Proverbial wisdom suggests that sometimes it's the journey – not the destination – that matters most. When it comes to climbing adventures, it's usually both. Some of the world's best climbs are also its greatest adventures. Reaching a summit is always a life-altering experience, but what happens along the way can make it even more magical. By their very nature, climbers are thrill seekers who typically have a remarkable lust for life. That's why climbing adventures are often combined with interesting side treks or explorations that turn each trip into an amazing journey.
Would you summit the volcanoes of Mexico without giving the nearby Pyramid of Sun the same courtesy? Is it possible to visit Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro without rounding out the trip with a safari experience? Could you reach the peak of Mount Everest without exploring the villages and forests along the way? Ask a climbing enthusiast what makes an adventure most memorable and it likely has as much to do with the surroundings and cultural encounters as the technical challenges of the climb itself.
Creating adventure trips that center on climbing make sense when you consider what's at stake for the mountaineers who set out to conquer the world's largest geologic formations. In many cases, a climber's life is in jeopardy with every step. It's natural to complement this experience with an appreciation of all that our planet has to offer. This is where adventure travel comes in. There are plenty of mountaineering outfitters and adventure travel specialists that plan and guide people on excursions focused on the world's most challenging or interesting climbs. You can also design your own trip. To get some ideas, check out our list of 10 challenging adventure trips for climbers.
Matanuska Glacier, Alaska
Climbing Alaska's Matanuska Glacier is an excellent example of a challenging climbing experience combined with an amazing exploration of one of the most beautiful natural settings on earth. This massive blue-hued edifice is a wintery wonderland just waiting to be discovered. It's also surprisingly accessible -- the largest glacier in Alaska that can be reached by car [source: Matanuska Glacier].
At 13,176 feet high (4,016 meters), the Matanuska Glacier is dotted with ice caves, crystal clear blue lakes, and beautifully carved crevasses that provide a highly technical and challenging climb [source: Anchorage Daily News]. You'll definitely need gear for ice and snow on this climb, including crampons for your boots and tools such as axes, screws, and anchors. Clothing is also very important on an ice climb. Glaciers and other frozen environments require waterproof gear designed for maximum warmth.
You'd expect a glacier environment to be bitterly cold, and the air around Alaska's Matanuska Glacier can be freezing at times. However, the glacier exists in a "weather hole," which is a zone that sometimes experiences less severe weather than the surrounding area. The Matanuska Glacier weather hole is created when cold air from the glacier itself forces the warmer air around it up toward the peaks, creating a sunny, mild zone for climbers and trekkers despite inclement weather nearby [source: Frommer's Alaska]. This mild zone is concentrated on the glacier, but don't let that stop you from exploring the valley below, which offers plenty of side adventures outside of the glacier environment, such as river rafting, zip lining, and fabulous hiking excursions.
Khan Tengri, Kazakhstan
Next on our list is an adventure that brings us to the Khan Tengri, a stunningly beautiful mountain at the convergence of three countries, China, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan [source: OrexCA]. It is part of the Tien Shan range, which is full of adventure opportunities, many of which focus on the mountains. Visitors to Tien Shan can experience some of the most amazing hiking, mountain biking, river rafting and skiing the world has to offer, all of which is surrounded by a rich and varied cultural environment [source: Kan Tengri, Ltd.].
One of the best adventures to be had in Kazakhstan is the climb to the peak of Khan Tengri. At 7,010 meters (22,998 feet) high, the Khan Tengri is one of the most northerly peaks in the world [source: Central Asian Online Travel Company]. It is a visually stunning experience in a remote mountain wilderness. Because the mountain is largely marble, it glows red in the evening sunset, creating a sharp contrast with its a snowy white peak [source: Summit Post].
Climbing Khan Tengri is an advanced mountaineering expedition. This multi-day adventure is physically and technically challenging, all the more so because of its high altitude and extreme cold [source: Central Asia Travel]. Rarely conquered in winter months because of the harsh conditions, most people summit the peaks of Khan Tengri in summer, when journeys typically last about 20 days [source: Adventure Peaks].
