McKinley is a big-time commitment, and it's the closest thing to a Himalayan expedition you'll find in North America. You get high altitude (20,320 feet at the summit), catastrophically bad weather, and major tent time. "You're looking at three weeks of sleeping on ice, carrying a 60-pound pack, eating crappy food, and learning how to survive on the side of an inhospitable mountain," says Whittaker, who also notes that the fixed lines from the camp at 14,000 feet up to McKinley's west buttress (16,000 feet) will give you a taste for the miles of fixed lines on Everest. The altitude is serious, too. "Your body tries to stay warm, which of course requires oxygen that's not readily available," says Freer. "How you function under these conditions is a tell-all sign of how you'll do in the Himalayas." Expect to be stormed in for up to a week with odiferous tentmates who enjoy your company about as much as you enjoy eating MREs. But get to love your teammates. "You don't go anywhere without being roped to partners," says Whittaker. "And if you summit with a smile on your face, you're set to tackle Everest." [from $7,000; alpineascents.com]
Credit: Kim Heacox / Getty Images
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