Mountain climbing is an extremely popular pastime. Whether you're simply taking a day hike to relieve stress and enjoy the outdoors, or you're a hardcore climber pushing the limits to summit a mammoth like Everest or K2, the experience is exhilarating.
But with today's technological advances and guide companies geared toward extreme travel and mountain climbing, more thrill seekers are able to explore some of the world's most remote mountains, some of which top out at heights of more than 11,000 feet (3,352 meters). So which are the top 10 mountains to climb in the world? It's a tough list to narrow down, but ours includes mountains suited for mostly for expert climbers, with a few added in for weekend mountaineers, as well. Read on to see if you've summited any of the top 10 yet.
Known by the locals as Chogori, K2 is the second tallest mountain in the world, topping out at 28,251 feet (8,611 meters). K2 is not for the novice climber, and sometimes not even for the experienced. Located in the Karakoram Range between China and Pakistan, K2 is more difficult to climb than Mount Everest, the world's highest peak. While thousands have ascended Everest, only a few hundred have conquered K2 [source: Encyclopedia Britannica].
In fact, just getting to the base of the mountain is an adventure. Climbers have to drive around dangerous, narrow mountain roads and then hike eight days before arriving at the mountain. K2 is often plagued by falling rocks, avalanches and sudden storms, making it one of the most dangerous mountains on the planet to climb. In 2008, 11 climbers died on K2, including a 61-year-old grandfather making his third attempt to scale the monstrous peak [sources: Weir; Encyclopedia Britannica].
There are a number of climbing routes on K2, all but two beginning from the Pakistan side where basecamp is located. The Abruzzi Spur route, while considered the most dangerous, it is the most common and was first climbed by the Italians in 1954 [source: K2 Climbnet].
While you might be able to get fresh bread, vegetables and even beer from the villages near Everest, there are no big box stores near K2. Because K2 is so remote, getting what you need close to the mountain just isn't going to happen. Islamabad, which is more than 200 miles (321.87 kilometers) away, is not a great place to shop for gear. Bring all you can from home.
Unlike K2, Mount Elbrus -- the Jewel of the Caucasus -- is much easier to climb. With an elevation of 18,481 feet (5,633 meters), Mount Elbrus, like the rest of the Caucasus, straddles Europe and Asia in Russia. If you're going to climb Elbrus, the best time to go is from June to August. Experts say Elbrus is not technically difficult, but shifting weather patterns can make it tricky. So, have your crampons for ice climbing, warm clothing and sturdy boots ready [source: Adventure Alternative].
Although the highest peak in Europe, Elbrus is technically the easiest peak to climb in the region. A less experienced climber can easily maneuver up the glaciated twin summit. The route used by most is long and strenuous, but not difficult. Be careful, though. Although Elbrus is technically easy, it can still be deadly. Around 15 to 30 people die on the mountain each year, mainly because they are disorganized and poorly equipped. The mountain is a high, tall and jagged extinct volcano that last erupted in 50 A.D. Today, its crater is filled with ice and snow [source: Summitpost.org].
When climbing Elbrus, it is best to bring an ice ax, 12-point step-in crampons, sunglasses, and typical climbing footwear and clothing. The day you climb the summit will be long, but don't fret. You'll leave from huts near the peak and return once you top the mountain.
Long before anyone stood on the summit of Mount Everest there was Annapurna, the 26,493 foot (8,075.07 meter) Himalayan peak in Nepal. First scaled by Maurice Herzog and an expedition of French climbers in 1950, Annapurna was the highest mountain anyone had ever climbed until Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay ascended Everest in 1953. Herzog and his team had no clue where they were going, and had to find their own route to the top. It took 20 years for another team to follow [source: Everest News].
There are actually six peaks in the Annapurna Range, including the towering Annapurna I. Annapurna is Sanskrit for "Goddess of the Harvests," and Annapurna I is the 10th largest mountain in the world. The best time to climb is between April and October. Not only is climbing any one of the peaks an adventure, but your trek will take you through many Nepalese villages, including several with whitewashed buildings and cobbled streets [sources: Visit Himalaya; Unearthing Asia].
Citlaltepetl and Iztaccihuatl
If you're looking for a couple of tall mountains to climb that are closer to the states, then travel to Mexico where two extinct volcanoes, Citlaltepetl and Iztaccihuatl, tower over the countryside. With an elevation of 18,405 feet (5,610 meters) and 17,159 feet (5,230 meters) respectively, Citlaltepetl, located between Puebla and Veracruz, and Iztaccihuatl, southwest of Mexico City, require climbers to have strong mountaineering skills. The best time to climb either is from October to April, otherwise conditions will be more extreme than at any other time. The key to climbing both peaks is to be acclimatized to the high altitude, which generally takes two to three days [source: Mexico Extreme].
Citlaltepetl is the highest mountain in Mexico and the third highest in North America. Iztaccihuatl is the third highest in Mexico and the seventh highest on the continent [source: International Mountain Adventure]. In November 2009, blind climber Erik Weihenmayer and a group of blind children climbed Iztaccihuatl. If you're going to take the standard route up Iztaccihuatl, it is best to bring a backpack, gloves, mountain boots, warm socks and other typical gear.
There are several vertical ice walls created by glaciers, which should make ice climbers melt. At base camp you can find food stands and a market where you can buy climbing gear. The main route up Iztaccihuatl is the La Arista del Sol, or the Ridge of the Sun. The route is relatively easy, although if you're not acclimatized you might suffer from altitude sickness.
