Inspiration for some far-flung miles… or something to make you cherish your lovely safe local walks all the more! Would YOU walk here?
Le Roc du Vent, France
Via ferratas (‘iron ways’) are perhaps the ultimate way for ordinary walkers to get themselves into the most extraordinary situations. Safely attached to a permanently fixed (and free to access) wire, the walker with a head for heights and at least a memory of their tree-climbing childhood can soar into eyries otherwise reserved for the hardiest of rock-climbers. Named to reflect their Italian origins, today they are widespread with over 1000 across the Alps. Le Roc du Vent is perhaps the most beautiful in France – a country which has taken up via ferratas with gusto since its first was installed in 1988. It features a 2360m summit, beautiful lake, 200m tunnel, views of Mont Blanc and this gobsmacking 60ft-long wire traverse – a spectacle guaranteed to provoke stomach-flipping feelings of admiration in anyone to whom you show your holiday photos. Rated ‘Assez-Difficile’ it’s at the lower end of the difficulty ratings (one up from ‘not very hard’) which means if you can climb a tree and do Bristly Ridge or Sharp Edge without freaking out you really can do this. Situated in the Savoie region a few miles south-east of Mont Blanc, the route starts 40 minutes’ walk from the car and is all done in under three heart-pumping hours. En route you’ll climb vertical ladders, scramble up steep slabs, see a 360° alpine panorama, traverse that faintly quivering high-wire – and the fact that at every stage you’re completely safe will stay our little secret.
Aiguille du Midi passerelle, France
You will never feel more like a Bond villain than when prowling round the fantastic lair at the top of the Aiguille du Midi – the 3842m peak that gives ordinary mortals a window on the rarified world of the Mont Blanc mountaineer. Your £43 ticket buys you a ride on a two-stage cablecar with the highest vertical reach in the world, and deposits you (feeling a little light-headed and perhaps a shade blue-lipped with the altitude) on a series of bridge- and tunnel-connected perches. You’re never far away from a steaming mug of coffee and a hearty plate of tartiflette to shore up your nerves, but nor are you from what looks like a certain plunge to an icy death. A 100ft walkable pipe ringing the summit pinnacle opened this summer to celebrate 60 years of the complex, and since 2013 those who really like a bit of ‘flertigo’ have been able to ‘Step into the Void’ – an edge-overhanging vertical glass box that allows you experience what it would feel like stepping out into a 3000ft crevasse-bottomed void. The answer is ‘a bit ooey’.
Big Four Ice Caves, Washington
Cool, beautiful and calm: the gleaming blue ice caves of Washington, two hours out of Seattle, offer a promise of a rare serenity – interrupted solely by the occasional fall of a head-splitting chunk of ice. It’s only a 2.2 mile hike through the forest to reach the caves (whose name comes from the fact they reside on the side of Big Four Mountain, by the way), but whether you choose to enter is very much up to you. You’ll be tempted to take a quick look at the beautiful waterfalls that lie at the back of the caves, but tortured by a dilemma. Is it so cold there will have been a lot of snowfall recently, which can lead to cave collapse; or is it warm enough for melting to pose the same rather unwelcome threat?
Devil's Bridge, Arizona
Two miles on foot is all it takes to reach mother nature’s best bridge and what a good job she did – though as the untimely end of several stumblers, selfie-takers and ‘tombstoners’ attests, she might think about putting handrails on her to-do list. The biggest of several sandstone arches in the Sedona region, it’s a relatively easy walk (though through 40° heat) from the trailhead, with 400ft of ascent. Come, cross it, enjoy: but as the locals will be only too keen to remind you: ‘This ain’t Disneyland’. If you see a scorpion, it isn’t because a child dropped a toy; if you lean too far over the bridge airbags do not deploy.
Svolvær is a small town in Lofoten – Norway’s spectacular archipelago of peaks soaring out of fjords. With a population a little under 5000 it’s about the size of Keswick, and as with Keswick it has a friendly nearby peak that all the locals love. Unlike Latrigg, however, 1935ft Fløya comes equipped with a piece of mountain hardwear called Djevelporten (‘Devil’s gate’) – one of several examples of rocky happenstance (like Pulpit Rock and Trolltunga) that make Lofoten such a productive farm for Facebook likes. It’s a short, fairly intense climb to Fløya’s lightly serrated summit (2000ft of ascent in a 2 1/2 mile walk) and only a short detour to this precarious-looking perch – which it only takes a calm nerve, a steady shuffle and an overmastering desire for a new social media cover photo to get onto.
