Sprawling over roughly 10 million square kilometres (3.5 million square miles), the United States resembles a continent more so than a country.
Along with its sheer size, the U.S. also boasts an immense amount of diversity. In the 50 states alone (excluding the overseas territories), the country comprises 26 different climate zones, spanning countless landforms.
Despite this immense amount of diversity, the most visited parts of the country remain its urban centres, including New York City and Las Vegas, as well as Niagara Falls, in New York, and the Grand Canyon, in Arizona.
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However, away from the flashy neon lights and set-piece postcard landscapes, the United States is also a veritable playground for outdoor adventurers, especially mountaineers.
The U.S. boasts dozens of different mountain ranges stretching across the entire country and comes complete with climbing options ideally suited for mountaineering enthusiasts of every level.
First-time climbers can head to many destinations to learn all the basics of mountaineering and the necessary skills to carry on with the sport. Meanwhile, seasoned veterans can take on Denali, one of the world’s Seven Summits, as well as one of the most challenging climbs on the continent.
Preparation and training
Mountaineering is both a fun and rewarding sport, but it is also a challenging one. Along with being an excellent source of physical exercise and other providing health benefits, mountaineering can also be a mental challenge.
As a result, it is important to be fully prepared for the physical and mental aspects before heading out into the mountains.
Most guides recommend spending between two and six months of physical training before heading out on a mountaineering expedition. This physical training can be broken down into four separate components: climbing conditioning, strength training, cardiovascular training and flexibility training.
- Climbing conditioning is one of the most important aspects of mountaineering. It works out all the muscles needed to hike uphill carrying a pack that may weigh anywhere between 15 and 30 kilograms (33 to 66 lbs). The best way to practice climbing conditioning is to hike in the mountains or carry a weighted pack up a stair machine. (However, this second option is far worse for the ankles and knees, climbing conditioning in the mountains, if possible, is always the better option.)
- Strength training for mountaineers usually focuses on the lower body and core, with some back and shoulder work. Most guides recommend finding a training regime that incorporates crunches and squats in the months leading up to the trip.
- Cardiovascular training for mountaineers involves both aerobic and anaerobic exercises, with the goal being to increase lung capacity and strengthen the heart. Along with climbing conditioning, cardiovascular training is vital and very helpful for climbing at high altitude.
- Flexibility training is key to climbing. Both before and after engaging in any of the aforementioned exercises, it is important to stretch. This will help prevent muscle injuries during physical exertion and give you a greater range of motion, all of which will come in handy on exposed mountain ridges and glaciers.
Away from the physical side of the sport, it is also key to be mentally prepared for the challenges that will come up while climbing. Among these are the elevation and climate conditions.
Even at fairly modest elevations – as low as 2,400 metres (8,000 feet) – the air becomes substantially less saturated with oxygen (thinner) and breathing becomes more difficult.
Taking up yoga and practicing breathing exercises is a great way to mentally prepare you to exert increasingly more effort as elevation is gained while simultaneously bringing less oxygen into the lungs with each breath.
It is also important to be prepared to deal with inclement weather. Many of the country’s mountain ranges create specific climate zones and are subject to rapidly changing conditions. From the Rocky Mountains to the Alaska Range, clear days can quickly turn into violent storms.
As a result, always plan for worst case scenario weather conditions. This means bringing the proper clothing and gear as well as going over various route finding and navigation skills before the ascent.
It is also always best to climb with a certified mountain guide who will help make the best decision and know when turning back is the only safe option.
What to bring on a mountaineering expedition
Along with the physical and mental preparation for a mountaineering experience, it is also essential to bring the correct gear. Having the proper equipment can be the difference between success and failure.
While equipment lists will change based on the mountain and the guide service, below is a checklist of basic mountaineering gear required on most intermediate and advanced ascents.
