A Beginner’s Guide To Trekking And Climbing The Best Trails On The Planet

Life Writer
05.15.16

One foot in front of the other. You trudge. The frozen snow cracks under your boots. The air gradually thins. Up.

One foot in front of the other, that’s the key. The peripheral edema causes your hands to swell in your gloves. Your cheeks start to redden. Up. Up.

One foot in front of the…where were we? The altitude plays games with your head. Like being high and hungover at once. Trains of thought glide past and you just can’t seem to clamber aboard. Your boots weigh 50 pounds each. You can’t make it. You will make it. You won’t. You will. This was supposed to be fun? Up. Up. Up.

Climbing mountains is a lifestyle. It’s something that you fall in love with over time. I liken it to a fine Scotch whisky. No one likes Scotch the first time they drink it — it’s like burnt wood. You get a heady rush that’s more dizzying than warm. But somehow, inexplicably, you long for another sip. The next thing you know, you’re on an isle in the Hebrides talking yourself into buying a $150 bottle that Robert Louis Stevenson supposedly favored. That is trekking and climbing. The first time you go for a summit you wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?” But before you’re down the mountain, or finished with the hike — legs still aching — you’re mapping out the next big peak.

Not everyone is fit enough or skilled enough to just dive in and climb Denali, or Rainier, or Everest. You have to work up to that. Just like you have to work up to a 20-year-old Scotch. Here are some places around the globe where you can start indulging in some serious exercise, travel and adventure. I’ve tried to hit each major global region to start out with…more will come:

SANDAKPHU, INDIA/NEPAL

We’d already been trekking for two days when this photo was taken. It was 6:30 in the morning. I have never felt more like a copper top getting charged by the morning sun. By 10 AM we’d be on top of that mountain you see behind me.

Sandakphu is the perfect introduction to the Himalayas. Nestled deep in West Bengal along the Nepali border at 11,941 ft above sea level, Sandakphu is a great beginner’s climb. You don’t need a whole hell of a lot of gear. There are plenty of tea houses to shelter you every night along the road up and down (it takes three days up and two down). There’s a small village on top of the mountain with plenty of guesthouses and kitchens. You’ll be greeted with warm smiles, bowls of curried yak, and rhododendron moonshine. But that doesn’t compare to the summit’s stunning view. Everest, Kachendzonga, Lhotse and Makalu are all visible. That’s 4 of the 5 highest peaks in the world. Take the road to Darjeeling. It’s worth every moment.

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