What is a Seven Summits?

Seven Summits by Dick Bass, Frank Wells, and Rick Ridgeway

This is the book that began the whole thing. I read it quite a while ago, I think it was in the new books shelf of the library where I was living at the time. It sat there in the back of my mind, festering? percolating? stewing? until the day I was working out my future goals and aspirations, and my wife reminded me that it was there, waiting for me to get up the nerve to give it a shot.

In the intervening years however, there came to be a little split in answering the question:

“what comprises the seven summits?”

The Bass List, as it came be known is:

· Aconcagua, South America
· Mt. McKinley, North America
· Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa
· Mt. Everest, Asia
· Mt. Elbrus, Europe
· Vinson Massif, Antarctica
· Mt. Kosciuszko, Australia

Soon after, because any serious mountaineer would consider it a bump along the road, Kosciuszko and Australia, through a simple redefinition of what a continent is were replaced in what’s called the Messner List with:

· Karstenz Pyramid, Oceania

Because the line defining the European Continent is rather vaguely defined, and depending on which version is true at the moment, the Caucasus is either in Europe or Asia. This leaves one other inclusion to the list:

· Mont Blanc, Europe

Therefore, if you’re the kind of person who hedges your bets, and wants to guarantee that you’ve actually completed them all, you have Nine Seven Summits to climb.

Denali Cassin Ridge
Mt. McKinley/Denali - Cassin Ridge Route

My own opinion on the matter is a bit loose. For one thing, a list is a list, and fwiw, about once every 10 years or so, K2 ends up in some survey as being 11′ or so higher than Everest, causing a big stink in the mountaineering community until some geologists get together and declare the study in error. At least for another 10 years. 😉

Also, what happens when a country has some internal strife, strike, or etc. that causes it to close the borders? This has happened for at least three of these mountains, by various routes. Sometimes even just for climbers from only one country. So now you sit around and wait 50 years or so to complete your list completely at the mercy of the instigators, or whomever?

Some people talk about the difficulty and severity of the climb (hence the inclusion of Carstenz). Kosciuszko, Elbrus and Mont Blanc can all be done in a couple days from the comfort of a hotel. Kili, while not technically difficult requires at least a few days of trekking to arrive at base camp. Carstenz is considerably more difficult for the average wanna-be seven summit climber, requiring some rock skills, at least for jugging the fixed lines. You get to basecamp via either a scary helicopter flight, or a few days of rough trekking.

Aconcagua summit enshrouded
Aconcagua - summit enshrouded

Everest is looked down upon by some climbers as a relative walk-up, though it does require weeks of acclimatization (whether you trek in to the South side, or ride a bus in to the North side), and every year hundreds of climbers fail, and several die on a regular basis. Aconcagua and Denali can both be very cold with bad weather, though the normal route on each is considered a long tolerable slog with few technical difficulties, and both generally require a couple weeks acclimatization and then wait for a weather window. Vinson is “simple” but can only be gotten to by a very expensive flight, and is totally dependent on the weather window – sometimes forcing a couple weeks sitting and waiting for the plane.

Those are all generalities of course, and subject to intense debate by armchair mountaineers much more so than by the people actually attempting the Seven Summits Quest. Most of us have a list, attempt to gain at least enough skills and funding to pull it off, and don’t worry a lot about minor details. Others attack the list, and insist on trying each mountain where possible by a more or most difficult route, or without support (for those countries that allow it), or by running or speeding an easier route, or maybe tie one hand behind your back, or blindfolded, or in shorts.

Seriously though, it’s a very big commitment in time and money, and you do have to acquire some skills unless you want those pics to show up on Facebook of you riding up on the back of a Sherpa. Think long and hard about it. Pick a list. Do it if you dare.

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