Climbing and camping gear
- 20 to 60-litre climbing pack
- Ice axe
- Belay device
- Climbing harness
- Avalanche rescue gear
- Crevasse rescue gear
- Headlamp and extra batteries
- Four-season tent
- Thermal sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- First aid and toiletries
- ID card, visas and necessary permits
- Hiking socks and liner socks
- Mountaineering boots
- Street shoes or sandals for base camp
- Neck gaiter and balaclava
- Mountaineering goggles
- Mountaineering helmet
- Knit cap
- Category 4 sunglasses (for snowy conditions)
- Baselayer bottom and top
- Softshell pants and hardshell pants
- Softshell jacket, midlayer top and hardshell jacket
- Lightweight insulated jacket
- Insulated down parka
- T-shirts, shorts and trousers for base camp
- Nightwear and underwear (long underwear is preferable for camping on mountains)
- Liner gloves and mountaineering gloves
Eating and drinking
- One-litre water bottle
- Water purification tablets and/or steripens
- Backpacking stove and fuel
- Cooking and eating utensils
- Energy snacks
- Hot drink mix
- Collapsible water container
- Biodegradable soap
Remember, some guides will provide some or all of the necessary equipment, while others will not. It is always best to ask the guide for a checklist before packing for an expedition.
Towering above the other glaciated peaks of the Alaska Range, Denali is a behemoth. North America’s highest peak is also the third most prominent on Earth and provides a true challenge for intermediate and advanced mountaineering enthusiasts.
While taller mountains may be found in Central Asia and South America, Denali provides one of the world’s best expedition challenges. Its unique location, sandwiched between the Arctic Circle and the Gulf of Alaska means the weather can be volatile and ferocious.
The difference in elevation between summit and base camp is also one of the largest on earth. Roughly 5,180 metres (17,000 feet) separate the starting and ending points of the climb. By contrast, only 4,570 metres (15,000 feet) separate Everest’s south col base camp from its lofty summit.
As a result of this combination of Arctic climate and steep, technical climbing, Denali is often seen as a training ground for climbers aspiring to reach the world’s highest peaks in the Himalayas and Karakoram Range.
Challenges of climbing Denali
As previously mentioned, many factors make Denali one of the world’s toughest ascents.
The massif is located in a subpolar low, an area where cold air from the north pole meets warmer air coming up from the Gulf of Alaska. This means that the peak is prone to extreme weather conditions throughout the year and storms can engulf Denali quickly and without warning.
The peak is also incredibly isolated and is located hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest city. This means that all camping and climbing gear must be hauled up and down the mountain by participants. While most guides use this as part of the acclimatisation, it adds to the physical challenge of summiting the peak.
Away from the weather and logistics, the climbing is also quite technical. Participants heading to the top of Denali will need intermediate snow climbing abilities, previous glacier climbing experience, backcountry winter camping experience and an incredibly high level of physical fitness.
How to get to Denali
Located about 290 kilometres (180 miles) north of Anchorage, in southern Alaska, most trips to Denali begin with a flight into Anchorage International Airport (ANC). Another local flight is then taken to the national park, usually close to the base camp of the respective route.
Routes to the summit of Denali
Four different routes lead to the summit of Denali. Of these, the most popular is the West Buttress.
Considered to be the least technically challenging, the West Buttress starts from the Kahiltna Glacier and ascends the peak via the west. The climb begins with an ascent over one of the mountain’s numerous glaciers with steeper snow and ice climbing employed closer to the summit.
Away from the West Buttress is the Muldrow Glacier route. Starting from the northern end of the mountain (which is harder to reach since there are no places for airplanes to land), climbers traverse the Muldrow Glacier before meeting up with the West Buttress at Denali Pass.
Away from these two routes are the far more technically challenging West Rib and Cassin Ridge routes. Both begin from the same starting point as the West Buttress Route but head through the far more technically challenging Valley of Death.
Both routes require a high level of rock, snow and ice climbing up the respective ridgelines that eventually lead up to the summit.
- Location: Alaska
- Elevation: 6,190 metres (20,310 feet)
- Duration: 2 to 3 weeks
- Climbing season: Late April to mid-July
2| Mount Rainier
Situated in the heart of the Cascade Range in Washington state, Mount Rainier casts an imposing shadow over the surrounding mountains, volcanoes and forests.
