Loki: If it were easy, everyone would do it.
Thor: Are you mad?!
Not many people use a particular route. Why? It's damn difficult, that's why, otherwise most people probably would. But, for some reason, a character needs 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. Either way, because of the difficulty the route is rarely 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 challenging path seems the most likely to yield good results in the long run, then the route is instead the Path of Most Resistance.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe!
- Thor: The Dark World: Loki and Thor use a secret "back door" to travel from Asgard to Svartalfheim. This involves flying a ship at top speed into a tiny crevice inside a very rocky mountain, with, one can imagine, disastrous consequences if one misses. Even with Loki's expert piloting skills, they barely avoid crashing on their way out.
- Thor: Ragnarok. In order to return to Asgard in time to stop Hela, the heroes need to go through the Devil's Anus, a giant wormhole full of debris, and forces that would tear apart most ships.
- In The Matrix Revolutions, the humans have to fly their ship through the maintenance tunnels to get back to the city in time to join the fight against the machines. The tunnels are only marginally wider than the ship itself and have several hairpin turns. Fortunately for the humans, Niobe is an Ace Pilot.
- 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 involves sailing through a frozen sea, into an ice cavern, and straight off the edge of the map. Literally. And getting back is harder.
Barbosa: We're good and lost now.
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."
- 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, especially since they're also traveling in the middle of winter when most or all of the usual passes are closed by snow. There is an easy passage further south (the Gap of Rohan) that is commonly used by travellers, but it was out of the question due to Saruman keeping watch over it.
- 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. This is an invoked form since he was aiming 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.
- 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.
- In his arguably autobiographical story The Forgotten Soldier, Guy Sajer vividly describes the privations and horrors of being part of the logistic tail trying to keep the German Army in Russia supplied and provisioned in sub-zero tremperatures, blizzards, white-outs, ice roads and partisan attacks. . After his lorry-partner and best friend is killed by the Russians during the Stalingrad winter of 1942-43, Sajer vows to leave the supply services, and ends up a front-line infantryman.
- 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.
- Star Trek: Voyager. Captain Janeway is so intent on taking Voyager home she has a habit of barging through territory it would be safer to go around. Radioactive nebulas ("One"), xenophobic alien species ("The Swarm", "Counterpoint"), a warzone between aliens with superior technology bent on conquest ("Scorpion", "Year of Hell") — nothing stops her! However in the first episode the crew estimates that even in a straight line it would take Voyager seventy years to get home, so Janeway is taking every short-cut she can find. She makes it in seven.
- 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.
- Star Fox Level 3 can easily be considered this. The path is intended to take Andross by surprise, no better surprise than to travel through the most heavily-guarded planets and space fleets en route to the most heavily-guarded part of Venom. Andross will even compliment you for taking him by surprise once you defeat the Great Commander for the second time.
- This can be invoked by players of any Tower Defense Game that allows you to form or modify the route using your turrets.
- Wii Fit U occasionally has an Easter Egg in the Basic Run activity where it's snowing and the main route through Wuhu Island is (presumably) blocked off. So your Mii starts following a cat who intentionally takes a wrong turn, leading you through an alternate route that involves Le Parkour and ends with the cat and your Mii on a boat.
- Guild Wars Prophecies uses these in conjunction with Beef Gates to keep beginner players from wandering away from the main story.
- The pass that leads from Ascalon to the Northern Shiverpeaks is bypassed via story progression. On foot, it is a long climb along a narrow path densely populated by the deadliest monsters in the region.
- Completing the Divinity's Reachmission takes the player deep into Maguuma Jungle. This bypasses four zones densely populated with undead enemies, swamps, and most notably Rotscale.
- The Southern Shiverpeaks are reached by portal after completing a majority of the campaign's story. The ground route runs through Lornar's Pass and two other zones, with the travel time made even worse by the curvy path. This is on top of the mobs being twice the level of most players who might attempt this skip and having a limited part size.
- The armor crafters in the Southern Shiverpeaks make the best armor in the game which can be worn at any level. As such many players pay max level characters to escort them through Lornar's Pass to the southern city.
