Hiking is a personal thing. So is risk. One person’s hike is another’s Mount Everest and in many cultures “adventure travel” is a way of life. In the Himalaya, the Andes, and in undeveloped mountainous regions from Mexico to Mongolia, hiking, often on dangerous trails, is how people go to the store.
In tracking down the world’s most dangerous hikes, I realized there is an issue of definition.
There are the dramatically exposed hikes, and then there are places where the mountains are exceedingly wild, but the hiking is as safe as wilderness travel can get. The CMH Summer Adventure program takes people of all ages and abilities deep into the Canadian wilderness for hiking and myriad other adventures, but it is supervised by professional mountain guides, and orchestrated so carefully, as to better fit a list of the world’s safest hikes.
So, rather than use the typical definition of hiking like this excellent Backpacker Magazine article on dangerous hikes, I considered hiking in it’s most diverse definition, and came up with some of the more outrageous outings the planet has to offer.
1. Stolby, Russia
This one wins - hands down. Take a Siberian town with a few 100-metre rocks nearby, and a culture that accepts risk like most people accept a good night's sleep, and you have the recipe for a horrifying local tradition. While the “Stolbists” are arguably free soloing, or rock climbing without ropes rather than "hiking", the fact that the entire Stolby community participates together makes it look a lot like hiking – hiking on a really steep, slippery and dangerous trail.
2. Mt. Huashan, China
Some might call this a Via Ferrata, but with zero oversight and dubious construction, this hike along a rocky ridge has to be, inch for inch, one of the most exposed pathways on the planet. It has been made safer with the addition of a cable in the most vertical sections. Hikers can clip into the cable with a tether, much the same as the modern Via Ferrate in the CMH Bobbie Burns and Bugaboos areas - but without the comfortable safety management provided by a friendly mountain guide.
3. Wendenstock, Switzerland
The trails around the base of this massive peak in the Swiss Alps have claimed the lives of experienced climbers. Tiny, difficult to follow trails are covered with slippery grass, often wet from dew in the morning, and a fall would result in a tumble of several hundred metres. Step for step, the Wendenstock offers the most dangerous hiking I’ve experienced in three decades of mountain adventure.
4. Keyhole, Longs Peak, USA
Once the snow melts, The Keyhole can see a hundred ascents each day, but the consequences of tripping over your shoelaces can be deadly. And, with a summit over 4000 metres above sea level, it’s pretty common to feel a little light-headed while navigating the peak's most exposed sections. Although the Keyhole is the “easiest” route to the top of Colorado's Longs Peak, a dozen hikers have perished in falls on the route – more fatalities than have happened on any other route on the peak.
5. Your Next Hike
If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not the kind of person who is going scrambling in Stolby or hiking on the Wendenstock, but for any given individual, the adventure that is most dangerous is the one you’re willing to do. Walking backwards while you look through a camera, stepping onto an icy snowfield, or taking that shortcut are the kinds of things that get even the most sensible hikers into trouble. The key is to keep a close eye on the potential pitfalls in every outing, and to stay focused on avoiding them.
Do you have any dangerous hikes you 'd like to share?