Regardless of how tired I get climbing a mountain, the pain disappears once I take in the view from up top. It's hard to beat a great 360-degree perspective. Western North America is a land of extremes, with the heights dominated by the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Range volcanoes. Most summits provide that expansive feeling of awe, but a few really stand out for their vistas.
Mount Whitney is the highest point in the lower 48, and from the summit the surrounding rock spires of the Sierra Nevada are seemingly endless. So it goes in the Sierra and Rockies, where colliding tectonic plates and periods of glaciation have sculpted the earth into hundreds of miles of peaks. Compare this to the Cascade Range, a line of volcanoes, most still active, that seem to sprout from the land itself. From a Cascade summit, the view is usually highlighted by more volcanic summits to the north and south. Mount Rainier is the tallest of the Cascade Range mountains, Mount Hood the most popular mountaineering mountain, and Mount St. Helens, as the most active, is the easiest of the group to climb.
The Cascades are bordered on the north by the Pacific ranges of Western British Columbia, where glaciation has created a truly remarkable mountain region with high peaks and extensive glaciers. The Mount Garibaldi area north of Vancouver is the most accessible of what is a remote and largely undeveloped area.
Colorado and Utah are defined by the Rockies, as are eastern British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. Due to varying degrees of glaciation, however, the mountains in these areas have a distinct feel, with the similarities of large, sheer granite faces.
Picking a list of the best summit views is an exercise that inevitably leads to disagreement, but throwing caution to the wind, this "best of" list doesn't disappoint. Some of these views are only accessible using technical mountaineering or climbing routes. Others take a long hike.
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