Cliffs… strikingly beautiful to look at, at least from below. From the top the view can be both exhilarating and terrifying, and to some it will be the last thing they see. These ten amazing cliffs run the gamut from serene to scary to staggering – sheer drops of scenic beauty that mark the cutting edge of Mother Nature in all her geological glory.
Great Trango Tower, Pakistan
The Great Trango Tower in the Karakorum Range of the Himalayas in Pakistan is 20,608 ft (6,286 meters) high and features the ultimate cliffhanger: the greatest nearly vertical drop on the planet. That’s James Pitman of South African Expeditions, above right, standing triumphantly atop Great Trango. Don’t look down, James…
(image via: ABC)
In 1992 a couple of Australian BASE jumpers asked themselves what all BASE jumpers ask at one time or another: where could we perform the Highest Altitude World Record BASE jump? Glenn Singleman and Nic Feteris not only made the leap from the top of the Great Trango Tower, they recorded it on video for posterity – so anyone and everyone would believe they actually did it. Feteris and Singleman first had to climb Great Trango Tower to get into position for the jump, which began at the 19,537 ft (5,955 meter) level of the Northwest Face. They landed on the northern side of the Dunge Glacier at the 13,779 ft (4,200 meter) level giving them a net vertical drop of 5,758 feet (1,755 meters) – over a mile!
Here’s a video of Feteris and Singleman’s awesome leap into the record books, from the ultimate viewpoint of Singleman’s helmet-mounted camera:
White Cliffs of Dover, United Kingdom
As an iconic symbol of England, it’s hard to top the White Cliffs of Dover (unless you’re a bluebird). Stretching along the southeast coast and centered on the port of Dover, the approximately 100 million year old cliffs are composed of fine-grained limestone – chalk, in other words. The highest point of the cliffs is at Beachy Head where layers of chalk laid down over many millions of years rise up to 500 feet from the beach below.
(image via: Quadrophenia’s Lost Mod)
One of the most memorable cinematic views of the daunting chalk cliffs comes from the 1979 film Quadrophenia. Jimmy, the doomed Mod who personifies Pete Townshend’s ode to the Mod-Rocker battles of the early 1960s, takes a wild last ride along the top of the cliffs before… well, see the film if you haven’t yet done so. A curious corollary to Jimmy’s fictional final act is the actual suicide of a teenage accountant-trainee and weekend Mod named Barry Prior, whose body and scooter were found at the base of the cliffs in May of 1964. The story was front-page news in the English resort town of Brighton and it’s likely Townshend was affected and inspired by Prior’s sad demise.
Flaming Cliffs, Mongolia
There are few places on earth more isolated than the Flaming Cliffs of Mongolia, a quality that enticed pioneering American naturalist and explorer Roy Chapman Andrews to make a total of five groundbreaking expeditions into the region between 1922 and 1930. Andrews and his team discovered a multitude of new dinosaurs beneath the magnificent cliffs, including the first known dinosaur eggs and complete nests buried beneath the rusty red sands.
(image via: Picsremix)
One key to the Flaming Cliffs’ ethereal beauty lies in the fact that few if any roads, habitations or development mar its timeless vistas. For this reason it fails as a tourist attraction but in this case that’s a good thing.
Kalaupapa Cliffs, Hawaii
Don’t let their lush, verdant look fool you – the 3,315 ft (1,010 meter) high Kalaupapa Cliffs on the Hawaiian island of Molokai are the world’s highest sea cliffs and a misstep at the top leads to a long, long fall to the Pacific Ocean surf. The cliffs are part of an ancient volcanic caldera; thus their peaceful appearance today hints little at their extremely violent creation.
(image via: NPS)
The view of the community of Kalaupapa from the top of the cliffs is similar to that from a small airplane. The isolation afforded by the spectacular cliffs made the area beneath them ideal locations for housing victims of Hansen’s disease (leprosy). In fact, until the introduction of Dapsone and other sulfone drugs in the 1940s, the settlements of Kalaupapa and nearby Kalawao were restricted to sufferers of this age-old scourge.
