Daniel Dawson
Jan 13, 2022

For many mountaineers, climbing the Seven Summits is at the top of their bucket list.

In fact, only about 500 people have succeeded in reaching the highest point on each of the seven continents since the idea was first conceived in the 1950s.

The difficulty of making it to the summit of each of these peaks ranges from a straightforward trek that requires some acclimatization to a months-long expedition into some of the most remote corners of the globe.

However, most experienced mountaineers argue that climbing the Seven Second Summits is a more challenging mountaineering feat.

Keep reading: Climbing the Seven Volcanic Summits: Facts & Information

Though the reasons why vary from one pairing of mountains to the next, the general consensus by the few mountaineers who have climbed them all boil down to a few things:

  • Several of the Seven Second Summits are more technically challenging than their taller counterparts;
  • In general, there is far less infrastructure supporting climbers on the Seven Second Summits, including base camp facilities and fixed ropes;
  • Some of the Seven Second Summits are located in far more remote terrain, making them more difficult and expensive to reach.
Christian Strangl on Cho Oyu.

Unlike the Seven Summits, climbing the Seven Second Summits was relegated to fringes of the 20th and 21st-century mountaineering zeitgeist. 

The first person to successfully climb all the possible candidates for the Seven Second Summits was Christian Strangl, an Austrian mountaineer and engineer. He also has climbed the Seven Summits.

“When I found out the Seven Second Summits had never been climbed at all, I decided this would be my next big challenge,” Strangl told ExpedReview. “I thought they would be like the Seven Summits, but found out that they are much more difficult.”

Strangl recently sat down with ExpedReview to explain some of the key differences between the Seven Summits and the Seven Second Summits.

Everest vs K2

 

Everest and K2.

Perhaps the most classic example of the difference in difficulty between the Seven Summits and Seven Second Summits is the difference between Mount Everest and K2.

The world’s tallest mountain is also one of the most sought-after climbing destinations and, for its elevation, requires fairly modest mountaineering skills. Meanwhile, K2 is one of the least climbed peaks due to its harsh climate and the immense level of technical difficulty.

“K2 is completely different compared to Everest,” Strangl said. “You can't just go there and climb K2. In some years, K2 is not climbed by anyone because the climate in the Karakoram Range is completely different from the climate in the Himalayas.”

Keep reading: How Much Does It Cost to Climb Mt Everest in 2022?

The weather on K2 tends to be colder and windier than on Everest, despite the fact that the peak is frequently climbed in the summer while Everest is climbed in the spring or autumn.

One of the reasons for this is the geography of the mountain. K2 rises up into a jet stream, meaning it is constantly windy, with speeds reaching up to 200 kilometres per hour (124 miles per hour).

“K2 is much more dangerous,” Strangl added. “It's steeper and you have more meters of elevation to gain from base camp to the summit.”

While the ascent of Everest mostly involves glacier travel with some moderate but steep snow and ice climbing, the ascent of K2 requires climbing over brittle ice and frozen rock, both of which are technically challenging feats and more prone to rockfalls.

Strangl added that the ascent of K2 is also much more remote. Several of the years he attempted to summit the peak, he was one of the only teams at the impromptu base camp, which lacks the infrastructure and amenities present at Everest Base Camp. 

Everest quick facts:

  • Location: Nepal/Tibet (China)
  • Elevation: 8,848 m (29,029 ft)
  • Average exped length: 56 days
  • Best period: April to May
  • Average cost: $59,000

K2 quick facts:

  • Location: Pakistan
  • Elevation: 8,611m (28,251 ft)
  • Average exped length: 49 days
  • Best period: June to September
  • Average cost: $43,000

Aconcagua vs Ojos del Salado

Aconcagua (left). Photo: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen. Ojos del Salado. Photo: Crater on Ojos del Salado (right). Photo: Serge JF via Flickr.

While many of the Seven Summits and Seven Second Summits are quite different in terms of the level of difficulty to climb, a few of the peaks do not have much appreciable difference. 

Chief among these is Aconcagua and Ojos del Salado in South America. Both are largely non-technical climbs and more of physical challenges due to the steep elevation gain.

