In the late 1920s when English mountaineer George Mallory was asked why he wanted to try and ascend the highest peak on Earth, Mt Everest, he gave an inspiring reply for any budding climber: “Because it’s there.” Reaching a famous high point is an exhilarating experience, but many view it is as a daunting, dangerous, if not impossible task – which isn’t always the case. In fact, many of the world’s most famous peaks aren’t too difficult to ascend.
If you’ve always wanted to hike a mountain but aren’t sure where to begin, try your hand at one or more of these well-known prominences around the world. You’ll get a ton of cred among your nature-loving friends, and the stories you’ll bring home are perfect conversation starters at your next party.
NileGuide note: While scrambling/trekking/hiking/climbing to the top of a mountain is excellent exercise, there are inherent and serious risks associated with this sport. One of the most challenging parts of climbing is realizing when to turn back. Most people plunge forward in conditions that become unsafe because of pride or not wanting to give up on the time or money invested in a hike. While all of these mountains are technically easy, they can prey on those who use bad judgment. Make sure you prepare well and take the necessary precautions before attempting to summit. Always climb with a more experienced partner, or with a group.
Mount Washington – New Hampshire: 6,288 ft
The third highest peak east of the Mississippi is also one of the most well known because of the extreme weather conditions that can occur on the summit. Mount Washington holds the record for the highest surface wind gust ever recorded by a person – 231 mph on April 12, 1934. The winter months see an average high of 14.0 °F and a chilly average low of -3.7 °F.
Although the winter conditions aren’t exactly desirable, don’t worry: thousands of people attempt to climb the peak during the mild summer months, including those making their way along the Appalachian Trail. The most popular way to the top is a moderate 4.2-mile climb up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. You can check out the observation area, museum, and have a snack at the summit before taking a shuttle bus back down. Yes, there is a road route as well as a cog railway to the top, but it won’t help you condition for the following mountains on this list, so just use it as a photo-op.
Mt Kosciuszko – Australia: 7,310 ft
Almost 10,000 miles away from the Appalachians lies the highest peak on the Australian mainland, Mount Kosciuszko. Its slightly peculiar name (for Australia) comes from Polish explorer Count Paul Edmund Strzelecki, who climbed the mountain in 1840 and thought it looked very similar to Kościuszko Mound, a hill in Krakow. The mountain is now an extremely popular hike in Australia, with well over 100,000 people climbing it each year.
Most hikers use the easy 5-mile trail along a road from Charlotte Pass to the top (this road is now closed to vehicle traffic and most bikers due to environmental concerns.) Within Kosciuszko National Park are several ski resorts and the surrounding trails are popular destinations for cross-country skiers during the winter. Among some alpine circles, Mount Kosciuszko is listed as one of the Seven Summits, so climbing to the top means you’ve knocked one off (out of three on this list).
Mount Olympus – Washington State: 7,980 ft
It’s time to strap on some crampons and grab your ice axes, as our next summit challenge means tackling a glacier. Back across the Pacific Ocean in Washington on the Olympic Peninsula is Mount Olympus (not to be confused with the home of the Greek deities). This relatively short peak is unique because of it’s heavy glaciation at such low altitudes, which makes it a popular hike for beginning alpine and ice climbers.
Images – Summitpost
The most difficult part of getting to the summit of Mount Olympus is the hike-in along the Hoh River Trail, a 17-mile trek through a rain forest. After reaching the foot of the Blue Glacier, it’s a 3-mile meander to the summit using standard glacier gear. Frequent climbers using this route allow between 3 and 4 days total to hike in, climb the summit, and hike out.
Mount Saint Helens – Washington State: 8,365 ft
Only 200 miles away from the Olympic Peninsula lies one of the most famous, active volcanoes in the United States. After its devastating eruption in the spring of 1980, Mount Saint Helens has become a popular observation ground for scientists who want to examine the resiliency of nature, and for climbers who want to hike up and peer into the crater of a live volcano.
The northern approach to the mountain is not feasible because it lies within a crater exclusion zone. The southern approach, however, is a steady, if not slightly strenuous, 5-mile hike up the back of of the mountain. From May to October, climbers need a permit to hike above the tree line; this can be obtained at the Lone Fir Resort, which also offers food, beer, and relaxation after the long, dusty hike.
The Zugspitze – Germany/Austria: 9,718 ft
Climbing through the Alps of Europe is arguably one of the most romantic undertakings a fledgling alpinist can take. The sheer beauty of these peaks, coupled by the fact that so many famous mountaineers found their climbing inspiration among these lofty summits means it’s a popular destination for people from all over the world. Although Germany’s Zugspitze isn’t the tallest peak in the Alps, it certainly evokes the mountaineering spirit because of it’s location between German Bavaria and Austrian Tyrol, which is exactly why you should try to climb it.
One of the classic routes up the mountain involves several elements of alpine climbing and mountaineering, while still being a reasonable goal for the beginning climber. The Höllental (“Hell Valley” – not as daunting as it sounds) trail is often done in two days and covers an immense amount of terrain, including low meadows, loose moraine, rock slabs, and glaciers. It’s all topped off with a classic climb near the top using a via ferrata or iron ladder. A cog railway can take weary climbers back down to the bottom, after they’ve enjoyed lunch and stunning views at the summit.
