USA TODAY - As outdoors people with adventurous spirits, we're all pretty
familiar with hairy driving situations. After all, many of our favorite
playgrounds - whitewater rapids, surf breaks, backcountry campsites,
even ski resorts - are in remote or hard-to-access places. They are
down high-clearance 4WD tracks, at the bottom of steep gorges or, in
winter, on the far side of avalanche-prone mountain passes.
fact, many of what we consider the most dangerous roads are in
mountains. Want to go climbing, snowboarding or whitewater kayaking?
Chances are, you're headed into those great big, unavoidable wrinkles in
the earth's topography. Modern road construction technology, including
tunnels, guardrails, retaining walls and switchbacks (a hazard in their
own right), help eliminate some of the most hazardous conditions. Still,
in less developed places -- the remote Andes and Himalayas, for example
-- unprotected, cliff-hugging roads are still a reality. And, in the
end, no technology can account for the freak storms and dangerous
conditions on 10,000-plus-foot mountain passes.
situations, we have rock-steady off-road adventure vehicles. These are
powerful trucks and SUVs that can seemingly drive over any obstacle,
power through any swollen stream or snowdrift, and then winch themselves
out on the off chance that they get stuck.
some cases, though, it's more that just topography that makes a road
dangerous. Some pass through war-torn countries, others are plagued by
bandits and still more of our favorite adventure destinations are just
too far North, where the roads are a frozen mess three-quarters of the
year and a muddy quagmire the for the rest.
environments of our vehicles -- especially when contrasted against the
unforgiving environments of the great outdoors -- all too often give us a
false sense of security. These roads are here to remind you that you're
never really in control. But that's half of what makes it an adventure.
us for a white-knuckle ride on 12 of the world's scariest roads that
traverse adventurous destinations from Alaska to Afghanistan. By the
time you're done, perhaps you'll consider flying.
The Death Road, Bolivia
Old Yungas Road is a winding, 40-mile-long stretch that links the high
Andean capital city of La Paz to Coroico, 11,500 feet below in the
Amazon basin. Hundreds of rickety trucks, cars and buses -- including
one carrying 100-plus passengers -- have misjudged its sharp turns over
the years, plunging over the guardrail-free cliffs into the canyon
below. Even though new construction bypasses one of the most treacherous
sections and its steep hills have become a tourist attraction for
adventurous mountain bikers, the so-called "Death Road" still kills more
than 100 people each year.
The Million Dollar Highway, Colorado
Colorado's Million Dollar Highway is, for much of its length, an
idyllic, breathtakingly beautiful alpine road that connects Durango to
Ouray via three 10,000-plus-foot mountain passes. But the 12 miles south
of Ouray -- particularly for Durango-bound drivers, who are exposed to
the unprotected cliffsides -- are steep, twisting and completely
unforgiving of driver error. Originally hand-carved by Russian immigrant
Otto Mears in the 1880s, the modern highway remains open through the
slip-and-slide snowy months (pictured). As the locals say, though, you'd
have to "pay me a million dollars" to drive that stretch in the snow.
serpentine "Troll's Way" winds through 11 hairpin turns at grades of up
to 9 percent on its way up to a 2,790-foot mountain pass. Try not to be
distracted by the 1,050-foot Stigfossen waterfall that tumbles down
alongside the route and into the valley far below.
Federal Highway 1, Mexico
only road to link the far-flung towns and villages of Mexico's
sun-baked Baja Peninsula is this narrow, two-lane byway. Shared by
freight trucks, oversized RVs and, well, almost every single vehicle on
this 1,000-mile-long peninsula, it can get downright hairy, particularly
where it twists through the mountains and hugs the coastline between
hillsides and sea. Accidents are common and, in many places, guardrails
are split open where previous drivers have missed their turns.