Keep reading: Top 10 South American Mountaineering Destinations

“Both are in the same league,” Strangl said. “Ojos del Salado is like Aconcagua, just a walk on the normal route.” 

“At the very top of Ojos del Salado, the last 50 meters require some climbing, but the rock is good and there are some fixed ropes,” he added. “It's like a via ferrata.”

As a result, many consider Aconcagua to be a more difficult mountain to climb. The peak is located far more remotely, requiring a trek to the base camp and a longer ascent to the summit than Ojos del Salado. 

From the Chilean side, most climbers drive to the highest base camp before making the final push to the summit. The peak is far more challenging from the Argentine side.

“The Chilean side starts at 5,200 meters, so you have just 1,600 meters of elevation to reach the summit,” Strangl said. “On Aconcagua, you start at 4,300 meters, so very low down. You have 2,700 meters of elevation to gain, and you have to walk one to two days to reach the base camp at Aconcagua. This is longer than on Ojos del Salado.”

Aconcagua quick facts:

  • Location: Argentina
  • Elevation: 6,961 m (22,838 ft)
  • Average exped length: 21 days
  • Best period: November to March
  • Average cost: $6,800

Ojos del Salado quick facts:

  • Location: Argentina/Chile
  • Elevation: 6,893 m (22,615 ft)
  • Average exped length: 21 days
  • Best period: December to March
  • Average cost: $9,300

Denali vs Logan

Denali and Logan.

Similar to the previous pair, not much separates Alaska’s Denali from Canada’s Mount Logan in terms of technical difficulty. 

The normal route up both – the West Buttress and King’s Trench routes, respectively – requires long and steep ascents up the mountain's glaciers to reach the summit with some technical snow climbing. 

“The King's Trench route is easy but very, very long and no one should ever underestimate that intense, really, really big summit plateau,” Strangl said. 

Denali and Logan also both offer far more challenging routes. The West Rib and Cassin Ridge routes on Denali and the famed East Ridge Route on Logan both require highly technical rock and ice climbing to complete. 

Keep reading: Top 10 Mountaineering Destinations in the United States

Along with the technical difficulty, the high latitudes and continental climates of both mountains mean the weather provides similar types of challenges. 

Both experience temperatures well below freezing at and near the summit during the summer. Both are also prone to strong storms during the main mountaineering seasons.

However, Logan is far more remote than Denali, which is the only aspect that makes it a more challenging climb. 

“On Denali, you have a lot of infrastructure,” Strangl said. “On Logan, there is nobody.”

Most expeditions to Logan will charter a flight to Kluane National Park and haul the approximately 50 to 80-kilograms (110 to 175-lbs) of gear from the landing site to the base camp. They will also haul and set up all of their own gear as they establish high camps.

“Logan is very challenging because if you fly there, you need all your gas and food and everything else,” Strangl said. “This little plane will set you out there with all your stuff and equipment.” 

“In most cases, there’s nothing else,” he added. “There you are completely alone and you have to live in the snow for three weeks. It's simply a magical adventure.”

At Denali, most expeditions fly right to the base camp. As a result, climbers require far less gear and are able to access more logistical support, such as resupplying and weather reports.

Denali quick facts:

  • Location: United States
  • Elevation: 6,194 m (20,322 ft)
  • Average exped length: 24 days
  • Best period: May to July
  • Average cost: $9,300

Logan quick facts: 

  • Location: Canada
  • Elevation: 5,959 m (19,551 ft)
  • Average exped length: 25 days
  • Best period: May to July
  • Average cost: $8,740

Kilimanjaro vs Mount Kenya

Kilimanjaro (left). Photo: Takashi Muramatsu via Flickr. Mount Kenya (right). Photo: Guillaume Baviere via Flickr.

After Everest and K2, the difference between climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya may be the largest. 

Located in Tanzania, Africa’s tallest mountain is only about 800 metres (2,600 feet) higher than its second-highest but far less difficult to reach by just about every metric. 

Kilimanjaro requires no technical ability to climb and has plenty of infrastructure, including mountain huts on most of the routes to the summit. The mountain is also located near several major cities and airports, making it easy to reach.