At nearly 4,400 metres (14,450 feet) in elevation and boasting 26 major glaciers, Mount Rainier is the largest glaciated peak in the contiguous United States. With a prominence of more than 4,000 metres (13,100 feet), Rainier presents a daunting challenge for intermediate-level mountaineers.
Offering several different routes to the summit, along with some of the country’s most gorgeous scenery en route, Mount Rainier is both a popular climbing destination in its own right and the ideal training ground for expeditions to the Alaska Range and Himalayas.
Part of what makes the mountain such a unique climbing destination is its geology. Mount Rainier is an active stratovolcano with two massive craters at the summit. Due to the geothermal activity, the rims are free of snow and glaciers. Rainier is also home to the world’s largest glacial cave, which can be visited on the way up.
Challenges of climbing Mount Rainier
Climbing Mount Rainier is the perfect mental, physical and technical challenge for intermediate-level mountaineers.
The mountain boasts various types of climbing, including over mixed rock, snow and ice. At the beginning of the climb, glacier travel is required as well, and climbers will travel in a rope team as they navigate the mountain’s massive crevasses.
Away from the technical challenges, Mount Rainier provides many physical ones as well. Many parts of the climb are very steep, requiring a high level of physical fitness and the mental fortitude to climb for hours on end, with limited places to stop and rest.
Finally, as with many other peaks in the Pacific Northwest, weather conditions at higher elevations can change quickly. Mid-afternoon thunderstorms frequently engulf the summit in the summer months and as a result, it is always best to have an extra day added to the itinerary in case of a delay.
How to get to Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier sits 95 kilometres (59 miles) south-southeast of Seattle. Most guides will opt to meet in the city and provide transport to the start of the trip. It is also possible to rent a car at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) and make the short and scenic drive to one of the trailheads.
Routes to the summit of Mount Rainier
Several different routes lead to the summit of Mount Rainier. However, the Disappointment Cleaver route, Emmons Glacier route and Liberty Ridge route are the most popular and commonly used.
Known as the normal route, the Disappointment Cleaver route is the most popularly taken route to the summit and, as a result, can get quite busy during the peak summer months.
Starting from the south of the peak, the route follows the famed Skyline Trail for the first third of the ascent. From here, the route diverges from the popular – though incredibly steep – hiking trail and follows the Cathedral Rocks Ridge up through the crevasse-filled Ingraham Glacier.
After traversing these two massive features, climbers arrive at the Disappointment Cleaver and will climb over this as well before following the final ridgeline to the summit.
The Emmons Glacier route starts from the White River campground, just northeast of Mount Rainier. After making a gorgeous hiking approach through the national park, climbers will traverse the Inter Glacier. From here, climbers continue to the Emmons Glacier and can follow it directly up to the summit.
The Liberty Ridge route takes on the north face of Mount Rainier and is by far the most physically and technically challenging route to the volcano’s summit. The climb begins from the Glacier Basin Trail before following the Curtis Ridge up to the Carbon Glacier,
From here, climbers will make a steep snow and ice climbing ascent past Thumb Rock and on to Willis Wall. After making the mixed climbing ascent of the wall, climbers arrive at Liberty Gap Glacier, leading up to the summit.
- Location: Washington
- Elevation: 4,392 metres (14,411 feet)
- Duration: 4 days
- Climbing season: May to October
3| Mount Whitney
Towering over the southern reaches of California’s stunning Sierra Nevada, Mount Whitney is the tallest mountain in the state and the highest one in the contiguous U.S.
Serving as the southern terminus of the famed John Muir Trail, the peak is frequented by trekkers following in the footsteps of the trailblazing conservationist. However, Mount Whitney is a popular destination in its own right.
During the high season, the slopes of the massive granite batholith are generally teeming with hikers and climbers seeking to reach the summit of the state. Due to its unique geologic formation, the mountain’s western slopes are long and gradual, while the eastern face is incredibly steep.
As a result, most climbers head up the peak via one of the non-technical western routes, while intermediate-level mountaineers looking for a challenge take on the east face.
Challenges of climbing Mount Whitney
While climbing Mount Whitney from the west does not require any technical mountaineering skills, the ascent is far from easy.
