The peaks in the Ausangate mountain region of the Peruvian Andes are all uncommonly colored: Some are terra cotta, some lavender, others are a vibrant turquoise. They’re colored by the sediment and atmosphere of the area, unique because of its altitude and isolation close to the ocean. But none are quite so marvelous as Vinicunca, also known as Rainbow Mountain.
For all its striking colors, Rainbow Mountain is notoriously hard to find. It’s located deep in the mountain range, and even the most adept travelers with highly experienced guides have reported difficulty locating it. At the quickest, it takes six days of hiking to reach its peak.
To be sure, those who love hiking will enjoy the journey; the Ausangate trek is one of the most popular among visitors to Peru. There are hot springs, local villages and vendors, stunning views of the Ausangate Glacier, and llamas and alpacas along the way. And nothing caps off almost a week of trekking like a visit to this breathtaking painted mountain.
There is now a road leading to the mountain. The trek to the summit can now be done in a couple of hours. While the hike is not long the altitude can cause problems for those not used to it. A horse and guide can be rented for around 50 to 100 soles.
The earth pyramids in Platten, known as the Erdpyramiden von Platten or Erdpyramiden bei Oberwielenbach in the original German are both hidden and wondrous. Initially formed hundreds of years ago by massive storms, these stunning geological aberrations shift and alter with the changing of the seasons to this day, as the temperature moves between the extremes. Many of the spires even sport small boulders balanced on their pinnacles. Some of the spires disappear from time to time, but more eventually appear.
While they look not unlike some sort of massive earthen art installation, the pyramids are completely natural. In contrast to the lush greenery all around them, the pyramids stand out even more, made of light colored sand and rock. Even from the air, they pop out like a white blotch in a field of green trees.
Surprisingly, these are not the only earth pyramids in Europe, but they are some of the most jaw-dropping. They might look like they are from Mars, but they are just over in Italy.
Located at a distance of 30 km from Leh city on the Leh-Kargil Highway is a small stretch of road that defies the phenomenon of gravity. The reason is the magnetic hill that pulls stationary vehicles upwards. Famous as the Magnetic Hill in Ladakh, it is a major tourist attraction in the valley and a perfect pit-stop for tired riders moving on the highway.
The strange world that we live in, there are plenty of theories backing this strange wonder of nature. All of them propose a different logic and are backed by strong reasoning, barring superstitions like ‘the magnetic road is a straightaway to heaven’. Here’s a look at what each of these beliefs and theories have to say.
The superstition – Villagers residing in Ladakh believe that there once existed a road that led people to heaven. Those who rightly deserved were pulled to the path directly while those who didn’t deserve could never make it there.
The magnetic force theory – Next comes a sensible theory, which is also the most widespread. It states that there is a strong magnetic force emanating from the hill that pulls vehicles that are within its range.
The strange occurrence on the Leh-Kargil highway has been experienced and testified by travelers from across the world. As a matter of fact, the notorious hill has caused planes of Indian Air Force to divert their route in the past to avoid magnetic interference on them.
The optical illusion theory – Another widely accepted theory says that the hill is no source of magnetic force, rather it’s just an optical illusion that makes the downslope of the road leading to the Magnetic Hill in Ladakh, India look like an upslope. So, when you see the vehicle going uphill, it is actually going downhill.
Sitting pretty at an altitude of 14,000 feet, Magnetic Hill is located on the Leh-Kargil-Baltic National Highway in the Trans-Himalayan region. Sindhu river flows to the east of Magnetic Hill and makes the surrounding a picture perfect frame.
Blessed with amazing natural beauty and mysterious magnetic abilities, the magnetic road in Ladakh is where travelers stop by to experience the strange, gravity-defying phenomenon. A yellow box marked on the magnetic road, few meters away from the Magnetic Hill road, Ladakh indicates that the vehicle must be parked in neutral gear.
It is from here that the vehicle starts to move at a speed close to 20 kmph. By now, several curious travelers have recorded and uploaded magnetic hill road, Ladakh online for everyone to see! So, is the magnetism really this strong at Magnetic Hill in Ladakh? Or it is just a mind-blowing illusion? Let’s look at both possibilities!
Mount Roraima (in the Pemón language Roraima tepui, Roroi means “blue-green” and ma means “great”, tepuimeans “house of spirits”) is one of the 115 tepuis in the Gran Sabana. It is the highest of the Pakaraima chain of tepui plateau in South America and includes the triple border point of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana. Mount Roraima lies on the Guiana Shield in the southeastern corner of Venezuela's 30,000 km² Canaima National Park forming the highest peak of Guyana's Highland Range. The tabletop mountains of the park are considered some of the oldest geological formations on Earth, dating back to some two billion years ago in the Precambrian.