Keep reading: Top 5 Climbing Destinations in East Africa

On the other hand, Batian, the highest of Mount Kenya’s three summits, is far more technically challenging to climb. Lenana, the lowest of Mount Kenya’s summits can be reached on foot, which makes it far more popular. 

However, technical rock climbing abilities are needed to reach the second-highest point in Africa.  

“The easiest route for Batian requires you to climb 36 pitches of at least grade IV,” Strangl said. “It's very solid climbing, but you have to be a climber because you have to repel down all the faces.”

Mount Kenya is also located in a part of Kenya that is far more remote than where Kilimanjaro is located in Tanzania and has almost no infrastructure on or around the peak. 

As a result, the climb requires more complex logistics to arrive and climbers need to be more self-sufficient while out in the Kenyan wilderness. 

Kilimanjaro quick facts:

  • Location: Tanzania
  • Elevation: 5,895 m (19,341 ft)
  • Average exped length: 8 days 
  • Best period: June to October, January to March
  • Average cost: $2,200

Mount Kenya quick facts:

  • Location: Kenya
  • Elevation: 5,199 m (17,057 ft)
  • Average exped length: 7 days
  • Best period: December to March, July to September
  • Average cost: $3,000

Elbrus vs Dykh-Tau

Elbrus (left). Photo: Mountain Madness. Dykh Tau (right). Photo: Masa Sakano via Flickr.

The comparison between climbing Elbrus and Dykh-Tau follows a similar pattern to most of the other Seven Summits and Seven Second Summits.

Both peaks are located in the Caucasus Range in Russia, but climbing Elbrus is not a very technical challenge. The normal route is long and tiring but only requires some moderate mixed snow and rock climbing abilities. The route is fairly straightforward and a chairlift takes climbers up part of the mountain to start the climb.

On the other hand, Dykh-Tau is a much more technical challenge and requires steep rock, glacier and ice climbing to reach the summit. Much of the climbing is done along exposed ridgelines, which adds to the danger. 

Keep reading: Climbing Elbrus and Kilimanjaro: How the First 2 of the Seven Summits Compare

“Dykh-Tau is very steep and you can't see the top until you're there,” Strangl said. “There's just a little information available and you start very deep down in these gorges.”

“There's a very long summit ridge and for very long periods, you climb from one spire to the next spire,” he added. “At the very end, you reach the top. It's really very tough and a very difficult mountain. It is much more exposed.”

Along with the technical difficulty, Dykh-Tau also provides many more logistical challenges. The mountain is located in a more remote section of the Caucasus Range and requires additional permits (on top of the standard visa to enter Russia). 

Due to the complicated geopolitics of the region, climbers from some Western European countries may also have a harder time getting insurance for the trip.

Elbrus quick facts:

  • Location: Russia
  • Elevation: 5,642 m (18,510 ft)
  • Average exped length: 12 days
  • Best period: May to September
  • Average cost: $3,600

Dykh-Tau quick facts:

  • Location: Russia
  • Elevation: 5,205 m (17,077 ft)
  • Average exped length: 12 days
  • Best period: June to September
  • Average cost: $2,750

Mount Vinson vs Mount Tyree

Vinson (left). Photo: Furtenbach Adventures. Tyree (right). Photo: Christian Strangl via Flickr.

“Climbing Mount Tyree is is much harder than Mount Vinson,” Strangl said. 

The main reasoning for his assessment of the two tallest mountains in Antarctica is that Mount Vinson is basically a trekking peak, with some sections of 40-degree snow climbing, while Tyree requires much more technical climbing abilities and, unlike Vinson, has no established routes to the summit. 

“Tyree is a pyramid,” Strangl said. “It's very steep. It's really a mountain for climbers. You need to know how to climb on ice.”

Keep reading: Top Polar Mountaineering and Ski Touring Destinations

Tyree is also much more difficult to reach than Vinson. Since Vinson is a more popular mountaineering target, a semi-permanent base camp is set up each climbing season. Any trip to the peak begins with a flight into this base camp. 

