Take it to the Top: Ten Great Alpine Adventures
The great summits of the Himalaya remain mountaineering's ultimate challenge. And while every true mountaineer dreams of conquering Everest, the lesser peaks of Nepal provide ample challenge and adventure for nearly any climber. Expeditions to the highest Himalayan peaks are simply too costly and dangerous for most alpinists. Each year Everest, K2, and other 8,000-meter peaks claim several lives. The 1996 Everest climbing season was one of the most tragic in history. Many of the world's best climbers died when a fierce storm lashed the top of Everest just as several groups were completing their final assault on the summit. Thankfully, Everest is not the only worthy hill in the Himalaya. For mountaineers who want the thrill of bagging a major Himalayan summit, Nepal offers lesser climbs in the 6,000-meter range that won't cost $60,000 or place you in a realm of mortal danger. Not requiring massive campaigns with huge teams of porters, these 6,000-meter summits, Nepal's "trekking peaks," can be conquered with a relatively small-scale expedition by climbers with moderate technical skills.
Among the trekking peaks in Nepal, Mera Peak at 21,247 feet, is the highest. Though quite a bit taller than Mt. McKinley, Mera is a significantly easier summit with fewer technical challenges. And expeditions to Mera normally will not encounter the unpredictable and vicious weather that claims lives on McKinley each year. Adding to Mera's popularity, the peak rises out of a beautiful, uninhabited area of Nepal and its summit provides excellent views of five of the world's highest peaks: Everest, Makalu, Lhotse, Cho Oyu, and Kanchenjunga. Located in the Khumbu valley in Everest National Park, 20,304-foot Island Peak is another of the most coveted of Nepal's trekking peaks. The ascent begins with a scenic trek offering commanding views of Nepal's tallest peaks. The vistas rival the heavily-traveled Everest approach trail, but you'll encounter far less foot traffic. Island Peak is a bit more technical than Mera, finishing with a conical ridge leading directly to the summit.
Nepal's Rolwaling region, on the Nepal/Tibet border just west of Everest, is another popular realm for climbers. Because Rolwaling is only open to those with a peak permit, it does not suffer from the heavy trekking traffic that has overwhelmed other parts of the Nepal during the busy season. Thus, Rolwaling has remained relatively unspoiled, and expedition teams are often happily surprised at the lack of other westerners. Ramdung (19,435 feet) and Parchemo (20,298 feet), the two prime trekking peaks in this region, are known for steepness rather than height. Ramdung is a long, steady snow climb that steepens dramatically in the final section. Parchemo (thought to be too dangerous by some expedition guides because of stone falls) involves a shorter, but more challenging climb that finishes with a steep ice slope up to a pointed summit. The route to summit passes through many different ecosystems, including farmland, a thickly jungled valley, and mountain terrain. Along the way you'll enjoy views of many major peaks, including Everest.
Reasonably fit climbers with a budget of $3,000-$4,000, can choose among many "trekking peaks," ranging from relatively easy walk-ups to tougher peaks requiring technical mountaineering experience. Of any country, Nepal offers the most diverse group of trekking peaks, all located relatively close together. Nowhere in the world will you find more peaks topping 20,000 feet that can be climbed in 10 days or less. The nice thing about Nepal is that you can combine a serious alpine ascent with other, less rigorous vacationing at lower altitudes. You can summit snow-capped Mera Peak one week and raft the Sun Kosi River the next, or even ride an elephant through tropical Chitwan National Park. A trekking peak gives you the opportunity to set a personal altitude record, without spending a year's wages or dedicating months to the climb.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication