More Bucket Lists

Bucket List Hikes. We’re always on the lookout for them.

It’s amazing how many lists there are of “Great Treks” floating around on the internet. A Google search on the term “Best treks in the world” returned 10,600,000 results. Of course, a search for “Best cakes in the world” returned 340,000,000 results. That’s Google for ya.

The number of REAL sites purporting to list great treks is of course not anywhere near that great a number…but it is still hundreds, maybe thousands.

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Most widely popular lists of great treks include the Inca Trail…but not the Santa Cruz Trek, which we consider superior.

On the other hand is no surprise at all that the vast majority of these sites are awful. Mostly these are ‘content recycling’ sites…it’s just the same few places being regurgitated again and again, by people who have NO idea what are talking about, and might never have ventured farther afield then the top of their driveway.

You have to sort through a lot of dross to find the good ones. Fortunately, there are some out there that are both reliable and very good.

Here’s three I have bookmarked and continually refer to as resources.

Wikiexplora

One of the best sites for Hiking and Trekking resources is Wikiexplora. The site is presented in Spanish but can easily be rendered into English.

Wikiexplora is NOT to be confused with Wikiexplorer, the Wikipedia Android App.

Intended as a catalog of Latin American hikes, treks and mountaineering routes, the site also has an excellent list of the Best Treks in the world…A Bucket List of of Bucket Lists, basically. It’s a good one.

Not surprisingly, it considers the top two hikes in the world to be in Latin America. 😊

However, it should also be noted that the entirety of the list is very well balanced. Four of the top ten are from Asia…every continent except Antarctica is represented. I mean…it’s not like they’re the only ones who think the Inca Trail is great.

Of their list of top ten hikes, we have completed one together; Brian completed yet another in his single guy days; two others are on our Bucket list, and a further two or three others COULD be considered on the Bucket List. (The Routeburn Track, for example, would be our top choice for a Great Walk of New Zealand.)

They have the Inca Trail second (behind only Torres del Paine.) We are typically skeptical of any list of “Great Hikes” that puts the Inca Trail at or near the top by default. Most knowledgeable trekkers do NOT consider any of the Inca Trail variants to be the BEST overall hike in Peru, let alone all of South America. But it’s very famous, and people expect to see it near the top of the list. And most times, the people get what they want.

In fact, the Inca Trail is one of several “Bullsh-t List” indicators that quickly tell us the people doing the research might not be real hikers at all, and probably haven’t done any of the treks themselves…they are just browsing through lists on the internet or flipping through coffee table books looking at the pictures. Others BSL litmus test indicators include the Camino del Santiago, the Lycean Way, the West Highlands Way, Cinqe Terre and – sorry about this dudes – the Appalachian Trail.

The Wikiexplora Top Ten also includes Kilimanjaro, which has not made it onto our Bucket List yet, though it might someday. Our failed summit attempt on Misti has soured Brian for the time being on 19,000 foot volcanoes. In fact, if Brian had to summit one volcano in Africa, it would probably be the much less traveled Mt. Kenya.

Wikiexplora also includes two hikes in Pakistan. While undoubtedly spectacular, we are unconvinced that Pakistan is a safe place for westerners to hike at this time.

We do have some issues with the way the Wikiexplora list was chosen. They rely on an aggregate of ten popular catalogs of the world’s great walks and ‘experiences’ (many of which are in fact coffee table books) and boiled these down into a single weighted average. The resulting list has the advantage of being from authoritative sources who obviously have done a lot of walking.

But it also assumes that the makers of the source lists are trying to compile definitive lists rather than sell books. As stated earlier, people expect to see the Inca Trail, Mount Everest and the Grand Canyon somewhere in a list of cool places to visit; if they don’t see what they expect, the book loses credibility with them and they may not buy. So, every one of those books will make absolutely sure to include the Inca Trail. But treks which are less well known outside the international trekking circle can be ignored with relative impunity.

Thus, picture books made for public consumption are inevitably weighted toward the most popular (and most photographed) hikes. And so is any list derived from them.

However, if you got those same authors in a room together, gave them some notebooks, pencils, and a few beers, and get them swapping stories of the trail, I guarantee you would have a VERY different list by day’s end.

I would personally like to see Wikiexplora introduce some other analytical component into their list just so it isn’t skewed exclusively toward the coffee table books market.

Wikiexplora’s list is certainly is not ours, but it’s not a bad one either. We take exception to one or two of the choices but many more are right on the money. I have seen a few better…but many, many worse.

Be sure to check out Wikiexplora’s section on South American Treks, though…for which it is the definitive authority. Some of the articles don’t translate too well into Anglo (everyone knows the AT runs from Georgia to main, right?) but it’s definitely a very comprehensive site for all trekking south of the Panama Canal. It even gives a breakdown of the hikes in units of effort known as Dopihoras.

We’ll certainly use Wikiexplora for many of our future expeditions in South America.

Walkopedia

Another great Bucket List site is Walkopedia. It strives to be exactly what its name implies…an encyclopedia of the world’s great walks.