The Khan Tengri is on the short list of many adventurers who love a good hiking adventure. Though very challenging, climbers on this journey will be rewarded with stunning views of a place few humans will ever see first-hand. On most trips, the journey to base camp involves a helicopter through heavily glaciated and sharply jagged peaks, all setting the stage for the most amazing visual...the Khan Tengri, jewel of the Tien Shan [source: Adventure Peaks].
Mount Shasta, California
California is an adventurer's paradise, and Mount Shasta is its pinnacle. Though not quite the highest peak in the state (that honor goes to Mount Whitney), Mount Shasta offers a breathtakingly beautiful climb that involves a high and rapid ascent and a lot of hard climbing work. It rises up to 14,161 feet (4,316 meters) like a great white cone-shaped monument dwarfing the surrounding mountains by at least 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) [source: U.S. Geological Survey; Summit Post]. It also has five glaciers, including the Whitney Glacier, the largest in California [source: U.S. Geological Survey].
Whether you choose to conquer Mount Shasta from the north or south face, this is going to be a snowy climb lasting at least two or three days [source: Shasta Guides]. Either way, these trips are considered quite strenuous, requiring helmets, crampons, ice axes, and other ice and snow tools in addition to regular climbing ropes and harnesses.
If you're able to summit the peak of the Mount Shasta, you'll be rewarded with stunning views of California's Cascade Range. You'll also be able to take advantage of all that the Cascades have to offer on an adventure tour, including backpacking, hiking and some of the best backcountry skiing in the world [source: Shasta Guides]. You could also climb Mount Eddy, the highest peak in the nearby Klamath Mountains, where you can treat yourself to a swim in the Dead Fall Lakes, a series of pristine alpine lakes ringed by mountain peaks and from which you can see Mount Shasta [source: Shasta Home].
Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
There is something special about volcanoes, even dormant ones. Most of us are well aware that life is fleeting. Volcanoes remind us that the ground under our feet is also temporary – vulnerable to the moody eruptions brimming beneath the surface of the earth.
Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro is an awesome sight. At 19,336 feet (5,895 meters), it is the highest mountain in Africa [source: Tanzania Parks]. Along the slopes of this behemoth you will encounter virtually all of Earth's biomes, including tropical lowlands, alpine woodlands, and lush green landscapes in between [source: Tanzania Parks]. Mount Kilimanjaro is also incredibly rich in biodiversity, providing a home to 179 species of bird and 140 species of mammals, including several primates [source: Mount Kilimanjaro Guide].
What's wonderful about Mount Kilimanjaro is that anyone can climb it. Well, almost anyone. Known as "Everyman's Everest," its slope is gentle enough to conquer with nothing more than a walking stick and a whole lot of determination, though reaching the summit is generally reserved for expert climbers. The amount of time it takes to reach the peak of Kilimanjaro depends on many factors, including your fitness level and the route you choose. Most trekking organizers recommend about eight days to summit and back, which allows time to acclimatize to the high altitude [source: Ultimate Kilimanjaro].
After your Kilimanjaro climb, you'll be basking in the glow of its awesomeness, but don't forget that you're in an outdoor paradise. No trip to Mount Kilimanjaro is complete without a Tanzanian safari experience, where you'll see cheetahs, leopards, lions and elephants in their natural habitat [source: Tanzania Adventure].
This location has a Romeo and Juliet-type story behind it. As the Aztec legend goes, the two giant volcanoes of Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl represent two lovers that were tragically separated. Popocatepetl was a brave young warrior and Iztaccíhuatl was the daughter of the king. With Popocatepetl sent by the king to battle enemy tribes in order to earn his daughter's hand, a romantic rival tricked Iztaccíhuatl into thinking Popocatepetl had been killed. Of course, she then died of a broken heart, as did Iztaccíhuatl when he learned of her fate. Taking pity on their souls, the gods then immortalized them in the form of neighboring volcanoes, never to be separated again [source: MexOnline].