Despite its more gradual nature, the climb is steep and takes place at fairly high elevation. Overall, the trail includes an elevation gain of 1,900 metres (6,100 feet) over 17.5 kilometres (10.9 miles). The terrain can also be tricky since it is generally quite loose and very dry.
Ascents of the eastern face are far more technically involved and quite long. To successfully summit the peak from this side requires Class V+ climbing abilities.
Away from the physical and technical difficulty, another challenge of climbing Mount Whitney is logistical. From May 1 to November 1, a permit is required to climb the peak and only a limited number are available. Applying well in advance creates the highest odds for obtaining one.
How to get to Mount Whitney
Regardless of the route being taken to the summit, all ascents of Mount Whitney begin from Whitney Portal. The small town is located 3.5 hours north of Los Angeles and is most easily accessed by rental car.
Routes to the summit of Mount Whitney
While there are more than a dozen different routes that lead up to the summit of Mount Whitney, the Mount Whitney Trail and Mountaineer’s Route are by far the most popular.
Of these two, the Mount Whitney Trail is by far the easiest and least technical. Approaching from the west, the trail winds through the foothills of the peak, passing through evergreen forests before gradually ascending toward the summit.
The Mountaineers’ Route is a bit more complicated but can also be completed with minimal technical difficulty. The trail leads up a steep gully on the northern side of the mountain. While the scramble can be done without rope or climbing gear, many guides opt to use these on the ascent.
For more advanced mountaineers looking for more of a challenge, the East Face route is the perfect option. Listed as one of the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, the route involves a steep approach before arriving at the base of the 300-metre (1,000-foot) east face. From here, climbers will make a 13-pitch ascent, passing several minor summits before arriving at the top.
- Location: California
- Elevation: 4,421 metres (14,505 feet)
- Duration: 1 to 3 days
- Climbing season: June to September
4| Mount Hood
Rising to an elevation of just under 3,500 metres (11,500 feet), Mount Hood is the highest peak in Oregon and the fourth tallest in the Cascade Range.
Covered in more than 12 glaciers and snowfields, the potentially active stratovolcano is the state’s most challenging and popular mountaineering destination. An estimated 10,000 climbers attempt to reach the peak’s summit each year.
Part of the attraction of coming to Mount Hood is the volcano's gorgeous surroundings. Any ascent of the peak begins with a scenic approach through evergreen forests, and each year, tens of thousands of hikers flock to the volcano’s slopes to hike the Timberline Trail, which circumnavigates the peak.
Also, Mount Hood is quite prominent despite its modest size, boasting an elevation differential of 2,349 metres (7,706 feet) between the base of the mountain and its summit. Climbing up above the treeline and on to the top provides panoramic views of the Cascade Range and the rest of northern Oregon and southern Washington.
Challenges of climbing Mount Hood
Despite an urban legend that describes a woman in high heels successfully summiting Mount Hood, there are some significant challenges associated with climbing the volcanic peak.
No single trail leads to the volcano’s summit, making route finding tricky, especially on cloudy or rainy days. For this reason alone, it is always best to hire a guide when climbing the peak.
Away from route finding, the climbing itself also presents an intermediate-level challenge. Any route to the summit will require a mix of glacier and ice climbing. Due to the high number of crevasses located on the peak's numerous glaciers, rope team travel is the norm for making an ascent.
How to get to Mount Hood
Mount Hood is located roughly 80 kilometres (50 miles) south-southeast of Portland. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Portland International Airport (PDX) and rent a car to make the 2-hour drive to the trailhead.
Routes to the summit of Mount Hood
Due to the lack of established trails, there are roughly 30 different climbing routes used to reach the summit of Mount Hood. However, only six of these are commonly used by commercial guides.
Of these six routes, the Southside/Hogsback route is the easiest and most commonly taken. Starting from the Timberline Lodge, the route involves traversing the Hogsback Ridge before climbing up onto the bergschrund of the Coalman Glacier and then following a series of snow chutes to the summit.
Another popular option for climbing the peak is the Wy’East route, which also begins from the Timberline Lodge and follows the Southside/Hogsback route at first. However, the route diverges before arriving at the Coalman Glacier and instead heads up the top of Steel Cliff. From here, climbers follow the ridgeline between the Steel Cliff and Devil's Kitchen to the summit.