Walkopedia has been around a while, and its design is a bit antiquated, but it is still a VERY good source of info for hikes, especially long-distance treks of the Bucket List Variety. It includes a very far-ranging a list called the Walkopedia Top 100, from which is derived a top ten. It’s an informed, ambitious and somewhat eccentric list…quite interesting reading.

One of the things we like about William MacKesy’s site is, he doesn’t ignore ANY type of hike, even the most obscure. His list of hikes contains walks from all points of the six inhabited continents including many that aren’t mentioned almost anywhere else. The Hajar Mountains of Oman? The Accursed Mountain of Albania? Torajaland? I dare you to even find that on a map. This guy has been to some out of the way places.

The Walkopedia Top Ten is not entirely unlike Wikiexplora’s. Once again, the Inca Trail appears way up at number two. They also include four hikes in the Himalaya region of mainland Asia (and one in the Middle East) plus one hike in Africa (eclectic Drakensberg replaces usual suspect Kilimanjaro.) And once again, the Grand Canyon leads the US delegation, this time joined by the Utah “Canyonlands.” (It doesn’t specify a single hike in this enormous area.)

Mr. MacKesy states in his biography section that he lived in Hong Kong for a decade. Perhaps this contributed to his decision to place a Tibetan Hike as his number one overall. Many westerners (including myself) would be skeptical about travelling into the hinterlands of a totalitarian country like China, especially one with such a reputation of hostility to foreigners.

Walkopedia is a UK based site and we feel it is somewhat Anglo-centric, but that’s fine by us. In fact, we think there’s nothing at all wrong with celebrating your own land of origin, so long as it doesn’t get completely in the way of your objectivity. Walkopedia’s list maintains its integrity in this respect.

One of the things we do take exception to, however, is the sites rating system for hikes. In fact, while we defer to the exceptionally well-traveled MacKesy’s in almost every other respect, we feel the Walkopedia ratings system, which seeks to be impartial and fair, in fact is quite biased and suspect.

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While we loved Colca Canyon, we don’t it rate above the Santa Cruz Trek or the John Muir Trail. But Walkopedia does.

For example, only two of Peru’s great treks are listed in the top 100, with many of the most celebrated treks rating below things that appear somewhat pedestrian by comparison. The undoubtedly fine Yorkshire Dales is rated above the epic Huayhuash Trek. Bucolic English countryside over the best the Andes has to offer? A curious decision.

Another example…the US (apart from the Southwest) and Canada fair quite poorly on his list. Why? Well, apparently – and I am NOT joking – there is just TOO much wilderness.

Not by any means to belittle the GC, which we love (Brian has been there three times, hiked across it in 2003, AND proposed to his wife on the rim.)  But there is SERIOUS competition: The Colorado Trail, Wonderland Trail, Sunshine to Assiniboine, Lake Berg, Lake O’Hara, Skyline Trail of Jasper, Glacier North Traverse, West Coast Trail, Chilkoot Trail, Cirque of the Towers, Titcomb Basin, Mount Whitney, The Rae Lakes Loop, Mount St. Helens, the Teton Crest Trail, the Enchantments Traverse…The Grand Canyon deserves obvious consideration with any of these titans of the West, but is there a consensus that this is the big one? I cannot see that there is.

In fact, if there IS a consensus about one trail, it is this one.

Walkopedia does not consider the John Muir Trail worthy of the Top Hundred worldwide. Um, William…what’s up with that? And what’s up with having NO trails from Australia/New Zealand in the upper half of the Top Hundred?

We feel Walkopedia’s rating system is flawed. It uses a category-based system which assigns certain a number of points to each hike for several categories such as ‘beauty’ ‘charisma’ and ‘human interest.’  The idea is, no ONE factor is important in making a trail rate well, all together do; thus, a great hike is one that scores highest in ALL categories, and thus has the broadest appeal to all types of hikers.

So far so good…but the problem comes when they put it all together. Instead of weighting the factors, Walkopedia just adds them up and then subtracts a few points for a handful of detrimental factors. The result is a list totally biased in favor of ‘cultural’ hikes to a degree that is entirely inconsistent with the collective opinion of the outdoor recreational community.

For example, Berg Lake is assigned zero points for ‘human interest.’ This is correct as far as it goes, it’s a wilderness. But that’s also entirely unfair. Effectively, you are penalizing a hike 20 points – one fifth of its potential value – simply for being in pristine wilderness.

On the other hand, Hadrian’s Wall rates a whopping 18 points on the ‘human interest’ scale…again, it’s a correct assessment as far as it goes, Hadrian’s Wall is a pre-Christian artifact and it cuts through charming English countryside. The result is a dubious conclusion at best…a walk in the English Countryside blows away one of the acknowledged gems of the Canadian Rockies.

The Walkopedia system actually goes out of its way to penalize wilderness hiking (and the authors state as much in their explanation of the rating system.) This is an unfortunate decision. Ideally, Walkopedia should have attempted to balance the weights of its different categories…to give and take points for human and cultural interest while giving and taking points for wild, unspoiled character. Instead, the system considers the very wildness of a place to be an actual hindrance to the hiker.