Since Mount Tyree is located on the other side of the massif, which sits just south of the Antarctic Peninsula, climbers must take a second plane to fly across the massif. 

There is also no infrastructure on Tyree, which means climbers will need to be self-sufficient during the nearly three-week duration of the expedition.

“There's absolutely nothing,” Strangl said. “You are completely alone there, but it's a splendid landscape.”

Vinson Quick facts:

  • Location: Antarctica
  • Elevation: 4,892 m )16,050 ft)
  • Average exped length: 18 days
  • Best period: December to January
  • Average cost: $47,500

Tyree Quick facts:

  • Location: Antarctica
  • Elevation: 4,852 m (15,919 ft)
  • Average exped length: 19 days
  • Best period: December to January
  • Average cost: $45,500

Puncak Jaya vs Puncak Mandala

Carstensz Pyramid (left). Photo: Jagged Globe. Puncak Mandala (right). Photo: Christian Strangl via Flickr.

Situated on opposite ends of central highlands that stretch across the centre of the island of Papua, Puncak Jaya (aka, the Carstensz Pyramid) and Puncak Mandala are the two tallest mountains of Oceania per the Messner List. 

Both are located on the Indonesian half of the island and are quite similar in terms of physical and logistical difficulty. Both Puncak Jaya and Puncak Mandala are located amidst dense rain forests and require a three to four-day trek to reach the base of the peak. 

“In Indonesia, the peaks are in the rainforest it's raining every day,” Strangl said. “You have to fight against the wetness, but you are wet all day long.”

“The Carstensz Pyramid just requires rock climbing, about grade III to IV, so not difficult,” he added. 

On the other hand, the normal route of Puncak Mandala, which follows the north ridge to the summit, only requires some intermediate scrambling. As a result, the ascent of the Carstensz Pyramid is more technically demanding. 

However, the south route, which approaches the peak from the other side, involves multi-pitch rock climbing up the southern face to reach the summit. 

(Strangl considers Sumantri, about 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) northeast of the Carstensz Pyramid, to be the second-highest peak in Oceania, but due to its lack of prominence from the massif’s ridgeline to the summit, ExpedReview does not.) 

Puncak Jaya quick facts:

  • Location: Indonesia
  • Elevation: 4,884 m (16,024 ft)
  • Average exped length: 15 days
  • Best period: December to March, June to August
  • Average cost: $17,400

Puncak Mandala quick facts:

  • Location: Indonesia
  • Elevation: 4,760 m (15,617 ft)
  • Average exped length: 15 days
  • Best period: December to March, June to August

Mount Kosciuszko vs Mount Townshend

Kosciuszko (left). Townshend (right). Photo: Leigh Blackall via Wikimedia.

The two shortest peaks on the Bass List of the Seven Summits and Seven Second Summits do not have much that differentiates them in terms of difficulty.

Both Mount Kosciuszko and Mount Townshend are located in the Great Dividing Range in southeastern Australia and can be hiked in a single day. Neither mountain requires any technical climbing gear or skills.

If you were to split hairs, Mount Townshend may be considered a bit more difficult to summit simply because it is more remotely located than Kosciuszko and requires a longer hiking approach. 

As a result, some opt to hike Townshend in two days instead of one, whereas Kosciuszko is almost always doen in a single day.

However, many hikers opt to climb both in a two-day trip. The especially ambitious may decide to snowshoe up them in the winter when both are covered in snow. 

Kosciuszko quick facts:

  • Location: Australia
  • Elevation: 2,228 m (7,310 ft)
  • Average exped length: 1 day
  • Best period: November to May
  • Average cost: $250

Townshend quick facts:

  • Location: Australia
  • Elevation: 2,209 m (7,247 ft)
  • Average exped length: 1 to 2 days
  • Best period: November to May
  • Average cost: $250

Conclusion

Climbing the Seven Second Summits is widely considered to be a tougher mountaineering challenge than the Seven Summits. The lack of infrastructure, remoteness and, in several cases, technical difficulty makes them far more challenging.

Compare prices, trips and read verified reviews on ExpedReview for free. It’s never too early to start planning your next mountaineering adventure!

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