This hike is not difficult, unless you have a problem with sheer cliffs, crumbling concrete paths, gaping holes exposing hundreds of feet of vertical drop, and even completely missing sections in the 1-meter-wide trail.
This artificial walkway, finished in 1905, was built to give workers access between the hydroelectric power plants at Chorro Falls and Gaitanejo Falls. King Alfonso XIII took a walk along it in 1921, hence the name. It ascends more than 100 meters (330 feet) and is falling apart. Many have died on this trail, and there are safety lines along the path for attaching harnesses.
This popular daredevil path is undergoing much needed renovation, and is expected to reopen in 2014. More information is here.
This is a trail with great historic and religious significance, which is convenient, since you'll be praying your life won’t be history before you finish. Mount Hua is one of China's Five Great Mountains and hosts a truly harrowing path on wooden planks across vertical cliffs.
For centuries, Taoists, Buddhists and hermits of various kinds retreated to these treacherous and beautiful pathways for solitude. Since the 1980s a tourist trade has blossomed there, bringing more fatal falls, as well as improvements to some trails -- and the closing of some others that were just too dangerous to keep open. For more information, see the Wikipedia page.
Allard Schmidt/Wikimedia Commons
You’ve heard of Machu Picchu and seen the images of the ruined city, perched on a mountain ridge with a pyramid-like natural spire in the background. This is the hike up that spire.
Only 400 people are allowed to climb this peak each day, and you need to buy tickets for entering the trail and suffering through the steep and sometimes exposed path that leads to the summit. Some of the more slippery parts of the path are lined with steel cables to keep people from falling to their deaths. But even with that, there are wet seasons periods when the trail is closed because it's simply too dangerous.
From the top there’s another trail to the “Temple of the Moon” caves, from where you can loop around the mountain and rejoins the main trail. Read up on it here.
Rainer Hubenthal/Wikimedia Commons
Thousands take this trail every day in the summer, and some suffer altitude sickness, exhaustion, dehydration and even death. This trail takes you from the valley forests to the open granite slopes and then the sheer cliff that is the signature feature of Yosemite Valley.
People with little mountaineering experience can be sucked in by Half Dome’s 8,836-foot crown. Steel cables assist hikers up the last 400 vertical feet. It’s a pretty straightforward climb, unless a thunderstorm starts up. Between the slick wet granite trail and the lightning, survival odds drop quickly. Here’s a longer write up.
Hermann Luyken/Wikimedia Commons
This hike is akin to Yosemite’s Half Dome in the way it lures people into trouble. The National Park Service puts a lot of effort into heading off trouble along this trail, which drops 4,380 feet from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River, where hikers then have to turn around and hike back up.
This second half of the very long hike is naturally where things tend to go wrong, but not just because it’s a steep ascent. The 120-degree summer heat in the depths of the canyon -- plus the dark rocks that radiate that heat like a black griddle -- make it a recipe for disaster and result in around 200 rescues each year.
But rather than close the trail, rangers put together the Preventative Search and Rescue team to patrol it and watch out for and assist hikers who look like they are heading for trouble.
Abrams Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Tenn.Silent Melanie/Wikimedia Commons
Rainfall is greater along this short trail in the Great Smoky Mountains than any place in the U.S. contiguous 48 states except for the Pacific Northwest. That means the streams and waterfalls overfloweth. The powerful and unpredictable currents at the bottom of Abrams Falls can be murderous, having sucked even strong swimmers into traps. Slick rocks have also led hikers to their deaths in the cold waters.
From California’s Yosemite Valley to the lower reaches of the Rio Grande in Texas, trails that would normally be a walk in the park transform into a run for your life when frequent thunderstorms break out in July and August. Flash floods and lightning strikes are the two biggest dangers, with lightning striking thousands of times in a single day when the storms really get ramped up.
People who are unfamiliar with the weather patterns of the North American Monsoon may wake up in the morning and assume that the cloudless sky means they're safe. But typically monsoon storms develop through the day, culminating in cells of thunder, lightning, hail and sometimes torrential rains in the afternoon and evening. Then the next morning it’s clear again and the cycle starts over. So any hike -- even a walk to the corner coffee house -- can push you to the edge.