How to

6 May 2016

5 Amazing Hiking Locations – Expert Edition

When you reach a higher level of experience, hiking morphs from something challenging into something which has the potential to really test you. You really are out in the wilderness, untethered, facing obstacles and risks that could place you in real danger if you’re not careful.

Preparation becomes an art form, risk of death becomes a serious consideration and weather conditions can spell disaster. You have officially traversed the gap from hobbyist to bona fide thrill-seeker. The rewards speak for themselves, you’re privy to sights that most people will only ever dream of seeing. So, accordingly, here are 5 of the most incredible, and most difficult hiking routes the planet has to offer.

All of the routes on this list are considered to be expert level. You’ll need all the proper gear, the knowhow to use it, extensive experience and first aid training. Do not attempt any of them unless you are absolutely certain that you’re cut out for it.

Cascade Saddle – New Zealand

Want to experience a portion of the journey the fellowship took in The Lord of the Rings? Well, the Cascade Saddle might be just the thing. To put into perspective just how punishing this route is, just think about this – it’s only 17km long, but it takes 2 full days to complete. It’s an alpine pass which runs between the West Matukituki and the Dart Valleys.

The views of the surrounding mountain range are incredible, as is the beech forest you have to pass through, but make no mistake, it’s a major undertaking. 12 people have died in the past few years, prompting the tightening of safety regulations, but if you’re equipped to handle it, it makes for a tough but rewarding segment of the wider voyage through the Dart Valleys.

Snowman Trek – Bhutan

From the short to the long, the legendary Snowman Trek takes you on a 320km route across the spine of the Himalayas between Bhutan and Tibet. It takes between 25 and 30 days, and you’ll reach altitudes in excess of 5000 meters at several stages. Along the way you pass through remote villages such as Laya and Thanza, and often you’ll be shadowed by some great, towering peak or another, including the highest unclimbed peak on the planet – Gangkar Puensum.

You cannot attempt the Snowman Trek without a guide, passage has to be booked, and for good reason. There’s no record of how many people have died on this route, but it’s not a small figure, and adverse weather conditions can, and often to force hikers to abandon the trek. Get the timing right though, and you’ll be able to travel through one of the most remote and astounding places in the world.

North Drakensberg Traverse – South Africa/Lesotho

Often billed as one of the greatest walks in the world, and featured on many a bucket list, the North Drakensberg trail is not to be scoffed at. A 65km, 6 day round trip, the route sends you around a loop set between Cathedral Peak and Mount-aux-Sources. The area is teeming with wildlife, and you’ll see a varied mixture of plains, gorges, cliff faces, waterfalls and caves.

The trail has you negotiating difficult climbs up dry rock and volcanic basalt, and the area is so remote that you have to be completely self-sufficient, you cannot ‘over-prepare’ for this one. The time frame for the trek is also very narrow, March to May. This is partially because of the heat later into the year, but also because of the risk of heavy rain.

Buckskin Gulch – USA

This 32km route is just as mean as the name suggests, but worth the trouble. If you’re visiting the Grand Canyon, you need only take a short trip north to reach this trail, which will take you through Wire Pass to the Paria river. Buckskin is probably the deepest slot canyon in the world, and the dark brushstroke patters of the stone, cut by millennia of rainfall are a marvel to behold.

Why so dangerous? Flash floods. Buckskin is a maze of high, narrow canyon walls, and when the rain comes, water can fill the alleys up to 20 meters in a matter of minutes. The gulch has yet to claim any lives, but there have been numerous close calls. Those interested in this amazing trail have to check the weather, and make sure that the likelihood of rain is as low as possible, and then be prepared for it anyway.

West Highland Way – Scotland

Many climbers try to conquer Ben Nevis every year, but the hiking route which leads up to it is just as astounding, as well as being far and away the most difficult long distance hiking trail in the UK. 154km over 6-8 days, starting from a granite obelisk in the middle of the town of a Milngavie and takes you all the way to the foot of the mountain, finishing at Fort William. Many hikers elect to actually climb Ben Nevis at the end, but nobody would blame you for being too wiped by that stage to attempt a summit.

Even without that, the views are utterly spectacular, giving you the best tour of the highlands imaginable. Why so hard? The weather, mainly, but on top of that, many of the paths are ancient, and fraught with obstacles and narrow sections. Summer can be just as unforgiving as winter, due to constant rainstorms and the presence of swarms of biting flies between May and August.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.