At its peak, Iztaccíhuatl reaches a height of 17,338 feet (5,286 meters) [source: Oregon State]. And there is a special treat at the top of this mountain. Climbers who reach the top of this mountain will have a spectacular view of nearby Popocatepetl, which is continuously erupting. By contrast, Iztaccíhuatl has not erupted in historic times [source: NASA].
In the Aztec language of Nahuatl, Iztaccíhuatl means, "white woman" [source: Backpacker]. When viewed from the east or west, the reason for its name becomes clear as the outline of a sleeping woman appears, with "La Cabeza (head)," El Pecho (breast) and other similarly named body parts forming the most common trails to the summit [source: Summit Post].
While the summit of Iztaccíhuatl is heavily glaciated, these glaciers have very few crevasses, enabling the beginning climber to develop skills and encounter only relatively few danger spots. Thus, it provides a wonderful first experience with high altitude alongside fantastic panoramic views [source: Alpine Ascents]. And since Iztaccíhuatl is a mere 40 miles (64 kilometers) from of Mexico City as well as the tourist hub of Teotihuacán, the Aztec Pyramid of the Sun, this trip is quite accessible to most travelers in North America [source: Oregon State].
Mount McKinley, Alaska
To non-climbers, the idea of visiting a massive mountain of rock – where temperatures rarely climb above freezing – may be difficult fathom, particularly when you compare it to sipping mai tais on a sandy beach. What they may not realize is that no amount of fruity cocktails or tropical sun can compare to the breathtaking scenery of Alaska, especially its Denali National Park and Preserve. With panoramic views of majestic snow and glacier-capped mountains, Denali is the crown jewel of earth's natural landscapes, where adventure lies around every corner.
Reaching the summit of Mount McKinley is a dream for many climbers. At 20,320 feet (6,194 meters), it is the highest peak in North America, offers world-class mountaineering for experienced climbers [source: Encyclopedia Britannica]. But be warned that this is no hillside stroll – climbing the rugged, glacier-topped peaks of Mount McKinley requires expertise in managing the mental and physical stresses of high altitude climbing and exploration. Mount McKinley is extremely challenging, especially considering it has more vertical relief – 18,000 feet (5,486 meters) – than any mountain on the planet [source: National Geographic].
But climbing Mount McKinley is only the start of any Alaskan adventure worth its salt. Trips to the "Last Frontier" invariably include river rafting, eco-tours, sledding, trekking, and some of the best hiking in the world [source: Anchorage Daily News]. You should also consider doing a flying trip around Mount McKinley, either before or after (or both) you've conquered it.
Mont Blanc, France
Of all the quintessential climbing adventures, Mont Blanc is a classic. In fact, this is the mountain that literally defined the sport of Alpine climbing in its early days.
The starting point of most Mont Blanc climbs is the town of Chamonix, a friendly village in the valley of the same name. This is an infinitely accessible trip to all those interested in the stunning panoramic views and lush forested hiking trails of the French Alps [source: Offices de Tourisme de Chamonix]. For those looking for something a bit more thrilling, look toward the peak of Mont Blanc.
Forming the "roof of Europe," Mont Blanc is an impressive 15,781 feet (4,808 meters) geological giant that straddles the French-Italian border [source: Summit Post]. Climbing Mont Blanc can include many different routes, but the most difficult involve a bid for the summit. No matter how you get there, be prepared for extremely cold weather as Mont Blanc's summit ridge is completely exposed to the harsh Alps environment [source: Summit Post].
As Europe's tallest peak, there are many climbers on Mont Blanc. It is a beautiful adventure and one that is high on the short list of many adventurers' "climbs of all time." But don't get so caught up the climb that you forget the surrounding area. For starters, there is no shortage of mountain-themed sporting activities in the area, including some of the best hiking and skiing in the world. There are also many other heart-pounding climbs within a stone's throw of Mont Blanc, including the Matterhorn and Eiger, two of Europe's most famous, enigmatic, and awe-inspiring peaks.
Wadi Rum, Jordan
There is a certain appeal to desert climbs. Particularly if you've spent a lot of time summiting in ice and snow, desert environments provide much appreciated warmth and sunshine. If this sounds appealing to you, plan your next climbing adventure to include Wadi Rum, Jordan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the foremost desert climbing destinations in the world [source: Bible History Daily].
