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The world's most extreme and dangerous roads
Its that time of year when the weather turns bad and the roads can become a dangerous place with rain, snow and ice. With this in mind it got us thinking of some of the most dangerous and extreme roads around the globe. Here are a few that we picked that stand out as roads to avoid when the weather turns bad!
Where: Darien Gap, between North and South America
Famous more for it's lack of roads than being a dangerous road the Darien Gap is one of the most dangerous places to travel - few have managed the 87km crossing between North America and South America on 4 wheels.
The Pan-American Highway is a network of roads stretching from Cape Horn, Chile to Alaska measuring about 29,800 miles in total length. Except for an 87 kilometre (54 mi) rainforest break, called the Darién Gap, the road links the mainland nations of the Americas in a connected highway system. According to Guinness World Records, the Pan-American Highway is the world's longest "motorable road".
Why it's dangerous:
* tough nasty jungle with dangerous animals
* impenetrable swamps
* drug traffikers
* paranoid government police
* no marked trails
In 1957, for the first time, there was thought of the need to promote a 4x4 motor vehicle expedition through the jungles that the Darien Sub-Committee were currently investigating. If the adventure was successful, it would provide the best proof that the adjoining regions of Panama and Colombia offered feasible building grounds for the Pan-American Highway and henceforth the financing of engineering survey research.
During the dry season of February of 1960 two custom equipped Land Rovers began the long haul form the City of Panama to ultimately reach Bogota, Colombia in time to participate in the Eighth Annual Pan-American Highway Congress. The Congress was to be place to present the completed project to which the Darien Sub-Committee had so painstakingly dedicated itself. For the first time in the history of the American Highway travel had two motor vehicles successfully crossed the Isthmus of Panama into South America. The project carried the logical name of Trans-Darien Expedition. The crew, Messrs. Amado Araúz and his wife Reina, Otis Imboden, Richard E. Bevir, Terrence Withfield, Ilse Abashagen and latterly José A. Saénz and Bolívar Araúz, accompanied by a crew of eight men were all aware of the importance of the mission and the perils they would have to conquer. The expedition would lead them into very rough trails that cross the jungle region weaving through steep hills and crossing many bridgeless rives and streams. The entire adventure took them four months and twenty days.
Anyone familiar to the tropical jungle can imagine the effects the journey had on the human system in that lapse of time. During some parts of the expedition daily progress was scarcely five kilometers… The team crossed 180 rivers and streams and were forced to improvise bridges over 125 of them built mainly form the trunks of palm trees that were hard and flexible. Three serious automotive upsets occurred, with no personal injury involved. The use of the winch for the vehicles was constant and sometimes very dangerous due to the potential breakage of the cable. Among the support team some were accidentally cut and bruised although there was no never any need for an evacuation. Difficult mechanical, logistical and topographical problems were present constantly throughout the journey calling for quick decision making by means of their ability and ingenuity. The team set off from Chepo, Panama on 2 February 1960 and reached Quibdo, Colombia on 17 June 1960, Over the entire 136 day journey they averaged a mere 201m per hour of which a great deal was travelled up the Atrato River.
Amado Araúz and his crew set the precedent for a number of other explorers and numerous expeditions and records followed:
* In 1972, John Blashford-Snell led a Range Rover crew on the ‘British Trans-Americas Expedition’. He claimed that this was the first vehicle-based expedition to navigate both American continents through the Darien Gap. However, in comparison to the 1960 expedition, Blashford-Snell’s utilised boats to bypass the Atrato Swamp in Colombia as well as receiving considerable support from the British military.
* Between 1971 and 1973 a British cyclist named Ian Hobell was the first to complete a full overland Trans-Americas Expedition when he rode from Cape Horn to Alaska over a the 2 year period. Hibell took the 'direct' overland route travelling south-to-north which also included an overland crossing of the Atrato Swamp. Hibell completed the successful crossing with two other cyclists; however they had only ridden with him from Cape Horn and didn’t continue on to Alaska.
