Known as the ‘Dragon Mountains’ by Afrikaners and as the ‘Barrier of Spears’ in Zulu, the Drakensberg Traverse is 300km (186 miles) of trail, near Kilimanjaro. The most dangerous part of this hike is at the start, where two somewhat questionable chain ladders that lead to the ridge provide some stability on the cliff. It’s quite a drop, but if the wind picks up it takes on a whole new aspect of danger.
Incredibly difficult to get to, and ludicrously difficult to navigate once you’re there, the Maze is part of the Canyonlands National Park. The confusing gullies, dead ends and sheer remoteness ensure that this place lives up to its name. As a result, there are local rangers who make sure hikers plan well and are able to communicate.
The name translates as ‘The King’s Path’ but you’ll never see a king treading along the 3km (two-mile) path that runs alongside a sheer cliff in the Malaga province of Spain. If such a precarious path wasn’t testing enough, some of it has crumbled away, requiring hikers to edge across the drops with nothing below their feet.
Amid truly spectacular scenery, between the West Matukituki and Dart valleys, this hike includes a huge amount of slippery, unstable ground underfoot, hence the added risk. To walk the length of the crossing takes the best part of four days, but there are shorter trails to do. Be warned: this hike has taken lives, enough for a local coroner to state that there have been ‘far too many deaths’.
This coastline trail is over 32km (20 miles), straddling Hawaiian volcanoes and taking hikers into dense jungle, but the reward is one of the most beautiful beaches possible. Water is the biggest danger, with the jungle trail full of slippery waterfalls and rough waterways to cross that have caused deaths in the past. If the rain begins to fall, everything becomes even more treacherous.
Although still very difficult, this hike, part of the Dolomites mountain range, is far easier than when soldiers crossed it during the Second World War. There are plenty of walkways and bridges, as well as ropes and cables to use while on the sheer cliff faces, but they require a particular carabiner – not something hikers are normally used to.
First thing to know: this is an active volcano whose eruptions have caused deaths as recently as 2010. The 2,552m (8,373ft) high volcano has now been closed to the public, but that hasn’t put people off sneaking through and hiking up it. Even aside from the eruptions, hikers have fallen inside and died because of the soft rock crumbling away, which – even more incredibly – still hasn’t deterred hikers.
For some – in fact, quite a few – this is considered the most dangerous hike in the world. Located on a totally sheer cliff face, the actual walk wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the rickety wooden floorboards latched onto the side. Hikers have to lock into a chain above the floorboards for stability. It’s also worth highlighting that even just to get to this terrifying route, hikers must scale a vertical staircase. Although not official statistics, the rumour is that 100 people die per year on Huashan.
The highest peak in the Helvellyn range in England’s Lake District requires an excellent head for heights. The walkway is worryingly narrow and there are huge drops on either side – it’s called ‘Edge’ for a reason. Misty or wet weather (a regular occurrence in this part of the world) means the walk is even more precarious, but the views are outstanding.
Taghia is an isolated village in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, surrounded by steep canyons. Like Huashan and El Caminito Del Rey, this treacherous hike involves the tiniest of walkways on the side of a cliff face. The trail itself has evolved over time through a combination of logs, chains and rocks that have all been jammed into cracks in the canyon wall – not exactly what you want with a drop of hundreds of metres below.
This is the hike that leads up from Machu Picchu, the incredible Incan citadel in South America, and is known as the ‘Hike of Death’. Rapidly ascending 305m (1,000ft), the route has extremely unstable ground underfoot that has a habit of falling away, which, coupled with tourists attempting the trail without the correct footwear and equipment, has led to its casualty count.
An incredibly popular destination for hikers, despite the 60 deaths in and around Half Dome, there is the added issue of lightning strikes to factor into the normal hiking risks, especially as surfaces and the cables installed to help for the final summit can get wet. Half Dome shouldn’t be attempted by anyone who doesn’t have at least a good level of fitness.
Like many of the aforementioned hikes, there is the usual slippery ground and dangerous terrain, but a hike along the Kokoda Track means battling oppressive heat and humidity and mosquitos – lots of malaria-carrying mosquitos. The 96km (60-mile) route will take most hikers well over a week to complete.