- Location: Oregon
- Elevation: 3,429 m (11,249 ft)
- Duration: 2 to 3 days
- Climbing season: April to mid-June
5| Mount Shuksan
Situated in the heart of North Cascade National Park, just south of the Canadian border, Mount Shuksan is one of the most popular mountaineering destinations in the United States.
Reaching 2,783 metres (9,131 feet) in elevation, the glaciated massif is the highest non-volcanic peak in the Cascade Range. Boasting four distinct faces and five different ridgelines, Mount Shuksan serves as a veritable playground for mountaineering enthusiasts of every level.
Away from the climbing experience, Mount Shuksan is also considered one of the most beautiful mountains in the country. Each year, plenty of hikers and outdoor lovers head to the peak to snap some stunning photos and visit the mountain’s famed waterfalls, including Sulphide Creek Falls, which is one of the tallest in the country.
Challenges of climbing Mount Shuksan
Due to the plethora of different routes available, Mount Shuksan provides a range of different climbing challenges. Climbers heading up the simplest route will need some moderate scrambling and basic ice climbing abilities. Meanwhile, the most challenging routes require mountaineers to employ steep snow, ice and rock climbing skills.
Regardless of the chosen route, a high level of physical fitness is required to climb the peak. Summit day on all of the routes is quite long and will require hours of somewhat steep to very steep climbing with few opportunities to stop and rest.
How to get to Mount Shuksan
Mount Shuksan sits slightly less than 150 kilometres (90 miles) north-northeast of Seattle. The easiest way to reach the peak is to fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). Many guides will opt to meet you here and provide transport to the start of the trip. However, it is also easy enough to rent a car and make the 3-hour drive to one of the trailheads.
Routes to the summit of Mount Shuksan
Overall, 14 different routes lead to the summit of Mount Shuksan, each of which has several different variations.
Of these routes, the easiest and most popularly taken is the Sulphide Route. The route is relatively straightforward. After a scenic approach to the foot of the glacier, climbers will traverse the Sulphide Glacier before arriving at the base of the summit pyramid and employing some Class 3 scrambling to reach the top.
The Fischer Chimneys route is also quite popular and slightly shorter than the Sulphide Glacier route, but a bit more technically challenging. Unlike the Sulphide Glacier route, this one requires less glacier travel but more snow and rock climbing, with a few places in which some more extensive ice climbing is required. Overall, it is considered a tremendous alpine climb and the perfect training route for tougher summits in the Cascades.
The Price Glacier, Northwest Arete and North Face routes are also popular climbing options but are considerably more challenging than the two previous routes. Of these, the North Face route is the toughest and presents the perfect challenge for more advanced mountaineers, requiring a long and steep ascent over snowfields, glaciers and rock.
- Location: Washington
- Elevation: 2,783 m (9,131 ft)
- Duration: 3 days
- Climbing season: July to October
6| Mount Shasta
Towering over its neighbouring peaks in the southern tip of the Cascade Range, Mount Shasta is the second-highest summit in the mountain chain and the fifth highest in California.
Reaching 4,322 metres (14,179 feet) in elevation, Mount Shasta is a potentially active volcano and comprises four different overlapping volcanic cones. Seven different named glaciers cover the upper reaches of the massif and provide a wide range of climbing opportunities.
While the vast majority of climbers opt to climb the highest of these cones, which is the summit proper, many others head to Shastina. The highest of the massif’s minor summits reaches 3,760 meters (12,330 feet) in elevation, which would make it the fourth highest in the Cascade Range.
In general, the majority of climbers head to the slopes of Mount Shasta during the summer months. However, the winter conditions on the mountain make it the ideal spot to head from January to March to prepare expeditions to the Andes, Alaska Range and Himalayas.
Challenges of climbing Mount Shasta
Mount Shasta boasts several different routes for novice and intermediate climbers alike and each of these routes comes with different types of challenges.
The most accessible routes to the summit are not very steep but require some previous experience scrambling over rock and climbing over ice and snow. During the winter, these routes require more advanced snow and ice climbing abilities.