* In March 1975, Robert L.Webb completed the first motorcycle crossing of the Darien Gap and another notable four wheel drive crossing took place between 1978 and1979 led by Mark A Smith. Smith and his team drove the 250 mile stretch of the Darien gap using five stock Jeep CJ-7s in just 30 days but used barges to travel many miles up the Atrato River.
* Loren Upton was the first person to complete a totally overland auto crossing in a period of just over 2 years between 1985 and 1987. It took Upton 741 days to travel the entire 125 miles in his CJ-5 Jeep. Upton also returned in 1995 and became the first man to cross the Darien Gap totally overland on a motorcycle, taking a total of 49 days.
Where: North Yungas Road AKA ‘Death Road’, Bolivian Andes: La Paz - Coroico
The North Yungas Road is by far the most dangerous on the planet, so dangerous that it has earned the epithet of ‘Death Road’. The road covers a 70km stretch between La Paz and Coriocco over a decent of 3,600m with ridiculously tight hairpins and narrow passages to navigate, all whilst trying to avoid a sheer 800m drop!
Why it's dangerous:
* The road is only 3 metres wide and is navigated by trucks and buses
* Constant sheer drops of at least 600m without any barriers or guard rails
* Extreme dust clouds from vehicles in the summer and fog all year round often reduce visibility to almost zero
* Rain in the winter months often washes away parts of the road, reduces visibility as well as causing mudslides and the loosening of rocks from the hillsides above
The road was contstructed by Paraguayan prisoners in the 1930s during the Chaco War and is one of very few routes that connect the northern Bolivian Amazonian region with its capital city. The road leaves La Paz, which sits at 3,600m above sea level, and believe it or not ascends around a further 1,000m over the La Cumbre Pass before a descent of 1,200 metres at the town of Coroico. The journey from the high mountain plains, through the steep cliffs and hillsides down through the rainforest is the most dangerous on earth!
There is a fatal accident every couple of weeks on Yungas road with an average of 150 people being killed every year and in 1995 the Inter-American Development Bank officially named it the most dangerous road in the world. The visible remains of accidents and the skeletons of numerous lorries and buses at the bottom of the adjacent abyss are constant reminders of just how this road earned its nickname.
The road is a major route for buses packed with locals and heavy trucks and is often clouded in thick fog and vapours rising from the heavily forested valley below. In the rainy months, tropical downpours often cause whole parts of the road to slide away as well as causing mudslides and rock falls from the hills above.
However, over a 20 year period between 1976 and 2006, the La Paz – Caroico highroad underwent a series of modernisations which have made it considerably safer. These improvements included increasing the road to two lanes, construction of a proper pavement for pedestrians and a new road between Chusquipata and Yolosa which bypasses one of the most dangerous sections of the old road. The bypass features modern bridges and drainage as well as multiple lanes and barriers.
Due to the improvements and bypass the old ‘Death Road’ is much less frequently used by traffic and has become a bit of a Mecca for downhill mountain bikers and tourist looking for a thrill! While the most extreme of cyclists did navigate the road when it was a fully functioning route, since the improvements the road now draws around 25,000 tourists and thrill seekers every year. You can now book tour operators and guided bike tours down the road; I don’t think that would have been advisable when ‘Death Road’ was in full flow!
Where: Guoliang Tunnel Road, China
This road is located in the Taihana Mountains in the Hunan Province of China and before its construction in 1972, access to Guoliana village was restricted to a treacherous path carved into the mountain face. Surround by soaring mountains the village of Guoliana was essentially disconnected from all civilisation! However, in 1972 a group of men from the village decided to take matters into their own hands and began carving a road directly through the mountain all by themselves! The project was led by the ‘head of the village’; Shen Minaxin who insisted this immense undertaking was embraced by all in the village. Due to Shen’s insistence, the villagers funded the procurement of hammers and steel tools through the sale of goats and herbs and after 5 years the tunnel was complete. All by hand they had completed a 1200 metre long, 5 metre high and 4 metre wide tunnel right through the imposing mountain. This huge feat of engineering was not only laborious and physically demanding but dangerous as well with a number of villagers being killed during its construction. Despite being carved totally by hand, the tunnel was completed and opened to traffic for the first time on 1st May 1977.
