Climbing a mountain doesn’t have to involve crampons and oxygen masks – and to celebrate International Mountain Day on 11 December, here’s an aspiration list of achievable peaks to scale. From Morocco and Japan to Guatemala, St Kitts and Tanzania, we’ve summit for everyone!
Best for: hiking amid Berber villages
The highest peak in north Africa rises above Imlil, where you’ll join trekkers heading out from the refuge on an early morning attempt on the summit. Though not a technical climb, it’s a stern challenge with loose scree, boulders and thin air – but the rewards are tremendous views across the High Atlas and a steaming bowl of tagine and couscous at the end, washed down with sweet mint tea. The climb itself can be completed in two days, but best to combine with a trek through beautiful valleys and Berber villages, and bookend with a stay in Marrakech to experience the magic of its ancient Medina and the madness of the Djemaa el-Fna square.
Best for: exploring primeval forest
The dormant volcano that dominates this Caribbean island was known to early British colonisers as Mt Misery because of the clouds that often cloak the summit. To the indigenous Kalinago inhabitants of St Kitts, the mountain represented growth and life, hence their name for the isle: Liamuiga (say: ‘lie-a-meega’), or ‘fertile land’. The climb through humid forest can be steep and slippery, with plenty of roots and rocks to hop, but it’s also gorgeous - spot lofty tree ferns and palms, aromatic gommier trees and strangler figs, and enjoy dramatic views down into the crater from the rim. The return climb takes about three to four hours in total, depending on start point and whether you scramble up to the highest point.
Best for: ascending an icon
Few mountains are as symmetrically beautiful and instantly recognisable as Japan’s tallest peak. No wonder, then, that some 300,000 people tackle the climb each year during the hiking season of July and August. Though a testing haul, taking at least six hours for the ascent over black volcanic rocks, it’s not technical and achievable by most people with a reasonable level of fitness. The most popular of the various routes is the Yoshida Trail, served by buses from Tokyo and with several huts offering shelter and amenities. Many climbers overnight at one of the higher waystations, setting out in the early morning to enjoy the dramatic sunrise views from the summit.
Best for: watching wildlife en route
Tanzania’s second-highest mountain is often treated as an acclimatisation and training exercise before summiting Kilimanjaro, Africa’s loftiest peak, but it’s a great climb in its own right. Though it should be treated with respect – you’ll experience the effects of altitude and cold at the top, with breathlessness, headache and dizziness likely – it’s also a rewarding three- or four-day trek, with plentiful wildlife including nearly 400 bird species to be spotted in the forests on its lower slopes and far-reaching views from the top (clouds permitting). This dormant stratovolcano lies in Arusha National Park, about 70km west of Kilimanjaro.
Best for: summitting Central America
This massive stratovolcano (don’t worry – it’s dormant) looms over western Guatemala, offering a relatively straightforward hike through pine forests and over lava fields. Though it’s possible to summit in a long day – the climb from the trailhead at about 3,000m takes around four-five hours – better to camp at around 4,000m and tackle the final haul before dawn to enjoy spectacular sunrise views: on a clear day you can see all the way north to Mexico and an array of other volcanoes including Acatenango, Atitlán and Santa Maria. Quetzaltenango (Xela) is a convenient base; local tour operator Quetzaltrekkers is recommended by many travellers.