Mount Fuji (富士山) – Japan: 12,388 ft
This iconic, nearly symmetrical cone has been the inspiration for paintings, poems, and 200,000 climbers who make the ascent each year. It’s said in Japan that he who climbs Mount Fuji once is a wise man, but he who climbs it twice is a fool— a saying that seems relevant, judging by the number of first-time climbers on the mountain using supplemental oxygen.
There are five trails of varied length that wind up Mount Fuji, each with stations and refreshment huts along the way. Hikers often bring wooden walking sticks that can be “branded” with a stamp to mark their progress past each station up the mountain. The official climbing season starts on July 1st and ends on August 27th, which means the paths and the stations will be crowded. On either end of the climbing season, the trails are less crowded, but the huts are closed, meaning you’ll have to be slightly more self-sufficient. The moderate climb up Mt Fuji can take anywhere between 8 and 12 hours round-trip, depending on which trail you start from.
Mount Elbert – Colorado: 14,443 ft
Among the fifty-four “fourteeners” – peaks over 14,000 feet – in Colorado, Mount Elbert stands alone at the top. But just because this mountain in the Sawatch Range is the tallest, doesn’t mean it has a high degree of difficulty. In fact, Mount Elbert is among the easiest mountains to ascend in Colorado, with the only challenge being the adjustment to the high altitude.
The North Mount Elbert trailhead is the easiest and most popular hiking choice, offering a leisurely 4.5 mile hike to the summit. Other routes up the mountain are longer, but equally gradual; in fact, people have been known to mountain bike on some trails to the summit. After taking in the view atop Colorado’s highest mountain, head back down the trail and lunch in nearby Leadville, which has the honor of being the highest incorporated city in the United States.
Mount Whitney/Badwater Basin – California: 14,505 ft/-282 feet below sea level
This challenge is slightly different, because it incorporates two extreme points within the contiguous United States. The highest point in the lower 48 states, Mount Whitney, sits on the border of Inyo National Forest and Sequoia National Park; while the lowest point, Badwater Basin, sits a mere 130 miles away in Death Valley National Park.
Start in Lone Pine, California and make your way to the trailhead inside Inyo National Forest (you’ll need a permit to climb up and camp on Mount Whitney). The 11-mile trail to the top is a long but gradual hike and can be done as a strenuous 22-mile round-trip slog, but it’s much more fun to camp overnight high up on the mountain and then summit just after sunrise. Make your way back down the mountain and have a late lunch at the Mount Whitney Restaurant before hopping in your vehicle for the 2-hour drive to Death Valley, just in time for a gorgeous sunset at the very flat, non-mountainous Badwater Basin.
Kilimanjaro – Tanzania: 19,334 ft
Africa’s tallest peak and the fourth highest of the Seven Summits is a massive strato-volcano and one of the largest freestanding mountains in the world. Kilimanjaro has long been revered by adventurers and other visitors to Africa because of it’s magnificence and was even the subject of a short story by Ernest Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” Of course, the story was written when the mountain still had a lot of snow.
And snow is one reason you should go visit Kilimanjaro now. Climate change has reduced the glaciers to a fraction of their once immense size, and scientists use the mountain as a laboratory to study why they have receded almost 82 percent within the last 100 years. You’ll have to secure a guide before climbing Kilimanjaro, but once you do it’s a slow, non-technical hike that takes between 6 and 7 days. Your biggest worry is altitude sickness, which can be alleviated by a slow acclimatization over the course of several days as you make your way up the Marangu route. Hey, if Jessica Biel, Emile Hirsch, and Lupe Fiasco can climb it, you certainly can.
Cerro Aconcagua – Argentina: 22,841 ft
South America’s impressive Andes mountain range stretches almost 4,300 miles from Colombia to the tip of Tierra del Fuego in Chile and is the highest mountain range outside of Asia. The tallest of these mountains is Aconcagua, a large, glaciated peak in Argentina’s Mendoza province and scarcely 3 miles from the Chilean border. It’s one of the easier peaks over 20,000 feet to climb in the world.
Aside from a guide, which is recommended, you can also use mules to help transport your equipment to the base camp. Once there, a series of camps up the Polish Glacier is the most common route for tackling Aconcagua. Like Kilimanjaro, altitude sickness is the most common danger on this mountain. However, a fit person can take on this challenge and ascend this impressive summit, much like an 11-year-old did in 2007.
Cho Oyu (चोयु) – Nepal/China: 26,906 ft
Probably the pinnacle of any amateur mountaineer’s career is to climb an 8,000-meter peak, or one that is approximately 26,000 feet above sea-level. There are only fourteen of these in the world – including Mount Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth – and all of them lie within the Himalaya and Karakorum Ranges in Asia. If you’re interested in trying your hand at one of the biggest, you probably have the best chance of success on Nepal’s Cho Oyu.
There’s no doubt that this climb is far and away the most difficult on this list, not to mention expensive and time consuming (if you allow 6 to 7 weeks for the entire trip.) Going with a guide is mandatory, as is being in top shape for the climb. However, with excellent preparation, training and a little luck, Cho Oyu is a reasonable attempt – if conditions permit – for a climber who has a several high-altitude climbs under their belt. Celebrate back in Kathmandu with a couple of cold Gurkhas on Thamel Street; whether you make it to the top or not, it’ll be well worth the price of the trip.