Then... Climb the Gunks in New York
While past experience tells us that big adventure is found only in big wilderness, the 300-foot-high cliffs of the Shawangunk Ridge—the East’s most famous trad rock-climbing destination—are just 90 miles north of New York City, making it a popular weekend trip. Here, 1,200 or more routes scale the towering escarpment, affording rockhounds sweeping views of the surrounding Hudson Valley farmlands. Unlike other famous rock-climbing areas, a majority of the routes in the Gunks skew easy to moderate (rated 5.3-5.9), which makes it a great place to transition from the climbing gym to real rock. Head up with local, AMGA-certified guide service Alpine Endeavors, which offers a full day of climbing starting from $280. It’ll happily impart skills and share insider tips (for instance, a 5.9+ route here is more like a 5.10 elsewhere) for a safe, fun trip. At day’s end, it’s just a 10-minute drive to hot food and cold beer in New Paltz.
1 day from $280; alpineendeavors.com
Then... Scale Mount Rainer in the Pacific Northwest
To stand atop the snow-flanked summit of Washington’s Mount Rainier feels like standing on top of the world. The 14,411-foot stratovolcano lords over the entire Pacific Northwest, rearing up 13,000-plus feet from the coastal plains and Columbia Plateau. But climbing Rainier requires technical mountaineering skills—snow and ice anchor techniques, crevasse rescue, ice climbing, fixed line travel and belaying, among others—and a days-long commitment. RMI Expeditions, one of the most experienced guide services on the mountain, offers six-day skills seminars that culminate in a summit bid. While most of these trips require expedition-style glacier camping (i.e., lots of equipment), the Muir route utilizes the gear-stocked mountain hut at Camp Muir. That means you climb lighter and improve your chances of success of summiting.
6 days from $1,808; rmiguides.com
Then... Attack the Grand Tetons in Wyoming
Towering above the surrounding Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the rest of the saw-toothed Tetons, 13,775-foot Grand Teton is the kind of classically beautiful peak that simply must be climbed. But even the easiest route is technical and exposed and is best tackled with Exum Mountain Guides, the oldest guide service in North America. Founder Glenn Exum pioneered the most popular route on the Grand, and he established the practice of teaching clients the climbing skills necessary to make a summit. You’ll get two days of training before being unleashed on the peak.
From $600 ($950 if you need classes); exumguides.com
Then... Climb the Iron Way of the Dolomites in Italy
The Dolomites are not for wimps; a famed rock-climbing destination, their dizzying spires and cliffs reach thousands of feet skyward, hanging over lush Alpine meadows. You don’t have to be an expert to scale them, though. During WWI, Italian soldiers built hundreds of via ferrate (“iron ways”)—systems of iron steps, cables, and ladders—through the mountains as they fought the Austro-Hungarian armies. With a climbing harness and guidance, anyone with a strong stomach can quickly move over the exposed routes, traversing and ascending the kind of experts-only terrain that would give even a mountain goat pause. Hook up with the weeklong Ultimate Via Ferrata, which starts in Cortina d’Ampezzo and takes in five routes, all working up to the Via Ferrata Marmolada Cresta Ovest, a beast that climbs to the summit of Punta Penia (10,968 feet), the highest point in the Dolomites.
7 days from $2,252; dolomitemountains.com