A century ago, a majority of the planet's residents never managed to make it further than a few hundred miles from their birthplaces. Now, with one billion international arrivals a year, travelers are spreading into the last unexplored corners of the globe. The demand for bigger, better, and more adventurous experiences is skyrocketing. "There's an accessibility that there never was before, and people can do things that were once unimaginable," says Shannon Stowell, president of the Adventure Travel Trade Association. "If you can think of it and Google it, there's probably someone who can take you."
Here are nine of the most extreme trips on the planet - and the outfitters that take adventurers over the edge and back again.
Climb Mt. Everest.
About 60 years ago, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed through icefalls, endured a blizzard, and kicked steps into walls of ice and rock to become the first people to summit Mt. Everest. Since then, about 4,000 have answered the call of the world's tallest mountain and successfully reached the peak. Today, guide services regularly lead amateur mountaineers to the top.
The result of better weather forecasting and gear innovation is that more people than ever are flocking to Mt. Everest, which has suffered a bit from the strain – trash piles and traffic jams on the popular routes have become common. But that doesn't mean that summiting isn't still a worthwhile – and risky – challenge for anyone serious about their bucket list.
For about 90 percent of those who attempt the mountain, the first step is to pick the right guide service. One good choice: RMI Expeditions, which counts Dave Hahn, who has summited 15 times, and Seth Waterfall, who has summited three, among its lead guides. The outfitter trains prospective climbers on smaller peaks before leading them on a 70-plus-day expedition to base camp and up the mountain. Despite years of preparation and a fee that might be better used as a down payment on a house, there is no ironclad guarantee of safety or even a summit bid.
"Everest is like any other mountain but with more magnified risk," says Waterfall. "We guides try to mitigate as much of the risk as possible, but we can't eliminate it. There's a certain need for acceptance." But perhaps the uncertainty and risk of climbing the world's tallest mountain are a large part of Everest's enduring allure.
More Information: An expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest with RMI Guides costs $65,000 and takes place between March and June each year. It can take about two years for guides to walk qualified clients through the training and preparation process.
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