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.

Charge Your Gadgets Anywhere With This Pocket-Sized Folding Solar Panel

Solar Cru, YouTube
Solar Cru, YouTube

Portable power banks are great for charging your phone when you’re out and about all day, but even they need to be charged via an electrical outlet. There's only so much a power bank can do when you’re out hiking the Appalachian Trail or roughing it in the woods during a camping trip.

Enter the SolarCru—a lightweight, foldable solar panel now available on Kickstarter. It charges your phone and other electronic devices just by soaking up the sunshine. Strap it to your backpack or drape it over your tent to let the solar panel’s external battery charge during the day. Then, right before you go to bed, you can plug your electronic device into the panel's USB port to let it charge overnight.

It's capable of charging a tablet, GPS, speaker, headphones, camera, or other small wattage devices. “A built-in intelligent chip identifies each device plugged in and automatically adjusts the energy output to provide the right amount of power,” according to the SolarCru Kickstarter page.

A single panel is good “for small charging tasks,” according to the product page, but you can connect up to three panels together to nearly triple the electrical output. It takes roughly three hours and 45 minutes to charge a phone using a single panel, for instance, or about one hour if you’re using three panels at once. The amount of daylight time it takes to harvest enough energy for charging will depend on weather conditions, but it will still work on cloudy days, albeit more slowly.

The foldable panel weighs less than a pound and rolls up into a compact case that it can easily be tucked away in your backpack or jacket pocket. It’s also made from a scratch- and water-resistant material, so if you get rained out while camping, it won't destroy your only source of power.

You can pre-order a single SolarCru panel on Kickstarter for $34 (less than some power banks), or a pack of five for $145. Orders are scheduled to be delivered in March.

The Massive Elvis Festival That Rocks One Tiny Australian Town Every January

Ian Waldie/Getty Images
Ian Waldie/Getty Images

For one weekend each the year, Elvis Presley is alive and well in Parkes, Australia. The tiny town hosts the Parkes Elvis Festival during the second weekend of every January to mark the music legend's birthday on January 8. In 2019, the event attracted a record 27,000 guests to the showground—more than twice Parkes's usual population of 11,400, Smithsonian reports.

Elvis fans Bob and Anne Steel held the first-ever festival in 1993 at their restaurant, Gracelands. On top of being an excuse to throw a birthday party for their favorite celebrity, they set up the festival to draw tourists to Parkes during the region's brutally hot off-season. (During a record heat wave in January 2017, Parkes experienced a high temperature of 114.6°F.)

While the first festival lasted one night and had an attendance of just a few hundred people, it has since grown into a five-day affair with an international reputation. Visitors come from around the world to celebrate the music, fashion, and dance moves of The King. It's a large enough event that festival-goers have the option to travel to Parkes from Sydney via special trains dubbed the Blue Suede Express and the Elvis Express. On board, they're treated to the company of Elvis impersonators and performances by Elvis tribute artists for the six-hour journey.

Guests who made it to this year's Elvis Festival from January 9 to 13 took part in ukulele lessons, Elvis-themed bingo, "Elvis the Pelvis" dance sessions, and a Q&A with Elvis impersonators. This year's Northparkes Mines Street Parade, one of the festival's main events, included more than 180 floats, vintage vehicles, bands, and walking processions paying homage to the icon.

Competitions are usually a big part of the festival, with both Elvis Presley and Miss Priscilla look-alikes facing off on stage. This year, the "Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist' crown went to 22-year-old Brody Finlay, the youngest winner in the event's history.

Each year, the Elvis Presley festival returns to Parkes with a new theme, giving Elvis fans an incentive to keep coming back. This year, the theme "All Shook Up" celebrated the 1950s era. In 2020, festival organizers are preparing to celebrate the 1966 Elvis comedy Frankie and Johnny.

Can't make it to Australia? Grab a bite of Elvis at one of these American eateries inspired by The King.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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