El Caminito del Rey, Spain
An hour north-west of Malaga, the ‘King’s Little Pathway’ used to be known as the most dangerous walk in the world, and despite being refurbished in recent years this mile-long aerial boardwalk still gives a very good impression of it. ‘You won’t endanger your life’ assured the local council after reopening the route in 2015, ‘but it will feel that way’; ‘Is it hazardous?’ reads the FAQ. ‘Of course it is’ begins the reply. Built between 1901 and 1905 as a commuting route for hydroelectric construction workers, in total this linear trail is five miles long, comprising dusty footpaths and forest trails in addition to the mile of chanted prayer that is the metre-wide boardwalk, suspended 300ft above the canyon floor. Entrance is by £8 ticket and it’s open year-round except Mondays. That's when Wile E Coyote practises.
Franz Josef Glacier hike, NZ
It might seem silly to walk inside something that weighs as much as any building, changes shape daily and is made entirely of water, but that’s what you’re welcome to do on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand – home of one of the world’s most accessible glaciers. Franz Josef glacier is 12km long, descends to just 300m above sea level and is riddled with crevasses and ice-tunnels, with a face that is too unstable to approach. Walkers are helicoptered into this unusually fast-moving glacier in their thousands each year – exploring both guided and unguided, but there’s something about the word ‘jökulhlaup’ (glacier-speak for a sudden flood from water-filled ice tunnels) that makes us want to choose the former. It costs around £220 per person for a day consisting of heli-flight, three hours’ adventurous walking on the ice followed by an evening of hot pool access and heroic reminiscence.
Gorges du Fier, France
In the foothills of the French alps, the Gorges du Fier are the result of river descending into potholed rock like a crazed buzz-saw, carving a crazy cleft of a canyon in sunlight-dappled limestone six miles outside Annecy. It’s been a minor wonder of the alps since 1869, when workers hoisted in barrels bored and bonded a metal walkway along 1000ft of the river, 50ft above the tumbling, turbid water. A gripping way to spend £5 and an hour.
Haiku stairway, Hawaii
3922 steps, not all of them solid, will take you to the top of the Ko'olau mountain range on the Hawaiian island of Oahu on a steep, exhausting and dangerous adventure – that also has the minor impediment of being strictly speaking, how should we say this, illegal. In practise though, although the trail’s start is tricky to find and occasionally patrolled by a guard who warns you of being fined, the walkers who’ve done it – like Chris Shepherd – say they wouldn’t trade the experience for anything: “It was the most liberating time of our lives. From hiking up in the middle of the night, to hitting rain clouds halfway up and finally reaching the top to catch the sunrise. We burned through our dirt bike gloves holding on to the decrepit railing so tight. It was the best thing we have ever done and not a single day goes by that we don't think back to this hike!”
Originating (like many of the world’s sketchiest adventures) during wartime, the stairs helped the US Navy build a gigantic radio transmitter spanning the mountain range, and until 1987 they were open to the public. Refurbished at great expense in 2003, liability concerns have kept them officially closed since, but hundreds of adventurous walkers a month complete the dizzyingly narrow 2.2-miles/2,500ft-each-way trail, known also as the Stairway to Heaven. As of today, the stairs face an embattled future – the mayor of Honolulu keen to see them re-opened; the Hawaiian Board of Water Supply on whose land they stand keen to get permission to rip them up.
Half Dome trail, Yosemite
No-one will believe you’ve walked up Half Dome because to all intents and purposes it looks unclimbable – either by its sheer front or its slippery-looking, impossibly convex back. But it is – and without so much as a harness either. Not that the Half Dome Day Hike is easy mind you: it’s a 15-mile, 5000ft day, and the last 400ft of ascent are a steep pull with the assistance of steel cables. Not via-ferrata-type cables to which you’re attached you understand, but sort of floppy haul-yourself-up handrails – in situ from late May through to early October. The views from the summit – of the Yosemite Valley in all its glory and High Sierra beyond – are stupendous. Access is literally a lottery. 225 permits a day are allocated by a preseason draw ($4.50 to apply; another $8 if you’re successful) and 50 a day during the season (apply two days before you want to walk). If you win a permit, don’t let your good fortune blind you the fact that there is literally nowhere worse to be on a stormy day than on a steep, slippery, completely exposed mountain, holding on to a lightning conductor.
