Sunday, October 16, 2011

Halloween Festival of Lists: October 16: SIXTEEN Of The Scariest Roads In The World

Like many others, I have a sick fascination with being frightened.  I love to be scared, and since death by car accident is one of my greatest mortal fears, it stands to reason that I would be both paranoid and paralyzed with fear when I hear mention of so-called 'death roads'.   There would be almost no way in hell that I would travel on any of these dangerous yet awe-inspiring highways. 

We start with the "world's most dangerous road", El Camino de la Muerte, otherwise known as The Road of Death.  Its true name is the North Yungas Road and it travels from La Paz to Coroico in northern Bolivia.  It gets the name honestly - it is said that up to 300 people per year perish traveling this route.  Its incredibly steep hillsides (with 1800 foot drop-offs!) and narrow passages (single lane most of the way!) are rife with cliffs and waterfalls that make conditions muddy and extremely perilous for anyone driving it.  Not wide enough for two cars to pass at most points, if two vehicles should meet, the uphill driver always has the right of way and the other has to back down.
Currently, the second season of IRT: Deadliest Roads is being filmed there.  I've watched several episodes and just watching those truckers navigate at the edges of the road and seeing the cliffs they could easily plunge off of....scarier than most horror films and far more 'edge-of-your-seat' viewing.
This road is the Kabul Gorge Road in Afghanistan.  It's stunning views of rocks and cliffs stagger the mind and scare the pants off of you at the same time.  It is said that Afghan drivers are insanely careless, and so there are scores of  deadly accidents along this stretch every day.
Buses and taxis drive exceedingly fast, contrasting with the tractor-trailers who are notoriously slow.  It's a deadly combo, and people in cars tend to pay the price, crashing into rock or plunging over lethal cliffs to smash into pieces in the valleys below. 
As if Afghanistan isn't dangerous enough.
The Guoliang Tunnel weaves through the Taihang Mountains, in the Hunan Province of China.  In 1972, surrounding villagers carved out a road right through the mountains, and this is what came of that.  As you can see, much of the road is quite literally through the rock of the mountain, and in most places is one lane.  It took five years to carve out the mile long tunnel, which has windows in it so you can see the precarious drop offs.
The Los Caracoles Pass, between Chile and Argentina, is a winding road that is snow-covered most of the year and boasts some of the steepest slopes - called 'switchbacks' - in the world.  Naturally, as with most of the "dangerous roads on Earth", there are no guard rails to catch you if your car careens off the road.  With the Andes Mountains looming and the hairpin turns a dime a dozen, I'd need a year's supply of Dramamine to get through this journey.
The Lysebotnvegen in Norway is a road with 32 hairpin turns and staggering drops, is open May-November (or thereabouts, it depends on the amount of snowfall seasonally.  It also boasts a 340 degree curved tunnel along the way with three switchbacks of its own.  A big tourist destination, the road has a restaurant and hiking trails along the way, and has several pull-offs where you can lounge and appreciate the view further, if you haven't already been frightened to death.
The Millau Viaduct is the tallest bridge in the world and is located in southern France.  It is 8200 feet long, has a tunnel at one end, and has a toll plaza that will be in place until 2080 - the year the bridge will supposedly be paid for. The speed limit on the bridge started out at 81 mph, but was lowered to 68 mph after too many cars were stopping to take pictures and causing accidents. Finished in 2005, the frightening span sees up to 25,000 vehicles every day.  I, for one...will never be one of those vehicles.

Famous for rock slides and high altitudes, The Tibet-Sichuan Highway in the (Chinese) Himalayas features stunning views but dangerous travel.  Tour buses fly all too fast and skid all too close to the edge in a sea of mud.  Travel in the winter season is, as you would guess, iffy.  June and July are the rainy season and are nearly as dangerous for the mudslides as the winter is for snow and avalanches.  If you can get past the fear of those various impediments, you will be rewarded with gorgeous views of prestigious mountains, clear lakes, and tiny villages dotting the valleys.
But as for me...I'll take a pass.