More than 30 windows span the length of the tunnel and it is thought that these may have been produced to expel rubble during construction as well as supply light due to the lack of electricity in this remote mountainous region. It is only in recent times, with the opening of China’s borders to tourists that the villager’s hard work has paid off. Before the tunnel was constructed the only way out of the village was via a ladder up a sheer mountainside but now with the influx of tourism, Guoliang Village is thriving and is now considered another jewel in the crown of the Taihang Mountains.
Where: Ruta 5 (Highway 5): Arica to Iquinque, Chile
Ruta 5 in Chile runs from the Peruvian border, connecting with Ruta 1 19km north of Arica, down to Puerto Montt where it connects via ferry to Chiloé island. This major road is a bypass of the country’s capital, Santiago. From the northern border up until just north of La Serena the road is a paved two lane highway with 60mph speed limit and becomes a 75mph, four lane freeway between La Serena and Puerto Montt.
Why it's dangerous:
* The road is surrounded by deep valleys and sheer drops
* The surrounding landscape is almost featureless making concentration extremely difficult
* Thick fog often descends on the road and can dramatically reduce visibility in a matter of seconds
Despite its relative modernity the road from Arica to Iquique is a notoriously dangerous drive. It winds through deep valleys with steep drops littered by the occasional vehicle carcass sitting eerily at the foot. The surrounding landscape is bare, almost vivid and often void of any distinguishing characteristics. It would be easy to lose concentration, as the vehicle skeletons suggest many have, and plunge into one of the imposing voids on either side. Also, the frequent dense fog can reduce visibility to zero in a matter of seconds if losing your focus wasn’t easy enough!
Where: The Russian Federal Highway: Moscow to Yakutsk, Siberia, Russia
The Russian Federal Highway is the major route between the countries capital Moscow and the frozen wastelands of Siberia. The road ends in a city named Yakutsk where the coldest temperatures ever outside of Antarctica were recorded. Yakutsk is the world’s largest city to be built on continuous permafrost and most houses there are built on top of concrete piles due to the extremity of the frozen ground.
Why it's dangerous:
* Extreme temperatures, heavy snow, ice and reduced visibility
* Excessive mud in the summer months make it almost impossible to navigate
* ‘Mud Pirates’
During the 10 month winter Yakutsk is besieged by intense snow, ice and massively reduced visibility making navigation almost impossible and braking even harder. However, driving down the Russian Federal Highway during July and August is when you really need to worry! It is during the short summer that this road truly becomes one of the world’s most dangerous! It is impossible to pave or tarmac the highway due to the permafrost which means that once the summer rains come the road becomes a mire of knee-deep mud!
These intensely muddy conditions often result in traffic jams of over a thousand cars and this is when the ‘Mud Pirates’ come out to play! These ‘pirates’ are often general travellers but pass their time in the tailback by looting, beating and kidnapping other commuters! And we thought being stuck on the M25 on a Friday afternoon was bad!
Where: Highway 1, Kandahar to Kabul, Afghanistan
With everything that’s going on in Afghanistan at the moment, you’d imagine that there’s a fair few dangerous roads over there and you’d more than likely be right! However, Highway 1 which was completed towards the end of last year is not only renowned for insurgent ambushes but for the treacherous weather conditions as well.
