It’s fitting in a way that a few of the world’s most picturesque sights–backdrops of a magnificence that photos can never fully communicate–are hidden away, guarded by their isolation. They can be nestled deep within a mountain range, or at difficult altitudes, or above inclines so steep that managing them is a matter of considerable difficulty. Unfortunately for the faint-hearted, there is only one way to tour these places, and it’s not the proverbial walk in the park. Those who brave our planet’s most precarious footpaths undertake hikes like no others. Often grueling, these are the trails on which even the fittest hikers often hesitate to tread, and where missteps could result in serious injury or even death. But for those with strength, persistence, and hiking expertise, the experience of conquering these treacherous trails is second to none. I have been fortunate enough to explore many remarkable and often isolated places, but these are three I have not yet tried; they have long been on my proverbial ‘bucket list’.
The Snowman Trek, Bhutan
Few trails are more rigorous than Bhutan’s 200-mile Snowman Trek. Bhutan is in any case, as isolated a country and one might find, but the trek is often said to rival Mount Everest in difficulty, as the entirety of the month-long trek takes place above an altitude of 13,000 feet. Altitude sickness is common along this oxygen starved path, whose height often reaches about 16,000 feet. Hikers who manage the trip are rewarded with a pristine Himalayan experience, and exposure to Bhutan’s Buddhist temples. Well below you will sprawl a stunning expanse of green forests veined with beautiful waterways.
The Lost City, Colombia
If climbing steep, winding paths filled with slippery rocks, and wading through rivers of mud in search of a city forgotten for millenia sounds a bit inconvenient for your tastes, you may not be ready to conquer Colombia’s Lost City (Ciudad Perdida) trek. But if you are willing to endure heat, humidity, mud and bugs, deep in a South American rainforest lies the skeleton of a remarkable ruined metropolis. Dubbed Teyuna by the natives, the city once housed thousands of Tairona people, and is believed to be 650 years older than Machu Picchu. It’s a unique sight, and the 5 to 7 day trip there is a unique hike that grants adventurous travelers their fill of both challenge and beauty. One even has the chance to be pulled across a raging river in a birdcage-like gondola that fortunately, is far sturdier than it looks.
Bright Angel Trail, Arizona
Descending into the Grand Canyon on foot under a shadeless, sizzling Arizona sun is challenging enough, but add in razor-sharp drops and a narrow trail that is, at the very least, physically draining, and top it all off with temperatures that can exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit, and you’ve got a recipe for heat exhaustion; this is the Bright Angel Trail. The 9.5 mile trip down can be completed in four to five hours, and the return can take twice that. There’s an entire staff of the National Park Service–called Preventative Search and Rescue (PSAR)–whose main protective task is to dissuade unprepared hikers from attempting Bright Angel Trail. Despite PSAR’s efforts, every year more than two hundred hikes have to be rescued from the trail. For seasoned and well-prepared hikers, however, the path offers an unbeatable experience, and unmatchable panoramic views of the canyon. Be sure to follow the park’s instructions, including taking adequate water, not trying the round trip in one day in summer, and to hike during the cooler hours. Finally, learn and follow instructions regarding the mule trains you will encounter on the trail.
It is vital that you carefully prepare before attempting to embark on any of these trails. They are recognized as grueling for good reason. Even the most experienced hikers prepare thoroughly and take great care when undertaking one of them. So, if you are interested in taking on the challenge, make sure you are well prepared for any obstacles you might face. You will be rewarded with the satisfaction of safely achieving a rare and extraordinary undertaking.