The rugged cliffs lining the coastline of Santorini testify to this spectacularly beautiful Greek island’s tumultuous history. Formed from layers of pumice, volcanic ash and solidified magma, the 980 ft (300 meter) high cliffs are today the precarious perch for the town of Thira – acrophobics need not apply.
(image via: The Travelogues)
It’s estimated the volcano underlying Santorini has erupted 12 times in the past 200,000 years and the catastrophic eruption of 1650 BC was one of the largest to have taken place anywhere on earth during the past 10,000 years. The eruption’s effects likely caused the collapse of the advanced Minoan civilization located on Crete and, some say, were the basis for the legend of the “lost continent” of Atlantis.
Norway’s popular Preikestolen, known colloquially as Preacher’s Pulpit, is a 1,982 ft (604 meter) flat-topped cliff that gives those who make the arduous hike to its summit an incredible view of the Lysefjorden far below. The mainly flat, clear area at the top pf the cliff measures about 80 by 80 feet and is visited by nearly 100,000 people over the course of the average year.
Visitors are advised not to venture too close to the edge of the cliff but that doesn’t seem to stop those who seek the ultimate photo opportunity.
Lokrum Island, Croatia
Formerly the home of Archduke Maximilian Ferdinand, who was for a short time in the 1860s the Emperor of Mexico, the island of Lokrum is situated in the Adriatic Sea just off the coast of Dubrovnik, Croatia. A popular tourist attraction known chiefly for its many semi-wild peacocks, Lokrum’s nude beaches draw visitors from all across Europe.
(image via: Travelpod)
Toward the open sea, Lokrum’s beaches rise to rugged, rocky cliffs. The water below the cliffs is relatively deep and thus safe (a relative term) for cliff-divers.
Volcanic cliffs carved by countless storms and relentless ocean waves characterize the steep cliffs of Vestmannaeyjar (The Westmen Isles), an archipelago south of Iceland. The islands were first settled nearly 1,000 years ago by Viking raiders who brought slaves from Ireland (the so-called “westmen”). A little-known incident occurred on the islands in 1627 when they were invaded by Barbary pirates from Algiers! A fleet of 15 ships landed on the main island of Heimaey and the pirates killed or captured nearly half of the 500 or so inhabitants; those who lived were sold into slavery upon the pirate fleet’s return to Algeria.
(image via: Bukisa)
The smaller islands are uninhabited for the most part and their wind-blasted, inaccessible cliffs (the Vestmanna Birdcliffs) serve as a secure nesting place for thousands of Atlantic Puffins.
Mount Asgard, Canada
Mount Asgard consists of a pair of roughly cylinder-shaped granite towers with flat tops and precipitous sides. Located in Auyuittuq National Park, on Baffin Island in Canada’s far north, Mount Asgard takes its name from Asgard, the Old Norse equivalent to the ancient Greeks’ Mount Olympus. The slightly higher northern summit is 6,611 ft (2,015 meters) high and was first climbed in 1953.
(image via: Summit Post)
You may have seen Mount Asgard without realizing what and where it was – the opening scenes of the 1976 James Bond film “The Spy Who Loved Me” featured a BASE jump of the cliff by stuntman Rick Sylvester. The location was portrayed as the Swiss Alps but now you know better!
Tomoiwa Cliff, Japan
Few are familiar with the Tomoiwa Cliff in Japan’s Gunma prefecture, but this 400 ft (120 meter) high cliff recently loomed into prominence when the body of famed cartoonist Yoshito Usui was found at its base. Usui was the creator of the popular Crayon Shin-chan manga and cartoons, and he was reported missing after failing to return from a hike on 4,665 ft (1,422 meter) high Mount Arafune.
(image via: Hardwarezone)
Eerily, Usui’s camera was found near his body – when the film inside was developed, it showed a disturbing sequence of photographs taken by Usui as he inched closer and closer to the cliff precipice, until… well, you can guess the rest.
Out Of This World Cliffs
(image via: SAI-MSU)
As a postscript, take a look at the cliffs in the above NASA APOD photo – they’re located on Miranda, a moon of the planet Uranus and are estimated to be 12.4 miles (20 kilometers) high! Click this link for a much larger image. Someone falling from the top of Verona Rupes would take about 12 minutes to reach the bottom, plenty of time to watch one’s life pass before their eyes.