More challenging routes to the summit tend to be steeper and require a mix of more technical rock, snow and ice climbing.
Regardless of the route taken to the summit, a high level of physical fitness is required to climb Mount Shasta. Roughly one-third of climbers fail to reach the volcano’s summit, with lack of fitness being the best indicator of failure.
How to get to Mount Shasta
Mount Shasta is located almost 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of San Francisco, not far south of the Oregon-California border. Most trips to climb the volcano begin with a flight into Redding Municipal Airport (RDD). From here, it is easiest to rent a car and make the short drive to one of the trailheads.
Routes to the summit of Mount Shasta
Six main routes lead up to the summit of Mount Shasta. Of these, the three on the southwestern side of the volcanic massif are most commonly used. The other three are more remotely located and technically challenging, so they are used far less frequently.
Avalanche Gulch is the easiest of these routes and, therefore, the most popular. Starting from the southwestern slopes of the mountain, the route leads up through a massive gulch. After scrambling through the snow and ice to the top of the gulch, climbers continue to the summit, traversing several plateaus en route.
The other two most commonly used routes are the Casaval Ridge route and Green Butte Ridge route. The two ridges surround Avalanche Gully and require slightly more technical snow, rock and ice climbing to arrive at the summit plateaus.
- Location: California
- Elevation: 4,322 metres (14,179 feet)
- Duration: 2 to 3 days
- Climbing season: May to October
7| Longs Peak
Looming large above the heart of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, Longs Peak is one of the tallest and most popular mountaineering destinations in Colorado.
Located roughly 75 kilometres (50 miles) northwest of Denver, Longs Peak is one of the state’s famed fourteeners – mountains that reach an elevation of 14,000 feet (4,200 metres). Situated just south of Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak holds the distinction of being the farthest north of the fourteeners.
This fortuitous location endows the peak with incredible views and makes it one of Colorado’s most popular tourist destinations. During the high season, as many as 100 climbers make their way to the summit and back each day.
Challenges of climbing Longs Peak
Despite its immense popularity, there are several challenges associated with climbing Longs Peak.
Depending on the route taken, the mountain is graded as either an intermediate or advanced climb. The easiest route involves steep scrambling along exposed ridgelines. More advanced routes require technical rock climbing as well.
Regardless of the route that is chosen, the ascent of Longs Peak is quite long. From the base camp, climbers can expect to spend 12 hours climbing and descending to and from the summit.
Away from the physical and technical, Longs Peak also presents climatic challenges. Due to its unique location on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains, the peak often receives afternoon thunderstorms throughout the climbing season. The exposed nature of the climb means that there is minimal shelter available on the mountain.
How to get to Longs Peak
Any trip to Longs Peak begins with a flight into Denver International Airport (DEN). From here, it is easiest to rent a car and make the scenic 1.5-hour drive northwest to Allenspark or Estes Park. Public transport and private transfers are also available but are not as time or cost efficient.
Routes to the summit of Longs Peak
In total, 10 different routes lead up to the summit of Longs Peak. Of these, about half require technical rock climbing, while the other half do not.
The Keyhole Route is the easiest of these 10 routes and is, therefore, the most popular. The route begins with a hiking approach from the campsite (or trailhead) to the peak’s base. From here, climbers will scramble over a boulder field before arriving at the keyhole. After reaching the landmark, climbers will continue to scramble along narrow and exposed ridges before arriving at the summit.
Of the technical climbing routes, the East Face route is the most popular. After a scenic hiking approach to the east face, climbers will make a multi-pitch, 305-metre (1,000-foot) ascent of the Diamond and the Lower East Face. With a maximum climbing grade of Class IX+, the route presents plenty of challenges often taken on by advanced rock climbers looking for a test.
Another popular route is the North Face Cables route, which follows the Keyhole route until the boulder field. However, instead of continuing onto the keyhole, climbers will instead make a two-pitch ascent of the north face, which requires Class II climbing.
- Location: Colorado
- Elevation: 4,346 m (14,259 ft)
- Duration: 2 days
- Climbing season: July to September
8| Mount Baker
Situated just 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of the Canadian border, on the western flank of the stunning North Cascade National Park, sits Mount Baker.
