Why do the backpackers do what they do? Most will tell you that they love the great outdoors, the exercise is exhilarating, and the adrenaline rush of an especially challenging route is something they don’t experience with any other activity. Unfortunately, sometimes routes can be so challenging that they become dangerous. Backpackers and hikers die in the wilderness every year because they fail to meet a challenge before them. That’s not to say you shouldn’t backpack, just that you should be aware of where it is you’re hiking.
Just to give you an idea of what’s out there, in terms of danger, we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 most dangerous places on earth to backpack – according to responses from a variety of online surveys.
1. Mount Huashan Trail, China
This trail appears within the top three of almost every survey we looked at. We rank it number one based on the sheer number of conditions that could possibly cause your hike to go terribly wrong. The most dangerous portion of the trail offers a series of chains, ladders, and wooden plank walkways with no guard rail whatsoever. The locals travel this route regularly for religious worship, without harnesses or safety equipment of any kind. We would recommend you NOT do the same.
2. West Coast Trail, Vancouver Island, Canada
Also consistently ranking near the top is this Canadian trail along the Vancouver coast. The trail was originally established as a way to reach stranded sailors when their ships or smaller boats became inoperable. But the wilderness is so dense and remote in this area of Vancouver that the trail is teeming with animals that would just as soon eat you for lunch than let you pass. If you’re going to hike this trail, watch out for bears, cougars, and wolves.
3. Pacaya Volcano, Guatemala
What could be more exhilarating than reaching the top of the Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala? Getting back down without being showered on by molten hot lava and rocks. This hiking trail is so dangerous that the government officially closed it after a reporter was killed earlier this year. Nonetheless, plenty of backpackers still take their chances in order to say they scaled Pacaya Volcano.
4. Devil’s Path, Catskills, NY
This particular trail, just a few hours north of New York City, doesn’t offer the treacherous drops of the Huashan Trail or the wild animals of the West Coast Trail, but it is perilous in its own right. The thing to most worry about in the Catskills is the vast differences in terrain along the entire range. Hiking this trail is simply exhausting. And as any backpacker knows, exhaustion can lead to mistakes; mistakes that can cause serious injury or death.
5. Rover’s Run, Anchorage, AK
Remaining in the United States we have a trail outside of Anchorage affectionately named for the brown bears that roam it on a regular basis. If you know anything about Alaska you know that brown bears gorge themselves during the summer months so they can be well fed before the long winter keeps them down. More than one backpacker has met a brown bear along this trail to his own disadvantage.
6. Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea
Four backpackers died in separate incidents on this trail in 2009. It is an extremely remote trail covering 60 miles of the Owen Stanley Mountain Range, often bringing hikers into very perilous conditions. Sometimes a bridge is washed out and only a tree carries you across a raging river. Other times trail markings are lost and hikers have no idea where they are. This is not a well-maintained trail so use caution.
7. El Caminito del Rey, Spain
The hiking path here ranks very high on some other survey sites; we rank it somewhat lower because in its original condition it was relatively safe. The path consists of a series of steps and walkways running along the local cliffs originally used to allow hydroelectric workers to access various locations around the local power plant. What makes it dangerous today is the fact that some of the concrete walkway has collapsed leaving exposed girders and rebar protruding from the mountainside. The threat of additional collapse is always imminent as well.
8. Peek-a-boo Gulch, Utah
Peek-a-boo Gulch is, for all intents and purposes, the drainage system of a tributary of the Escalante River in Utah. Because of that, the Navajo sandstone is very worn and slippery, and there is always at least some water collected pools of various depths along the route. Although it’s not very long it can be treacherous if you’re not familiar with water depths. And if you get caught here during heavy rain it could mean your life.
9. Mount Pinatubo, Philippines
Mount Pinatubo has easily become one of the most sought after backpacking trails since the 1991 eruption drastically changed the local landscape. The most treacherous part of the hike is the initial descent onto a flat path which takes you to the crater’s edge. What makes this hiking dangerous is the fact that it is quite muddy and slippery, and the volcano is still active. If you are an unskilled backpacker stay away from May to September. This is the rainy season which includes plenty of heavy rains, flash flooding, and high winds.
10. Machu Picchu, Peru
The Inca trails along the famous Peruvian destination are regularly traversed by guided tours that are as safe as can be. The danger presents itself when individuals or groups attempt the four-day hike to the ancient city without the help of a trained guide. The altitude can be very difficult for those who are not acclimated to it, and the terrain can be extremely rough at times. Visitors to the area are encouraged to spend a few days at Cusco, to become acclimated to the elevation before embarking.