It is very difficult to determine where’s the highest road on Earth, since it is impossible to establish what is meant by the ‘road’ term.
Is it a mountain pass that can only be driven by an expert driver with an adapted car? Is it a road that can be driven only by bicycle or motorcycle? Or do we have to strictly stick to a mountain road that can be driven by an average driver with an average vehicle? Therefore, it is very difficult to define what is meant by the world’s highest road. Search for the world’s highest bikeable roads is mainly characterized by indefinable actual altitudes of respective roads. Relevant literature, maps and information on the internet provide many thousands of (often questionable and conflicting) results.
What is certainly evident, and confirmed by everybody, is that the road to Khardung La, at 5.359m (17,582ft) -located northeast of the Indian Himalayas-, is not the highest road on the planet, despite the opinions probably based on the erroneous Guinness World Records, on a large number of misinformed websites and even on the signal at the top of the mountain, which indicates that, with an elevation of 5.682m (18,641ft) is the highest road in the world. Recent GPS measurements show that even this elevation is fake. In the same country there are much higher mountain passes, among them the Umling La, a recently built road to the called 'top of the world' at 5.793m (19,005ft) above the sea level in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. A new mountain road climbing up to Kiu La, an international mountain pass on the border between India and China reaches a top elevation of 5.711m (18,736ft). But the real ‘monster’ of the area could be the road climbing up the Chāmkang mountain, at 5.953m (19,530ft), on the disputed region of Aksai Chin, on the Chinese-Indian border. It’s an old jeep track running North-South along the Indian border. The region is uninhabited and was a conflict zone, so strictly military track. On the Chinese-Indian border, a gravel road climbs up to the top of Kungzhag La, a mountain peak at 5.780m (18,963ft) asl.
In China, the situation changes radically. The impossibility of access to certain border areas means that the certainty of the transitability of the highest mountain passes in the country is a mistery and must be based on doubtful credibility sources. Apparently, some vehicles could have climbed up the 5.830m (19.127ft) top of the Lajiong La, the 5.793m (19.005ft) of the Jang Rang Laor the 5,767m (18,920ft) of the Bodpo La. On all these mountain passes it is very doubtful to determine the possibility of driving to the top. It’s not clear if it is motorable in the sense that most drivers and vehicles could consider it motorable. Perhaps the most reliable one is the Lajiong La, where it is possible to find pictures of 4x4 vehicles at the top. In the other two passes, we know ascents by bicycle - there are snapshots-, but there is no reliable information about motor vehicles. Tibetan road maps suggest there are much higher mountain passes, but it is not clear if they are accessible. Some sources point that there could be a much higher mountain pass than the two previous ones, a giant called Gorun La, which would reach an elevation of 5,910m (19,389ft) but this seems unlikely. The satellite pictures do not confirm if the road is wide enough for vehicles go through. But it is clear that the only route near the top finishes at 5,690m (18,667ft) approximately.
In Europe, the highest roads are located in Russia, the ascent to Mount Elbrus(4.044m -13,267ft), -a dirt track for specially prepared vehicles- and the Veleta Peak, in Spain, where it’s possible to find the continent's highest paved road, at 3,394m (11,135ft) above the sea level.
In North America, several roads climb up over 14,000’s feet. The most prominent fourteeners are the White Mountain Peak (4.344m -14.252ft) and the Mount Bross (14,178 ft - 4,331m) both on gravel, and the steep climb to Mount Evans, by an asphalted road climbing up to 4,316m (14,160m ft) to the top.
South America is another continent where the highest roads can lead to confusion when we try to determine whether it is a driveable road for a vehicle or simply a point where you can reach by bicycle or highly adapted vehicles. The true identity and location of the highest motorable pass depends on how "motorable pass" is defined. There is evidence of the climb of a Spanish team in 1977 to the top of Aconcagua, in Argentina, reaching the 6,961m (22,838 ft) of the summit, where they established the altitude record for a motorcycle. However, this is not at all a road and they used especially adapted motorcycles. On the border between Chile and Argentina, Ojos del Saladois a volcano rising up to 6,891m (22,608 ft) above the sea level in the Atacama desert. It has been the scenario chosen by some drivers to beat the altitude record in a motor vehicle. In any case, these vehicles were adapted for this fact and there’s not a delimited/clear road to the top. In Northern Chile, a sulphur mine in the Aucanquilcha stratovolcano, at 6,176 m (20,262 ft) above the sea level, was serviced by motor vehicles. But after the mine ceased its activities, the road to the summit is no longer available due to landslides. In the same country, the Tacora volcanorises to 5,980m (19,620 ft) high in the Arica-Parinacota area. According to several reports, a bulldozer excavated a road some years ago to allow the ascent to the top with a pretty conventional 4x4 vehicle. Another of the continent's highest volcanoes, the Cerro Uturuncu, rises to 6,008m (19,711ft) high. Some years ago a road ascended to the top as it also allowed access to a mine. But when the mine ceased activities, the road fell into disuse and nowadays it is not entirely passable. A landslide makes the road impassable at 5,500m (18,044ft) above the sea level. Despite this fact, it is known that a French team recently reached the summit on mountain bike. Another high point in the continent accessible by vehicle is the mountain refuge known as Refugio Tejos, at a height of 19,000ft (5,800m) above the sea level, in Chile. It is a 4x4 vehicle mountain track. A little lower lies the Ollagüe Volcano, which reaches up to 5,868m (19,251ft) high on the border of Chile and Bolivia. The road ends abruptly at 5,705m (18,717ft) above the sea level. This is a 4x4 road but can be impassable anytime due to stone collapses and landslides.
Pic: Saurabh Arora