Why it’s dangerous:
* Taliban and insurgent attacks and ambushes
* Roadside bombs
* Extreme weather conditions
* Local militias acting as ‘traffic police’
Highway 1 runs through the notorious Hindu Kush mountains but I’m afraid if this road is part of your route then you’ve got a lot more than the extreme weather to take into consideration. The US-led coalition invested heavily in Highway one and it was seen as a symbol of progress which only makes it a further target for the Taliban and militias! The militias consistently target anyone travelling down the road acting as self-appointed ‘traffic police’ and often kill anyone that doesn’t comply! If you manage to avoid the ‘traffic police’ and roadside IEDs, you’ve still got to worry about the threat of Taliban ambush. The Taliban and other insurgents seem to target anyone and everyone that travels down this American built road. If their aim is to stop people using it then they’ve certainly convinced us!
Where: The Sichuan – Tibet Highway, China
The 1,500 mile long Sichuan – Tibet Highway begins in Chengdu in the Sichuan Province and ends at Lhasa in Tibet, passing the city of Ya’an, the autonomous Tibetan prefecture of Garze and the third largest city in Tibet, Chamdo, en route.
Why it's dangerous:
* Landslides and rock avalanches in high sections
* Extreme weather and extreme climate changes
* Narrow passages with sheer drops
Over its course, the Sichuan – Tibet Highway negotiates 14 different mountains averaging 4000m to 5000m above sea level and crosses dozens of major rivers including the Dadu, Jinsha, Lantsang and Nujiang. The landscape is constantly changing, passing through everything from ancient forests to dangerous narrow mountain sections with deadly drops; the only constant is the astounding scenery. The weather is as changeable as the scenery and ranges from warm, green climates in the valleys to the most extreme Himalayan cold, nothing can be taken for granted. Over the past 20 years in China car accidents have almost doubled and per 100,000 of the population rose from 3.9 to 7.6 between 1995 and 2005. With more and more people navigating roads like the Sichuan – Tibet Highway, is this any surprise?
Where: The James Dalton Highway (Alaska Route 11), Alaska, USA
The James W. Dalton Highway, usually referred to as the Dalton Highway or Alaska Route 11 runs for 414 miles between the Elliot Highway just north of the city of Fairbanks and Deadhorse near the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and the Arctic Ocean. The road was initially built in 1974 as a supply route for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and is named after the Alaska-born engineer who directed and supervised its construction.
The highway runs parallel to the pipeline and despite its bleak, isolated and remote setting it is often navigated by anything upto150 trucks in summer and 250 trucks in the winter. Fuel is only available at 3 places over the entire course of the route, headlights must be switched on at all times and there are a number of steep gradients over its course.
Why it's dangerous:
* The highway is essentially just a gravel road
* Reduced to zero visibility
* Enormous potholes
* Extreme Arctic weather
The Dalton Highway remains the main supply road for the Prudhoe Bay oilfields and it is constantly navigated by large tractor-trailers and articulated lorries. These monstrous vehicles often throw up large rocks from the gravel road surface which could easily destroy the bodywork and any glass in a common vehicle. The larger commuters on this road also kick up vast clouds of dust or mud that can reduce visibility to zero in seconds and not being able to see would make it pretty hard to avoid the numerous, huge potholes that litter the road! All those risks coupled with the lack of places of refuge and the Arctic weather make the John Dalton Highway unnavigable for anyone other than pros in modified trucks with plenty of supplies.
Where: Patiopoulo – Perdikaki Road, Greece
The road between the towns of Patiopoulo and Perdikaki in the Agrafa region of Greece is renowned for its numerous perils! To call it a road is a bit kind, it’s more of a gravel riddled dirt track on which numerous deaths are recorded each year!
Why it’s dangerous:
* Inability to stop on the loose gravel
* Enormous potholes
* The road is extremely narrow and busy
* Sheer drops on both sides
The Patipuolo – Pedikaki road is either a steep climb or descent with minimal grip due to the loose gravel surface riddled with enormous potholes. It is extremely narrow with severe drops on either side of the sloping track and there are no barriers to stop weary travellers from plummeting to their doom! The road is bustling with everything from pedestrians and livestock to trucks, buses and cars! Without any markings, judging distance from the edge is extremely difficult and avoiding the drops even in the light of day is hard enough but the problem is even more apparent at night when most accidents occur.
