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Seven Summits

The Seven Summits are the highest mountains of each of the seven continents. Summiting all of them is regarded as a mountaineering challenge, first postulated as such in the 1980s by Richard Bass (Bass et al 1986).

Seven Summits definitions

Due to different interpretations of continental borders (geographical, geological, geopolitical) several definitions for the highest summits per continent and the number of continents are possible. The Seven Summits number of seven continents is based on the continent model used in Western Europe and the United States.

Oceania

The highest mountain on the Australian mainland is Mount Kosciuszko (2,228 m),. However, the highest mountain on both the Australian continent and the more broadly-defined continent of Oceania is Puncak Jaya (4,884 m), in the Indonesian province of Papua on the island of New Guinea which lies on the Australian continental shelf. Puncak Jaya is also known as Carstensz Pyramid.

Some sources claim Mount Wilhelm, 4,509 metres, as the highest mountain peak in Oceania, due to Indonesia being part of Asia. The peak belongs to the Bismarck Range of Papua New Guinea. But a Seven Summits list including Mount Wilhelm has never been widely supported or formally recognised; Indonesia is generally considered to span Asia and Oceania.

Europe

In Europe, the generally accepted highest summit is Mount Elbrus (5,642 m) in the Caucasus. This is the accepted summit when the Caucasus mountains are included within Europe's boundaries. The issue is disputed, with some people considering Mont Blanc (4,808 m) to be Europe's highest mountain.

The Bass and Messner lists

The first Seven Summits list as postulated by Bass (The Bass or Kosciusko list) chose the highest mountain of mainland Australia, Mount Kosciuszko (2,228 m), to represent the Australian continent's highest summit. Reinhold Messner postulated another list (the Messner or Carstensz list) replacing Mount Kosciuszko with New Guinea's Carstensz Pyramid (4,884 m). Neither the Bass nor the Messner list includes Mont Blanc. From a mountaineering point of view the Messner list is the more challenging one. Climbing Carstensz Pyramid has the character of an expedition, whereas the ascent of Kosciuszko is an easy hike. Indeed, Pat Morrow used this argument to defend his choice to adhere to the Messner list. 'Being a climber first and a collector second, I felt strongly that Carstensz Pyramid, the highest mountain in Australasia ... was a true mountaineer’s objective.'

"Seven" Summits (sorted by continent)
"Bass" "Messner" Summit Elevation m Elevation ft Continent Range Country
X X Kilimanjaro (Kibo Summit) 5,895 19,341 Africa Kilimanjaro Tanzania
X X Vinson Massif 4,892 16,050 Antarctica Ellsworth Mountains claimed by Chile
X Kosciuszko 2,228 7,310 Australia Great Dividing Range Australia
X Carstensz Pyramid (Puncak Jaya) 4,884 16,024 Australia-New Guinea Maoke Mountains Indonesia
X X Everest (Sagarmatha or Chomolungma) 8,848 29,029 Asia Himalaya Nepal, China
X X Elbrus 5,642 18,510 Europe Caucasus Russia
X X Mount McKinley (Denali) 6,194 20,320 North America Alaska Range United States
X X Aconcagua 6,962 22,841 South America Andes Argentina

Mountaineering challenge

The mountaineering challenge to climb the Seven Summits is traditionally based on either the Bass or the Messner list. (It is assumed that most of the mountaineers who have completed the Seven Summits would have climbed Mont Blanc as well.)

History

Richard Bass, a businessman and amateur mountaineer, set himself the goal of climbing the highest mountain on each of the seven continents, including mainland Australia. He hired David Breashears to guide him up Everest, the most difficult of his Seven, and completed his Everest summit on April 30 1985. He then co-authored the book Seven Summits, which covered the undertaking (Bass et al 1986).

Reinhold Messner revised Bass's list by substituting the Australia-New Guinea continent for mainland Australia. Pat Morrow first met Messner's challenge, finishing with climbing Carstensz Pyramid on May 7, 1986, shortly followed by Messner himself climbing Vinson on December 3rd, 1986. Morrow has also been the first to complete all eight summits from both lists.

As of March 2007, more than 198 climbers have climbed all seven of the peaks from either the Bass or the Messner list; about 30% of those have climbed all of the eight peaks required to complete both lists.

The first woman to complete the Bass and Messner lists was Junko Tabei finishing on July 28 1992, by climbing Elbrus.

The first person to complete Seven Summits without the use of artificial oxygen on Mount Everest is Reinhold Messner. Miroslav Caban is probably the only other climber (besides Messner) as of October 2005 to finish the project without artificial oxygen on Everest (finished in 2005 with Carstensz). Between 2002 and 2007, Austrian climber Christian Stangl completed the Seven Summits (Messner list), climbing alone and without oxygen, and reported a record total ascent time from respective base camp to summit of 58 hours and 45 minutes.

In 1990, Rob Hall and Gary Ball became the first to complete the Seven Summits in seven months. Using the Bass list, they started with Mount Everest on May 10, 1990, and finished with Vinson on December 12, 1990, hours before the seven-month deadline.

The world record for completion of the Messner and Bass list is 136 days, by Danish climber Henrik Kristiansen(43) in 2008. Kristiansen completed the summits in the following order: Vinson on Jan 21th, Aconcagua on Feb 6, Kosciuszko on Feb 13, Kilimanjaro on Mar 1, Carstenz Pyramid on Mar 14, Elbrus on May 8, Everest on May 25, spending just 22 days on the mountain (normally, expeditions take up to 2 months acclimatizing, laying ropes etc...) and finally Denali on June 5, beating Irish Ian McKeevers' previous record by 20 days. The shortest time span set by a woman is 360 days, set by Britain's Annabelle Bond in 2005.

In October 2006 Kit Deslauriers became the first person to have skied down all seven peaks (Kosciuszko list). Three months later, in January 2007, Swedes Olof Sundström and Martin Letzter completed their Seven Summits skiing project by skiing down Carstensz Pyramid, thus becoming the first and only people to have skied both lists.

On May 17, 2007, 18 year-old Samantha Larson from California became the youngest American to climb Mount Everest and also the youngest person to climb the Seven Summits (Bass list). In August 2007 she also climbed the Carstensz Pyramid.

On May 24, 2008, Cheryl Bart and her 23-year-old daughter Nikki became the first mother-daughter team to climb the Seven Summits. The entire ascent is detailed on their website

Criticism of the Seven Summits challenge

Many mountain climbers, beyond these one hundred and ninety eight, aspire to complete the seven ascents of one or both of these lists, but the expense, the demands placed on fitness, the physical hardship and the dangers involved are often greater than imagined. Popularization of the Seven Summits has not been without its detractors, who argue that it tempts the ambitious but inexperienced into paying large sums to professional guides who promise the "seven", and that the guides are therefore pressured to press on toward summits even to the detriment of their clients' safety.

Alpinism author Jon Krakauer (1997) wrote in Into Thin Air that it would be a bigger challenge to climb the second-highest peak of each continent, known as the Seven Second Summits. This is especially true for Asia, as K2 (8,611 m) demands greater technical climbing skills than Everest (8,848 m), while altitude-related factors such as the thinness of the atmosphere, high winds and low temperatures remain much the same. Some of those completing the seven ascents are aware of the magnitude of the challenge. In 2000, in a foreword to Steve Bell et al., Seven Summits, Morrow opined with humility '[t]he only reason Reinhold [Messner] wasn’t the first person to complete the seven was that he was too busy gambolling up the 14 tallest mountains in the world.'

References

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