Ridiculously Difficult Route

Rush hour must be a real ditch.

Thor: [On seeing where Loki is heading the ship] ...Loki?!
Loki: If it were easy, everyone would do it.
Thor: Are you mad?!
Loki: Possibly.

Not many people use a particular route. Why? It's damn difficult, that's why, otherwise most people probably would. But, for some reason, the protagonists need to use it, probably because the usual route has been destroyed or otherwise blocked off. This is a case of Don't Try This at Home as the success of such a plan is rarely Truth in Television due to the probability of things going wrong.

The route is either difficult because the terrain is physically difficult to travel, in which case any enemies will also find it difficult, or (more commonly) there are lots of hostile mooks in the way, in which case whether enemies find it difficult to travel depends on exactly who the mooks are hostile to. Often it is a combination of both. But, either way, because of the difficulty the route is mostly never used.

Usually (though not always) this route is rather shorter than the main journey, and sometimes (though not necessarily) shorter than the usual route. Sometimes said route is the only route to a place, in which case that place is also rarely travelled to. The route may have a dangerous-sounding name like "the Devil's Backbone" or "Dead Man's Pass".

This trope is more frequently seen in media that tend to have longer stories such as Literature or a series of films rather than things like Live-Action Television (TV series can have long story arcs but the individual stories are usually quite short). The reason being the route can take a long time to travel and is therefore impractical in shorter stories unless Played for Laughs.

This trope often appears as a part of a Walk into Mordor, can be a part of The Homeward Journey, and is sometimes a necessary step in The Quest. However, this trope is not about a whole journey generally being difficult. It is more about a specific route to, or sometimes through, a specific place, which if not for the whole "difficult" thing would probably be rather frequently travelled.

If the route is picturesque then it is also a Scenic Route. If, in a game, a route is chosen deliberately because the most challanging path seems the most likely to yield good results in the long run, then the route is instead the Path of Most Resistance.

In games this trope can overlap with Railroading (Tabletop Games), and No Sidepaths, No Exploration, No Freedom and But Thou Must (Video Games).

Compare That One Level. Contrast Took a Shortcut and Shortcuts Make Long Delays.


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  • In the 2012 adaption of Les Miserables the escape route through the sewers is this. Valjean has to force himself and Marius through a tiny tunnel, and the parts where the ceiling is high enough to stand are so filled with gunk that it's easier to drown.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End: Getting from the normal world to Davy Jones' Locker can be considered this.
    Barbosa: We're good and lost now.
    Elizabeth: Lost!?
    Barbosa: For certain ye have to be lost to find a place as can't be found. Elseways everyone would know where it was.
  • The Fire Swamp in The Princess Bride. Blasts of fire, lightning sand and R.O.U.S.'s. Though Westley and Buttercup seem to survive fairly easily all things considered.
    Buttercup: We'll never survive!
    Westley: Nonsense! You're only saying that because nobody ever has.
  • Lampshaded in Road Trip, in which the characters take a back country road to try to shave some time off the titular trek. It soon becomes obvious why more people don't go that way: a wooden bridge (which obviously was not intended for car travel in the first place) is out. The characters decide to jump it.
    Rubin: It's supposed to be a challenge, that's why they call it a shortcut. If it was easy it would just be "the way."
  • Thor: The Dark World. Loki and Thor use a secret "back door" from Asgard. This involves flying a ship at top speed into a tiny crevice in a very rocky mountain, with, one can imagine, disastrous consequenses if one misses. Even with Loki's 'expertise' they barely avoid crashing on their way out. See page quote.
  • The Wages of Fear: The road to the oil field is a ridiculously difficult route even though it is the only road there. However, the difficulties are multiplied many times over when you are hauling a cargo like nitroglycerine.

