road less taken

"We like to challenge ourselves": Donegal trio set to brave the infamous Death Road

Last year, they took on the ice roads – this year, it’s Death Road, a volcano, and a desert.

The Gang The trio take in the Northern Lights at the Arctic Circle Paul Doherty Paul Doherty

LAST YEAR, THREE Donegal men completed a 1,000-mile trek over Alaska’s ice roads, battling freezing temperatures, dangerous roads, and 600-feet drops.

You’d think that they would have satisfied their adventurous streaks with that epic journey, but they haven’t.

Tomorrow, Denis Ferry, Les O’Donnell and Paul Doherty will set out on another epic trip – one that will bring them along the infamous Death Road in Bolivia, up to a volcano, and into a desert.

If they make it to the top of the volcano – and with the high altitude and hot temperatures, they are aware they face many obstacles – they will become the first Irishmen ever to have reached such an altitude on four wheels.

Asked why they want to take on such a challenge, Doherty said:

It’s the toughness I think, the challenge of it. None of us like going sitting on a beach. We like to go and challenge ourselves.

Death Road

450px-Bolivia_Yunga_Road Yungas Road Wikimedia Wikimedia

During their last expedition they conquered the Dalton Highway in North Alaska, which led them up the 1000-mile ice route to the Arctic Ocean. In doing so, they raised €30,000 for three local charities.

This time, they want to conquer the world’s most dangerous road: Death Road in Bolivia.

It is estimated that between 200 – 300 travellers are killed on Death Road (Yungas Road) every year, making a journey along it quite a scary prospect.

The trip

Tomorrow, they will fly into La Paz, which is the highest city in the world and has an altitude of 13,331ft.

There, they will pick up a Toyota Land Cruiser, which has been sponsored by Kelly’s Toyota in Letterkenny.

From there they will climb to an altitude of 15,534ft to take on the Yungas Road, which has a history of landslides, sheer 2000ft drops, waterfall crossings and severe width restrictions.

And there are no crash barriers.

Welcome to the jungle

The second leg of the journey will see them leave Death Road and arrive deep in the Amazon jungle. From there they will navigate their way towards the Chilean border to attempt to drive the Guallatiri Volcano (altitude 19,918ft).

This is an active volcano in Chile and last erupted in 1985. There is no record of anyone going higher than 17,250ft on this volcano.

From there, they will make their way to the South Pacific Ocean, crossing the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world.

No living organisms can survive in this inhospitable environment. From there, they will cross very steep gradients, over sand dune roads, until they reach the ocean.


W87A9723 The trio with Jason Black Paul Doherty Paul Doherty

Doherty told that they have spent months planning and organising their trip, including consulting with the only Donegal man to summit Everest, Jason Black.

“It’s going great so far,” said Doherty, describing how Black has been informing them about altitude training and how best to prepare for the lack of oxygen at higher altitudes.

“We have great outdoor gear from Carhartt,” he said, so clothes aren’t a worry – but on their trek up the Guallatiri Volcano, altitude sickness is.

“If one of us gets hit with altitude sickness, the only cure for it is to come down again. We can’t have one man sick,” said Doherty. They have allowed two days to get up the volcano.

“Jason said when you’re climbing you’re going up slowly so your body adjusts slowly. But we’re going to be going up faster,” he pointed out. They’re not sure what this will mean for their own bodies.

They’re also concerned they may have difficulties going over borders.

With no satellite navigation in Bolivia, a huge part of their preparation has been sourcing the correct maps to enable them to travel around the area.

They are lucky in that there are two mechanics among them, as the jeep will find its horsepower dropping dramatically as they near the summit of the volcano, due to the lack of oxygen.

“We’re talking about taking out the headlights going up to the volcano so more oxygen can come in,” said Doherty.

It’s going to be an intense trip. “It’s one of those things where you don’t really know until you get there how it will go,” said Doherty.

Arctic Circle (1) Paul Doherty Paul Doherty


Are they nervous?

“Death Road is the most dangerous road in the world and we’re going up that first. It’s going to be a different kettle of fish [to the ice trek]. There’s no barriers there,” said Doherty.

We would have driven up ice roads with big drops [on the previous trek] but nothing compared to this. It’s going to be one of them things where other drivers on the road could determine how we get on with it. We think we can manage it, we can drive it ourselves.

“I think it’s going to be tougher. It seems a bit more intense,” said Doherty. “Last time it was tough but you were going on one road.”

As Bolivia is just coming out of rainy season, there is the risk that some roads may be closed off due to being waterlogged.


Doherty said that their families are supportive but “they think we are a bit mad”.

“They’ve seen more than anyone the preparation,” he said. They will experience temperatures going from 30+ to -30 during the trip, so it will be a real journey of extremes.

Their jeep will be loaded up with tents, food, oxygen and a lot of water. Doherty, a photographer, will be documenting the entire trip on camera and will have his equipment on board.

They will be bringing oxygen tanks with them that they will pick up in La Paz, and will also have a satellite phone loaned to them by a man from Killybegs.

They hope they won’t run into major problems with the vehicle – the nearest town to the volcano is 97 miles away. “It’s a bit of a walk back!” said Doherty.

You can follow their journey on Facebook and Twitter @donegalroaders.

Read: Ice road trekkers’ epic journey raises thousands for charity>

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