12,000 ft. Peaks for Beginning Mountaineers
Before setting out to achieve your childhood dream of climbing Everest, you might want to start with something smaller to break in your boots, crampons, and ice axe. We recommend some low-altitude hikes up some of America's most beautiful (and less challenging) peaks, to not only get a taste for thin air but also appreciate what the lower 48 has to offer. Best of all, you don't have to go to the Swiss Alps or Nepal's Himalayas to find phenomenal views, manageable approaches, hanging glaciers, granite faces, stunning aretes, and rewarding alpine views, all for a relatively easy experience in the mountains.
Mount Adams The eastern range of the Cascades in Washington state hosts several active and dormant volcanic peaks, among them Mount Adams (pictured), the third-tallest volcano in the range. This peak has several diverse and rare alpine features for its elevation, like the prominent Mazama Glacier with a ramp-like headwall and plenty of crevasses — a more challenging route to the top that requires at least a rope and a partner. The South Spur, however, makes for a far less challenging approach — most of it an uphill hike through the snow — but an ice axe and crampons (particularly in the winter season) are recommended. Class 2, 12,276 ft.
Matterhorn Peak The highest of the Sierra Nevadas' Sawtooth Range, and the yardstick of High Sierra climbing, Matterhorn Peak is perhaps the most recognizable 12er in the Sierra Nevada range, though it looks nothing like the classic Matterhorn of the Alps. Famously featured in Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums, Matterhorn Peak has a short, sweet, and safe ascent through a snow gully that leads to a short scramble to a granite horn. Class 2 Scramble, 2,279 ft.
Hyndman Peak Located in Idaho's Pioneer Mountains, this pyramid-topped mountain overlooks the vast, expansive Hyndman Basin, and is the ninth highest peak in the state. Flanked by 11,000-foot sister peaks of the same range, Hyndman Peak features a gorgeous razor back ridge to the summit. However, in the winter, be aware of avalanches and cornices of snow that accumulate and drop off over the ridge. Class 2, 12,009 ft.
Pawnee Peak This particular 12er nestled among the Colorado Rockies rises just under 13,000 ft., and offers a rich "side hike" for trekkers near Brainard Lake. The easiest route, which takes you through the southern drainage, consists of a gentle saddle followed by an 400-foot, class 1 scramble to the top. Class 1, 12,943 ft.
Photo by iStockphoto/Samson1976
J. Scott Donahue is an editorial intern at Sierra. He was a freshman in Mr. Hancock's English class when he first read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. Now, he's currently working on a graduate thesis composed of travel essays. Topics include substitute teaching kindergartners in Nepal, drinking rice beer with a Tibetan porter, and running a marathon from Everest Base Camp.