  • In Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident, Artemis and his friends are trying to find a way inside Koboi Labs. The good news is, Mulch has a cousin who worked as a contractor during the labs' construction, and they discovered an underground fissure that leads straight to the labs' foundations. The bad news is, the fissure opens and shuts periodically as it expands and contracts with heat from the Earth's core, it will only be wide enough for their shuttle to navigate safely for three minutes at a time, and it's at it's widest for a few moments right before the next magma flare, so if they don't time their approach perfectly, they'll be crushed, burned alive, or both.
  • Frontier Wolf. A huge bog, the Long Moss, with a secret path through it to the Chieftains' Death Place that the Frontier Wolves don't actually know. They expect Short Cuts Make Long Delays.
  • The book By The Great Horn Spoon takes place in 1849, during which the ways to California to join the Gold Rush were by land, sea, or both. Land meant several months in a cattle wagon crossing mountains, rivers, and risking attacks by Indians. Sea meant going around South America by sailing all the way across the southern tip, and would take even longer. Land-and-sea meant sailing to Panama, crossing it, and then boarding another ship, risking yellow fever in exchange for a shorter voyage. The protagonists take the purely sea route, and their ship hits many storms during the round of South America. It also turns out the captain took a shortcut through the Strait of Magellan, a tiny passage that would let them cut the corner off the trip, but is perilously narrow.
  • In The Great Pacific War, the portion of the American fleet based in the Atlantic is forced into this by the wrecking of the Panama Canal, having to traverse the narrow passageways of the Straits of Magellan instead.
  • Invoked in the H. Rider Haggard novel King Solomon's Mines. The heroes follow a route given in an old account that turns out to be barely survivable; at the end of the novel they discover the natives know of a longer but less risky alternative.
  • The Lord of the Rings. Here are a few:
    • Passing over (Caradhras)/under (Moria) the Misty Mountains was this trope for the Fellowship.
    • Frodo and Sam have to get into Mordor. How? By climbing up hundreds of "stairs" on an almost vertical mountain and crawling through a giant spider's lair. Because they obviously can't use the front gate.
    • Aragorn has to go through the ghost-infested mountains that no-one has ever returned from before. Though perhaps in this case the trope is not entirely played straight since he went in there to gain the alliance of said ghosts...
    • King Théoden is leading a force of Rohirrim to reinforce Minas Tirith. The direct path is blocked by forces loyal to Sauron, and it will be very costly and time-consuming to fight their way through. So they elect to take an alternate route through the territory of men historically hostile to Rohan, who the heroes convince to let them pass for the greater good.
  • The Obernewtyn Chronicles. In The Farseekers Elspeth's expedition can't travel on the main roads due to the Corrupt Church's Burn the Witch! policy. They therefore decide to take an "olden way" through the mountains instead of the main pass. It turns out the reason no-one uses that route anymore is that it is now (after the Great White) extremely difficult to travel due to multiple landscape obstacles plus dangerous levels of radiation.
    • When they can't at first find the olden way they Take a Third Option. By rafting down a river swollen by torrential rains, through a radioactive Ghost City and down a waterfall.
  • In Elspeth Cooper's book Songs of the Earth, Whistlers Pass is this because of freezing temperatures and, well, the whistlers (ghosts).
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe. The Kessel Run, a hyperspace smuggling route between Kessel and Tatooine, skirts a black hole cluster near the Kessel System where it's easy for a less competent pilot than Han Solo to get killed. Most people don't go that way.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A rare TV series example is seen in Firefly. In "The Message" Mal invokes the trope by having Wash fly the ship through a very narrow, twisty and uneven canyon (which even Ace Pilot Wash visibly finds difficult) in order to escape the (larger) ship that is chasing them. However, the police aboard that ship defy the trope by simply flying their ship above the canyon and shooting at them from there.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Half-Life 2. You end up having to go through Ravenholm (a zombie infested town on a route that "no-one uses anymore") because the other route you were originally going to take gets cut off by the Combine attack.
  • This can be invoked by players of any Tower Defense Game that allows you to form or modify the route using your turrets.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Serpent's Pass", Team Avatar has to take a family of Earth Kingdom refugees through The Serpent's Pass after an Obstructive Bureaucrat denies the family entry to the (much safer) ferry.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic season 4 episode "Somepony to Watch Over Me" has Applejack and Apple Bloom going through a swamp with fire geysers that is home to a hungry chimera (Who has an craving for "Filly Fillet") just to deliver pies.
  • In the Regular Show episode "Busted Cart", to make up for lost time and to get the cart fixed before the warranty expires, Mordecai and Rigby take Highway 13 to get to the dealership faster. It's considered the most dangerous highway in the country due to the road crumbling, spikes on the road, giant boulders rolling down the valley, and a crater with a green portal in the center.
  • The original ThunderCats, five-part episode "Lion-O's Anointment", has Lion-O tested by his teammates as a Coming of Age ceremony that every Lord of the Thundercats must go through to earn the title. In the second one, he actually has to race Cheetarah. As impossible as that seems, Lion-O is allowed to take an alternate route (which makes winning possible, given that Cheetarah can't run at full speed for as long as he can) but there's one catch - it's far more dangerous than the route she takes. After avoiding a Man-Eating Plant, a two-headed monster, and dwarf-like savages, he's able to win.

    Real Life 
  • Hannibal Barca during the Second Punic War famously marched his army, elephants and all, through the Alps to get them behind the Roman defense. No one saw this coming.
  • A common defensive tactic is to arrange your defenses so as to allow entry only via one of these, such as arranging walls or other obstacles (such as minefields) to require anyone entering an area to zig-zag in front of your heaviest defenses. For ships or submarines, you can use sea mines or underwater barriers such as sandbars or nets and chains. For airplanes and helicopters, Anti-Air batteries are a common method, but barrage balloons or cables strung between hilltops or poles have been used to deter low-flying aircraft at various places and times.