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7 of the World's Most Terrifying Ladders

Do heights give you an adrenaline rush? To successfully scale one of these terrifying ladders, you'll need to possess a few key traits—namely fearlessness, grit, and in a few cases, straight-up masochism—in addition to sturdy shoes (if they're even allowed).

1. THE HALF DOME CABLE ROUTE IN CALIFORNIA'S YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

While climbing Half Dome—the famed granite dome at Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California—hikers have to watch their step while scaling the formation’s slick eastern slope. The climb’s last 400 feet takes visitors up sheer rock, with cable ladders bolted into the granite for support. Multiple individuals have died while attempting this climb during or after a storm, so make sure to only tackle it if weather conditions are dry. 

2. THE TRADITIONAL KNIFE LADDERS OF ZHONGTUAN, CHINA

miao performers on traditional knife ladder
China Photos /Getty Images

Every three years, villagers in Zhongtuan, in southeast China's Fujian Province, hold a harvest festival on the 15th day of the 10th lunar month. One traditional festival custom requires barefoot men to climb a ladder made of 36 sharpened blades, after being blessed by senior villagers. The first man to finish the treacherous climb sits on a chair at the top and hands out prizes to the others who reach the top. Meanwhile, other cultures around China reportedly have their own versions of the painful practice, including the Bai people of Yunnan Province, who climb knife ladders as a religious rite.

3. THE 'SKY LADDERS' OF ATULEER, CHINA

children climbing atuleer ladder
香港今昔, YouTube

Until recently, students in the tiny rural village of Atuleer, in China’s mountainous Sichuan province, had to climb down rickety "sky ladders"—a chain of 17 bamboo ladders affixed to a sheer, half-mile cliff—to attend a local school at the mountain’s base. In 2016, the state-run Beijing News ran a photo series of kids scaling the mountain, and reports surfaced that villagers had either died or been injured after falling from the ladders. Local government officials responded to the news by providing Atuleer’s residents with a sturdy steel ladder with handrails, which was completed in November 2016.

4. THE CHAIN LADDERS OF SOUTH AFRICA'S ROYAL NATAL NATIONAL PARK

Hike through Royal Natal National Park in the Northern Drakensberg, in South Africa, and you might be tempted to check out one of the region's most famous natural features: a dramatic rock wall called the Amphitheater, which stretches for roughly three miles and juts more than 1600 feet into the air. For an awe-inspiring view of the formation, visitors can tackle the so-called Chain Ladder Hike, a trail featuring rickety chain ladders that leads park-goers past the Tugela River and the world's second-tallest waterfall. This course requires hikers to shimmy up a sheer cliff face, so it isn't for the faint of heart. That said, they can also opt to travel along a safer route—a gully that leads to the mountain's top.

5. THE CABLE LADDERS OF GRAND CANARIA, IN SPAIN'S CANARY ISLANDS

woman climbing via ferrata on gran canaria

When mountain adventurers who visit the island of Gran Canaria, off the coast of Africa in Spain's Canary Islands, see the via ferrate—or cabled climbing routes—located across the mountainous region, they might be reminded of the Alps or the Dolomites, where via ferrate ("iron roads" in Italian) are more common. Here they can explore the volcanic region's dramatic peaks and caves on a series of protected climbing routes. Thin, slack cables are bolted to the rock so hikers can climb hand-over-hand to reach the rugged island's highest peaks.

6. THE LADDER LEADING TO THE TOP OF THE KATSKHI PILLAR IN THE REPUBLIC OF GEORGIA

Long ago, residents of the western Georgian region of Imereti are said to have believed that the Katskhi pillar—a limestone monolith that looms more than 131 feet above the village of Katskhi—represented a fertility god. In later years, the natural pillar became a symbol of Christianity, and two churches were constructed at its top. The ancient churches were likely built between the 6th and 8th centuries CE by the Stylites, an early group of Christian ascetics who worshipped atop pillars. The sites were just recently restored by a local monk, and those brave enough to climb a steep iron ladder running from the Katskhi pillar's base to its top can visit them—and the monk who lives there—while also taking in a wider view of the surrounding countryside.

7. MOUNT HUASHAN IN CHINA

China’s Mount Huashan—an important Taoist landmark located around 75 miles from the historical capital of Xi’an—has a 7000-foot-high cliffside trail leading visitors up towards the mountain's peaks. A particularly perilous stretch between the south and east peaks features a series of wooden planks bolted to the mountain—and hikers are required to wear safety harnesses while carefully inching their way along the narrow path. At the journey's end, they can soothe their nerves by visiting a sky-high teahouse perched atop the southern peak, or relax under a pavilion to take in the view.

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Chris Jackson, Getty Images
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environment
There's Only One Carbon Negative Country in the World (Here's How They Do It)
Chris Jackson, Getty Images
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

In 2017, the small nation of Bhutan became the first and only carbon negative country in the world. That's right: not carbon neutral, carbon negative.

In an article on the subject, the Climate Council—an independent, Australia-based nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public on matters related to climate change—defines carbon negative status as occurring when a country's carbon emissions are not only offset, but are actually in the negative due to the generation and exportation of renewable energy. There are several reasons for this impressive feat.

Bhutan—a small, landlocked country in the middle of the Himalayas—has a population of approximately 813,000 and produces 2.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. The country is 72 percent forest, and those forests trap more than three times their carbon dioxide output through a process called carbon sequestration, the long-term storage of carbon in plants, soil, and the ocean. This means that Bhutan is a carbon sink: It absorbs more carbon than it releases as carbon dioxide. Specifically, Bhutan is a carbon sink for more than 4 million tons of CO2 each year. In addition, the country exports most of the renewable electricity generated by its rivers, which is equivalent to 6 million tons of CO2.