The mountain's highest point is Maverick Rock, 2810 m, and its 31 km² summit area is defended by 400-metre-tall cliffs on all sides. The landscape on the high table is a rock labyrinth with many gorges – sometimes several hundred feet deep – no flat plateau, as was previously thought. The climate is humid and tropical at the bottom (~30°C), while on top of the plateau it is rather moderate (~10°C) with different weather conditions. It rains almost every day of the year.
Many of the species found on Roraima are unique to the plateau. On top of the mountain grow various types of forests with a wide variety of orchid, bromeliad, and carnivorous plant species. The animal diversity consists of insects, birds, toads and also small reptiles and mammals like mices. Reports of the famous South American explorer Sir Robert Hermann Schomburgk inspired the English country doctor Arthur Conan Doyle a novel, The Lost World(1912) about the discovery of a living prehistoric world of dinosaurs and prehistoric plants.
Since long before the arrival of European explorers, the mountain has held a special significance for the indigenous people of the region, and it is central to many of their myths and legends. The Pemón and Kapon natives of the Gran Sabana see Mount Roraima as the stump of a mighty tree that once held all the fruits and tuberous vegetables in the world. Felled by Makunaima, their mythical trickster, the tree crashed to the ground, unleashing a terrible flood. The local Indians never attempted to climb the Roraima tepui.
The Eisriesenwelt (German for "World of the Ice Giants") is a natural limestone and ice cave located in Werfen, Austria, about 40 km south of Salzburg. The cave is inside the Hochkogel mountain in the Tennengebirge section of the Alps. It is the largest ice cave in the world, extending more than 42 km and visited by about 200,000 tourists every year.
The Tennengebirge mountains were formed during the late Tertiary period, during the Würm glaciation period of the Pleistocene. The mountain range, one of the massifs in the Austrian Alps, is the largest karst plateauin the Salzburger Alps, and the Eisriesenwelt is located at the rim of this plateau. Although the cave has a length of 42 km, only the first kilometer, the area that tourists are allowed to visit, is covered in ice. The rest of the cave is formed of limestone.
Eisriesenwelt was formed by the Salzachriver, which eroded passageways into the mountain. The ice formations in the cave were formed by thawing snow which drained into the cave and froze during winter.
Since the entrance to the caves is open year-round, chilly winter winds blow into the cave and freeze the snow inside. In summer, a cold wind from inside the cave blows toward the entrance and prevents the formations from melting.
The first official discovery of Eisriesenwelt was by Anton Posselt, a natural scientist from Salzburg, in 1879, though he only explored the first two hundred meters of the cave. Before his discovery, the cave was known only to locals, who, believing that it was an entrance to Hell, refused to explore it. In 1880, Posselt published his findings in a mountaineering magazine, but the report was quickly forgotten.
Alexander von Mörk [de], a speleologist from Salzburg, was one of the few people who remembered Posselt's discovery. He led several expeditions into the caves beginning in 1912, which were soon followed by other explorers. Von Mörk was killed in World War I in 1914, and an urn containing his ashes is inside a niche in the cave. In 1920, a cabin for the explorers, Forscherhütte, was built and the first routes up the mountain were established. Tourists began to arrive soon after, attracted by the cave's sudden popularity. Later another cabin, the Dr. Oedl House, and paths from Werfen and Tänneck were constructed.
In 1955 a cable car was built, shortening the 90-minute climb to 3 minutes. Today the Eisriesenwelt cave is owned by the National Austrian Forest Commission [de], which has leased it to the Salzburg Association of Cave Exploration since 1928. The Forest Commission still receives a percentage of the entrance fees.
The cave is open from May 1 to October 26 every year. Its operating hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in July and August and 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in May/June and September/October. Temperatures inside the cave are usually below freezing, and warm clothing is recommended. Photography is not permitted once visitors are inside the cave.
The tour begins at the entrance to the cave, and continues inwards to Posselt Hall, a large room with a stalagmite called Posselt Tower in the centre. Past the Posselt Tower, one encounters an ashen cross on the wall of the cave, marking the farthest point of exploration of Anton Posselt. From there one can see the Great Ice Embankment, a massive formation that rises to a height of 25 metres and represents the area of greatest ice growth. Next is Hymir's Castle, named after a giant in Norse mythology. Here stalactites create a formation called Frigga's Veil, or the Ice Organ.
Next on the tour is the Alexander von Mörk Cathedral, one of the largest rooms in the cave and the final resting place of von Mörk's ashes. The final stop on the tour is the Ice Palace, a kilometre into the cave and 400 metres underground. From here, visitors must turn around and walk back through the caves to reach the entrance. The round-trip tour through the cave takes around one hour and 15 minutes.
A closeup of one of the ice formations
Looking down from the cave onto the trail, which is the only way of access to the cave
Gorgeous mountain lakes may be a dime a dozen, but how many can boast brilliant waters whose colors are the result of a lovesick sorcerer and drowned rainbows?