Where: Trollstigen (The Troll Ladder), Norway
The Trollstigen which translates to ‘The Troll Ladder’ in English, is a steep winding mountain road in Rauma region of Norway. It is part of the National Road 63 that connects Åndalsnes in Rauma and Valldal in the Norddal region. It is very narrow and features numerous sharp hairpin turns.
* Occasional rock falls
* Bad weather
* Extreme hairpin bends
* Very narrow with little room to pass
The Trollstigen is a popular tourist destination due to it’s steep 9% gradient and incredible 11 hairpin bends that wind their way up the mountain face. The road has been widened over the last few years but due to the extremity of the turns and lack of width, vehicles over 12.4 metres in length are not allowed to use this astonishing thoroughfare. Due to the frequency of rock falls in the area, measures were put in place in 2005; bad weather is also a concern at such high altitude. There is a viewing balcony at the top where drivers that have conquered the mighty road can stop and view the hair raising turns and the Stigfossen waterfall which also runs down the mountainside.
Where: The A682, England
The A682 is a narrow country road that runs between junction 13 of the M65 and Long Preston, a small village in the Yorkshire Dales. The most notorious part is a 15-mile stretch on which there have been almost 100 fatalities in the last decade.
Why it’s dangerous:
* Speeding traffic
* Blind turns
* Hidden junctions
Over the past 3 years the A682 has witnessed 22 serious accidents, two of which were fatal and annually has a rate of 0.5 deaths per 10 miles! Many vehicle activated warning signs have been introduced but this route remains the most dangerous in England. Despite the apparent danger the road remains a favourite of motorcyclists nationwide and is extremely busy every weekend. The number of accidents along this road contributes to the large number of personal injury cases in the UK, Lord Young better monitor this road if he is going to improve health and safety!
Where: The Stelvio Pass, Italy
The Stelvio Pass is renowned as one of the world’s best driving roads and is revered by motorists and motorcyclists worldwide. It is located in the Italian Alps, 2757 metres above sea level, close to Bormio and Sulden around 50 miles from Bolzano, near the border with Switzerland. The road connects the Vallteline valley with the upper Adige valley and the town of Merano.
This astonishing feat of engineering is the highest paved road in the Eastern Alps and the second highest in the Alps after the Col de L’Iseran which sits a mere 13 metres higher.
Why it's dangerous:
* Extreme switchback hairpin bends
* Bad weather
The Stelvio Pass may not be as risky as many of the other routes featured but it certainly is an astonishing feat of design, planning and engineering. Driving up it is an incredible climb and toughest from the Prato side. In its entirety the road features an astonishing 48 hairpin bends and is regarded as one of the best continuous hairpin roads in the world.
Where: Motorable Mountain Passes in the Himalayas, India & Tibet
The Himalayas are home to the highest mountains on the planet and with fiercely cold temperatures, air so thin you’re gasping for breath and deadly weather changes the the majority of this region is totally impassable. Despite the dangers, the Himalayas are home to many ancient cultures that still exist to this day and without a number of rugged mountain passes, life in the region wouldn’t be possible. These passes are not only navigated by the locals on a daily basis but are an attraction to adventurers from around the globe, here are a number of the highest and most famous motor accessible roads on earth.
Marsimik La, India
Sitting at 5,582 metres above sea level, Marsimik La is the highest driveable mountain pass in the world. A road that crosses the pass is often navigated by extreme bikers, 4x4 enthusiasts and various military vehicles with varied success. The pass is located around 10 miles northeast of the northwest corner of the Pangong Lake and is reached via a sheer and dangerous track consisting of sand, dirt, gravel and mud. This treacherous route is the most direct link between the Pangong region and the Kongka Pass on the border with China. The Kongka pass has long been at the centre of a territory dispute between the 2 countries.
