The 7 Summits

The Seven Summits are the highest mountains of each of the seven continents. Summiting all of them is regarded as a mountaineering challenge, first postulated as such and achieved on April 30, 1985 by Richard Bass.

 

There has been a bit of controversy surrounding which mountains make up the seven summits. In Europe, Mt Blanc is thought by many to be the highest point, arguing the Caucasus range where Elbrus is located is, in fact, in Asia.

Even greater debate surrounds Mt Kosciuszkos inclusion as Australia’s highest peak. Many consider a peak in New Guinea ‘Carstensz Pyramid’ to be the highest on the continent ‘Oceania’. It is indeed more difficult than the ant-hill representing Australias highest point. Being Australian however, and not looking for any further difficulty in this challenge, I’ve chosen Kosciuszko.

 

The first to scale all 7 (choosing Kosciuszko) was an American businessman and amateur mountaineer by the name of Dick Bass. His goal was completed when he scaled Everest on April 30, 1985. There was a book written about there tumultuous journey..

Their goal was to climb the highest mountain on each of The seven continents. It was an imposing list: Aconcagua in South America, Everest in Asia, McKinley in North America, Kilimanjaro in Africa, Elbrus in Europe, Vinson in Antarctica, Kosciuszko in Australia… no one had ever scaled all seven Summits. To do so would be an accomplishment coveted by the World’s best mountaineers.”

—Rick Ridgeway, from The Seven Summits, by Dick Bass, Rick Ridgeway, and Frank wells (1988)

The Mountains

Africa Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro with its three volcanic cones, Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira, is a dormant volcanic mountain in Tanzania. It is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world at 5,895 metres or 19,341 feet above sea level (the Uhuru Peak/Kibo Peak).

In 1861, the German officer Baron Carl Claus von der Decken and the young British geologist Richard Thornton (1838–1863) made a first attempt to climb Kibo, but got no farther than 8,200 feet (2,500 meters).

In 1887, during his first attempt to climb Kilimanjaro, the German geology professor Hans Meyer reached the base of Kibo, but was forced to turn back, not having the equipment necessary to handle the deep snow and ice on Kibo. The following year, Meyer planned another attempt with cartographer Oscar Baumann, but the mission was aborted due to consequences of the Abushiri Revolt. Meyer and Baumann were captured and held hostage, and only escaped after a ten thousand rupees ransom had been paid.

In 1889 Meyer returned to Kilimanjaro with the celebrated Austrian mountaineer Ludwig Purtscheller for a third attempt. Their climbing team included two local headmen, nine porters, a cook, and a guide. The success of this attempt, which started on foot from Mombasa, was based on the establishment of many campsites with food supplies so that multiple attempts at the top could be made without having to descend too far.

Europe Elbrus

Mount Elbrus is a dormant volcano located in the western Caucasus mountain range, in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachay–Cherkessia of Russia, near the border with Georgia. Mt. Elbrus’s peak is the highest in the Caucasus Mountains and in Europe.

Elbrus has two summits, both of which are dormant volcanic domes. Mt. Elbrus (west summit) stands at 5,642 metres (18,510 ft), the east summit is slightly lower at 5,621 metres (18,442 ft). The lower of the two summits was first ascended on 10 July 1829 (Julian calendar) by Khillar Khachirov, a Karachay guide for an Imperial Russian army scientific expedition led by General Emmanuel, and the higher (by about 20 m—70 ft) in 1874 by an English expedition led by F. Crauford Grove and including Frederick Gardner, Horace Walker, and the Swiss guide Peter Knubel of St. Niklaus in the canton Valais.

While there are differing authorities on how the Caucasus are distributed between Europe and Asia, most relevant modern authorities define the continental boundary as the Caucasus watershed, placing Elbrus in Europe as its highest mountain.

Australia Kosciuszko

Mount Kosciuszko is a mountain located in the Snowy Mountains in Kosciuszko National Park, New South Wales. With a height of 2,228 metres (7,310 ft) above sea level, it is the highest mountain on the Australian continent. It was named by the Polish explorer Paul Edmund Strzelecki in 1840, in honour of the Polish national hero and hero of the American Revolutionary War General Tadeusz Kościuszko, because of its perceived resemblance to the Kościuszko Mound in Kraków.