We further do not agree at all with his assessment that wilderness backpacking is a “specialist occupation.” If that’s true, the backcountry of the US National Parks would seem to be teeming with specialists. It’s an almost absurd statement. The backpacking community has consistently voted with its feet in favor of wilderness.

But my intent here is certainly not to bash the list…we respectfully disagree with its rating system, but as a catalog of the worlds great walks, it has few equals. We have and will continue to use it as a reference point for the world’s great walks.

Lonely Planet

Another compilation of great walks is that of Lonely Planet, that popular cataloger of the world’s most celebrated places. Partly because of them, the most scenic and pristine parts of Planet Earth are no longer Lonely places. 😊

Lonely Planet is among the best trekking guide book presses in the world (Cicerone is better but doesn’t cover all places) and probably the BEST travel guide publisher, all around.

Their ten best treks list is NOT unlike those offered by Wikiexplora and Walkopedia…wanna guess what finishes second on ALL THREE lists? 😊

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If there’s a Lonely Place on Earth, this ain’t it.

In fact, we detect a pattern. Here’s the number of hikes per land mass…

Continent                    WikiExplora   Walkopedia    Lonely Planet

Asia                                          4                      5                      3

North America                       1                      2                      1

South America                       2                      1                      1

Europe                                    1                      1                      2

Africa                                      1                      1                      1

Australia/Oceana                  1                      0                      2

Not ONE hike in Canada between them all, by the way. Tough for a Maple Leaf to get loved around here, eh?

We do not think that this weighting is unfair, by the way. I don’t think anyone questions that the premier hiking destination on Earth is the Himalayas…they alone would propel Asian to the top of the list.

Lonely Planet considers the Corsican GR20 to be the top hike on Earth. An eclectic, but by no means far-fetched, choice; many authorities on the subject do in fact think that this rugged trek is the best in Europe. Many also consider it is the toughest hike in Europe you can do without technical gear. That’s one reason we have not put it on our Bucket List…yet.

Odd that everyone picked the same destination in South America, but everybody picked a different destination in Africa. LP goes with Pays Dogon, another eclectic choice.

LP is the only list that places two hikes in Oceana. Interesting that NONE of the three sources went for the Milford Track. Once, it was hands down the most popular trek in this part of the world, but a consensus seems to be forming that the Routeburn, Tongariro and Lake Arthur Treks surpass it. It may be a victim of its own popularity.

A consensus also seems to have formed that the Walkers Haute Route (On the LP and Wikiexplora lists, as well as our Bucket list) also surpasses the Tour du Mont Blanc. Of course, part of the reason for this is the TMB has also become a victim of its own much-celebrated grandeur and is now quite crowded.

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Most authorities now rank the less crowded Walker’s Haute Route above Tour du Mont Blanc,

When it comes to adventure travel, you can’t get much more authoritative than Lonely Planet. And that’s why we take this list seriously.

Our main issue with the Lonely Planet list? Well, it was slapped together in 2012, hasn’t been updated since, and frankly we have no idea how they came up with it. In fact, there’s reason to suspect they simply conjured up the list up on the fly to meet an editorial deadline. 😊 It’s a good list, but one that any reasonably intelligent bunch of people with access to the internet might come up with. There’s no evidence they polled their writing staff, for example, or examined the subject in any comprehensive way.

We may disagree with the methodologies of Wikiexplora and Walkopedia, but they at least publish methodologies. They rank a large number of the world’s hikes and offer explanations as to why it is certain ones stand out. You can agree or not as you like, but there is a frame of reference.

Lonely Planet offers no explanation, so there is no basis for the claims they make. Why Lake Arthur? Why the Corsican GR20? Why the Narrows? Why is it BETTER than, say, Mt. Whitney? It’s also easy to suspect that, being a travel services site, their list was made to promote the venues they support.

Is there a good reason that half their hikes are located in the white, western-speaking world? Seven of ten treks on the other lists are outside the western world. Lonely Planet makes guides and offers travel services for MANY places…but might they have consciously neglected those places they don’t make guides for?

What we would love is for somebody to come up with an informed consensus list of the best treks on Earth. It’s surprising how few REALLY good lists like these there are.

Hhmmm…maybe we’ll have to come up with one ourselves. Meanwhile, we’ll keep looking for more lists! If you know of one that you trust and use, drop us a line!

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2 thoughts on “More Bucket Lists

  1. For all of the trekking, I wish I was younger and fitter again. Never-the-less I am on my way traveling again in November [2018] to South America [already done day hikes; Torres del Paine, Fitz Roy/Laguna de los Tres, Cerro Torre, Glaciar Huemul].
    In my younger days, I did a few in Tasmania [Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park], New Zealand [Abel Tasman National Park – nice & quiet in 1981] and South Africa [Tsitsikamma National Park – excellent in 1984], USA [11 National Parks]. Keep up the great [collecting & documenting] work.

    Like

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