Joe Minihane, CNN
Hiking is often derided by adrenaline addicts as somehow lesser than more hardcore mountain experiences like climbing or skiing.
But as these challenging trails show, putting one foot in front of the other isn’t always the easy option.
To undertake these famous hikes, you’ll need more than just a hefty dose of gumption.
These routes are dangerous and for experienced hikers only. That means those with the right gear, the ability to get themselves out of tricky situations and a willingness to plan for the worst and pack accordingly.
Whether you want to try out a vertiginous English Lake District classic or tackle the “most dangerous hike in the world” in rural China, this list has got you covered.
Striding Edge, Lake District, England
The Lake District’s famously changeable weather can make even the most bucolic of strolls a challenge.
But Striding Edge — a sharp arête leading to the summit of Helvellyn, the third highest peak in Lake District National Park — stands apart in this corner of England.
Hikers can choose to follow the paths that run along the side of the ridge, but for those keen on thrills, the ridge itself is where it’s at.
On a clear day, the views are sensational, stretching all the way to Scotland.
This is not for novices or the faint of heart: walkers will need to be prepared to scramble, have decent climbing skills for the final push to the top and know how to properly navigate if the clouds roll in.
Ice and snow make it lethal in winter, so preparation and a willingness to turn back are a must.
The Maze, Canyonlands, Utah, United States
The National Park Service cuts right to the chase when it comes to the Maze.
It calls hiking here “very challenging,” warning of slick rocks and steep drops.
It’s the most remote part of Canyonlands, with visitors needing to negotiate long drives on dirt roads before setting out into the deep gullies, where rockfalls and flash floods are not uncommon and water from the area’s few springs is hard to come by (packing enough fluid for a multi-day trip is a must).
Park rangers demand all visitors share their itineraries and stay in touch as often as practicable. Those that do come will be treated to landscapes that feel utterly timeless and will be unlikely to encounter other people on their adventures, either.
This epic trail to the South Peak of HuaShan, one of China’s Five Great Mountains, is often billed as the most dangerous hike in the world, and for good reason.
To reach the summit, which stands at 7,070 feet, hikers need to scale uneven steps and a series of ladders before hooking themselves onto a chain using a harness and carabiners to traverse its renowned “plank walk.”
This is as basic as it sounds — planks of wood bolted into the rock face which you follow both up and down the mountain.
While many tourists come in just sneakers and T-shirts, this is not a place to arrive unprepared.
Proper hiking boots, plenty of food and water and a decent level of fitness are essential.
Giro del Sorapiss, Italy
The Dolomites are home to a series of stomach-churning via ferrata (literally, ways of iron) — paths of metal rungs hammered into the rock during World War I, when Italian and Austrian troops fought fierce battles across the region’s limestone peaks.
Today, hikers looking for the thrill of climbing without the fear of long falls flock here during the spring and summer months.
The Giro del Sorapiss offers the biggest challenge of them all, starting from Rifugio Vandelli before heading high into the mountains along sheer rock faces and taking in three separate via ferrata.
Hikers will need harnesses for clipping into the lines, as well as a helmet and ideally a guide who can provide the requisite equipment and show the way.
Drakensberg Grand Traverse, South Africa and Lesotho
Multi-day hikes offer intrepid walkers the chance to test their skills to the limit, with changing weather and the need to carry ample supplies creating a real challenge.
The Drakensberg Grand Traverse certainly represents one. An epic, 230 kilometer (143 miles) journey that can take up to two weeks to complete, it kicks off with a climb up a set of chain ladders to the Drakensberg Escarpment, before heading over the border with Lesotho and eventually heading back into South Africa.
This long distance monster can be attempted alone, but hikers should be aware that the trail itself is more of a concept than a visible path, meaning anyone planning to head here will need all of the KZN Wildlife Drakensberg hiking maps, a GPS and enough food and water to last for the entire trip.
Spring or fall visits are recommended, avoiding the lush, hard-to-walk-on grass of summer and the bitter days of winter.
Cascade Saddle, New Zealand
In the heart of Mount Aspiring National Park on New Zealand’s South Island, Cascade Saddle offers some of the finest mountain views in the world.
