Q:

What are the best mountaineering expeditions for a beginner?

What are the best beginner-level mountaineering expeditions across the world that a regular, fit trekker can attempt?
–Kuntal,
Mumbai India

Picture of Mount Baker, Washington     Photo: Purestock/Getty

A:Well, Kuntal, here's my Very Subjective List of Best Beginner Mountaineering Expeditions. Although you don't need much experience for any one of these, you do need to be in superior physical condition—and even so, there's no guarantee you'll make it to the summit, given the challenges that alpine weather and the thin air of higher elevations pose.

1. Mount Baker, Washington.
Why Mount Baker over Mount Rainier? They're both among the top training peaks in the world for beginner mountaineers, given their high-but-not-insane elevations, glaciers, and manageable distances from starting point to summit. But Rainier can be jam-packed with climbers on any given summer day, while desolate Mount Baker feels more like a solitary walk in the (national) forest. Its 10,781-foot volcanic summit is encased by 12 glaciers that cover a larger surface area with more ice than on any other glaciated peak in the Cascades besides Rainier.
Skills Required: Almost none. The guide services that organize trips on the mountain provide a two-day training course before you embark for the summit.
Days it Takes to Climb: One, but you'll be starting at around 2 A.M.
Guide Service: American Alpine Institute, $590

2. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
I've included this epic trek because it takes you to the top of the fourth-highest of the Seven Summits, at 19,336 feet—even if you won't be wearing crampons for it. Your climb begins at 5,900 feet, and slowly takes you through six ecological zones—from grasslands and then rainforest all the way to alpine desert and the arctic-like summit. The greatest obstacle to success is altitude sickness. The air at the top contains half as much oxygen as it does at sea level.
Skills Required: None. You really need to enjoy hiking six hours a day, though.
Days it Takes to Climb: Expeditions usually last five to seven days—due to the slow acclimatization process.
Guide Service: Thomson Safaris $3,990

3. Mount Khuiten, Mongolia
Khuiten is Mongolia's tallest peak at 14,350 feet, in the Altai Range on western edge of the country, bordering China and Russia. It's not the first summit you think of when considering a climb in Asia, but for novices, it has no peers. The climb takes you up the barren and forbidding Potanin Glacier before turning onto a precipitous, crevasse-filled snow ridge that leads to the summit.
Skills Required: You can't be a complete beginner for this one. Instead, you should take a multi-day introductory mountaineering course before signing up.
Days it Takes to Climb: Expeditions last a week.
Guide Service: Alpine Ascents International, $5,200

4. Mount Elbrus, Russia
At 18,500 feet, the west summit of twin-peaked Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus of Russia stands as Europe's tallest mountain. Its ice cone is layered by 22 glaciers, though the popular route to the top is only moderately steep and empty of crevasses, making the climb an ideal one for ambitious beginners who think they can handle the thin air. Soviet-era cable cars will carry you to 12,500 feet in elevation where your climb begins. Reaching the summit usually takes a day, but several days of preparation and acclimatization are needed beforehand.
Skills Required: None. You learn all the basic elements of mountaineering during the preliminary training sessions on the expedition.
Days it Takes to Climb: One or two, depending on weather. Your expedition will last two weeks, though, from the time you arrive in Moscow until you fly home.
Guide Service: Mountain Madness, $4,800

5. Aconcagua, Argentina
Aconcagua's pointed snowcone peers over the rest of the Andes at 22,840 feet, making it the world's tallest mountain outside the Himalaya. It's also the granddaddy of beginning mountaineering climbs. Although you don't need previous experience wielding an ice axe to complete the trip, an extensive backpacking and high-altitude background are extremely helpful. You also have to be in phenomenal shape to complete the gradual but grueling climb from the trailhead at 9,000 feet to Camp 4 at 20,000 feet, and on summit day up Ruta Normal to the top.
Skills Required: As much high elevation and backpacking experience as possible. You'll be humping a lot of equipment.
Days it Takes to Climb: Three weeks, give or take a few days. The going is slow because of the time it takes to properly acclimatize, and the weather.
Guide Service: Rainier Mountaineering, Inc., $4,500

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