Located in the heart of Mongolia, Mount Khuiten is one hard mountain to get to. Straddling the border of Russia, Mongolia and China, and reaching 14,350 feet (4,374 meters), Mount Khuiten is tiny compared to Everest and K2. Still, it sits in the remotest part of Mongolia and is the tallest peak in the country. You need to be fit if you're going to climb Khuiten, although trekkers can easily explore the area around base camp. Because of its remoteness, you should keep the weight of your gear -- which should include hiking boots and mountaineering boots -- at 33 pounds (15 kilograms). Although the climb isn't difficult for the locals, it is technical, and requires some skill. The route to the top isn't exactly steep, but it is scarred with crevasses from the Potanin Glacier, so watch where you step.
Because Mount Khuiten is one of the least accessible mountains on the planet, some local adventure groups will shuttle you to the mountain using camels [source: Ke Adventure Travel].
The tallest mountain in Africa, flat-topped Kilimanjaro is located near Tanzania's northern border. Kilimanjaro is made up of three extinct volcanoes: Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira. Uhuru, Kilimanjaro's highest peak, reaches approximately 19,330 feet (5,892 meters) tall.
Kilimanjaro is a unique climb in that you don't need much climbing equipment or experience to conquer its heights. A physically fit novice climber can climb Kilimanjaro in about five days.
You'll likely begin your climb in the lush lowland forest area where you'll see vegetation like beautiful heather and proteas. At an elevation of about 10,498 feet (3,200 meters), you'll encounter a dramatic expanse of moorland with plants like giant groundsels and lobelia. At 13,123 feet (4,000 meters), the landscape changes to a breathtaking alpine desert. Then, at 16,404 feet (5,000 meters), you'll begin your trek to the summit where you'll encounter the Kibo crater, 600 feet (182 meters) deep and 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) across, and Uhuru's peak on Kibo's rim. Of the three volcanic summits on Kilimanjaro, Kibo looks the most like a volcanic crater and is covered with snow due the glaciers in its surface.
Located in the Alps of Switzerland and Italy, the Matterhorn, one of the most popular mountains to climb in the world, reaches an elevation of 14,692 feet (4,478 meters). Depending on your skill level, you can choose from a variety of routes to the summit. For example, if you're a beginner climber, you can take the popular Horni Ridge or Lion routes. These routes feature fixed ropes, huts and ladders along the way to the summit. However, if you're a more skilled climber, you can tackle a route of increasing difficulty, such as the Zmutt, North Face or Furggen Ridges.
The Matterhorn looks like a pyramid with steep ridges that jut out from the glaciers that surround it. Due to the isolated position of the Matterhorn, the weather on the mountain can change quickly, so bring versatile clothing and supplies. The best time for tackling the Matterhorn is during the summer months; however, summer storms can bring about winter conditions, which means most recreational climbers can't tackle the mountain.
The Matterhorn is definitely a long and difficult climb, requiring a great deal of skill to negotiate its unstable rocks and varying weather conditions. However, conquering this world famous peak is a source of pride for a lifetime.
Fitzroy and Cerro Torre, Patagonia
Located in both Argentina and Chile in the southernmost part of the Andes, the mountains of Patagonia climb to breathtaking heights. The peaks of Fitzroy, 11,073 feet (3,375 meters) above sea level, and Cerro Torre, 10,262 feet (3,128 meters) above sea level, offer truly breathtaking scenes of granite peaks that jut out into the sky and vertical faces of the mountains that fall away for about a mile down.
Due to the influence of the weather patterns of the nearby ocean, you'll be likely to encounter somewhat temperate weather throughout most of Patagonia, but temperatures during the winter have been known to drop below freezing.
With granite spires of sheer faces, these rocky peaks feature steep inclines, so rock climbing experience is helpful in conquering their heights.
The highest peak in North America, Mount McKinley, also known as Denali, towers at heights of 20,320 feet (6,194 meters). From base to summit, the elevation rises 18,011 feet (5,490 meters), the greatest elevation gain in the entire world. A part of the Yukon Mountain Range and the centerpiece of Denali National Park, Mount McKinley is surrounded by five glaciers and numerous icefalls.
Mount McKinley is an extremely difficult climb and is categorized as a major mountain expedition. While the climb itself is not exceptionally difficult, the severe weather that climbers encounter on their way to the summit makes for a challenging climb. It's best to climb Mount McKinley in the spring months.
Rising approximately 29,035 feet above sea level, Mount Everest is the ultimate mountain to climb: It's the tallest mountain on the face of the Earth. Since Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay first conquered this peak in 1953, there have only been about 2,500 climbs to the summit. Located in the Himalayas of Nepal and China, Mount Everest is an extremely difficult mountaineering expedition. Climbers have to obtain a permit from the Nepalese or Chinese governments to attempt to climb Mount Everest.
If you don't want to attempt to reach the summit, you can take a trek to the base camp of Everest on the north or south side of the mountain. On the northern side of the mountain, you can visit a Buddhist monastery at the foot of the Rongbuk Glacier. Here, you can contemplate your view of the world's tallest peak.
Junko Tabei, the first woman to climb Everest, died at the age of 77. Learn more about Junko Tabei and Mt. Everest in this HowStuffWorks Now article.
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