Climbing: What's The Next Everest?

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Mt. Everest is no longer an inaccessible giant. More than 4,000 people have stood on the world's highest peak since 1953. Last year alone, more than 650 people made it to the top.

But as the crowds have grown, so too has the list of controversial stories coming from the mountain: high-altitude brawls, long lines over treacherous train, and conflict over the value of Sherpas.

For people who want a more drama-free climbing experience, the globe is filled with other peaks worth tackling.

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"There are literally 13 other mountains over 8,000 meters and some get virtually no attention," said Maurice Isserman, a historian at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, and author of "Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes."

"They are very challenging mountains that would be an equal feather in someone's hat to climb," he added, "with many routes still to be discovered, unlike Everest."

Mountains taller than 8,000 meters (more than 26,000 feet) are rare and exceptionally challenging to climb, purely for the lack of oxygen at such drastic elevations. Above 8,000 m, it becomes so difficult to breathers that climbers call it the "death zone."

The Himalayas contain all 14 of the world's 8,000 meter-plus peaks, which straddle Nepal, China, India, Pakistan and Tibet. Among those, Everest is not only the tallest. It's also accessible by hiking for about a week and a half after flying into Lukla.

From there, the mountain is loaded with infrastructure, including a cell phone tower and Sherpas who fix ropes for Western climbers. That makes the climb far less technical than it otherwise would be.

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"It's certainly not the easiest climb because of the altitude," said Alan Arnette, a mountaineer and Everest blogger in Fort Collins, Colo. "I hate the word 'easy' for any 8,000-meter mountain. A better word is achievable. Everest is achievable."

One emerging alternative to Everest is K2, the world's second tallest mountain -- at 8,611 m (28,251 feet) to Everest's 8,848 m (29,029 feet). But for every four or so people who have summited K2, one person has died trying, Arnette said, for a total of 300 successful climbs and 81 deaths.

On Everest, by comparison, the ratio of successes to deaths is about 24 to one with more than 6,000 summits and about 250 deaths. K2 is a "loose" mountain with lots of rock fall and avalanche activity, Arnette said. Its main route also goes up the east side, making climbers vulnerable to incoming storms.

Annapurna I, the world's 10th tallest peak at 26,545 feet, is even more dangerous, killing more than a third of climbers who attempt to reach the top.

Much less risky and far better for people with Everest aspirations is 26,906-foot Cho Oyu, said Eric Simonson, Himalayan program director at International Mountain Guides in Ashford, Wash.

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"Cho Oyu is a great climb and the route from the Tibet side is reasonably safe," Simonson said. "This is the peak we recommend for people who have climbed in Alaska and South America, but have not been to high altitude and who want to get a taste of it before they try Mt. Everest. Cho Oyu is the best training climb for Mt. Everest."

Because of their sheer size and raw landscapes, the Himalayan peaks offer a unique and special sense of journey, said Linden Mallory, a guide for RMI Expeditions in Aspen, Colo. Closer to home, he recommended Washington's Mt. Rainier for the challenge and Alaska's Mount McKinley for the remoteness.

McKinley "is one of the more wild expeditions because it's so big and so cold and more removed than even the Himalayas feel," Mallory said. "You fly in and are dropped off by a plane with skis on it. You look around and see glaciers that are a mile wide surrounded by peaks rising 5,000 to 13,000 feet above you. It's pretty awe-inspiring."

Still, despite a wide variety of beautiful mountains scattered around the world, Everest will likely never be replaced in its status as most notorious mountain on Earth.

"There won't be another Everest," Isserman said. "Not unless another mountain gets bigger."

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