The Seven Summits are the highest points on each of the world’s seven continents, and climbing them all is one of the most coveted challenges in mountaineering.
While many of the mountains comprising the Seven Summits are not the most technically daunting on their respective continents, the challenge is still an extreme one, borne out by the fact that only about 500 people have managed the feat since it was first thought up in the 1950s.
Due to the various disagreements on how to define the seven continents, several separate lists of the candidate peaks have been proposed. However, the two that have endured are the Messner List and the Bass List.
The Bass List defines Australia as the seventh continent and considers its highest peak, Mount Kosciusko, to be the highest peak. Meanwhile, the Messner List defines Oceania – the Indo-Australian Plate – as the seventh continent and therefore considers the Carstensz Pyramid (aka Puncak Jaya) to be the seventh summit.
However, most climbers planning to complete the challenge opt to climb both and fill the criteria for both lists. Mount Kosciusko is by far the easiest of the eight options anyways and can be hiked in a single day.
Quick facts about the Seven Summits
- Overall, there are roughly six different variations on the Seven Summits concept, depending on the definition of what constitutes a continent. However, Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro and Vinson are present on all the lists.
- While the Seven Summits are some of the most popularly climbed mountains on their respective continents due to their status, most mountaineers consider climbing all of the Seven Second Summits to be a far more ambitious undertaking.
- Combining ascents of each of the Seven Summits with treks to the North and South Poles is known as the Explorers Grand Slam and is considered one of the ultimate challenges in mountaineering.
History of Climbing the Seven Summits
The idea of climbing the highest peak on each of the world’s continents first began to circulate in mountaineering circles back in the 1950s. Still, it would not be until 1985 that American businessman Richard Bass would become the first person to do so.
American mountaineer William D Hackett is considered to be the first person who attempted the Seven Summits. By 1956, he had climbed Denali, Aconcagua, Kilimanjaro, Kosciuszko and Mont Blanc (which was considered Europe’s highest peak at the time). However, a lack of fundings and previous injuries prevented him from climbing Everest or Vinson.
By 1970, the Japanese mountaineer Naomi Uemura also climbed five of the Seven Summits but went missing after completing Denali.
Thirteen years later, Reinhold Messner became the first person to climb six of the Seven Summits, all of which are on the Messner List. In 1986, he climbed Vinson and completed the feat.
However, one year earlier, Richard Bass managed to climb his version of the Seven Summits, reaching the summit of Kosciuszko instead of Puncak Jaya.
Experience Required to Climb the Seven Summits
Each of the Seven Summits is unique, presenting its own challenges to those opting to climb them. While some are relatively straightforward ascents requiring no technical abilities, others require advanced rock and ice climbing abilities.
However, all of them – aside from Kosciuszko – require a high level of physical fitness and proper acclimatisation. Most climbers will spend three to six months before an expedition to one of the Seven Summits training, depending on their base level of physical fitness.
Most climbers opt to start with Kilimanjaro or Elbrus. Kilimanjaro is considered the easiest of the Seven Summits to climb (again, aside from Kosciuszko) and requires no technical ability. Elbrus, on the other hand, is a bit more technically challenging but is a shorter climb. However, it does require glacier travel techniques and abilities.
After these two, many climbers opt to head to Aconcagua, which also requires no technical difficulty but is very tall and steep.
The remaining peaks – Denali, Vinson, Puncak Jaya and Everest – are much more technically demanding and are situated in the most extreme climates. As a result, these are the toughest of the peaks to climb.