Seven Summits | Essential Guide
From North America's Denali to Antarctica's Mount Vinson, these are the world's continental high points.
The Seven Summits are the highest mountains on each of the world's seven continents. Climbing all of them is regarded as one of the most notable challenges in mountaineering. However, due to debates around certain continental land borders there are actually slightly different versions of the Seven Summits. Named after famous mountaineers associated with them, they are as follows:
Seven Summits - "Messner's Version"
- Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Puncak Jaya, Vinson
Seven Summits - "Bass's Version"
- Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Kosciuszko, Vinson
Seven Summits - "Hackett's Version"
- Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc, Kosciuszko, Vinson
The main variations in the lists are in Europe, where either Mont Blanc or Elbrus have made up part of respective Seven Summit claims, and in the differentiating between Australia and Oceania (resulting in either Kosciuzko or Puncak Jaya being included).
"One of the most notable challenges in mountaineering"
Over the years authorities have been known to disagree on whether Mount Elbrus, a dormant volcano in the Caucasus Mountains, is in Europe or Asia. Most thinkers now though do consider the Caucasus watershed to be the continental boundary between Europe and Asia. Owing to the fact that Elbrus is north of this divide, and lies within Russia, it is widely established as European.
Jordan Romero, a Californian teenage prodigy who climbed Mount Everest when he was just 13 and all of the Seven Summits when he was still 15, left no stone unturned by conquering both Puncak Jaya (also known as Carstensz Pyramid) and Kosciuszko; effectively meaning he could claim to have done the Reinhold Messner version of the challenge as well as Richard Bass's one.
Below, we've included all nine of the mountains that have been used to claim a 'Seven Summits' tag. We've done it in descending height order, starting with the world's highest mountain.
Highest mountain in Asia. Highest mountain in the world. With its summit 8,848 metres above sea level, nobody in their right mind would question whether Mount Everest belongs on the Seven Summits list.
The mountain is situated on the border between Nepal and the autonomous region of Tibet. In terms of the official record books, the first successful Everest climbers were Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. There is now well over 200 dead bodies on Everest, all of them well-preserved by the extremely cold temperatures found at this altitude.
Continent: South America
Not only is Aconcagua the highest mountain in South America, at 6,961 metres above sea level it is also the highest mountain outside of Asia. The second highest of the Seven Summits, as well as the highest point in both the Western and Southern Hemisphere, Aconcagua is situated on the Argentinian side of the Andes mountain range; about 15 kilometres away from the border with Chile.
It's been argued that Aconcagua is the highest non-technical mountain in the world, with those who believe this citing the fact that the relatively easy northern route can be done without ropes, axes, and pins. That being said, the effects of the altitude on Aconcagua should never be underestimated (atmospheric pressure at the summit is 40% of what it is at sea level).
The mountain's first recorded ascent occurred way back in 1897 when Swiss guide Matthias Zurbriggen, who was part of on an expedition led by the Brit Edward FitzGerald, made it to the top.
Continent: North America
Denali, which used to go by the name Mount McKinley, is the highest peak in North America. It is located in the Alaska Range which, you guessed it, is situated in the state of Alaska. The name originates with the local Koyukon people, who have been calling it Denali for hundreds of years.
The McKinley name on the other hand, it was changed officially to Denali by the U.S Department of the Interior in 2015, can be traced back to a gold prospector who labelled it that in honour of William McKinley (who went on to be the 25th President of the United States, and the third one to be assassinated).
The first verified ascent of Denali, Frederick Cook's ascent in 1906 was later proven to be false, came in 1913 when Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, Walter Harper and Robert Tatum climbed all the way to the very top of Denali's South Summit.
In 2015, the US Geographical Survey chopped four metres off Denali's official height because of snow depth and a more accurate approach to measurement. Its verified summit height shifted down from 6,194 metres above sea level to 6,190 metres above sea level.
Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa. A dormant volcano in Tanzania close to the Kenyan border, home to three volcanic cones named 'Kibo', 'Mawenzi', and 'Shira', Kili's summit is 5,895 metres above sea level. The mountain is part of the Kilimanjaro National Park and has, in recent years especially, become the subject of numerous scientific studies because of its diminishing glaciers and rapidly disappearing ice fields.