- Granblue Fantasy has the Celestial Strait, featured in "What Makes the Sky Blue Part II: Paradise Lost". According to Rackam and Eugen, nobody who ever dared to challenge it ever returned, and the name is rumored to either come from the idea of what lies beyond it or the fate of whoever tries to brave it. Rackam outright claims that it's impossible with the Grandcypher as it is, and sure enough, the path is filled with falling rocks, heavy turbulence, tornadoes, monster, magnetic interference and space-time distortions. The Grandcypher only barely manages to make the trip.
- Shows up during the Trials at the beginning of Horizon Zero Dawn, when Alloy has to scramble to get a second trophy from a specific mechanical after her first one is destroyed by a rival. The last of the young braves to make it to the starting point of the racing portion of the Trials, Alloy is informed there is a second, faster route to the finish line that would let her make up the lead her competitors got. Said route is a broken, craggy trail featuring climbing ropes and the like that no sane person would take over the much more stable race trail. Of course Alloy is supposed to win (she needs the special prize for being the top Brave in her generation), so even if you can see your competitors' progress along the easier path, you can take your time with the obstacles and still be the first to arrive at the finish line. Then the fun starts...
- 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 Thunder Cats, 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. (And no, you're not allowed to interrupt it to fight the villains who show up to attack in mid-test.) 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.
- A few civilian roads enter this. Yungas Road in Bolivia has earned the all-describing nickname of "Death Road". A largely single-lane road with no guard rails, cliffs of up to 600 metres (2,000 feet), and a width of mostly 3.2 metres (10 ft). Gets even worse during summer, as rain turns the road muddy and prone to rockfalls. Crosses marking where vehicles fell are common, though the path is currently only used by thrill seekers since the Bolivian government built a more secure alternate road.
- The 23-mile stretch of US Route 550 in southwestern Colorado between Silverton (elev. 9,308ft) and Ouray (elev. 7,792 ft) often shows up on lists of the most dangerous roads in the world as either Red Mountain Pass (the name of the 11,018ft high mountain pass this section of US 550 crosses) or The Million Dollar Highway (allegedly a reference to how insanely expensive it was to build and pave each mile during the 1920s ... among other explanations). Because it's a Federal Highway it is reasonably safe for the terrain and well maintained. The part north of Red Mountain Pass, however, is very narrow, has tight hairpin turns, steep grades, no shoulder, almost no guardrails, no runaway truck ramps, and goes through Uncompahgre Gorge (much of this part of US 550 is little more than a two lane paved ledge cut into the sides of steep cliffs◊). It's also subject to heavy snowfall in the winter, falling rocks, and avalanches. Why is this stretch of white-knuckle terror still a Federal Highway? Because US 550 has fairly heavy traffic, is one of only two north-south Federal Highways in southwest Colorado, and bringing it up to current US two-lane highway standards would be absurdly expensive. US 550 was also part of the post-WWI plans for US Federal Highways, this section mostly follows the route of an 1880s toll road, and was completed years before construction of the Yungas Road (which was built with No Budget through even more difficult terrain (see above)) began. Still more treacherous are the two roads or jeep trails that run from Ouray and Red Mountain Pass west through the mountains to Telluride; the latter route, Black Bear Road, features eleven insanely tight switchbacks within about one mile and has never been considered viable for two-way traversal.
- Look at the Monaco Grand Prix: you get both lanes and a Formula 1 car does require suspension modifications just to turn tightly enough to handle the hairpins. On US 550, you get at most 12 feet (one lane, the other has oncoming traffic) to work with and the elevation changes you have to deal with is roughly 0.6 miles up and 0.4 miles down or 0.4 miles up and 0.6 miles down. There is zero margin for error.
- Also from Colorado, the road up to the top of Mount Evans, which is the highest paved road in all of the United States, has many sharp turns and no guardrails on the higher parts. And it's packed with tourists driving up to admire the views of Denver and the Great Plains to the east or the Continental Divide to the west.
