Continuing with our highly popular series, this issue will cover some hair-raising and simply not safe roads and tracks, most accompanied by breathtaking scenery (that is, if you'll be able to take your eyes off the road).
1. Stelvio Pass Road - redefining switchbacks
Height - 2757 meters
Location - in the Italian Alps, near Bormio and Sulden, 75 km from Bolzano, close to Swiss border. (The road connects the Valtellina with the upper Adige valley and Merano)
Claim to fame - "the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps, and the second highest in the Alps, after the Col de l'Iseran (2770 m)"
This road might not be as risky as the deadly routes in Bolivia, but it is certainly breathtaking. The tour books advise that the toughest and most spectacular climbing is from the Prato side, Bormio side approach is more tame. With 48 hairpins, this road is regarded as one of the finest continuous hairpin routes in the Alps.
The road itself is a marvel of engineering skill; the exhilarating serpentine sections ask to be driven by experienced motorists for their own sakes. All in all, this could be the most magnificent road pass in Europe.
"On the southern side the road worms its way up the immensely deep Braulio ravine, clinging from side to side and tunneling frequently, between towering rock walls, to the more open basin at the 4th Cantoniera, where the Umbrail Pass comes in from the left. From the junction to the summit is little more than a mile, the road winding more gently up 900 ft. of shaly slope, but still relatively viewless.
From the summit, where the famous Ortler view is suddenly revealed, the Trafoi windings lead down in face of superb views of peaks and glaciers to Trafoi, just below the tree line. The rest of the road, falling along the Trafoibach to the Adige levels in the main valley, is a pleasant descent with fine views ahead of the Zillertal (Austrian) peaks in the main Alpine chain." -- Hugh Merrick, "The Great Motor Highways of the Alps", 1958
Some will say that the hairpin road passes of Europe are quite safe to drive on. That may be so, but we think that the altitude, rockfall, snow and other unexpected road hazards (like inexperienced tourist drivers) make these routes "a little bit" more dangerous than your typical trip for groceries.
Italian Alps are rife with exhilarating switchback roads. Here is one at Fraele, near Isolaccia in Lombardy.
Slovenian Mountain Roads are even narrower, and less maintained, but no less spectacular. Witness Mangrt Mountain Road, with Brian Wilson's friend trying to navigate through snow. The road is a dead end, but traveled for the sheer scenery (click to enlarge):
We all know that the steep walls of fjords command an awesome view, like the one below. But when living in small towns and villages in the fjord country, you will need to use a car to get some groceries. This would mean driving on vertigo-inducing roads, honing your driving skills to perfection.
Trollstigen - the Troll Ladder
Trolls did not have cars, so they built a ladder to climb this mountain... Hordes of tourists, however, brave the 9 percent incline in their family sedans - to see a beautiful waterfall and an awesome view from the top. This being Norway, the safety record is pretty good, so book your flight and visit this incredible place.
The intense set of hairpin turns featured here belongs to the ancient Trollstigen road in the heart of Romsdal County of Norway, in the Rauma region. The road is very narrow with very few possibilities for cars to pass each other. There are frequent rockfalls in the area, so there have been some upgrades made to the road in 2005.
This is probably the most fun you can have on four wheels, and then on your two legs checking out various hiking trails leading from the area. In fact, this just might be the most breathtaking place in Europe (on par with Swiss Interlaken area). It all starts with the narrow road up the fjord's steep walls:
This is the Lysebotn Road in Lysefjord, Norway - complete with 27 switchbacks and a 1.1 kilometer long tunnel at the bottom, also with three switchbacks inside. Let one driver tell the story (courtesy Stefan Jonsson):
"The first half of this road was nothing too special, but then... then came the fun part! The last 30 km (18 miles) to Lysebotn were the most fun I have ever driven! This part of the road was a true roller-coaster! It was narrow but with a perfect surface, and you just sat there on the bike with a big smile on your face as you pushed on for some really active driving. Not a straight part of the road as far as you could see. It was up and down and left and right all the time! The road ends with a 27 hairpin serpentine road taking you from 1000 meters (3280 ft) above sea level down to Lysebotn and the Lysefjord. At the end of the serpentine road you go through a tunnel that screws itself 340 degrees through the mountain and as you come out of it (slightly dizzy) you have Lysebotn in front of you. If you ride a motorcycle in Norway, then this road is something you simply can not afford to miss!"
Amen to that, brother. This is the view 900 meters down, once you get on top:
So it only make sense to continue further - and hike to the most spectacular piece of rock in the Universe - Prekestolen, or the Pulpit Rock.
The Pulpit Rock Hike - if you fall, it's 1000 meters down
This place is indeed so spectacular, that we are going to write a special post about it. For now, just to give you a taste of some scenery - a few shots of people definitely having fun (not forgetting thousand-meter drops at every turn)
After a steep hike up (300 meters elevation gain), which should take about 2 hours for an inexperienced hiker, you get to stand on the "world class" photography attraction, the pedestal of truly spiritual proportions.
This stupendous trail will exceed your expectations for truly great hiking, if you don't slip on any boulders in some foolish jump for a picture. The fall is exactly one kilometer, almost enough time to grow wings.
We finish with the two scenarios which might not have a happy ending. At least I'd be surprised if they do.
UPDATE: The last picture is NOT Photoshop! This is a real drop, performed by the Russian dirt biker Ben de Roni (read more here) as part of the "Achtung 3" extreme biking video. Respect.
Here is another drop:
Send us pictures of your own road adventures and various dangerous routes - for the inclusion in the next part of the series!
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