Guoliang Tunnel, China
treacherous road was carved into the cliffside to connect the
mountaintop village of Guoliang with the rest of civilization
(previously, the only access was via a steep stairway called the "Sky
Ladder"). After years of their pleas for a road falling on deaf
government ears, local villagers took matters literally into their own
hands and hand-carved a 0.75-mile tunnel that's 16 feet tall and 13 feet
wide. The roadway twists, turns and dips unpredictably, as might be
expected of a DIY project, and is only wide enough for a very slow,
careful passing of oncoming traffic.
Highway of Death, Iraq
a given that many Iraqi roads are dangerous as of late, littered as
they are with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) originally intended
for American troops and their allies. But one stretch of Highway 80,
from Kuwait City to Basra, was dubbed the "Highway of Death" during the
Persian Gulf War after U.S. aircraft bombed a retreating column of Iraqi
tanks and trucks, destroying 2,700 vehicles in all. Death toll
estimates range from 300 up to 10,000 in the attack, which occurred just
days before the war ended.
The Trans-Siberian Highway, Russia
Russian Federal Highway system stretches thousands of miles across
Siberia's boreal forests and frozen steppes, linking Moscow to, at its
farthest reaches, Yakutsk (which, with its average January temp of
-37ºF, is the coldest city on Earth). During the 10-month-long winter,
these highways are rerouted across frozen lakes and rivers and are
bedeviled by mountainous snowdrifts, whiteout conditions and, of course,
bone-chilling, engine-seizing cold. And it's no better in July and
August, when the 700-mile-long unpaved Lena Highway to Yakutsk turns
into a traffic-choked mud wallow.
Luxor-al-Hurghada Road, Egypt
180-mile route from Egypt's Red Sea diving resort of Hurghada to the
Nile-side city of Luxor doesn't look treacherous at all. In fact, the
modern highway runs pretty straight across the flat, wide-open terrain.
But topography's not the challenge here. At night, bandits and
terrorists are known to prey upon defenseless motorists, reportedly
prompting those unlucky enough to be caught out after sunset to speed
across the pitch-black desert with their headlights turned off.
Collisions, as you can imagine, are common.
The Karakoram Highway, Pakistan
Karakoram Highway, which links China and Pakistan over the 15,400-foot
Khunjerab Pass, winds through some spectacular gorges along the route of
the old Silk Road. The international "Friendship Highway," which isn't
even paved on the Pakistani side, is so unstable and prone to flash
floods that almost 900 workers died during its construction, mostly
crushed by landslides. For bonus points, take the Fairy Meadows spur to
the base of Nanga Parbat.
The James Dalton Highway, Alaska
famous by the reality TV series Ice Road Truckers, Alaska's 414-mile
James Dalton Highway is the only land link between the Arctic Sea oil
fields and, well, civilization. Truck traffic picks up during the long,
dark winter, when Arctic winds batter the highway and 12% grades turn
into treacherous miles-long Slip'N Slides. During the summer, beware the
rocks and dust kicked up by the speeding trucks, and keep a close eye
on your gas gauge: services out here are nearly nonexistent.
Stelvio Pass, Italy
takes 48 hairpin turns for this road to climb through gorgeous alpine
scenery on its way to the second highest paved pass in the Alps, the
9,045-foot Stelvio Pass. Don't spend too much time taking it all in, or
you're sure to miss one of the 180-degree corners. Located in northern
Italy's Ortler Alps, this is the highest pass traversed by any cycling
Grand Tour. And on one day each August, the pass is closed to vehicle
traffic, so thousands of cyclists can put their lungs and legs to the
ultimate test. On the way down, navigate another 38 hairpins and hope
your brakes hold.
Kabul-Jalalabad Highway, Afghanistan
more dangerous than driving through Taliban territory? Driving through
it along the 40-mile stretch of road that squeezes through the Kabul
Gorge from Jalalabad to the capital city of Kabul. There, the insurgency
is perhaps trumped by opium-crazed Afghan drivers who recklessly -- and
blindly -- try to pass the lumbering freight trucks that crawl up the
narrow mountain passes.
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