The Seven Summits

The Seven Summits.
The Seven Summits.
  • The Seven Summits are among the highest mountains in the world and feature one peak per continent.
  • Mount Everest in Asia is the tallest of the seven, while Mount Kosciuszko in Australia is the shortest.
  • North America's highest summit, Denali, was formerly known as Mount McKinley.

The Seven Summits are the highest mountain peaks of each of the seven continents. From the rarified air of the Himalayas to the plains of Africa and polar glaciers of Antarctica, the Seven Summits form a collection of selected peaks stretching to the far reaches of the globe. So far, only 350 people in the world have summited the seven peaks. The Bass list, named after the American climber Dick Bass who completed the summits in April 1985, forms the most accurate list of the summits. The Bass Seven Summits are Asia's Everest (8,848 m), South America's Aconcagua (6,961 m), North America's Denali (6,194 m), Africa's Kilimanjaro (5,895 m), Europe's Elbrus (5,642 m), Antarctica's Vinson (4,892 m), and Australia's Kosciuszko (2,228 m).

Mountaineer Reinhold Messner proposed a slightly different list, replacing Mount Kosciuszko in Australia with Puncak Jaya in Indonesia and thus shifting focus from just the continent of Australia, as in the Bass list, to the region of Oceania more broadly. This is known as the Messner list.

Puncak Jaya, Indonesian for "glorious peak," extends 4,884 m (16,024 ft) above sea level. Located on the island of Papua, this mountain also goes by the name Carstensz Pyramid. It is known among mountaineers for being more of a challenging climb than Mount Kosciuszko, which is why many mountaineers favour Messner's list.

Here are the seven summits included in the Bass list:

1. Mount Everest, Asia

Mount Everest, the tallest peak in the world.

Mount Everest is the highest mountain on earth, rising 8,848 m (29,029 ft) above sea level. It is located in the Mahalangur region of the Himalayas and straddles the border between the Chinese autonomous region of Tibet and Nepal. Natives from Tibet and Nepal referred to Everest as Chomolungma (Holy Mother). Every year, around 5,000 people attempt to summit the mountain with a 77% success rate recorded. The ascent is the most technical of the Seven Summits and only experienced mountain climbers ascend the mountain.

There are two main routes, namely the southeast ridge from Nepal and the north ridge from Tibet. Altitude sickness, harsh weather characterized by avalanches, and strong winds are the major obstacles for climbers. The climb takes approximately two months with the climbing season starting from mid-May when temperatures are warmer and winds milder.

2. Aconcagua, South America

Aconcagua, in Argentina, is the tallest mountain in South America.

Aconcagua is the second-highest peak of the seven summits, the tallest mountain in South America, as well as the tallest in the Southern and Western Hemispheres, rising 6,961 m (22,841 ft) above sea level. It is located in the Mendoza Province of Argentina. The mountain acquired its name from the Indigenous Quechuan words akun (summit), ka (other), and agua (admired).

The most common route to summit the mountain is the Aconcagua Normal Route along the Northwest ridge. It takes an average of 21 days from Mendoza to ascend and descend with climbing time ranging between December 1 and January 31 when the weather condition is favorable. The climb to the peak is considered less technical, so most climbers underestimate the ascent. Only 60% of the people who have attempted the climb made it, with a large number suffering from altitude sickness, hypothermia, falls, and heart attacks.

3. Denali, North America

Denali, Alaska, United States.

Formerly known as Mount McKinley, Denali is the highest peak of the North American continent at an elevation of 6,194 m (20,321 ft) above sea level. Denali is located in south-central Alaska and is the third-highest peak of the Seven Summits. The Indigenous Koyukon Athabascan people of Alaska refer to the mountain as the Denali (The Great One), while a prospector later named the mountain Mt. McKinley after President William McKinley’s support for gold. However, the president never visited the mountain nor Alaska and in August 2015, the name Denali was officially adopted and documented by the Department of Interior.

