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Climbing the Seven Summits - One of the World's Biggest Adventures

Updated on August 2, 2009

A simple concept?

It was the challenge that seemed the ultimate for any adventurer. Standing atop the highest point of each earthly land mass.

Climbing the highest mountain on each of the seven continents seems to be a simple thing to record and measure. This was not so when the definition of continent was debated.

First described by Dick Bass, the 7 summits was to be the highest point in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Antarctica and Australia.

Reinhold Messner, the first man to climb all 14 mountains over 8000m, suggested an alternate list. This was prompted by the fact that the highest point in Australia, Mt Kosciuszko, is an easy stroll at 2228m and not really fitting with the concept.

He proposed the seventh continent to be Oceania and a mountain in Indonesia, Puncak Jaya, more commonly called Carstensz Pyramid (4884m) to be its high point.

To this day there is not one list but two, one with Carstensz and one with Kosciuszko as the seventh summit. Most climbers today hedge their bets and climb both.

Everest from the North - The top of the World

8850m with the classic ice plume from the summit. Photo taken looking down the Rongbuk glacier with the entry to the East Rongbuk glacier bottom left.
8850m with the classic ice plume from the summit. Photo taken looking down the Rongbuk glacier with the entry to the East Rongbuk glacier bottom left.

View from the summit. Starts off looking directly at Makalu then swings north across Tibet before finishing with a view of the Lhotse-Nuptse ridge

The Mountains

  1. Everest, Asia. 8850m
  2. Aconcagua, South America. 6962m
  3. McKinley (Denali), North America. 6194m
  4. Kilimanjaro, Africa. 5892m
  5. Elbrus, Europe. 5642m
  6. Vinson Massif, Antarctica. 4892m
  7. Carstensz Pyramid, Oceania. 4884m
  8. (Kosciuszko), Australia. 2228m

View from the Summit of Aconcagua - 2nd Highest at 6962m

Aconcagua on a fine but windy summers day

The Lists

Dick Bass was the first person to claim the 7 summits, finishing with Everest in April 1985.

After Messner's alternate list was formulated, Pat Morrow became the first to complete it climbing Carstensz Pyramid in May, 1986 (seven months before Messner himself who finished in Antarctica with the Vinson Massif).

The first woman to complete (both) lists was Junko Tabei in 1992.

In 1990 New Zealanders Rob Hall and Gary Ball completed the Bass list in under seven months. (Ball later died of cerebral edema on Dhaulagiri in 1993 and Hall died in the 1996 Everest tragedy).

Californian Samantha Larson is the youngest person to complete the 7 summits (she has done both lists) at age 18.

These days there has been just about every possible combination of "first person to" but the 7 summits remain one of the classic adventures. It is an expensive undertaking and Everest in particular is a dangerous mountain at any time. Despite this every year more people embark on the challenge to stand on top of each part of our world.


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      toney 7 years ago

      nice ideas