According to the traditions of the Ladin people in Italy’s South Tyrol region, once upon a time, a beautiful water nymph called the pristine waters of Lake Carezza, at the foot of the Dolomites, home. One day, while braiding her hair on its shores, the sorcerer Masaré was overcome by the sound of the nymph as she softly sang to herself. Head over heels in love, he sought the help of a witch to make the nymph his own. An elaborate plan involving a disguise as a jewelry salesman, and casting a rainbow across the lake ensued.
Unfortunately for the sorcerer, he forgot to wear his jewelry salesman outfit and was discovered by the nymph even as she marvelled at his creation. Evading his trap, she hasn’t been seen since. Completely distraught at his own foolishness, Masaré smashed the rainbow into a million pieces, which fell into the lake’s waters below.
Their fractured magnificence continues to radiate through its crystalline waters to this day, and account for Carezza’s other name: Lec de ergobando, or “Rainbow Lake.”
It’s called White Island, but what’s striking about New Zealand’s most active volcano is its riot of colors. Underneath the continuous plumes of white smoke there are brilliant yellows, teal blues, acid greens and rust reds. But when Captain Cook sailed by the small volcanic island in 1769 he only got close enough to see the smoke. So White Island it became.
The bright yellow comes from the volcano’s natural sulfur. So much sulfur that there were a few attempts to mine the valuable element, which is used to make sulfuric acid, fertilizer and other commercial products. The year 1914 saw how dangerous sulfur mining on an active volcano can be, when the island’s mining camp disappeared under a landslide from a collapsed crater wall. Accounts differ, with either ten or twelve miners working that day, but whatever the number, all were swallowed up by the island. The only witness to survive the disaster was Peter the Great. Unfortunately, as the camp cat he couldn’t tell the authorities much about what happened.
Thirty miles off the coast of the New Zealand’s North Island in the Bay of Plenty, White Island is officially called Whakaari/White Island in order to honor both the Maori and European names (although it’s mostly referred to as White Island). It’s small, only about a mile across with the volcano’s crater walls reaching just over a thousand feet above the Bay. Looks can be deceiving however – what you see rising out of the water is only the peak of a much bigger undersea mountain, roughly four times the size of the island. It’s still erupting regularly, even as recently as April of 2016, adding more and more to its color palette with every blast.
There are 14 independent peaks that make up the “Eight-thousanders”, an elite group of mountains that tower more than 8,000 meters (26,247 ft) above sea level, all of which lie in the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges in Asia. The most popular of these mountains, Mount Everest, has taken the life of many a brave or foolhardy explorer, but there is another Eight-thousander that makes Everest look like a kiddie ride. Her name is Annapurna.
Since the first recorded ill-fated expedition of Albert F. Mummery and J. Norman Collie in 1895, men and women have been compelled to conquer these peaks, and ironically the first successful ascent was located on Annapurna by famed adventurers Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal in 1950. The expedition was successful, but not without a heavy cost – Herzog lost the majority of his fingers and toes to frostbite, and to stave off gangrene had to perform amputations on the mountain, sans anesthetic. No one dared to climb Annapurna again for 20 years.
Annapurna is not the tallest mountain – in fact, it’s 10th tallest on the list of the 14. Yet it currently has a fatality-to-summit ratio of 38% which, though recently improved from 40%, is still the highest fatality rate of any of the Eight-thousanders. Why it claims so many lives is uncertain, although the glacial architecture and the illusions it produces have been cited as examples of its treachery. Whatever the reason, this quiet giant with the difficult south slope has called over 200 explorers to her snowy cliffs, and decided to keep over 50 of them as her own.
Abandoned mines can seem like they are a dime a dozen, but the derelict outpost on the archipelago of Svalbard, above Norway’s arctic circle, remains unlike any other on the planet.
Throughout the 1900s, everyone had their hands in Pyramiden at one point or another… until suddenly no one did. Founded by Swedes on a Norwegian island chain in the Arctic Ocean in 1910, the terrain was sold to the Soviet Union in 1927. For the next 70 years, a hearty band of Soviets mined the remote settlement on behalf of Trust Arktikugol for its coal deposits, until word was passed down in 1998 that the operation was to be shuttered. Then, in a matter of mere months, the place was unceremoniously abandoned.
In the years since, little has changed in the former Soviet mining camp except for the demographics of Pyramiden’s residents. At present the island inhabited solely by wildlife, including seabirds, seals, the occasional polar bear, and roaming bands of explorers.
The village is home to the ghostly remains of a lost Soviet industrial way of life, literally frozen in time. According to an episode of the television series Life After People, it is estimated that Pyramiden will stand as it is for 500 years or more thanks to the extreme arctic climate – longer than any other modern human settlement on Earth. Block settlements continue to be lorded over by the world’s northernmost statue of Vladimir Lenin, whose lonesome gaze remains fixed upon the Nordenskiöld glacier butting up against the town’s backyard.