Low’s Peak Circuit, Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia
The highest via ferrata in the world lies at 12,000ft on Kinabalu, the tallest peak in Malaysia – and it’s been purpose-built to froth up adventurous walkers like a high-altitude Sodastream. Like all via ferratas, the protection of the cable to which you’re safely attached allows the route to follow what for walkers would otherwise be impossible trajectories – with added novelties on the 1.2km Low’s Peak Circuit including both the world’s highest suspension bridge and highest ‘Nepalese’ crossing (for which read ‘tightrope with handrails’). For thrill-seeking walkers it’s the crowning glory of what is an already astonishing ascent. Kinabalu is home to over 5000 species of plant (that’s around twice as many as the whole of the UK), it’s the 20th most prominent mountain in the world (meaning the amount it stands proud of its surroundings), and thanks to the 13,436ft mountain’s shark’s-fin summit – the bit that’s actually called Low’s Peak – one of the most distinctive. Doing the Low’s Peak Circuit means using one of the country’s official guides (it’s the law), one overnight on the mountain and a 1.30am start. You’ll hit the summit at dawn before proceeding to your 4-5 hour via ferrata joyride a short way into the descent. Exhausted but elated you’ll finally reach the mountain’s foot around 6pm feeling that in spite of being around £475 per person lighter, you really regret rien.
Rebellious type? Licked your knife and lived to tell the tale? How about upping stakes a bit – and walking on lava. Your mum would hate it, but there’s a place in Iceland where you can walk on an active lava field – in the mega-crater of a volcano that dares you to call it extinct. Krafla has erupted 29 times so far as we know, and spewed fountains of multicoloured lava into its 10km crater as recently as 1984 – and it’s still got a bellyful of magma. In spite of all that the Leirhnjukur hiking trail will take you on a 3-4 hour journey through what the locals fondly call their ‘víti’, or ‘hell’. It’s a well-marked trail through a mixture moss-covered old lava, still-smoking new lava, and the geological spectacle of apparently jam-consistency rock tinted by the different metals it contains. With its hissing vents, bubbling pools and pervasive smell of sulfur there’s no mistaking this is a world of geological work-in-progress. One thing’s for sure: you’ve never seen the earth looking younger.
Mount Huashan, china
One of the five sacred mountains in China, Mount Huashan in the Shaanxi Province is itself a chain of five peaks rising to 7067ft, the traversing of which has long been a test of religious mettle. But since cablecar access arrived in the 90s (you’re looking at around £30 for your entrance and ride) it’s not just pious types who hit the trail but thousands wishing to experience one of the world’s most notorious walks – almost all of whom survive to tell the tale. A 6km walk links all the key attractions – Hundred Foot Crevice, 1000 Foot Precipice, Plank Road, Heaven’s Ladder and the aptly-named Changing Mind Rock – but despite improvements including alternative routes round the most dangerous bits for those experiencing an attack of sanity, it’s still largely a health and safety black hole – a mixture of exposed stone steps, hand-chains, iron stemples and foot-pockets cut out of the rock. Harnesses are now a mandatory hire on the Plank Road section, but it’s as well to remember the trail is two-ways at all times and you are not among a disciplined crowd of safety-conscious alpinists. Many Chinese make the traverse by night, not just to avoid traffic on the foot-wide plank gangways, but because sometimes it’s better not to be able to see what a ridiculous situation you’ve got yourself into.
Oneonta Gorge, Oregon
The walls of Oneonta’s slot-gorge are so tall and close you feel like a tiny flower waiting to be pressed – that or you’ve found the entrance to another world where the whump of dragon wings is about to fill the air. The reality is scarcely less magical – because on this trail the river is the trail, and on a hot summer day walking doesn’t get any better, as first feet, then thighs, then chest are swallowed by the cool blue water. It may only be a quarter of a mile wade to the 100ft falls at the head of the chasm (there may some log-jams to negotiate along the way) but in few places does a walk of such short distance take you so far from the familiar.
Peak Walk, Switzerland
The Peak Walk is the only bridge in the world to link two mountain peaks – and the second highest suspension bridge in the world. An hour’s drive east of Lausanne in the Bernese Alps, it’s 350ft across, thousands of feet up (9800ft to be precise) and offers views to Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, Mönch, Jungfrau and Eiger – with a partial glass floor to remind you just what a precarious spot it occupies. Although who else you’d trust to build a bridge over a vast chasm lashed by 120mph winds than the Swiss we’re not sure.
Pulpit Rock, Norway
Overlooking the lush green valleys of western Norway’s Ryfylke region from a vantage point of 1982ft, Pulpit Rock – originally ‘Hyvlatonnå’ meaning ‘planed tooth’ – is god’s message to humanity that BASE jumping was Meant to Be. A 2.4 mile walk from the nearest car park, it’s an almost perfectly flat 80ft square of granite with a pert little lip that practically assures you you can dive straight off into the cool waters of Lysefjorden. People have tried. You can’t.