The ascent to the peak is classified as extremely challenging due to the severe weather and difficulty in acclimating. The West Buttress route is referred to as the easiest climbing route but the barometric pressure is higher than on any other mountain making it difficult for most people to reach the peak. It takes an average of three weeks to complete the climb, which is normally done between May 1 and June 26 every year when weather conditions are favorable. As of 2017, 32,000 people had attempted the summit with only a 60% success and 100 reported deaths on the mountain.

4. Kilimanjaro, Africa

Giraffes in Kenya's National Park, with Mount Kilimanjaro in the background.

Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa and the fourth-highest of the Seven Summits. In a traditional sense, Kilimanjaro is an active stratovolcano composed of layers of hardened volcanic ash, pumice, lava, and tephra. It is located in Moshi municipality in Tanzania and is the highest free-standing mountain in the world. It is believed that the mountain was named by the Chagga people of Tanzania, with Kilima translating to "mountain" and Njaro loosely translating to "whiteness," referring to the ice cap at the peak.

There are five established routes to the summit, namely the Marangu, Machame, Rongai, Lemosho, and Mweka routes, accessible all year round. All the routes provide scenic views of the national park and plains but the Marangu route is the most widely used. Climbers say Kilimanjaro is one of the highest climbs with minimal technicalities related to altitude and low temperatures at the peak.

5. Mount Elbrus, Europe

Mount Elbrus is part of the North Caucasus mountains, located in Russia.

Mount Elbrus is an active volcano located in the western Caucasus mountain range at the Georgian border. It is the highest mountain in Europe with an elevation of 5,642 m (18,510 ft) above sea level. Elbrus got its name from the Turkic people of the Caucasus region.

Mount Elbrus has been considered the easiest climb of the seven summits due to the unique cable car system that ascends up 3810 m (12,500 ft). Climbers use the Standard route up to the south side of the summit. Nevertheless, the route is challenging due to snow, high winds, and a high elevation. The summiting season falls between May and September with climbers taking less than a week to ascend and descend. Though it is an easy climb, the mountain reports about 30 deaths annually, which is the highest among the seven.

6. Mount Vinson, Antarctica

Mount Vinson, Antarctica

With an elevation of 4,892 m (16,049 ft) above sea level, Mount Vinson is the highest peak of Antarctica. It is located in the southern ridges of the Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains 1,207 km (750 miles) from the southern pole, making it the most remote of the seven summits. Initially, the mountain was referred to as Vinson Massif, referring to a group of connected mountains forming a distinct section of a mountain. In 1935, when the highest peak was discovered, it was named Mount Vinson.

Due to the unfavorable conditions of Antarctica encompassing a technical climb, cold windy conditions, low temperatures, accessibility, and short window opportunity for the climb, few people make it to the summit. Mount Vinson experiences temperatures as low as -80 °C, making it the coldest peak of the seven summits. The climbing period is December through to February during the Antarctic summer when temperatures rise up to -20 °C and the sun is out for 24 hours.

7. Mount Kosciuszko, Australia

Mount Kosciuszko National Park, Australia.

Mount Kosciuszko is the highest peak in Australia and forms the lowest peak of the Seven Summits. It is located west of Crackenback and forms part of the Alps National Park. The ascent to the peak is the easiest, lasting for only 3 hours. The walk to the peak is open all year round but is mostly used in summer (June to October). Over 100,000 people get to the peak each year, making it the most summited peak of the Seven Summits.

7 Summits size comparison

The Seven Summits

RankSummitHeight (meters)Country ContinentFirst Assent
1Mount Everest8,848Nepal/ChinaAsia1953
2Aconcagua6,961ArgentinaSouth America1897
3Denali6,194United StatesNorth America1913
5Mount Elbrus5,642RussiaEurope1874
6Mount Vinson4,892N/AAntarctica1966
7Mount Kosciuszko2,228AustraliaAustraliaUnknown

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