The name of the mountain was previously spelt “Mount Kosciusko”, an Anglicisation, but the spelling “Mount Kosciuszko” was officially adopted in 1997 by the Geographical Names Board of New South Wales.

There are several native Aboriginal (Ngarigo) names associated with the mountain, with some confusion as to the exact sounds. These are Jagungal, Jar-gan-gil, Tar-gan-gil, Tackingal, all of which mean “Table Top Mountain.”

Various measurements of the peak originally called Kosciuszko showed it to be slightly lower than its neighbour, Mount Townsend. The names of the mountains were swapped by the New South Wales Lands Department, so that Mount Kosciuszko remains the name of the highest peak of Australia, and Mount Townsend ranks as second. The 1863 picture by Eugene von Guerard hanging in the National Gallery of Australia titled “Northeast view from the northern top of Mount Kosciusko” is actually from Mount Townsend.

When considering all of Oceania as a continent, Mount Kosciuszko is overshadowed by Puncak Jaya in Papua, Indonesia, also called Carstensz Pyramid. Different versions of the Seven Summits climbing challenge depend on which is chosen to be the “Australia” peak.

South America Aconcagua

Aconcagua (Spanish pronunciation: [akoŋˈkaɣwa]) is the highest mountain in the Western and Southern Hemispheres at 6,960.8 metres (22,837 ft). It is located in the Andes mountain range, in the province of Mendoza, Argentina, and lies 112 kilometres (70 mi) northwest of its capital, the city of Mendoza. The summit is also located about 5 kilometres from San Juan Province and 15 kilometres from the international border with Chile.

The mountain was created by the subduction of the Nazca Plate beneath the South American plate during the geologically recent Andean orogeny; but it is not a volcano. The origin of the name is contested; it is either from the Arauca Aconca-Hue, which refers to the Aconcagua River and means “comes from the other side”, the Quechua Ackon Cahuak, meaning “‘Sentinel of Stone”, or QuechuaAnco Cahuac, “White Sentinel”[5] or the Aymara Janq’u Q’awa, “White Ravine”, “White Brook”.

The first attempt to reach the summit of Aconcagua by a European was made in 1883 by a party led by the German geologist and explorer Paul Güssfeldt. Bribing porters with the story of treasure on the mountain, he approached the mountain via the Rio Volcan, making two attempts on the peak by the north-west ridge and reaching an altitude of 6,500 metres (21,300 ft). The route that he prospected is now the normal route up the mountain.

The first recorded ascent was in 1897 by a British expedition led by Edward FitzGerald. The summit was reached by the Swiss guide Matthias Zurbriggen on January 14 and by two other expedition members a few days later.

North America Mckinley (Denali)

Mount McKinley, [native name Denali or “The High One”] is the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit elevation of 20,237 feet (6,168 m) above sea level. At some 18,000 feet (5,500 m), the base-to-peak rise is considered the largest of any mountain situated entirely above sea level. Measured by topographic prominence, it is the third most prominent peak after Mount Everest and Aconcagua. Located in the Alaska Range in the interior of US state of Alaska, McKinley is the centerpiece of Denali National Park and Preserve.

The first European to document sighting the mountain was George Vancouver in 1794. In 1903, James Wickersham recorded the first attempt at climbing McKinley, which was unsuccessful. In 1906, Frederick Cookclaimed the first ascent, which was later proven to be false. The first verifiable ascent to McKinley’s summit was achieved on June 7, 1913 by climbers Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, Walter Harper, and Robert Tatum, who went by the South Summit. In 1951, Bradford Washburn pioneered the West Buttress route, considered to be the safest and easiest route and therefore the most popular currently in use.

