By Julianne Wilhelm
At one time or another we’ve all found ourselves in dangerous road conditions, whether it be a nasty downpour, dodging those pop-up deer late at night, or even swatting away flying baby toys cascading from the back seat. Nothing though, compares to the extreme conditions that some of the world’s most dangerous roads present. Many have known death rates in the thousands. Some are only used by extreme thrill-seekers looking for a chance to flirt with fate. Others, while still dangerous, are also known for their intricate beauty…if you can look past the pile of car carcass looming over the edge down below.
North Yungas Road, Bolivia: If you ever work up the bravery to travel down this so-called, “road,” be prepared to dodge the hundreds of crosses marking the spots where vehicles have fallen, as if it wasn’t dangerous enough. It takes a lot to be more recognized as, “Death Road,” than its actual name, but the North Yungas Road has done exactly that. It’s narrow, unguarded pathways lead from La Paz to Coroico, Bolivia for a stretch of 40 miles with 1,000 foot descending drops. Death Road is known for its extreme danger; so much so that it was named, “World’s Most Dangerous Road” by the inter-American Development Bank in 1995. An estimated 300 people die each year from attempting to travel the constricted, winding paths. If you’re looking for a leisurely, lazy afternoon drive…you may want to drop in somewhere else.
The Russian Federal Highway, Russia: So forget the hope of beauty on this one. This world renowned road is not only one of the most dangerous in the world, but is definitely in the running for the ugliest. This muddy troublemaker is home to Russia, the Russian Federal highway, and connects Moscow to Yakutsk. Ironically, it is where the coldest temperature ever was recorded outside of Antarctica. But when those warm months of July and August come around, what was once skidded and scurried on from ice and slush, is now one, long slew of sinking sludge, causing car jams in the thousands. Anyone got a 4-wheeler?
The Guoliang Tunnel, China: Known by locals as, “a sculpture more than a means of transportation,” The Guoliang Tunnel draws a fine line between a mode of passage and a mode of picture-taking. Lying in the Taihang mountains in the Hunan Province of China, the road was built by local villagers, who decided a width of 12 feet would suffice all your travel needs. During the five years it took to build the tunnel, many villagers died in accidents during construction; whereby the remaining workers continued to work. The tunnel is lined with man-made, “windows.” Whether they were built for your scenic pleasure or to hurry you along and get on out…is unknown.
Sichuan-Tibet Highway, China – As if falling over the edge wasn’t dangerous enough, on China’s Sichuan-Tibet Highway, you have to look out above too. The number of deaths on this unguarded highway has nearly doubled in the past 20 years due to landslides and rock avalanches cascading down the monstrous mountain. The narrow roadway starts in Chengdu of Sichuan on the east and ends in Lhasa of Tibet on the west, stretching far for a fearful 2,412 kilometers. The highway winds and weaves through 14 different mountains and as long as you don’t take your eyes off the rigidy road for too long, you can enjoy some of China’s most extraordinary views. The road passes by numerous famous rivers and crosses through elaborate forests. You can even watch the seasons change from a warm, sensational spring to a chilly and windy winter.
Trollstigen, Norway: With an incline of nine percent, the Trollstigen road (The Troll Ladder) is one of the world’s steepest roads, along with being one of the most dangerous. The winding pathway leaves drivers grimacing as they slow on the breaks to spin around the 11 hairpin turns up the ascending roadway. Although the road has been said to be widened, cars and buses must pull over to let one another squeamishly squeeze by as they and get a too-close-for-comfort view of the daunting ground so many yards below. Once drivers reach the top of the mountain, they can park and (while breathing a sigh of relief) enjoy the scenery of the surrounding mountains which overlooks the stunning Stigfossen waterfall.
Whether you’re a thriving thrill seeker or a touring traveler just passing along, embrace those risky roads less traveled and remember – don’t look down!