Payoff Six years ago, I spent 18 days on Mt. McKinley. Reaching its 20,320-foot summit was the coolest thing I’d ever done—until I stood at 17,769-foot Thorung La pass on Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit, on my honeymoon. My wife and I sat on our packs and drew lines up dozens of mountains, each higher yet more easily climbed than Denali. “Which one should we pick?” my wife mused. Everything in the Himalaya, including peakbagging, is just bigger. —Shanno. Davis
Do it At 21,825 feet, Mera Peak is the tallest of Nepal’s officially permitted “trekking peaks” (summits requiring only basic mountaineering skills). The standard two- to three-week trip begins in Lukla, also the traditional start to the Everest Basecamp trek. But instead of following the crowd north, hike east, well off the beaten track, toward the Hinku Valley. You’ll cross two passes (each topping 15,000 feet) before tackling some easy glacier travel to reach high camp. Recent widening of a bergschrund has increased the difficulty from Grade F (“easy”) to Grade PD (“a little difficult”). On top, gaze at five of the world’s six tallest peaks: Everest, Kangchenjunga, Lhotse, Makalu, and Cho Oyo.