On September 11, 2013, Alaska’s lieutenant governor Mead Treadwell announced Mount McKinley is 20,237 feet (6,168 m) tall and not 20,320 feet (6,194 m) as measured in 1952 using photogrammetry. The Statewide Digital Mapping Initiative, in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey, said the more accurate height was 83 feet (25 m) lower using measurements from a 2012 survey that used Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar. The new height was accepted by the U.S. Geological Survey and is now part of its National Elevation Dataset.

Antartica Vinson

Vinson Massif is the highest mountain of Antarctica, lying in the Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains, which stand above the Ronne Ice Shelf near the base of the Antarctic Peninsula. The massif is located about 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) from the South Pole and is about 21 km (13 mi) long and 13 km (8.1 mi) wide. At 4,892 metres (16,050 ft) the highest point is Mount Vinson, which was named in 2006 after Carl Vinson, long-time member of the U.S. Congress from the state of Georgia.

Vinson Massif was first seen in 1958 and first climbed in 1966. An expedition in 2001 was the first to climb via the Eastern route, and also took GPS measurements of the height of the peak. As of February 2010, 1,400 climbers have attempted to reach the top of Mount Vinson.

The climate on Vinson is generally controlled by the polar ice cap’s high-pressure system, creating predominantly stable conditions but, as in any polar climate, high winds and snowfall are a possibility. Though the annual snowfall on Vinson is low, high winds can cause base camp accumulations up to 46 centimetres (18 in) in a year. During the summer season, November through January, there are 24 hours of sunlight. While the average temperature during these months is −30 °C (−20 °F), the intense sun will melt snow on dark objects

Asia Everest

Mount Everest, also known in Nepal as Sagarmāthā and in Tibet as Chomolungma, is Earth’s highest mountain. It is located in the Mahalangur section of the Himalayas. Its peak is 8,848 metres (29,029 ft) above sea level and is the 5th furthest summit from the center of Earth. The international border between China and Nepal runs across the precise summit point. Its massif includes neighboring peaks Lhotse, 8,516 m (27,940 ft); Nuptse, 7,855 m (25,771 ft) and Changtse, 7,580 m (24,870 ft).

In 1856, the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India established the first published height of Everest, then known as Peak XV, at 29,002 ft (8,840 m). The current official height of 8,848 m (29,029 ft) as recognized by Nepal and China was established by a 1955 Indian survey and subsequently confirmed by a Chinese survey in 1975. In 1865, Everest was given its official English name by the Royal Geographical Society upon a recommendation by Andrew Waugh, the British Surveyor General of India. Waugh named the mountain after his predecessor in the post, Sir George Everest, arguing that there were many local names, against the opinion of Everest.

Mount Everest attracts many highly experienced mountaineers as well as capable climbers willing to hire professional guides. There are two main climbing routes, one approaching the summit from the southeast in Nepal (known as the standard route) and the other from the north in Tibet. While not posing substantial technical climbing challenges on the standard route, Everest presents dangers such as altitude sickness, weather, wind as well as significant objective hazards from avalanches and the Khumbu Icefall. While the overwhelming majority of climbers use bottled oxygen in order to reach the top, some climbers have summitted Everest without supplemental oxygen.

The first recorded efforts to reach Everest’s summit were made by British mountaineers. With Nepal not allowing foreigners into the country at the time, the British made several attempts on the north ridge route from the Tibetan side. After the first reconnaissance expedition by the British in 1921 reached 7,000 m (22,970 ft) on the North Col, the 1922 expedition pushed the North ridge route up to 8,320 m (27,300 ft) marking the first time a human had climbed above 8,000 m (26,247 ft). Tragedy struck on the descent from the North col when seven porters were killed in an avalanche. The 1924 expedition resulted in the greatest mystery on Everest to this day: George Mallory and Andrew Irvine made a final summit attempt on June 8 but never returned, sparking debate as to whether they were the first to reach the top. They had been spotted high on the mountain that day but disappeared in the clouds, never to be seen again until Mallory’s body was found in 1999 at 8,155 m (26,755 ft) on the North face. Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary made the first official ascent of Everest in 1953 using the southeast ridge route. Tenzing had reached 8,595 m (28,199 ft) the previous year as a member of the 1952 Swiss expedition.