The Back Door to K2
This is K2 with a twist. Mountaineer Jim Williams, a 30-year Himalayas veteran, leads a 32-day trek to the base of this 28,250-foot peak, the world's second-highest, from Xinjiang Uygur, a predominately Muslim, Turkish-dialect-speaking, autonomous region of China. One advantage to this approach (versus the usual route from the increasingly crowded Pakistani side) is the sheepherding and farming Uighur cultures encountered in the town of Kashgar before the trip's most rigorous slog: a six-hour-per-day, 14-day trek to the K2 glacier and a 12,631-foot base camp. Afterward, there's the 15,524-foot Khunjerab Pass, where five of the world's most impressive mountain ranges—the Hindu Kush, Kunlun, Tian Shan, Karakoram, and Himalaya—converge.
Outfitter: Geographic Expeditions, 800-777-8183, www.geoex.com
When to Go: June-September
Peru: Climbing and Trekking in the Cordillera Vilcanota
Acclimatize on the classic three-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu. Then veer off the gringo route and through the rarely visited Cordillera Vilcanota, a range of 12,000- to 15,000-foot peaks, to climb 20,945-foot Nevado Ausangate. You'll stage a one-day summit bid from a 17,000-foot camp on the backside of the peak. "The crux of the climb," says Vince Anderson, owner of Skyward Mountaineering, "is a 50-degree glacial headwall early on." The rest is, uh, cake: scrambling around crevasses to the top and then returning to Cuzco on foot 21 days after you set out.
Outfitter: Skyward Mountaineering, 970-209-2985, www.skywardmountaineering.com
When to Go: June-August
Canada: Backcountry Snowboarding Rogers Pass, British Columbia
On day one of this five-day, 30,000-foot-total vertical trip, intermediate boarders learn backcountry travel basics, route selection, and avalanche-transceiver techniques. Then they ascend the powder keg that is British Columbia's 8,000- to 11,000-foot Selkirk Range on snowshoes or split boards and carve down epic, 4,000-foot alpine runs. "We set you up for success with steep chutes, wide-open bowls, and treed glades," says Yamnuska owner David Begg. Nights are spent in local hotels (on your dime), and each of the last four days involves tough decisions—Dome Glacier? Hermit Basin? Young's Peak? Don't worry, you can't go wrong.
Outfitter: Yamnuska, Inc.403-678-4164, www.yamnuska.com
When to Go: February-April
Vietnam: Fan-si-pan Summit
Trek through lush fields of orchids and wild medicinal herbs to mingle with Hoang Lien Mountains hill tribes before reaching a surreal high-alpine environment of bamboo thickets, pine trees, and rhododendron. You'll slog through wet, steep jungle foothills, camping en route to the highest peak in Indochina, 10,312-foot Fan-si-pan—a far cry from the Himalayas and Andes, not to mention home—with glimpses of southern China.
Outfitter: Snow Lion Adventures, 800-525-8735, www.snowlion.com
When to Go: November
New Zealand: Climbing Mount Cook
The ascent of 12,346-foot Mount Cook, New Zealand's highest, is "much more technical than Denali," says Bryan Carter, managing director of outfitter Alpine Guides. The obstacles are numerous: heavy glaciation, big vertical scale (5,300 feet), and unpredictable weather. Consequently, you (a fit and skilled mountaineer) are allotted seven days for what could well take four. The payoff is a panorama of the Mackenzie Basin grasslands, the Tasman Glacier, and the Tasman Sea from a crowd-free mountaintop; only about 250 people summit each year.
Outfitter: Alpine Guides, 011-64-3-435-1834, www.alpineguides.co.nz
When to Go: November-March