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Fall 2016

Highway to the Danger Zone

There is something irresistible about crossing dangerous ground. Humans are overcome with a desire to face danger and subsequently to overcome that danger, according to psychologist Saberi Roy. Throughout history, people such as Lewis and Clark and the Wright Brothers have become pioneers in their fields by crossing dangerous and uncharted ground.

Today, people are still making dangerous crossings, although the cause of the danger may come as a surprise. According to the World Health Organization, 1.2 million deaths occur annually across the globe as a result of traffic accidents. Some of these accidents can be attributed to outside factors (alcohol, weather, or other drivers), but the common denominator for each them is the road. Roads, while very useful when trying to get from point A to point B, can also be quite dangerous and are definitely a force to be reckoned with while traveling in the United States and abroad.

Travelers often seek out dangerous roads for the thrill of the ride or even the majestic views from the steepest inclines. For others, these roads are used out of necessity for commuting and work purposes. Regardless of the reason for traveling these roads, the following three roads battle constantly against humans, nature, and weather, making them some of the world’s most dangerous and deadly.

Guoliang Tunnel Road, China
Guoliang Tunnel Road was carved out of the Taihang Mountains in 1972 by thirteen villagers in Guoliang. Named by Travel and Leisure as one of the world’s scariest roads, its name literally translates to the “Road that does not tolerate mistakes,” which is fitting for the treacherous tunnel carved into the side of a mountain. The actual tunnel distance isn’t long—less than a mile; however, space inside the tunnel is minimal—with a width of twelve feet, a height of fifteen feet, and a very steep incline. Due to these spacial constrictions, travel is particularly difficult in inclement weather—rain makes the already constricted space especially slippery—or even just when passing other cars. However, despite the danger, today the tunnel is a popular destination for tourists to hike through.

The Guoliang Tunnel was carved out of the Taihang Mountains to give local villagers easier access to the outside world. Photo by FANG Chen. cc

Nanga Parbat Pass, Pakistan
The Nanga Parbat Pass, or Fairy Meadows Road, in Pakistan is the starting point for every hiker’s ascent up Nanga Parbat—the ninth highest mountain in the world. The road is steep, rocky, and unpaved and receives no maintenance. Parts of the pass are even too dangerous for cars and can be attempted only on foot. The lack of guardrails, the narrow width of the road, the hazard of falling rocks, the heights that can induce altitude sickness, and the steep incline of drop-offs make this one of the world’s most deadly roads. International Business Times listed Nanga Parbat Pass as one of the top five deadliest roads in the world.

The ninth highest mountain in the world, Nanga Parbat, is only accessible by treacherous roads. Photo by Guilhem Vellut, cc.

North Yungas Road, Bolivia
The North Yungas Road (shown in the featured image) in Bolivia, more commonly known as “El Camino de la Muerte” (Road of Death), has been named the deadliest road in the world by the Inter-American Development Bank. Even with recent improvements of adding guardrails in areas and leveling out the road, this road still averages 200–300 deaths per year from cyclists not paying attention and getting too close to the edge, or even from entire buses tumbling over the edge. This road connects the capital La Paz to a smaller village Coroico, over 40 miles away. The road is extremely treacherous because it is so narrow (most of the road allows for only one car) and has no guard rails on the side—which leads to a cliff face dropping several hundred feet. Rain and fog often make the road impassable for commuters and drivers. For many years, locals used the road because it was the only road connecting the two cities. Today the road is still used by locals out of necessity; however, backpackers, mountain bikers, and tourists to Bolivia enjoy the challenge of hiking and biking the road.

Despite the difficulties, travelers still enjoy the challenge of uncharted territory—of tackling something they have never done before. They are able to do that on these (only three of many) dangerous roads. But what brings these adventurers? For many, it is the beautiful, awe-inspiring, and majestic view from the journey. For others it is simply the thrill of the ride and the desire to overcome their own fears by facing the danger head on.

—Torrey Best
Feature image courtesy of AHLN. cc