At 3,286 metres (10,781 feet) in elevation, the active stratovolcano has a rich mountaineering history. Since it was first climbed roughly 150 years ago, the peak has become a popular destination, especially for first-time mountaineers.
Despite its relatively low elevation, Mount Baker is the second most glaciated peak in the Cascade Range after Mount Rainier. (It also has the second-most thermally active crater after Mount St Helens.)
This combination makes it the perfect mountain for first-time mountaineers to climb, providing excellent conditions in which to learn glacier travel, crevasse rescue and some basic snow and ice climbing skills.
Challenges of climbing Mount Baker
Mount Baker is widely considered one of the least challenging mountains to climb in the Cascade Range. The peak is not very high, so altitude sickness is not as prevalent, and only a low level of glacier climbing technique is needed to summit the peak on the easiest route.
That being said, a high level of physical fitness is required to climb Mount Baker and most guides prefer participants to have previous hiking and backpacking experience before signing up to make the ascent.
How to get to Mount Baker
Mount Baker sits about 135 kilometres (83 miles) north-northeast of Seattle. As a result, the easiest way to get to the peak is to fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). Many guides will opt to meet in the city and provide transport to the start of the trip. However, it is also easy enough to rent a car and make the 2.5-hour drive to one of the trailheads.
Routes to the summit of Mount Baker
Overall, three different routes are usually taken to the summit of Mount Baker. Ranging from beginner to intermediate, the three routes up to the summit offer the perfect challenge for all types of novice mountaineers to learn new skills and gain valuable experience.
The Easton Glacier route is widely considered the easiest and is, therefore, the most frequently climbed. Starting from a few kilometres south of the peak, climbers will make a scenic approach on foot to the Easton Glacier. The following day, climbers simply follow the glacier up to the summit.
First-time climbers generally spend an extra day on this route, heading onto the glacier to learn new skills for the entirety of the second day before making a summit attempt on the third.
Also, beginning from just south of the peak, the Coleman Deming route is another popular option for novice climbers but is a bit more challenging than the Easton Glacier route. After arriving at the foot of the Coleman Deming glacier, climbers will make a slightly steeper ascent up to the summit.
The final route is the Heliotrope Ridge route, which is the longest and most technical route to the summit. Approaching from the north of the mountain, climbers steadily ascend the various snowfields and glaciers before arriving at the summit plateau and continuing up the Roman Wall and on to the top.
- Location: Washington
- Elevation: 3,286 m (10,781 ft)
- Duration: 2 to 3 days
- Climbing season: June to August
9| Mount Adams
Towering above the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range, Mount Adams is the second tallest mountain in Washington state and a popular destination for intermediate mountaineers.
The potentially active stratovolcano cuts a distinctive figure on the horizon, with its broad body rising high above the surrounding. The summit of Mount Adams is mostly flat and was created by numerous eruptions from separate volcanic vents on the peak.
As a result, along with the true summit, there are several false summits, the most prominent of which is Pikers Peak (3,553 m/11,657 ft). On days with low visibility, Pikers Peak is frequently mistaken for the true summit.
Due to its size and various routes, Mount Adams attracts thousands of climbers each year, many of whom treat the mountain as a training ground for future expeditions in the Andes, Himalayas and Alaska Range.
Challenges of climbing Mount Adams
There are several challenges associated with climbing Mount Adams. The most straightforward routes to the summit require a combination of intermediate-level scrambling and mixed snow and ice climbing.
Away from the technical difficulties, the immense size and rugged topography of the mountain makes route finding one of the main challenges of climbing the peak. For this reason, it is always best to climb with a certified local guide.
Along with contributing to the challenge of route finding, the rugged topography of the mountain means that rockfalls are not uncommon. For this reason, it is best to climb the non-glaciated routes up the mountain early in the season when there is still snow and ice cover.
How to get to Mount Adams
Mount Adams sits 165 kilometres (100 miles) southeast of Seattle. Most trips to the peak begin with a flight into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). Some guides will opt to meet you here and provide transport to the start of the trip. However, it is also easy enough to rent a car and make the 3.5 to 4.5-hour drive to one of the trailheads.