Bhutan is also exceptionally environmentally friendly. This is partly because it takes a holistic view of development, measuring it with the Gross National Happiness Index instead of the Gross Domestic Product Index, like most countries. Instead of only prioritizing economic improvement, Gross National Happiness balances it with sociocultural and environmental improvement. The eco-conscious country invests in sustainable transport, subsidizes electric vehicles, and has an entirely paperless government.

Bhutan has pledged to remain carbon neutral for all time, and it's safe to say it's doing pretty well so far.

[h/t The Climate Council]

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History
How an Early Female Travel Writer Became an Immunization Pioneer
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu by A. Devéria
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu by A. Devéria

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was a British aristocrat, feminist, and writer who was famed for her letters. If that were all she did, she would be a slightly obscure example of a travel writer and early feminist. But she was also an important public health advocate who is largely responsible for the adoption of inoculation against smallpox—one of the earliest forms of immunization—in England.

Smallpox was a scourge right up until the mid-20th century. Caused by two strains of Variola virus, the disease had a mortality rate of up to 35 percent. If you lived, you were left with unsightly scars, and possible complications such as severe arthritis and blindness.

Lady Montagu knew smallpox well: Her brother died of it at the age of 20, and in late 1715, she contracted the disease herself. She survived, but her looks did not; she lost her eyelashes and was left with deeply pitted skin on her face.

When Lady Montagu’s husband, Edward Wortley Montagu, was appointed ambassador to Turkey the year after her illness, she accompanied him and took up residence in Constantinople (now Istanbul). The lively letters she wrote home described the world of the Middle East to her English friends and served for many as an introduction to Muslim society.

One of the many things Lady Montagu wrote home about was the practice of variolation, a type of inoculation practiced in Asia and Africa likely starting around the 15th or 16th century. In variolation, a small bit of a pustule from someone with a mild case of smallpox is placed into one or more cuts on someone who has not had the disease. A week or so later, the person comes down with a mild case of smallpox and is immune to the disease ever after.

Lady Montagu described the process in a 1717 letter:

"There is a set of old women, who make it their business to perform the operation, every autumn, in the month of September, when the great heat is abated. People send to one another to know if any of their family has a mind to have the small-pox: they make parties for this purpose, and when they are met (commonly fifteen or sixteen together) the old woman comes with a nuts-hell full of the matter of the best sort of small-pox, and asks what veins you please to have opened. She immediately rips open that you offer to her with a large needle (which gives you no more pain than a common scratch), and puts into the vein as much matter as can lye upon the head of her needle, and after that binds up the little wound with a hollow bit of shell; and in this manner opens four or five veins. . . . The children or young patients play together all the rest of the day, and are in perfect health to the eighth. Then the fever begins to seize them, and they keep their beds two days, very seldom three. They have very rarely above twenty or thirty in their faces, which never mark; and in eight days' time they are as well as before their illness."

So impressed was Lady Montagu by the effectiveness of variolation that she had a Scottish doctor who worked at the embassy, Charles Maitland, variolate her 5-year-old son in 1718 with the help of a local woman. She returned to England later that same year. In 1721, a smallpox epidemic hit London, and Montagu had Maitland (who by then had also returned to England) variolate her 4-year-old daughter in the presence of several prominent doctors. Maitland later ran an early version of a clinical trial of the procedure on six condemned inmates in Newgate Prison, who were promised their freedom if they took part in the experiment. All six lived, and those later exposed to smallpox were immune. Maitland then repeated the experiment on a group of orphaned children with the same results.

A painting of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu, and attendants
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu, and attendants
Jean-Baptiste Vanmour, Art UK // CC BY-NC-ND

But the idea of purposely giving someone a disease was not an easy sell, especially since about 2 or 3 percent of people who were variolated still died of smallpox (either because the procedure didn’t work, or because they caught a different strain than the one they had been variolated with). In addition, variolated people could also spread the disease while they were infectious. Lady Montagu also faced criticism because the procedure was seen as “Oriental,” and because of her gender.

But from the start, Lady Montagu knew that getting variolation accepted would be an uphill battle. In the same letter as her first description of the practice, she wrote:

"I am patriot enough to take pains to bring this useful invention into fashion in England; and I should not fail to write to some of our doctors very particularly about it, if I knew any one of them that I thought had virtue enough to destroy such a considerable branch of their revenue for the good of mankind. But that distemper is too beneficial to them, not to expose to all their resentment the hardy wight that should undertake to put an end to it. Perhaps, if I live to return, I may, however, have courage to war with them."

As promised, Lady Montagu promoted variolation enthusiastically, encouraging the parents in her circle, visiting convalescing patients, and publishing an account of the practice in a London newspaper. Through her influence, many people, including members of the royal family, were inoculated against smallpox, starting with two daughters of the Princess of Wales in 1722. Without her advocacy, scholars say, variolation might never have caught on and smallpox would have been an even greater menace than it was. The famed poet Alexander Pope said that for her, immortality would be "a due reward" for "an action which all posterity may feel the advantage of," namely the "world’s being freed from the future terrors of the small-pox."

Variolation was performed in England for another 70 years, until Edward Jenner introduced vaccination using cowpox in 1796. Vaccination was instrumental in finally stopping smallpox: In 1980, it became the first (and so far, only) human disease to be completely eradicated worldwide.

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