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Whenever an obstacle arises in an action or adventure story, it is usually this. Often encountered on the way into Mordor, it is also found in urban settings. Cliffs of Insanity can be natural or man-made; if the latter, they may involve Le Parkour or a Clock Tower.
What they all have in common, however, are the invisible arrows shouting "The plot goes this way." To simply go around (or take the elevator/tram ride) would be inconceivable. One must take them head-on; and just to be sporting, with whatever safety equipment they didn't think to bring along with them ahead of time.
Whether or not he was known to be in the area, the villain will invariably Cut The Rope before the hero can make it to the top. Fortunately, the hero will grab a ledge or something and reappear. He/she will invariably need an assist for the last 5 feet of the climb. If the hero or villain is being pursued, he will invariably pick the tallest point in the landscape and climb that (although that is a trope in itself). And at some point in the climb, expect to see a Plummet Perspective to emphasize the danger if the climber should fall.
This is a super trope dealing with Insane Precipices. This deals with the strange properties of these (mostly) fictional features, such as their apparent unavoidability. Bizarrely averted in Role Playing Games by Insurmountable Waist High Fence, which is the opposite of this trope. Usually involved in a Climbing Climax. Not to be confused with Mountains of Madness.
See also It's All Upstairs From Here. May involve Dagger Climbing.
- Absurd Altitude
- Clifftop Caterwauling
- Climbing Climax
- Climb Slip Hang Climb
- Clock Tower
- Colossus Climb
- A Crack in the Ice
- Disney Villain Death
- Ledge Gravity
- Literal Cliff Hanger
- Not the Fall That Kills You
- No Escape but Down
- Plummet Perspective
- Rope Bridge
- Save the Villain
- Take My Hand
- One Piece during the Drum Island Arc takes this to its worst. Luffy, in the middle of a blizzard, carrying a sick Nami and an injured Sanji (with his mouth), has to climb a nearly flat mountain that inclines directly upwards. This takes several episodes. At one point, Luffy's fingers explode in blood and he ends up sliding down a whole fraction of the mountain, blood flying everywhere, Luffy unable to even scream less Sanji drops from his mouth, until he finally regains his grip. This is truly one of the most painful scenes to see in the entire anime and easily turned Luffy into The Determinator.
- In Sin City, Marv has to get to his parole officer's highrise apartment but there's a man hunt for him going on. How does he get up there? Simple. He climbs up the side of a building with his bare hands.
- The Trope Namer is The Princess Bride. Buttercup's kidnappers climb the Cliffs of Insanity to escape pursuit, but of course the Man in Black isn't ready to give up that easily.
- The embassy in The Bourne Identity.
- The Statue of Liberty in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.
- For Your Eyes Only: James Bond climbs the Rock of Gibraltar in order to reach the monastery at the top.
- Seachd the Inaccessible Pinnacle
- In Three Hundred, Leonidas has to climb one in order to reach the Temple of the Ephors, because as we all know Spartans are too manly for Handicapped Access. It is not said if this is the only route, or Leonidas is just showing off.
- In Troy similar to the above example, Achilles proves he is no slouch by climbing up the side of the Trojan citadel while all the other Greek troops use the main entrance.
- Cliff Hanger.
- Star Trek V the Final Frontier: The film opens with Captain Kirk scaling El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
- The Guns of Navarone (see below).
- The stairs of Cirith Ungol in The Lord of the Rings (and the film of the book).
- In The Guns of Navarone, a commando team has to scale a steep cliff to get onto an island and destroy the German artillery emplacement that is fortified there.
- High Citadel by Desmond Bagley. After their plane crashes into the Andes after a failed hijack, the survivors have to fend off communist rebels while three of their group attempt to climb a previously impassable mountain using improvised climbing equipment in order to get help.
- Duncan Idaho scales a cliff several miles high in God Emperor of Dune with no gear at all, a feat so impressive that one female onlooker reacts quite enthusiastically when he reaches the top.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, The Wall is an Ice Wall Of Insanity in the eyes of the wildlings. Nevertheless they climb it, using ropes, stakes and ice axes. Sometimes they fall, too.
- In Warrior Cats, it seems like the only way to travel through the mountains is to walk along narrow cliffs. Naturally, there's a couple Literal Cliffhangers and a minor character's Disney Villain Death.
- In the Season Four finale of Angel, the titular vampire hero has to climb (without equipment, but, hey, he's a vampire) insanely tall cliffs in a hell dimension in order to reach a temple which houses the only creature to know Jasmine's true name.
- Inverted Trope on a late-Season 2 episode of The A-Team: the A-Team had to scale down a cliff in order to escape the bad guys.
- This is a common task on The Amazing Race, where teams have to climb to the top of something to retrieve their clue.
- In an episode of Legend of the Seeker "Eternity", Richard and Kahlan encounter cliffs of insanity that double as the wall around the
worldmagical valley and try to climb over them. Naturally, there's a Literal Cliff Hanger moment.
- The infamous 1972 crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571. Realizing that rescue searches were over, two team members walked over the Andes mountains into Chile to summon help. This was recreated in the 1993 film Alive.
- K2 is the world's second highest mountain and considered a more difficult climb than Everest due to the extremely steep and technical climb. Also it tends to have powerful storms that last several days. There is a reason it has the second highest fatality rate of any mountain.
- And as people think it's fun to go there, that gives "insanity" a whole new meaning.
- Trango Tower in Pakistan, pictured above, a collection of needle-shaped monoliths, is the world's tallest sheer cliff.
- Yungas Road of Bolivia (usually referred to as El Camino de la Muerte), the most dangerous road in the world, with a yearly death toll of 300. It is built into a cliff face, is only 4m wide, has no guard rails at all, and attempting to pass (any time you meet a car traveling in the opposite direction, which is quite often) can easily send your car over the side and down a 600 m plunge.
- El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park most definitely qualify.
- You climb some high cliffs at two points in Final Fantasy VII. When you're doing it the second time you're constantly losing body heat, so you have to stop on ledges to heat yourself up occasionally.
- The cliffs to Manhannan's house in King's Quest III. This was one of the last times that Sierra made you navigate a maze with the arrow keys, where the slightest misstep led to instant death. And you had to do this every time you needed to enter or leave the house, which you had to do all the time.
- The Cliffs of Logic in King's Quest VI: half puzzle sequence, half Copy Protection! Naturally, if you get a certain puzzle wrong, you tumble to your death.
- The cliffs in Peasant's Quest.
- The Cliffs of Madness in God of War could almost be the Trope Namer.
- The ladder sequence in Metal Gear Solid 3 Snake Eater.
- This has to be done in order to get the Blue Feather in Harvest Moon: Magical Melody.