Taking on the highest mountain on each continent


For those wanting to give themselves a proper challenge while setting their New Year’s resolutions, there can scarcely be anything tougher than taking on the Seven Summits. Amongst mountaineers, conquering the highest peak on every continent is one of the great missions, and the desire to break records has led to some awe-inspiring (and often plain silly) feats. Some have tried to do all seven within seven months, others have tried to ski down them and one American girl conquered them before her nineteenth birthday.

However, fewer than 200 people have managed to do all seven, and to join that elite club requires plenty of training. But, for those wanting to become a top grade peak-bagger, these are the seven and what’s required to take them on.

Australia: Mt Kosciusko
Height: 2,228m

Of the seven, Kosciusko in the Snowy Mountains, NSW is the easiest by a very long distance — simply get a cable car up most of the way and have a stroll to the top. It can be conquered by pretty much anyone that doesn’t undergo heart spasms while getting off the sofa to get another scoop of lard from the fridge. In fact, it’s so simple that many mountaineers have decided that West Papua in Indonesia is part of the Australian continent. Its 4,884m-high Carstensz Pyramid is a much tougher task.

Antarctica: Vinson Massif
Height: 4,892

Only discovered in 1957, the Vinson Massif wins the prize for being the most remote of the Seven Summits – hence it costs an absolute fortune to do a guided climb there. Whilst to the true blue peak-botherer it’s not that difficult a climb — very few technical mountaineering skills are required — icy cold winds and temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees mean it’s not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced.

Europe: Mt Elbrus, Russia
Height: 5,642m

Near the border with Georgia in the Caucasus range, Elbrus is considerably higher than the more well known suspects in the Alps (such as Mont Blanc). Visitors can go up to 3,800m by cable car, but the rest is a hard slog in often fierce weather. Specialist gear — ice axe, crampons and ropes — is necessary as there are permanent glaciers on the ascent. It’s also one of the least comfortable climbs for those wanting a bit of pampering after they get down — the region is not known for its service ethic and accommodation standards.

Africa: Mt Kilamanjiro, Tanzania
Height: 5,895m

The highest free-standing mountain in the world, the volcanic Kilimanjiro soars above the East African plateau and is arguably the most visually stunning of the seven. It’s a walk, not a climb, so whilst thoroughly hard work, getting up there doesn’t require specialist mountaineering skills. The trek starts in tropical rainforest, goes through 30ft heathers and moorland and finishes off on an ice-capped peak. There are huts and camps at the foot of the crater cone for the final assault – where it suddenly gets horribly steep at high altitude. 60% of those that fail to reach the summit falter on the last day.

North America: Mt McKinlay (Denali), Alaska, USA
Height: 6,194

Fancy carrying 50kg up a 300m ice wall in absolutely brutal conditions, with a high wind chill factor and no porters? Make no mistake about it, McKinlay takes serious training, specialist skills and a very high level of fitness. Of the seven, it is generally regarded as the second toughest after Everest. Close to the Arctic Circle, temperatures are horrific, and expeditions generally take at least three weeks to account for conditioning and days when climbing is not possible due to conditions.

South America: Mt Aconcagua, Argentina
Height: 6,959m

At the very top of the Andes, Aconcagua is the world’s highest trekking peak (although a more hardcore walk would be difficult to imagine). Bad weather thwarts many expeditions, and it is common to spend a day or two waiting for the right conditions at the 5,800m-up Berlin Huts before taking on the ten hour slog to the summit. High altitude and fatigue are the biggest enemies, however. Once at the top, successful conquerors can revel in the fact that they are almost certainly the highest person on earth — the Andes climbing season coincides with winter in the Himalayas, when nobody is attempting the higher peaks.

Asia: Mt Everest, Nepal/ China
Height: 8,848m

The highest mountain in the world, and the ultimate goal of many mountaineers, Everest tops the Himalaya range. In recent years, there have been concerns over the amount of people attempting to top it — there have been a few instances where reaching the summit has become more important to expeditions than the safety of its members. Those wishing to take on the king should be well aware that people — up to 15 in a season — die while climbing Everest. Frostbite, low oxygen levels and phenomenally difficult sections of ascent are just some of the difficulties to face, while the area above 8,000m is not known as the Death Zone for nothing.

Climbing the Seven Summits

Costs for getting up the Seven Summits vary depending on the peak. Kosciusko is obviously the cheapest, while expeditions to Kilamanjiro, McKinlay, Elbrus and Aconcagua generally cost between $5,000 and $10,000. Missions to Vinson or Everest can cost over $50,000. Companies that organise such trips include Jagged Globe ( www.jagged-globe.co.uk) and 7Summits.com (www.7summits.com).
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