Sky Bridge, Sochi
It may look like it’s constructed out of guitar strings and Meccano, but this wonky contraption is the longest suspension footbridge in the world – and though it looks frail, Putin’s people insist it can hold 3000 visitors come earthquake or hurricane, although you might be able to think of places you’d rather be. At nearly 450m the Sky Bridge is as long as Cat Bells is high, and over 600ft off the ground – and since opening in 2014 has become a bungee-jump Mecca. But the views alone are breathtaking enough – all the way from the Caucasus Mountains to the Black Sea coast. £13 gets you access to the Sky Park in which the bridge sits.
The Maze, Utah
Only 3% of visitors to Utah’s world famous Canyonlands National Park visit The Maze. Why? Something to do with its remoteness, total lack of water and forbidding reputation for bewildering hikers with its deep, often dead-ended canyons might have something to do with it. At least eight hours of dirt-driving from civilisation make it one of the most inaccessible places in the US, and most people who visit the 20,000 acre sandstone wilderness do so for three days, only diligent navigation keeping it from being much, much longer.
Caldeira das Sete Cidades, Azores
A paradise in the throat of an ancient supervolcano, the Caldeira das Sete Cidades in the Azores (Europe’s Hawaii, 1000 miles off Portugal) is like nowhere else on earth. Three miles across with 1300ft walls, it’s a crater filled with pastures, forests, footpaths and twin lakes. A 12km trail leads round the caldera’s rim – making for stunning views across lake and ocean, bisected by an improbably slender path.
Tianmen walkway, China
A glass floor and a waist-high barrier are all that separate you from falling from 4600ft on Tianmen’s Coiling Dragon walkway – a 330ft-long dare-walk that opened in August. It’s one of three glass walkways on Tianmen Mountain, reached by the world’s longest cablecar. It’ll cost you £33 to square yourself witless.
Angels Landing, Arizona
There’s a 1000ft drop on either side, but don’t worry – there’s also a hand-chain greased by the palms of a hundred fretful passers-by to hold onto! This is the 1926-engineered trail to the top of Angels Landing, a sandstone fin which is steep, precipitous and slippery even when dry. But there’s no better view of the Zion Canyon than looking straight down the middle from nearly 6000ft, and the five mile round-trip to achieve it (no permit required) is one of most intense and thrilling walks on earth.
Trift Bridge, Switzerland
Built to facilitate access for hydroelectric engineers, the longest suspension bridge in the alps was so fun they opened it to the public – and although they checked it was safe, they didn’t go so far as to make it look that way. This gappy wooden-topped 560ft walkway near Gadmen in central Switzerland spans the Triftsee lake (330ft below) and even getting here is adventure – through a ravine via a cablecar followed by a 90 minute walk. Drop your camera when you get onto it and it will hit the water a full 4.5 seconds later going 99mph.
Tsingy de Bemaraha, Madagascar
The limestone needles which characterise the 257 square mile Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park in Madagascar are like a draining board full of butchers’ knives – poised to snick through fabric and saw into flesh. If you wandered in drunk you’d emerge naked and covered in your own arrabiata sauce. Formed by a unique mix of horizontal and vertical erosion, they form the badlands of western Madagascar, and you are well advised to stay to the six-hour Big Tsingy trail which leads you safely through on a series of protected scrambles and hanging bridges through a section of the most formidable karst landscape on the planet.
Huayna Picchu, Peru
You haven’t really done Macchu Pichu unless you’ve done the gherkin-shaped sentinel that overtops it by 1000ft. That’s Huayna Picchu – and it’s climbable (just) thanks to the ingenuity of the Incas. How they built the steps when they’re so steep and narrow it’s barely possible to pass on them is anyone’s guess, but if you thought they were hairy going up, the ones you have to take on the way down are even worse – these are the ones they call the Stairs of Death. 400 people a day are permitted to climb Huayna Picchu, and sod’s law dictates this is where you’re bound to meet most of them. Trying to pass people on these narrow unprotected stairs, while resisting gravity’s nagging request to just do the easy thing and fall headfirst from the mountain is likely to be as memorable as Machu Picchu’s spectacular ruins themselves.
Odessa is the third largest city in Ukraine – formerly the fourth largest city in Russia – and it was largely built in the 1800s from sandstone mined from a multilayered warren of tunnels in the ground on which it stands. Disused today, there are 1000 entrances and no comprehensive map – leaving the catacombs a hellish maze only smugglers, fugitives and extreme tourists have ever relished entering. Thanks to a mix of disorientation, dehydration and rockfall not all of them made it out. Only a tiny section – 0.04% – is officially open to the public, but unofficial guides will take you further into the estimated 1500 miles of tunnels – in which the stashes, detritus and graffiti of previous generations lie awaiting discovery in chill and perfect darkness.