World's Most Dangerous Travel Jobs
From mountain guides to alligator wrestlers to bush pilots, these travel pros regularly put their lives on the line.
Let's say you want to climb the highest and most harrowing mountain on Earth, Mt. Everest. Who are you going to call to take you to the top of the world? Eric Simonson and an elite group of guides risk their lives to get their clients safely to the summit. Simonson -- one of the owners of International Mountain Guides -- first summitted Everest in 1991, and has been the organizer and leader for 10 expeditions since. One of his trips was the NOVA/BBC trek that discovered the body of English mountaineer George Mallory, who disappeared near the summit in 1924. Simonson is co-author of a book about that expedition, Ghosts of Everest: The Search for Mallory & Irvine.
At least two hundred climbers have died on the mountain from dangers including frostbite, dehydration, falling rocks, falling ice and sudden storms. "The guide better know how strong the clients are, how much gas they've got in the tank," says Simonson. "If they're running low, you need to turn around." No clients have died on his expeditions, but a Sherpa was crushed by falling ice. Simonson has known guides who perished including the two who died on the infamous expedition documented in the book Into Thin Air.
Eric Simonson on Everest
Everest expeditions with IMG cost between $40,000 and $100,000 per person. His company often turns away potential clients who "lack experience, fitness, and are people we know are difficult, people you wouldn't want to spend 10 weeks with."
Simonson, who leads trips up mountains all around the world, grew up in the shadow of Mt. Rainier (his office is near the park entrance). And even though he has climbed the mountain 41 times, he has never been injured. He's currently looking forward to March, when he will take to the mountain and climb Everest again.
Simonson could easily have chosen a safer career, but says he loves the path he's chosen. "Everest is a fascinating place. I like the adventure, the history, the sport. It never gets boring."
Mountain guides aren't the only travel professionals that take their lives into their own hands every time they go to work. Below, we highlight fearless guides, pilots, and performers that live on the edge.
10 MORE DANGEROUS TRAVEL JOBS
1. Russian Cosmonauts, Space
The Han Solos of tour guides are Russian cosmonauts who take space tourists on a 17,500-mph trip to the International Space Station with Space Adventures. The chance of not surviving the flight is estimated at one in 100. The three-person spacecraft carries two cosmonauts and one passenger and the price for a 10-day flight is more than $35 million. The number of tourists so far who have flown to the Space Station: 7.
2. Whitewater Rafting Captains, Zambezi River, Zimbabwe
A ride on the fierce Zambezi River is not to be taken lightly, and the men of Victoria Falls Adventure Zone know every drop and curve. The river is grade 5 (grade 6 is designated "unrunnable") and described by the British Canoe Union as "extremely difficult, long and violent rapids, steep gradients, big drops." Guides have to keep an alert eye out for crocodiles, and they carry comprehensive first aid kits and skid stretchers.
Man wrestling alligators; CGAphoto, flickr
3. Alligator Wrestlers, Florida
When you are hopping into the ring with an alligator, some days the alligator wins. As 15-year veteran gator wrestler Rocky Jim of the Everglades' Miccosukee Indian Village, says, "You never see it coming." He has been bitten five times. In one spectacularly nerve-racking show, Jim recalls, wrestler Kenny Cypress' head ended up in a gator's jaws, which had to be opened by two men and a crowbar. Cypress was dragged away with only a fractured jaw.
4. Hiking Guide, Boiling Lake, Dominica
Simon Rolle takes sunburned, out-of-shape tourists on a grueling three-hour (one-way) hike up the side of a rain-forested mountain, through the Valley of Desolation -- a sinister moonscape with pools of steaming black mud -- to the 200-foot-wide Boiling Lake, which is indeed a bubbling cauldron of scalding water heated by molten lava. One guide severely burned his feet in the water when he slipped. But as Rolle says, "You have to see a lake that boils." (For more information, call 767-265-6246.)
5. Aboriginal Rangers, Kakadu, Australia
Campers pay rapt attention to aboriginal rangers such as Victor Cooper when exploring Kakadu National Park, run by aboriginal traditional owners, in Australia's Northern Territory. Nearly 80,000 saltwater crocodiles, some 30 feet long, roam the rivers and billabongs, and three of the world's deadliest snakes -- the king brown, the death adder and the taipan -- live here. The fact that the guides walk into the billabongs barefoot should assuage some of your fears.
6. Fishing Guide, Amazon River
The Amazon and its tributaries are full of amazing species, some you want to hook, some you don't. If you catch a razor-toothed piranha instead of a harmless peacock bass, your guide will step in. "You have to press the middle of the fish," explains guide Fernando Flores of Explorations Inc. The guide will also be the one who intervenes if you find a crocodile-like caiman at the end of the line. But don't worry, he won't take you far enough into the jungle to bump into an anaconda.
7. Hang-Gliders, Lookout Mountain, Trenton, Georgia
A hang-gliding guide, towed by an ultra-light aircraft to 2,000 feet or a more ambitious 4,000 feet, not only has to glide safely past Lookout Mountain to the valley. Not only is he strapped to what is basically a big kite, but he has to do it with a client, who's usually terrified and has never done such a thing before. And he knows it's solely his skill and equipment that will get him and the client safely to the bottom.
8. Maasai Guards, Kenya
Armed with only handmade wooden "olinka" clubs, wood and iron spears, and short razor-sharp swords, the tall Maasai warriors are the last defense between you and a lion in Kenya and Tanzania. Stay in Amboseli National Reserve at a lodge near Mt. Kilimanjaro like the Serena Safari Lodge to get close to the action. As you relax and enjoy the views and wildlife in the Great Rift Valley, the guides can stop a rampaging water buffalo with a club expertly thrown to hit between the eyes.
9. Cliff Divers, Acapulco
Since 1934, divers have soared off the cliffs of La Quebrada in Acapulco, Mexico. They dive 85 to 115 feet down, at 50 mph, into the narrow inlet below. The "clavadistas," who perform in five shows a day, must time their dives perfectly so that they hit the water when the big waves come in. No wonder they stop to pray at the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe before every leap.
10. Bush Pilots, Alaska
Alaska bush pilot Jared Cummings of Alaska Wilderness Expeditions puts skis on his planes in winter. "You just have to realize you don't have brakes," he says. Landings can be unpredictable like the time a bear chased a moose and calf in front of him as he landed. Luckily, everyone survived. Including the calf.
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