But having seen a number of deaths earlier this century due to slippery rocks and treacherous conditions, the country’s conservation department is keen to emphasize that this is a route “only for people with navigation and high level backcountry skills and experience,” warning those who do come to be prepared to turn back if things get hairy.
Completed over two days, with the option to camp or bunk up in mountain huts along the way, the route includes wild scrambles, rocky outcrops and hikes over ankle-cracking tussocky grass.
The reward is endless vistas of snow-capped peaks, including the stunning Mount Aspiring, also known by its Maori name of Tititea.
Kalalau Trail, Hawaii
A 22-mile “out and back” along the Na Pali Coast of Kauai, the Kalalau Trail isn’t just Hawaii’s most dangerous hike: It’s one of the most lethal in the entire United States.
The jungle trail cleaves to the coastline, with the Pacific raging below.
You’ll need a permit to go beyond Hanakapiai Beach to Hanakoa Valley in order to camp either in the valley or at Kalalau beach.
While it sounds idyllic, the trio of stream crossings here can be brutal in the wake of heavy rain, when the water swells to extremely high levels.
Throw in a vertiginous path along Crawler’s Ledge and it’s a recipe for disaster for the inexperienced. Only those with proper outdoor smarts need apply.
Huayna Picchu, Peru
Anyone who has seen a picture of Peru’s wildly popular Machu Picchu will have caught a glimpse of Huayna Picchu. It’s the towering peak which sits behind the Incas’ famous lost city, seen in countless Instagram posts and on postcards sent home from South America.
Getting to the top, however, requires scaling the unsubtly titled ‘”stairs of death,” a section of 500-year-old steps with sheer drops down to the valley below.
Throw in ladder sections that leave even the most hardened hikers feeling queasy and this is a route that isn’t to be underestimated. While plenty come unprepared, hiking boots and the help of a local guide are highly advisable. It may seem daunting, but the view of the citadel below is worth the three-hour effort.
Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea
At 96 kilometers (around 60 miles), the Kokoda Track charts a route from just outside of the Papuan capital of Port Moresby to the village of Kokoda, crossing the Owen Stanley Range.
This is isolated terrain, with a trek taking up to two weeks to complete thanks to afternoon deluges, raging torrents and conditions that can become treacherously slippery thanks to ankle deep mud and tree roots growing slippery in the tropical heat.
Following the death of 13 Australians heading to the track in a light aircraft in 2009, authorities have moved to make access to the path safer.
Permits are required and all visitors must walk with a licensed operator, in a bid to help local communities benefit from tourism. To prepare for the sweaty days and bitter nights in this remote corner of the world, organizers recommend training for up to a year.
When trekking this verdant and wild route, it pays to remember it was the scene of vicious battles between Japanese and Allied Australian and Papuan forces during World War II.
Daikiretto Traverse, Japan
Japan’s Northern Alps serve up arguably the best and certainly the most challenging hiking in the country. And the Daikiretto Traverse is unquestionably the route to try for hikers looking for a proper adventure — one that’s as close as they’ll get to a technical climb without the need for ropes.
The traverse itself covers less than two miles but can take hours to complete and is best undertaken as part of a longer guided trek through this beautiful range.
The path over the traverse makes use of chains and ladders, following a knife-edge ridge with drops of over a hundred meters on either side.
A high level of fitness and a head for heights are musts. A helmet and gloves will make passage easier, and it should be noted that attempting it alone, especially in winter, is ill-advised.
Mount Washington, New Hampshire, United States
Mount Washington is known for being home to the “world’s worst weather” (at least according to the Mount Washington Observatory).
In January 2004, temperatures at the summit plunged to a bitter -47º F (-44º C), while it also set a record for the fastest wind recorded on land, a barely believable 231 mph (372 kph) in 1934, only surpassed in 1996 on Barrow Island, Australia.
All that’s to say that hiking here requires serious preparation. Conditions can flip at any minute, meaning you’ll need to pack winter gear even in the height of summer.
The ascent is no joke, with hikers needing to be in great shape to achieve it. Yes, it’s possible to drive or take the iconic cog train to the summit, but anyone who’s well-prepared and keen on a challenge should pull on their boots, fill their backpacks and do so on foot.
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