Obviously by anyone's definition, you need to reach the top to successfully climb a mountain, but after hiking to the top of Guadalupe Peak, where the peak is at 8,751 ft, but with a prominence of only 3,029 ft, it seems like most of the 'work' was done by just getting into the parking lot.

Then through further reading about the 50-state high point challenge, I read that Britton Hill in Florida is only 345 ft, with the parking lot just 66 ft from the 'summit'. Does that mean that accomplishing the feat of reaching the peak of all 50 summits in a record time could drastically be reduced by merely moving the starting point (parking lot) closer to the summit? What is the actual definition of 'climbing' a mountain?

  • I'm not a native speaker, but doesn't English include the term "hiking to the top of a mountain"? For me, "climbing to the top" refers to the very specific act of using your hands and feet in a grade 5 wall, possibly with a rope for protection and climbing shoes for progression. Dec 19, 2018 at 13:57
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    @QuantumBrick I'm not a climber in your purist sense, but as far as English goes, it is OK to say you climbed a mountain even if you didn't use your hands on a grade 5 wall. After all, one climbs the stairs, one doesn't hike up the stairs. One can climb the stairs, climb up a hill, climb a mountain, climb up on the table (e.g., to change a light-bulb), climb on a horse or climb up on the Gravitron in the gym -- all common uses of "climb".
    – ab2
    Dec 20, 2018 at 3:22

3 Answers 3


As a peakbagger, I often have that sort of conversation. First you need to define your terms. What constitutes a mountain, a summit, a high point - all those matter. I have "climbed" high points in farm fields that are on such flat areas that we can't even know for certain where it's actually highest. That's why I'm very bored by the idea of county or state highpointing. Ignoring anthropogenic borders and using physical attributes of summits makes much more sense to me.

One interesting way to truly climb a mountain that I have tried is to go for a sea-to-summit climb. This is easier on coastal peaks. For example if we're sailing somewhere, I always try to summit any island we anchor near to. That ensures I climbed all possible elevation gain.

There are crazy endeavours in sea-to-summit climbs, like doing Hawaiian island summits from the coast or climbing Mount Fairweather which rises straight out of the Pacific Ocean (that would be an insane trip). Generally this is out of the realm of practicality for most people so even flying in on the glaciers two thirds of the way to the summit will count as an ascent.

The usual benchmark is to start from the surrounding valleys. For a classic mountain that rises from every side, this is usually where the trailheads are and no one would deny counting an ascent from there.

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    Do you count the Everest summit of Goran Kropp as a sea-to-summit climb, or does the bicycling segment (Stockholm to Everest Base Camp) rule that out?
    – ab2
    Dec 20, 2018 at 3:14
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    @ab2 I have also had those talks and for my part, I consider cycling to count. Skiing is also a force multiplier (much less time/effort required to descend) and no one would discount that mode of transportation.
    – Gabriel
    Dec 20, 2018 at 4:06
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    You could always walk all the way from sea level from the Bay of Bengal and then climb to the Everest summit like Tim_Macartney-Snape: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Macartney-Snape
    – Paul Lydon
    Dec 20, 2018 at 12:07

Most of the time it just means that you got to the top under your own power from the standard trailhead and if you want to be more specific, you give the route.

Plenty of mountains will have different routes to the top of varying difficulty and length and other than the ones with roads to the top, if you walk/hike/climb/ to the top, then that counts. I backpacked +125 miles before climbing King's peak in Utah and on the way up to the summit I met plenty of day hikers. Half Dome would also be a good example of this.

As far as moving the parking lot, it's technically possible but since plenty of the high points are in wilderness areas so that's not happening anytime soon.

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    Not so much moving the parking lot, but getting higher than the default start by some form of off road vehicle or even a horse would be cheating (IMO). It may or may not be legal, and almost all the time you'd only be cheating yourself. On the other hand personally I wouldn't regard cycling the easy bit of the way from the trailhead as cheating, even though bikes are more efficient than walking in many cases. In some places private or restricted roads will take you further than the general public as well
    – Chris H
    Dec 19, 2018 at 12:15

It depends on context as well as more objective criteria. Example: If your first mountain is 1270m but you got the bus to 800m where the road ends, you've still climbed your first mountain (not me by the way, my first was Bowfell, too long ago to remember the details). You might look back and think it was nothing much, you might have already climbed more prominent hills, but it's still significant. Prominence itself is only tangentially related to ease of access or total climb, because it's about land, not roads.

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