Affordable Alternatives to the Seven Summits
For when you don’t have tens of thousands dollars just laying around
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Want to climb the Seven Summits? Sure you do. Want to pony up $157,000 (not including flights)? If the answer to that second question is “no,” check out these less expensive, yet still extreme, adventures.
Mount Everest: 29,035 feet
Actual cost: At least $65,000
Alternative: Take my 9-year-old and 11-year-old neighbors and six of their friends ice climbing.
Yes, it may lack the worldwide recognition of climbing Everest, but it is no less heroic. You will be in a sort of “Death Zone” the entire time. You’ll have an experience like climbing Everest (fraught with peril, cold, uncertain), and also be as on-edge as an Everest guide with a nightmare client, who isn’t sure if either of them will live through the experience.
Savings: At least $64,900, depending on if you buy the whole crew pizza afterward
Aconcagua: 22,841 feet
Actual Cost: At least $5,800
Alternative: Climb Colorado’s Mount of the Holy Cross self-supported, walking from downtown Denver.
You might think it’s ridiculous to spend a week and a half walking 115 miles to a trailhead that most people drive to, and then climbing a 14,005-foot peak, but let’s be frank here: A lot of people think flying all the way to Argentina and spending three weeks climbing a 22,000-foot peak is pretty goddamn ridiculous. And they’re both right. Save yourself a few thousand dollars, pack your pack, and start hiking into the mountains from Denver. Over two weeks, you’ll ascend from 5,280 feet to 14,005 feet, enjoying 125 miles of highway- and interstate-shoulder walking, skipping the Eisenhower Tunnel for the more scenic Loveland Pass on your way to the trailhead, where you’ll start the not-as-big-as-Aconcagua-but-still-very-rewarding climb of the North Ridge of Mount of the Holy Cross. For the most authentic experience, turn around and walk back to Denver from the trailhead.
Savings: Probably about $5,000
Denali: 20,310 feet
Actual cost: At least $8,400
Alternative: Camp in my friend Aaron’s yard in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in January for two weeks.
It’s hard to get three weeks off work to climb Denali’s West Buttress. Even if you can swing that, it costs at least $8,000, not including your flights to and from Alaska. Tell you what: My friend Aaron will let you camp in his yard in rural Michigan for a couple weeks in January for free, provided you treat it like you would 14 Camp on Denali: Bring all your own supplies, melt snow for water, pick up after yourself, and take all human waste with you when you leave. It’ll snow a shitload, it’ll be cold, you can spend long days in the tent waiting for better weather, and you can walk around in the snow as much as you want. Obviously you won’t be able to tell your co-workers that you summited Denali when you get back to work, but most of the people in your office don’t have any framework to relate to that anyway—you might as well be telling them you walked on the moon. Plus they’re just going to say, “Sounds nice, can you take a look at those action items I emailed you while you were out? Thanks.” Might as well tell them you spent your vacation freezing your ass off and shoveling snow off your tent in Michigan, right?
Savings: Probably $8,300 or so
Kilimanjaro: 19,340 feet
Actual cost: At least $5,000
Alternative: Climb Kings Peak in Utah.
Kilimanjaro: The crown jewel of Africa. An arduous climb to the highest point of a specific geographic unit. Starts with the letter “K.” Kings Peak, Utah: The crown jewel of Utah. A (slightly less) arduous climb to the highest point of a specific geographic unit. Starts with the letter “K.” I guess I don’t really have much else to go on here. Kings Peak will save you some time off work and a few thousand dollars, for sure. You won’t get to go on a safari after your climb, but you could probably hit the Red Iguana and get some mole on your way to the Salt Lake City airport, and that’s pretty nice.
Savings: At least $4,900
Carstenz Pyramid: 16,023 feet
Actual cost: At least $27,000
Alternative: Hitchhike from Las Vegas into Yosemite and climb Cathedral Peak.
Carstenz Pyramid, the highest mountain in Australasia, requires difficult and unpredictable logistics and technical rock climbing skills. Or a helicopter ride, and then technical rock climbing skills. Also $27,000 or so, which, if you haven’t checked recently, is kind of a lot of money. Here’s what you do instead: Start in Las Vegas (not as cool as Indonesia but still very warm, and interesting in a different way), and hitchhike to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. This will require difficult and unpredictable logistics, and when you get to Tuolumne, technical rock climbing skills. BUT: It will also save you a lot of money, if you can keep your greedy hands off the slot machines in McCarran International Airport (and approximately 1 million other locations in Vegas) on your way in and out.
Savings: Probably $26,900, depending on your gambling behavior
Vinson Massif: 16,050 feet
Actual cost: At least $41,000
Alternative: Go to a Green Bay Packers home game in December.
An expedition to Vinson Massif is cold, desolate, and success is not guaranteed. An expedition to a Green Bay Packers home game in December is also cold, I guess not really that desolate, but also with no guarantee of success. Also, even though Packers tickets aren’t always that easy to obtain, they are sure as shit not going to set you back $40,000. And although being there when the Packers win a game late in the regular season may not be as singular as summiting Vinson Massif, you will find it’s a much better conversation-starter with a stranger than telling them you just got back to Antarctica, which causes many folks to think (or say) “Jesus, why the hell would you go to Antarctica?”
Savings: At least $40,000
Mount Elbrus: 18,510 feet
Actual cost: At least $5,000
Alternative: Go see Black Panther.
Look, Black Panther is definitely an action-packed adventure in which you get to visit a unique country that’s hiding a lot of secrets, kind of like climbing Mount. Elbrus. Plus it has a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I liked it and I’m not really that into superhero movies.
Savings: At least $4,985