When Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first people to ascend Mount Everest nearly 60 years ago, it was a feat so impressive that both were promptly knighted (although it was two days before the pair heard about their new elevated status). Climbing Everest, earth’s highest mountain, is still a formidable challenge. In fact, between 1922 and 2011, 219 climbers have died in the attempt.
That impressive, and frankly scary statistic got me thinking about the best attainable climbs in the world. After all, there’s got to be an easier (and less risky) way for us ordinary mortals to get that on-top-of-the-world feeling. So here are my top four – why not tackle one of them on your next holiday?
So what if Mont Blanc is the highest peak in Western Europe? This 4810m mountain on the French–Italian border about a three hour drive from Grenoble is the genuine Alpine article and the kind of snow-capped summit that would-be climbers dream about. And it’s certainly not out of reach for anyone with a good level of fitness. There are guided climbs aplenty. Many welcome beginners and provide all the training and equipment they’ll need for the ascent. If you’re unsure which climbing company to choose, seek advice from an independent alpine tourist bureau such as the Maison de la Montagne in Grenoble.
Greece’s highest mountain, Olympus, just up the coast from Skiathos, is easy stuff compared to Mont Blanc. But, even though its highest peak reaches just 2917m, at the summit you’ll find yourself in the very heavens, because Mount Olympus is the legendary home of the Ancient Greek gods. Each year, thousands of people hike the ‘non-technical’ trails up Olympus, although many only make it to the mountain’s second highest summit. But with a good pair of hiking boots and a couple of days to spare, the full ascent and descent is easily achievable.
What could be more thrilling than scaling a volcano? Only a couple hours away from Rome, Vesuvius buried Pompeii when it erupted in 79 AD and hasn’t really blown its top since 1944. Although occasionally closed to visitors because of volcanic vapours, paths through the national park around Vesuvius will take you right up to the crater. Not only will you feel a warm glow of achievement at the summit (1281m) but you’ll also be rewarded with spectacular views of the Bay of Naples.
Here’s another mountain with a momentous past. Mount Sinai, in Egypt, is believed by many to be the site where Moses received the 10 Commandments. The 2285m summit requires no mountaineering skills, just some persistent plodding up often steep paths. Daytime climbs aren’t recommended in the blistering summer heat and, anyway, it’s most popular to begin at night and catch sunrise from the summit. Depending on your fitness, the climb takes between 45min and three hours. All the same, don’t neglect to heat your hard-earned rest on route at the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh (conveniently Sinai’s nearest airport, too).
The Bavarian Forest
Just in case you are reading this and thinking there is no way these climbs are actually “achievable,” you might just find a more acceptable dose of exercise at the Bavarian Forest, where there truly is something for everyone. About a two and a half hour drive from Munich, this stunning national park is renowned for its reinvigorating fresh air and in fact is sometimes called “air spa” by the locals. The 6000 kilometres of unspoilt wilderness – only the largest national park of protected forest between the Altantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains – stretch between Germany and the Czech border.
Thrill seekers ought to hike up the two-year old “Tree top walk” or Baumwipfelpfad, a raised wooden pathway leading to breathtaking views of ragged Czech mountains. And although this does not involve climbing a mountain, the charming historic villages nestled in the region are also well worth a visit. Most notable is 2,500 year-old Passau, also known as “City of Three Rivers” for being at the crossroads of the Danube, the Inn and the Ilz, and famous for its medieval cobbled streets and historic architecture.