Given the amazing trekking, rock climbing, canyoneering, and exploration that are available in Wadi Rum, this is sure to be an amazing adventure trip with spectacular scenery that includes sand dunes and sandstone rock formations. Tourists flock to the remote and unspoiled desert landscapes of Wadi Rum, though most are there for the Bedouin experience, not the climbing challenges. Located just 44 miles (70 kilometers) to the north of Aqaba, Jordan, it is an easily accessible adventure trip [source: Wadi Rum].
And if the amazing climbs of Wadi Rum don't leave you exhausted, be sure to allow time for a camel ride through the desert to mingle with the Bedouin tribes of the area, known for their warmth and hospitality. These locals are also best equipped to discuss the geographical and ecological features of the region, so they serve as good sources of climbing information [source: Bedouin Guides]. You might also decide to make a side trip to one of the many archeological sites in the region, some of which date back to prehistoric times [source: Bible History Daily].
Mount Olympus, Greece
Have you ever dreamed of sitting high atop Mount Olympus, throwing bolts of lightning down at the lowly humans below? If so, you have a bit of a Zeus complex...there is professional help for that! But considering the rich landscapes and stunning views from the peaks of Mount Olympus, this mythological mountaintop fantasy also suggests that you may be a die-hard climbing enthusiast.
Mount Olympus may not be among the tallest mountains in the world, but it is undeniably one of the most beautiful. Standing at 9,570 feet (2,917 meters), it straddles the border of Thessaly and Macedonia in Greece, making it an excellent addition to any tour of the Greek Isles [source: Britannica]. Many of climbers who come to conquer the home of the Greek gods are amazed to find that the culturally and archeologically rich environment also boasts some of the most incredible biodiversity in the world [source: Greece Travel]. The mountain is home to many endemic species of birds and butterflies in its beech and fir forests, so be sure to stop and observe. You might also take a swim into the clear waters of Enippeas River, especially if you're there when the weather is warm.
There are a few important things to note about a climbing adventure trip to Mount Olympus. For starters, this is not as a difficult climb as others on our list, and it may be done in a day or two. When climbing Mount Olympus, keep in mind that there are actually three distinct peaks that are close in height. The lowest is Skala at 9,258 feet (2,882 meters); Skolio is 9,550 feet (2,911 meters), and Mytikas is 9,570 feet (2,917 meters), Greece's highest peak. At each peak, you'll be rewarded with stunning views of the Aegean Sea, which is often beautifully shrouded in an evening mist at the close of the day [source: Greece Travel].
Straddling the border of Nepal and Tibet, Everest towers above the earth at 29,035 feet (8,850 meters), making even the most egocentric of humans feel small in its presence [source: Encyclopedia Britannica].
As the highest peak on the planet, climbing Mount Everest is widely considered the most adventurous of all adventure trips for climbers. And taking into account the summit height, the risk of altitude sickness and the extreme cold, this is not a trip for the faint of heart. The odds of making it to the top are only one in three [source: Himalayan Rescue Association].
It's also not for the faint of pocket. The trip is expensive (about $60,000), time-consuming (takes about seven weeks), and extremely dangerous (about 225 deaths since 1953) [sources: This Week and Science Daily]. It's also very difficult to do on your own – hence the large cost for joining expedition groups who can guide you. Training and gear are also essential. The last thing you need on your ascent into the heavens is second-rate equipment.
There is no doubt that climbing Mount Everest is the ultimate in mountaineering adventure trips. But if reaching the summit of the world's highest peak isn't enough to satisfy the sportsman in you, consider a side trip of river rafting or kayaking. If you're really feeling adventurous, you could try following in the footsteps of two recent adventurers who successfully took on a summit-to-sea trip in which they climbed Mount Everest, paraglided down, and then kayaked the Ganges River to the Indian Ocean [source: National Geographic]. Not for the novice, to be sure, but perhaps it won't be long before others (including you?) attempt a similar journey.
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