Routes to the summit of Mount Adams
Twenty-five main routes lead to the summit of Mount Adams, many of which boast one or more variation. However, some of the routes present several dangers and are very rarely taken.
As a result, the easiest and most popular of these routes is the South Spur route. Beginning from a campsite situated just south of Mount Adams, the ascent is relatively straightforward. Climbers will head straight up the main snowfield of the mountain before arriving at Pikers Peak. From here, the true summit is just a bit farther.
During the winter, the route is quite popular with ski tourers, who climb to the summit via the South Spur before skiing back down the Southwest Chute.
Away from the South Spur, the North Ridge route is the second most popular. The route, however, is far more challenging and best climbed early in the season. As the snow begins to melt, the chances of rockfalls increase substantially.
After making a scenic approach on foot, climbers begin the ascent, employing a mix of scrambling and some very mild mixed snow and rock climbing. The route follows the north ridge until the summit and involves plenty of winding from one side to the other, making route finding particularly challenging.
Away from these two routes, there are several glacier routes used by climbers training for more challenging climbs. The Adams Glacier route is the most popular of these. Located on the north side of the mountain, the glacier presents the perfect opportunity to work on ice climbing and route finding skills.
- Location: Washington
- Elevation: 3,743 m (12,281 ft)
- Duration: 2 days
- Climbing season: May to July
10| Mount Bona
Situated in the heart of southeastern Alaska’s St Elias Range, Mount Bona is the fifth highest peak in the United States and the tenth tallest in North America.
The heavily glaciated stratovolcano is considered to be one of Alaska’s most classic climbs. It is frequently used as a training ground by climbers aspiring to reach the summits of Denali and Mount St Elias.
Along with its adjacent neighbour, Mount Churchill, the entirety of the massif is enshrouded in icefields and glaciers, making the peak the perfect training ground for intermediate mountaineers seeking to improve glacier navigating and climbing skills.
Due to its proximity to Mount Churchill, climbers frequently summit both mountains in a two-week expedition, enjoying some of the best views found anywhere in North America en route.
Challenges of climbing of Mount Bona
Like any other mountain in Alaska, Mount Bona presents several different challenges, ideally suited for upper-intermediate climbers looking to improve their skills and abilities.
Starting from roughly 3,000 metres (10,500 feet) above sea level, climbers will ascend more than 2,000 vertical metres (6,500 feet) from the Klutlan Glacier to the summit. As a result, proper acclimatisation is one of the key challenges facing climbers.
Dealing with acclimatisation, however, brings its challenges. Climbers will spend several days of the ascent hauling gear from the base camp up to camp 2 (sometimes camp 3), which requires a high level of physical fitness.
On top of the altitude and the logistics, the actual ascent presents plenty of challenges as well. While the first part can be done in snowshoes or on skis, the final ascent over the glacier requires technical ice climbing abilities.
Finally, the weather presents one of the toughest challenges. Even in the summer, temperatures are quite cold and the mountain receives plenty of wind and rain. Being adequately prepared to deal with inclement weather and adding extra days to the itinerary in case of storms is vital.
How to get to Mount Bona
Mount Bona is located about 440 kilometres (275 miles) east of Anchorage, near the Canadian border. Most trips to climb the peak will begin with a flight into Anchorage International Airport (ANC). Most guides will opt to meet climbers here before arranging a chartered flight to the Klutlan Glacier.
Routes to the summit of Mount Bona
There is one primary route used to climb Mount Bona, which is known as the standard route. The climb begins from the Klutlan Glacier at 3,000 metres (10,500 feet), just northwest of the peak.
From the glacier, climbers will ascend to Camp I at 3,800 metres (12,500 feet) on the northern slopes of the peak. From Camp I, climbers continue to Camp II, located on the saddle between Mount Bona and Mount Churchill at 4,400 metres (14,500 feet).
After Camp II, climbers will continue to the summit, mostly following the well-defined east ridge.
- Location: Alaska
- Elevation: 5,040 m (16,550 ft)
- Duration: 2 weeks
- Climbing season: May to July
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