For years, mankind has responded to the mysterious lure of the mountain summit. “Everest has the most steep ridges and appalling precipices that I have ever seen,” wrote mountaineer George Mallory, in a 1921 letter to his wife. “My darling this is a thrilling business altogether, I can’t tell you how it possesses me, and what a prospect it is.” Norwegian explorer Cecilie Skog, the first woman to conquer the Seven Summits, felt the same compulsive urge. “The mountains seemed to pierce the sky and I wanted to be amongst them,” she reflects, of her achievements. “As the feelings of curiosity and control developed in the mountains, so came the dreams of other mountain ranges and glaciers. I was not dreaming of setting records, just of the experiences, the joy of being places.”
Read more: Adventures to take before you have kids
We don’t all have the resource to conquer Everest or K2. But we *can* experience the unique adrenaline rush of climbing a mountain. Of being in the moment, and taking on a challenge. Of ascending in the shadow of one of nature’s greatest feats. Of calling upon hidden reserves of willpower and courage. For, as another great adventurer – Edmund Hillary – said: “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves”. With that in mind, here are five spectacular mountain summits to conquer before you hit 50 – without any call for ice picks or crampons. Think of it as your go-to alpine bucket list…
Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Machu Picchu is the must-see site of Peru, but Rainbow Mountain is a little off the beaten track. Nestled in the heart of the Peruvian Andes, “Vinicunca” stands at 5,035 metres above sea level and boosts a glorious kaleidoscope of turquoise, maroon and golden sedimentary layers. The climb is no mean feat, but the journey through the spectacular Cusco region – with its granite cliffs, glaciers and mountain villages – is as rewarding as the end destination. Flash Pack’s Peru itinerary features an overnight camp under the stars at just over 4,000 metres, before continuing upwards come morning.
Mount Temple, Canada
Towering at 3,544 metres, Mount Temple is nevertheless one of the more accessible climbs in the Canadian Rockies. This snow-capped behemoth dominates the skyline on the western side of Banff National Park and takes around 10-12 hours to hike. The “easy route” still involves some steep slopes, and a fair amount of scrabbling amid loose rocks and sharp inclines. Expect breathtaking views of meadows and woodland that give way to picturesque lakes and snapshots of surrounding mountains, including Mount Hungabee and Eiffel Peak. Towards the summit, you’ll navigate through actual snow. It’s a good idea to wear a helmet in case of falling rocks.
Table Mountain, Cape Town
This flat-topped beauty is one of South Africa’s most iconic landmarks, and looms majestically 1,086 metres above sea level. While you could cheat and take the cable car (a mere five-minute ride), hiking offers a more visceral experience. There are a number of different routes up and the ascent is straight-forward, if rather steep. The mountain is a biodiversity hot spot, so keep an eye out for vivid alpine flowers and wildlife such as jackal buzzards, booted eagles and African harrier-hawks. At the top, you can see the whole of Cape Town set against a dazzling blue sky on a clear day – or a “tablecloth” of moody storm clouds if not. Flash Pack’s South Africa expedition involves abseiling a section on descent, just for added kicks.
Mount Khuiten, Mongolia
If you’re interested in coming face to face with one of the most remote mountains on earth, make a beeline for Mount Khuiten at the heart of Mongolia’s Altai Tavan Bogd (Five Holy Peaks). Situated 2,000 kilometres west of the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar, the country’s highest peak lies on the trilateral border of Mongolia, Russia and China. Lying at 4,374 metres, its snow-clad precipice isn’t technically difficult to climb (from a mountaineering perspective) but it is located in one of the most isolated places on earth. Just to get to base camp involves a day’s trekking through a wilderness wild flower fields and vast mountain tundra that stretches out for miles in every direction. Take tea with the region’s nomadic herders before embarking on a steep, challenging climb in this rarely-visited corner of the planet.
Mount Batur, Bali
How about tackling a live volcano? Lingering 1717 metres above sea level, Mount Batur in the Kintamani region of Bali promises a soul-searing climb through jungle scenery and remote craggy pathways. Around a two-three hour hike will bring you to the summit, where you can peer into the steaming crater and admire the tribes of macaque monkeys who reside on the summit. For a truly special experience, set out at around 2am, so you hit the top just before sunrise. See the sky light up in a dazzling array of orange, lavender and gold, as night gives way to day. This isn’t a particularly difficult trek but the peak is a once-in-a-lifetime sight. Check out Flash Pack’s off the beaten path Bali adventure.