How to

3 May 2016

5 Amazing Hiking Locations - Intermediate Edition

When you start really delving into hiking, you open up a whole new world of possibilities. It’s one thing to set off on the odd 1 or 2 day jaunt when you’re out on holiday, but when you start taking longer routes over more difficult terrain, when you start treating it more like a sport – things drastically change.

Suddenly, rather than simply seeking out the most recommended routes, you’re seeing parts of the landscape that other people don’t have the skill or expertise to access. You’re taking a calculated risk, and gaining a massive reward. Hiking becomes something beyond a holiday; it’s a self-contained pursuit, or even an expedition. That in mind, you can start really thinking about the far flung places in the world you want to visit, purely for the purposes of hiking.

All of the hikes on this list are ‘intermediate’ level; you’ll need to research all the appropriate gear. That might include crampons, ice axes and the know-how to use them properly. You’ll also need a guide unless otherwise stated.

Tsitsikamma Trail – South Africa

This 60m trek across the Eastern Cape is one of the most comprehensive ways to experience the diverse climate of South Africa. It’s also probably the easiest trek on this list. You can do it independently (and it’s popular enough that you’re extremely unlikely to get through it without encountering anyone else), and even arrange to have your gear transported between the huts you’ll be staying at as your traverse the route. It’s worth bearing in mind though that you have to pre-book the huts, so it’s worth looking into the best times to go in terms of how busy it gets.

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The route takes you from Nature’s Valley to the Storms River Bridge, taking 6 days all in all. Along the way you’ll pass through the Bloukrans Gorge, mountain fynbos and deep forest. There are good odds of seeing all kinds of amazing wildlife, up to and including leopards. You will be presented with some tough ascents along the way so be sure to wear grippy shoes, and definitely invest in a field guide so you don’t get turned around. If you can afford to get the porterage service for your gear, do so, it’s much easier to scramble about without 6 days of gear on your back.

El Circuito – Chile

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When most people think of Patagonia, they naturally think of Argentina, but it’s worth remembering that the region carries over into Chile, and some of the most amazing routes are there. El Circuito stretches on for 130km, takes around 10 days, and takes you all the way around the belt of the astounding Torres del Paine National Park. You can technically do this one independently but the risk of extreme cold, high wind and other adverse weather conditions mean that you’ll need to be more than an intermediate hiker to even consider that option.

With a guide, and the right gear (a tent in particular), it offers a tough but breath-taking journey around the park, passing granite spires, mirrored lakes and hulking glaciers. The altitude never gets above 1,200 meters, but you’re out in wilderness conditions for the better part of two weeks, which presents its own challenge. If you can handle that, it’s well worth doing.

Virgin Narrows – USA

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The Southwest of the United States houses an amazing expanse of natural beauty. Canyons, great plains, massive lakes and amazing coastal stretches are abundant. The Virgin Narrows is a slot canyon in Zion National Park, Utah. Towering spires of stone provide the frame for a vibrant garden pathway. This gorgeous 26km route takes you right through the heart of the canyon, intersecting at intervals with its namesake – the Virgin River.

The difficulty in this instance comes from the water, the river rises and falls seasonally and during some parts of the year, you can’t even go down there, owing to the risk of flash flooding. When you can get down there, going with a guide is essential, as they will know the safest crossing points during the moments when you do need to get through the water. Be sure to bring water-shoes, neoprene socks and other waterproof gear.

The South Downs Way – England

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The thing about hiking in England is, by comparison to the other countries on this list, it isn’t big. If you set off on a long route, you’re going to be passing through several different counties in the process and probably going from one end of a given region to the other, so best make the most of it. The South Downs Way takes you on a 160km route which has you following the Downs foothills, always keeping sight of the sea in the distance and the Weald below. This takes you past the Seven Sisters Hills, Beachy Head and past the Long Man of Wilmington hill figure. 

You don’t strictly need a guide for this one, there are plenty of well-marked camping routes along the way, but you’ll certainly need a printed field guide to get you from end to end, which should take 7-9 days, all told. You just need to be careful of the high winds, and if you take a route which leads you down into the Weald it can get very swampy, so make sure you know how to avoid the bogs.

Mount Kailash Circuit – Tibet

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If you’re in the market to clear a few skeletons out of your closet while you’re hiking, Kailash is the one for you. Legend has it that hiking around the mountain provides its own form of karmic realignment that can cleanse your soul of even a lifetime of sin. I can’t imagine what summiting it must do; maybe it gives you super powers. Nobody has ever done it, some think it’s impossible, but the Chinese government point blank refuse to let anyone even attempt it anyway.

That in mind, let’s focus on the thing you can do. You don’t get a choice on a guide with this one, it’s compulsory, and the full circuit will take your 4-5 days and about 52km. The highest crest you’ll pass is 5,200 meters, so be prepared to deal with some altitude adjustment. Along the way you’ll pass through several monasteries and likely encounter numerous pilgrims making the same trip to sanctify their souls. 

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.