- Hannibal 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.
- The demands of wartime absolutely insist "lines of communication" be both secure and passable - no matter what. In particular, units in the front line will get through prodigal amounts of logistic supplies - ammo, fuel, replacement munitions, water, food note . all this needs to be replaced - even oversupplied, if an offensive is imminent. Supply services had to get this where it was needed. Even over hair-raisingly dangerous routes such as:
- The infamous "Chocolate Staircase" (there was more than one). The most famous one was a steep winding jungle path through the mountains of northern Burma. In the monsoon season. The 5th Indian Army had to cross it while pursuing Japanese troops - heavier divisions used other routes and the road fell into disuse after the 5th Indian Army passed through (they were resupplied by airdrops).
- Difficult-to-traverse jungle paths through mountains was the only means of resupplying Australian soldiers holding the last possible defensive line against the Japanese in New Guinea. Failure to hold here meant there was nothing to stop Japan from securing all of New Guinea and invading mainland Australia. Despite horrendous losses to injury and illness, Australia kept this precarious road open to its fighting men in the front line.
- Resupply routes to Allied front line positions in Italy involved some of the narrowest, most precarious, most twisty and turny mountain roads in the Apennines. The only consolation was the knowledge that the Germans were having it just as bad when trying to resupply their positions. Routes through the mountains in the terrible winter of 1943-44 were marked by a depressing succession of British and American wrecks and roadside graves. And one hideously ill-conceived attack in the Monte Cassino offensive involved American soldiers getting over an ice-cold mountain river - in January - to attack uphill against Germans in prepared positions. More Americans died of exposure and frostbite than of German action.
- The horrendous logistic supply lines of the Eastern Front have been well documented. When Germany cut off the last land road into Leningrad in September 1941, the Soviet Union resorted to a precarious ice road to Leningrad which depended on the ice over Lake Ladoga being thick and strong enough to support first very laden lorries and then a rail line. The route was opened as early as possible in autumn and kept going for as late as possible in spring. Driving the last lorries over and knowing the ice underneath was thawing must have needed nerves of steel, but it was the only way to resupply the city until a narrow land corridor was opened in January 1943.
- The Germans were beset with supply problems. One major river was bridged with a structure made out of ice - an ice bridge designed as a temporary replacement for a bridge blown up by the retreating Russians. During the rains and autumn/spring mud, the "corduoroy road" of fallen trees was the only way of maintaining any road surface at all capable of vehicle traction through the mud.
- During the US Civil War the Union quickly captured and took control of almost everything between Harper's Ferry, West Virginia and the Mississippi River to the north of the Tennessee River and west of the Appalachian Mountains. The Union offensive then stalled because there weren't enough railroads or navigable waterways in that part of the US to go much further. The number of railroad lines from Tennessee to the deep South could be counted on one hand.
- This is what ultimately did in the infamous Donner Party. A group of thirty-two families left Illinois headed for California in mid-April 1846. The leader, a man by the name of James Reed, was following the established but slower route until they hit the fork in the road at a fort in Wyoming the first week of July. Reed had read a book by a lawyer named Lanford Hastings before he left home describing a route that hadn't been tested but would cut several weeks and 400 miles off of their journey. Most of the families ditched Reed and stuck to the safe bet but he and the Donner family pressed ahead, hoping to have Hastings guide them. The safe route had emigrants go up through Idaho from Wyoming and then cut down through Nevada to almost completely bypass Utah. Northern Utah has a very treacherous route through the mountains and then into the Great Salt Lake desert so even if its a smaller distance in miles, its much slower. They finally caught up to Hastings in early August in Utah, not before wasting a week waiting on him. The trip through the desert would ultimately be the nail in their coffin. It was too hot for them to travel in the day and too windy to travel at night. The oxen and wagons also couldn't get a good enough grip on the sand to travel smoothly. It took them a week to cover eighty miles. By the time they got out of the desert, it was already September. They couldn't get through the mountains on the border between Nevada and Calfornia before the first snowstorm in the fall and the rest is history.