Semo La, Tibet
This road, if you can call it that, is situated 5,565 metres above sea level between the towns of Raka and Cogen in central Tibet and provides access to the region of Chang Tang. The trail is also used as an access route to Mount Kailash when the usual southern route is made inaccessible by weather conditions. Very few vehicles dare travel this route but a weekly bus and various trucks travelling to the west of the country use it occasionally to avoid the more boggy routes to the south. Technically, Semo La is the highest vehicle-accessible road in the world that has been accurately measured by GPS but it is thought that Marsimk La and maybe some other yet unmeasured/unchartered passes are higher.
Karakorum Pass, India
At 5,540 metres above sea level the Karakoram Pass is the highest point on the ancient caravan route between Leh in the Ladakh province and Yarkand in the Tarim Basin. Translated into English from Turkic, ‘Karakoram’ means ‘Black Gravel’.
The path is notoriously littered with the bones of countless animals that haven’t survived the trek due to the lack of altitude and lack of available sustenance with almost a total lack of plant life on the approach. The pass is saddled between 2 mountains and around 45 metres in width. Although it is usually snow free due to extremely high winds, dangerous blizzards can set in at the blink of an eye. Despite this risk, the Karakoram Pass is considered relatively easy travelling compared with many other trails in the region due to the lack of snow and ice.
Changla Pass, India
The Changla Pass, at 5,425 metres above sea level, is one of the highest in India and part of the 83 mile road between the Pangong Lake and Leh, the former capital of the ancient kingdom of Ladakh. This pass is also the primary gateway to the Changtang Plateau and is named after a wandering monk named Changla Baba whom the pass temple is still named after to this day. Although not as notorious as many other passes in the area, the quality of the road can make it tough going at times for both people and especially livestock.
Khardung La, Tibet
This pass located at 5,539 metres above sea level in the Ladakh mountain rage, north of Leh and is the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys with the Siachen Glacier lying further up the valley. The road was built in 1976 and opened to traffic in 1988 and has since witnessed numerous motorcycle, 4x4 and cycling expeditions. The route is maintained by the Border Roads Organisation, an organisation made up of members from India’s Border Roads Engineering Service, General Reserve Engineer Force and the Indian Army Corps of Engineers. Maintenance is important to India as it is used to transport essential supplies to Siachen; it is also of historical importance as it lies on an ancient caravan route between Leh and Kashgar in Chinese Central Asia.
Until recently it was claimed that Khardung La was the highest motorable road on earth. It was noted in the Guinness Book of Records that the road’s altitude was 5,682 metres but a recent expedition proved with GPS technology that the road was in fact only 5,539 metres above sea level.
Tanglang La, India
At an altitude of 5,359 metres, Tanglang La is acknowledged as India’s second highest vehicle accessible mountain pass, playing second fiddle only to Khardung La. The pass is part of the Leh – Manali Highway, a road that is open between June and September when the Border Roads Organisation clears it of snow and ice. Tanglang La is accessible by a road consisting of 20 magnificent hairpin bends with truly breathtaking views.
Tanggula Pass, Tibet
This well know pass in the Tanggula Mountains of Tibet ascends to 5,231 metres above sea level and is just south of the village of Wenquan. This pass sits at the highest point on the Qinghai – Tibet Highway and is famous for being the highest point on earth accessible by train. The tracks were laid in 2005 and in 2006 the Tanggula Station became the highest railway station on the planet, 255 metres higher than Galera Station in Peru. Trains travelling through Tanggula Station must be fitted with oxygen tanks to stop passengers getting altitude sickness!
As always if you know of any more extreme or dangerous roads we can add to the list then let us know in the comments below..
Thanks to Barbara for highlighting Los Caracoles, a steep road that runs through the Andes between Chile and Argentina. The road has no barriers and a number of hard corners, which makes it very dangerous for its commuters - especially when the majority drive cargo trucks!