Jo Piazza—For many outdoor adventurers, summer means climbing season. Of course, any season is climbing season for the die-hard mountain climber, but summer climbs are something truly spectacular.
Some of the very best climbs are right here in our own backyards. That’s why we wanted to check in with climbing guru Adrian Ballinger, a world-class mountaineer and the founder of Alpenglow Expeditions, to find the very best summer climbs in America. Ballinger has been guiding full-time for 15 years and has led more than 100 international climbing expeditions on five continents. He really knows his stuff. Here are the climbs he thinks every adventurer in the U.S. should have on this summer’s bucket list.
Grand Teton, Wyoming: The Grand Teton stands at 13,770 feet above Jackson Hole, Wyo., and has long been considered the ultimate American training ground for climbers — ideal for building an alpine resume and preparing for the bigger peaks of South America, Alaska, and the Himalaya. The good news is, it’s actually a lot easier to climb than it looks. And there’s even a nontechnical route to the top that requires no special equipment, ropes, or gear.
This is a starter mountain. Seriously. Grand Teton. (Photo: iStock)
Tips: Because it’s a classic alpine peak, expect varying weather and temperature conditions throughout your climb. Summer storms can happen at any time. Scramble across rock, snow, and ice. The climb is suitable for those with little experience, but the adventure will be enhanced (and made safer) by using a guide service.
A female hiker scrambles up the mountaineers’ route of Mount Whitney, Calif. (Photo: Getty Images)
Mount Whitney, Calif.: It’s the tallest peak in the lower 48 states and one of the most popular for climbers. Novices can opt for the nontechnical hiking trail, the Mountaineer Route, but for those with more experience who want a take on a climbing challenge, the East Face and East Buttress routes offer the classic components that make up a great adventure.
Tips: For the Mountaineer Route, StairMaster training is essential; there are thousands of steps on the way to the summit! For more technical routes, visit Sierra Mountain Guides for qualified American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) guides. Since it’s a popular hike, permits sell out early, but there are also “day of” lottery drawings that permit a few more parties to hike the trails.
An excellent beginner climb: Mount Washington. (Photo: iStock)
Mount Washington, New Hampshire: Here’s a peak for those looking for a challenge on the East Coast. It may not be as striking as its Western cousins, but a climb up Mount Washington is not to be underestimated. It’s also notorious as the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather.” While the weather is harsh, the routes are generally not technical, making it a great climb for beginners.
Tips: There’s a 4,000-foot altitude change from base to summit, so anyone climbing Mount Washington would be better off preparing on the smaller peaks in the Presidential Range of New Hampshire. Make sure your equipment and experience prepare you for cold, wet, and windy weather — even in mid-summer. Low visibility is also common during the summer months.
There is something truly magical about climbing Denali — Mount McKinley (Photo: Getty Images)
Denali (Mount McKinley), Alaska: North America’s tallest peak, Denali is a proud challenge. Climbing its glaciated flanks takes experience, endurance, and luck. Over 90 percent of climbers attempt the West Buttress route, which is the easiest and least technical way to summit. For experienced climbers looking for something different, the West Rib is significantly more difficult and will test climbing skills.
Tips: It is essential to have varied mountain experience before climbing Denali. Check out Alpenglow Expeditions’ Ecuador and Mexico climbing schools for the ultimate training.
Why not make a Mount Hood climb your summertime goal. (Photo: Getty Images)
Mount Hood, Oregon: While less busy than its popular neighbor, Mount Rainier, Mount Hood is one of the best training grounds for glaciated peak climbing experience. An accessible approach and relatively low altitude make it a perfect summertime goal for less experienced climbers.
Tips: Loose rock is a real danger here. Hire a qualified guide from Timberline Mountain Guides to show you the ropes. These Northwest volcanoes are some of America’s most challenging peaks.
Check out our original adventure travel series, “A Broad Abroad.”