Connecting the former stomping grounds of Vlad Tepish, the Transfagarasan highway in Romania is certainly impressive, if nothing else.  It is 55 miles of dangerously winding roads that connect the historically significant Wallachia and Transylvania regions.  Constructed for military purposes, it is also closed during the winter months due to snow.  Adding to the fear factor are several tunnels and bridges, and passes the castle that quite literally housed Vlad the Impaler during his reign.  Cyclists and motorists alike have developed a fondness for this road but the top speed permitted is just 40mph.  Reasonable, considering many of the others on our list. 
This highway winds through many of the highest peaks in the Carpathian Mountains and is considered to be the most beautiful of all the roads in Romania, in addition to the most dangerous.
Voted the 'Best Driving Road' in the world, the Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps is one of the highest mountain passes in all of Europe.  Riddled with 48 hairpin turns on your way up the mountain, it is another road that is (so very obviously) closed in snowy months.  Of note is that the world's highest battle was fought here in WWI.  Popular with the well-to-do, the area also has a National Park, several upscale hotels, and a museum dedicated to the construction of the pass.  Apparently Stelvio Pass is so challenging for cyclists that if you make it to the top you can buy a t-shirt that states "I did the Stelvio" and boast to your friends.  Frankly, I think they should give you the t-shirt and perhaps a new pair of undies as well, because if I made it up there, even in a car, I'd need a change of gear.
The dramatic Trollstigen (Troll's Ladder) in Rauma, Norway, is very popular with tourists for its winding hairpin turns and the lofty mountain peaks looming at every glance.  There is a parking area at the top which allows travelers to walk a short distance to an overlook which gives a view of the famous road as well as the dazzling Stigfossen Waterfall.  There are even official road signs here that have the images of trolls on them and are actually considered to be warnings for the little Scandinavian creatures.  Mostly accident free, the road's speed limit is very low.  Those Norwegians always were smart.
A road to steer clear of after dark, the Tizi n Test Road in the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco is by all accounts magnificent.  It passes through several villages along the way, so there are a lot of trucks, buses, and taxis to meet along the way, a particularly hazardous situation with so many corners and bad turns, as well as nasty weather.  Also cursed with no guard rails and mostly one lane, it forces vehicles to back down because of inability to pass. Many of the locals actually set up little booths along the way selling their wares, which is just another distraction while driving the road.  Oh, and if you happen to hit one of the many animals (including mules, camels and sheep) that are sharing the road with you, you will have to pay a hefty fine.
The Col de Turini is a very high mountain pass that is famous for the Monte Carlo Rally in the south of France.  It has dizzying hairpin turns and the race itself actually used to be run at night. It also has been featured in the Tour de France, which is rather hard to imagine.  While driving the crazy road, you pass through a National Park, a raging river, and a rock wall.  It also has straight stretches in which motorists in the Rally can speed at more than 112mph.  Spectators throw ice and snow onto the road during the race to make it more challenging for the participants. 

Srinagar-Leh Highway (a.k.a. Zojila Pass) in northern India is a National Highway which receives staggering amounts of snowfall each year that tend to make the road impassable due to avalanches and rock slides.  The road follows a historic trade route across the country and is home to the second coldest inhabited spot in the world, following Siberia.  Temps can get below 50 degrees F at times, and the people that live here are completely shut off from the rest of the world for several months. It is extremely dangerous and like the Moroccan Tizi-n-Test Road, it is closed after dark. 

Though scenically beautiful, the Halsema Highway in the Philippines is a treacherous stretch, taking over ten hours to traverse.  It is similar to many mountain-side roads, with high cliffs and dirt roads that turn to slop in the rain and become nearly impassable. Rock slides are common, as are tour buses that slide along the edges of steep hillsides, at the ready to send you flying off the roadside to your imminent death.  Like Bolivia's 'Death Road', the Halsema Highway has no guide rails, is only one lane in many places, and most vehicles can claim only a foot or so on each side of them while driving it. In addition to these unstable conditions, the fog is at times so thick that motorists must wait several hours to continue their journey.  Unsurprisinglly, it also claims hundreds of lives every year.

I've always wanted to go to Greece.  It's near the top of my list, actually.  But even if I'm lucky enough to get there, I won't be treading over this stretch of road any time soon.  The Patipuolo – Perdikaki Road has deadly drop-offs on each side of the road, loose gravel everywhere that makes driving overly hazardous, pot holes you could lose a car in, and once again the road isn't wide enough in most locations to admit more than one vehicle at a time.  Most accidents occur at night, probably because it is much harder to see and there is nothing at the edges of the road to stop your car from tumbling off cliffs and into ravines.  Incredibly steep and way too busy for its own good, this Greek passage is equally as perilous going up as it is going down.  No thanks, I'll stick to the beaches of Karpathos...
Another place I'd love to visit is New Zealand.  Home of Lord of the Rings.  And kiwi.  Seems like a gorgeous country.  But I've seen those mountains of Mordor, and I know there are steep cliffs and nasty peaks that need some kind of road to access them.  Near Queenstown is the beautiful Skippers Canyon, with the aptly named Skippers Road carved entirely out of the rock on the side of the canyon.  Locals are generally the only people to use the passage; car rental companies have banned its use and signs at the start state no caravans or trailers are allowed.  It basically hasn't changed since its gold mining days back in the 1860's.  Obviously you'd want an utterly clear head to start this journey, as there is no going back once you've begun, and no place to go but down if you go over the edge.


Jeremy [Retro] said...

those are some amazing twists and turns...

Traci Marie Wolf said...

Great post and great descriptions. I agree super creepy yet fascinating.

Girl on Gore said...

Christine! One of my biggest fears in this whole world is driving up mountain roads. Now, when I say driving I mean riding cause I could not do it!! This was..nightmare worthy. Great post!

Dylan said...

awesome idea for a blog post. I wouldn't dare take my family on those roads. horrifying. Imagine being the poor schmucks who had to initially carve those roads out of the side of a mountain

Unknown said...

wow amazing way..... fulll with challange...... i wanna go there!!!!!!!