The first recorded ascent of the mountain was achieved by Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller in 1889. Because the climb is not as technically challenging as the climbs in the Himalayas and the Andes, the difficulty of making the summit is often massively underestimated. High elevation, low temperatures, and occasionally strong winds make getting to the top of Kilimanjaro no mean feat. The importance of acclimatisation means climbing Kilimanjaro must be approached in nicely divided segments, as even the most experienced trekkers have been known to suffer some form of altitude sickness in the mountain's upper reaches.
One of the most widely believed urban myths about Mount Kilimanjaro, and its location just inside the border of Tanzania, is that it was 'given' as a birthday gift to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Prussia from Britain's Queen Victoria. While no doubt a memorable story, it is in fact untrue.
Situated in the Caucasus Mountains, on the Southern Russian border with Georgia, Elbrus is the highest mountain in Europe. While experts have long disagreed on what constitutes the border between the continents of Europe and Asia, most people now agree that this line is represented by the Caucasus watershed; meaning that Elbrus is European by virtue of it being on the north side of the divide.
Elbrus has not one but two summits, both of which are dormant volcanic domes. The western summit, which is the mountain's highest peak, has an elevation of 5,642 metres and was first ascended by an 1874 British expedition led by F. Crauford Grove. The eastern summit, on the other hand, is 5,621 metres above sea level and was first bagged by Khillar Khachivor in 1829.
What with it being down at the bottom of the world there *gestures in a southerly direction*, it's easy to forget about Antarctica and its mountaineering possibilities. However, anyone looking to complete the Seven Summits must travel to the world's coldest, driest, southernmost and windiest continent to face off with Mount Vinson and the Vinson Massif.
With its elevation of 4,892 metres, the summit of Mount Vinson is the highest point on Antarctica. It sits in the north part of the Vinson Massif's summit plateau, and was first climbed in 1966 by a four-person expedition team led by Nick Clinch.
Puncak Jaya, also known as Carstensz Pyramid, has an elevation of 4,884m. It's typically thought of as the highest mountain in Oceania. It's also the highest point between the Andes and the Himalayas, and is the highest island peak anywhere in the world.
Some argue that because Puncak Jaya is on the western half of the island of New Guinea, in the Indonesian province of Papau, that it is not accurate to say the mountain is the highest mountain in Oceania because Indonesia is actually part of Asia. This, however, is not really a mainstream view in mountaineering circles as it's one based more on politics than geophysics.
The mountain's first successful ascent occurred in 1962 when an expedition led by the 'Eiger North Face' and 'Seven Years in Tibet' Austrian climber Henrich Harrer made it to the summit. The three other members of his expedition team were the New Zealander Philip Temple, the Australian rock climber Russell Kippax, and the Dutch patrol officer Albertus Huizenga.
Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps, and the highest one in Europe west of Russia's Caucasus peaks; home to Mount Elbrus. Its summit is 4,810 metres above sea level.
While Mont Blanc, which was first ascended all the way back in the year 1786 by Jacques Balmat and Michael Paccard, isn't part of Messner's or Bass's version of the Seven Summits it did make up part of American mountaineer William Hackett's Seven Summits. A subject we'll briefly discuss here.
Hackett, who summited Mont Blanc, Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Mount Kosciuszko, and Mount McKinley (now officially known as Denali) but failed in his attempt of Vinson and had to withdraw from an Everest attempt due to frostbite and a lack of funds, might not be remembered in the same light as the other two Seven Summiteers in this article but his achievements are not to be sniffed at. His conquering of Mont Blanc in 1956 occurred at a time when it was considered the highest mountain in Europe.
Kosciuszko has an elevation of 2,228m. It is Australia's highest peak, and features on both Bass's and Hackett's versions of the Seven Summits; Messner's version, FYI, swaps out Kosciuszko for Puncak Jaya. The mountain can be found in the Kosciuszko National Park, which is part of the Australian Alps National Parks and Reserves in New South Wales.
Fun fact time. It was originally thought that modern day Mount Townsend, which used to be called Kosciuszco, was home to the highest point in Australia. However, after measurements revealed that the old Kosciuszko (now Mount Townsend) was lower than its neighbour the names were officially swapped in 1892 so that Kosciuszko was still the name of the country's highest and Townsend still the name of the country's second highest.