fall from the trail each year. Despite the deaths, people flock to Mount Hua Shan to walk the trail. The trail, and that is a horrible word for what climbers face, is more akin to a bridge or scaffolding. You walk along planks supported by steel shanks hammered into the sheer rock face. As you climb, the planks disappear, and what remains are small holes carved into the rock for your feet and hands. Don't look down. All you'll see is your own death. You can't go back as the throng of people behind you are making their way up the mountain. You can only go forward and hope your sweaty hands can cling to the rock.