Sometime later this month, the howling jet stream will shift north of the Himalayas and open up Mount Everest’s twice-annual weather window so legions of hopeful climbers can lighten their bank accounts by $55K to $85K for the privilege of being coddled up Earth’s tallest peak.
If getting that top-of-the-world selfie is the adventure you’re looking for, be aware: Climbing Everest is a long, grueling, low-angle walk that comes with a fairly high risk of death, due to erratic weather, crazy-thin air, avalanches, and overcrowded routes.
Luckily, there are plenty of safer, equally selfie-worthy peaks to climb (and we do mean climb: roped in, wearing a helmet and crampons) that are cheaper and closer to home.
“It takes time to learn all the skills you need—route finding, ice fall, rock fall,” says legendary mountaineer Peter Whittaker. So start with a pro guide service that offers high-altitude classes, like Seattle’s RMI Expedition, which Whittaker runs on Mount Rainier.
And after your first summit? “The rest of life is that much sweeter,” he says.
1. Mount Rainer: Ashford, WA
When to go: May-September
Two hours from Seattle, Mount Rainier is the 14,411-foot sleeping giant that lords over the Pacific Northwest. “It has all the features of a Himalayan peak, without the lung-searing elevation,” says Whittaker. He’s summited it 249 times—and he can get you there, too: A four-day trip includes mountaineering school prior to the climb. ($1,087, rmiguides.com)
2. Grand Teton: Jackson, WY
When to go: all summer
Even the easiest route up the iconic 13,770-foot Grand Teton requires rock-climbing skills and gear. Exum Mountain Guides, North America’s oldest, gives clients two days’ training before a “final exam” climb, with its panoramic views of Jackson Hole and the curvy Snake River. (From $940, exumguides.com)
3. Mount Washington: North Conway, NH
When to go: December-March
Despite its lesser stature, most of the eight- to 10-hour climb up 6,288-foot Mount Washington is above timberline, requiring ice axes, crampons, ropes—and good judgment. Head up with International Mountain Climbing School’s three-day class and see why New England’s a perfect training spot for even grander peaks. (From $525, ime-usa.com)