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August 1999

The Best U.S. Summits: Top Of The World

Who needs Everest when you can have these eight summits, all hikeable, all close to home, no sherpas or yaks required.

Mount Tyndall

“This peak is so spectacular,” says Cameron Burns, coauthor of Climbing California’s Fourteeners (see Guidebook below), “that the first ascent party thought they were climbing the highest summit in the Sierra.” Pioneering Sierra climber Clarence King made that mistake in 1864. As you wend your way up Tyndall’s easy, northwest ridge, you’ll see why King thought he was on the grandest mountain in the land. At the summit, the 2,000-foot sheer east face drops out like a trapdoor under your feet. Steady your trembling knees enough to take in the staggering views of peak after granite-walled peak for as far as the eye can see.

Route: This is a Sierra rarity where you can do a nontechnical climb via a tough-but-scenic eastern approach normally reserved for hardcore climbers. From the Shepherds Pass trailhead southwest of Independence (on U.S. 395), the hike is a strenuous 10 miles to the beautiful Shepherds Pass, where campsites are available. The obvious ridge .5 mile west of the pass is the Northwest Ridge Route. In the upper reaches, you work your way around a little rock tower before gaining the summit ridge.

Challenge Factor: Moderate. The ridge is easy to follow, but quite exposed near the top. In bad weather, take care that you don’t wander eastward near the drop-off.

Guidebook: Climbing California’s Fourteeners: 183 Routes to the Fifteen Highest Peaks, by Cameron M. Burns and Steven F. Porcella (1998; The Mountaineers Books, Seattle, WA; 800-553-4453; $19.95).

Contact: Quotas, permits, and a fee of $3.25 per person per night apply. Inyo National Forest Wilderness Reservation Service: (888) 374-3773; or Online Information Source:

Mount Richardson

“This area has so many attractions,” says Alan Kane, author of Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies (see Guidebook below). “that it’s hard to pinpoint any one as the best. Since Mt. Richardson is the highest in that area, it’s a great introduction to what you can do the next day, and the next….” Indeed, from a camp at Hidden Lake, you can scramble up a half-dozen beautiful peaks, then move on toward the Skoki Valley or Baker Lake and find even more. The possibilities for hiking and climbing are limited only by your imagination and energy. Climbing Richardson involves little more than a long hike up stable talus. If the snow has completely melted, consider continuing from Richardson up the more difficult neighboring Pika Peak.

Route: After an unavoidable 2.5 miles of walking along the Temple Lodge access road to the Lake Louise ski area in Banff National Park, it’s a mere 3 miles farther through alpine terrain to the camp at Hidden Lake. From there, you’ll see nothing but wide-open views of inviting peaks. The route up Richardson follows obvious talus slopes on the south ridge directly above Hidden Lake.

Challenge factor: Moderately low for Richardson; moderately high if you follow the ridgeline and continue up Pika, which is Class 3.

Guidebook: Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, by Alan Kane (1999; Rocky Mountain Books, Calgary, Alberta; 403-249-9490; $16.95).

Contact: Quotas, permits, and a fee of $4 (U.S.) per person per night apply for camping at Hidden Lake. Book up to 90 days in advance. Lake Louise Visitor Center: (403) 522-3833.

Peak 11825

“I’m amazed that this giant is unnamed,” says Tom Lopez, author of Exploring Idaho’s Mountains (see Guidebook below), “especially since it offers such a classic scramble with a super view. To me, Idaho’s unnamed peaks are diamonds in the rough.” The Pioneers are one of Idaho’s premier mountain ranges, filled with pristine lakes, uncounted and unnamed 11,000-foot peaks, and true wilderness (albeit undesignated). An excellent trail leads to the mountain’s base, but the route up the southwest ridge provides a typical Idaho mix of good solid rock and loose talus. The east side of the Pioneers, Lopez insists, is nearly unknown even to Idahoans.

Route: Twenty-two miles northeast of Ketchum, a series of dirt roads leads to various Copper Basin access points. Begin your out and back hike on the Fall Creek/Surprise Valley Trail, hiking for 5 miles past Surprise Lake and up to beautiful Betty Lake. To reach the southwest ridge of Peak 11825 from the pass between Surprise and Betty Lakes, you’ll need to negotiate the southern flank of a rock fin. Once on the ridge, always bypass obstacles on their south sides.

Challenge Factor: Moderately high. Though the east face takes an awesome plunge, the steep southwest ridge is uncomplicated hiking.

Guidebook: The current edition of Exploring Idaho’s Mountains: A Guide for Climbers, Hiking and Scramblers, by Tom Lopez (1990; The Mountaineers Books, Seattle, WA; 800-553-4453; $17.95), does not include Peak 11825, but it does feature its two neighbors, Pyramid and Standhope. The new edition, due out in 2000, will set the record straight.

Contact: No permits required. Sawtooth National Forest: (208) 737-3200.

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