The most ethereal feature of the town is undoubtedly the so-called “bottle shop,” a house made entirely from white and green glass bottles, whose beauty, delicacy, and impracticality in the face of such harsh climates seem downright otherworldly.
Arriving by ship, visitors to the eerie settlement tromp through the remnants of Soviet culture, led by a gun-toting guide who will not hesitate to shoot in case of a bear attack. Most choose to explore for a few hours before being shuttled back to civilization, but those interested in staying overnight in a post-apocalyptic arctic landscape can arrange to do so ahead of time at the Tulip Hotel and Museum (open during the summer months).
Sitting on the edge of Cape Denison in Antarctica is a small group of huts that were built by Australian antarctic explorer Douglas Mawson in the early 20th century. However, they have been abandoned for decades, preserving much of the effects and decor of the original expedition.
Constructed between 1911-1914, the small research station is now known simply as the Mawson Huts. It stands as one of the last outposts left from the so-called Heroic Era of Antarctic Exploration, and the only one created by Australians. Mawson and his team of 17 men, the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, travelled to Commonwealth Bay to conduct experiments on a variety of subjects including continental drift, local wildlife, and glaciation.
Given the harsh climate, life in the huts was miserable. Blizzards and hurricane force winds were the norm, and communication was difficult despite a radio relay that was set up on a nearby island. Mawson would later write of the experience, saying, “Temperatures as low as -28 degrees F. (60 degrees below freezing-point) were experienced in hurricane winds, which blew at a velocity occasionally exceeding one hundred miles per hour. Still, air and low temperatures, or high winds and moderate temperatures, are well enough; but the combination of high winds and low temperatures is difficult to bear.”
When the expedition left the site, they left their huts in place and headed out. The site simply sat in the cold and wind for two decades. They were briefly used in the 1930s, then abandoned once again. A number of the huts succumbed to the harsh winter conditions, but the main hut and the adjoining magnetograph house are still intact, retaining some of the original equipment such as the iron stove.
While reaching Mawson’s Huts is not exactly easy, they remain there for any enterprising explorer interested in paying a visit. They are a protected historic site, so if the weather doesn’t destroy them, they should be there for some time to come.
Death Valley is one of the hottest, most inhospitable places in the world, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything valuable in the land. Case in point, the massive borax deposits on which the Harmony Borax Works were built, requiring an outlandish amount of mule-power to make it work.
Established in the late 1800s by a pioneering businessman who discovered the precious mineral deposit amidst the blasted wasteland. The large-scale operation set down permanent facilities right in the middle of the desert where their crop could be extracted right out of the over-dry ground. Unfortunately it was this same heat that made it impossible for the owners of the mine to process what they dug up on site and the ore had to be carted out from the camp to a facility in the nearest town, which was miles away.
As can be imagined, dragging countless tons of material out of a place named for how fast it can kill a person was no easy feat, so the owners employed a wagon system that saw long trains of 20-some mules at a time pull large carts of ore out from the mine site to be processed. The giant 20-mule teams became the symbol of the borax works and are still associated with the ambitious mine today.
The Harmony Borax Works went out of business in 1888 but the remnants of the operation can still be found on the site. There are still some old iron stoves and things sitting among the crumbling, half-standing walls outlining where the main building once stood. There is also a preserved example of one of the dual wagons that were used to haul the borax away. The dozens of mules that powered the wagons however are mercifully missing.
Despite being separated by just 3.8 kilometers, the Diomede Islands find themselves not only in different countries, but also twenty hours apart, due to the International Date Line passing between them.
Big Diomede is a part of the Russian Federation and is its easternmost point. Neighboring Little Diomede is part of Alaska. The islands were first populated by the Yupik peoples and used for hunting as long as 3,000 years ago, but Russian explorer Semyon Dezhnev was the first European to discover them in 1648.
It was eighty years before they were rediscovered by Danish navigator Vitus Bering on August 16th, 1728, celebrated in the Russian Orthodox church as the day honoring the Martyr St. Diomede. For many years, both islands had a small native population, but the population was eventually forced off of Big Diomede because of the Cold War. It is now unpopulated and the only structure in use on the island is a Russian weather station.
During the Cold War, the relationship between the two superpowers chilled, but the ‘Ice Curtain’ did not stop Lynne Cox from swimming between the islands in 1987, where she was congratulated by both Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan. In 1997, comedian and television presenter Michael Palin visited the island at the start of his television show Full Circle.
Little Diomede has a small town, Diomede (or Ignaluk), with a population of approximately 170, over 90 percent of which are Native Americans. The islanders are famous for their ivory carvings and the city functions as a wholesaler for the carvings, which are sold in Fairbanks and Anchorage as well as on the internet.