'The Highest Mountain on each of the 7 Continents'
The Seven Summits are composed of each of the highest mountain peaks of each of the seven continents. Different lists include slight variations, but generally the same core is maintained. The seven summits depend on the definition used for a continent, in particular where the border of that continent is. This results in two points of variation: the first is Mont Blanc or Mount Elbrus for the continent of Europe; and the second depends on whether one includes all of Oceania or mainland Australia as the continent, which results in either Mount Kosciuszko or Puncak Jaya (Carstensz Pyramid). I decided it was safer to cover both options and so climbed the mountains on both lists!
Nepal-Asia-8850M/29,035FT [South Col] May 24 ‘06
Our expedition begins with a flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. We spend a few days in Kathmandu checking gear, meeting the Sherpa and preparing for our flight to Lukla (9,000 ft/2740m), which is at the base of the Khumbu Himal. From there, we begin our trek to Everest Base Camp. The trek takes us 10 days, in order to acclimatise well and goes from the Dudh Kosi valley up through the Imja Drangka and finally onto the Khumbu Glacier. Along the way, we visit the villages of Phakding, Namche, Khumjung, Thengboche, Pheriche and Lobuche, providing spectacular views of the Himalayas in every direction.
By the time we reach Base Camp (17,598 ft/5364m), our Sherpa and the Icefall doctors are well on the way to having the lower part of the mountain (the Khumbu Ice Fall) already fixed with ropes and ladders. We establish four camps on the mountain. The first, Camp I at 19,500 ft/5943m, is situated at the top of the Khumbu Ice Fall. Camp II (Advanced Base Camp) is established at 21,000 ft/6400m in the Western Cwm and will be our base for our final summit push. Camp III is placed at 23,500 ft/7162m, high up on the Lhotse Face and Camp IV, also known as 'High Camp' or the 'South Col', is at 26,300ft/8016m. On our first and second climbing rotation (each time returning all the way back to Base Camp for rest and to help the acclimatisation process), we work our way up as far as Camp ll and on our third rotation, we spend one night at Camp lll without oxygen. This is a tough night at this altitude and afterwards we descend back down to Base Camp for some rest, before our final summit attempt.
On our fourth and final rotation, we are now on our summit bid and we arrive at Camp III for the second time. Here we go onto oxygen, which is used to help us reach High Camp and then onwards for our summit attempt. From Camp IV, we depart late at night crossing over the ice bulge and ascend the triangular face to the balcony, where we have an oxygen change. We then travel up along the South East Ridge to the South Summit. From here we traverse to reach the Hillary Step and then onto the final summit approach, towards the main summit of Everest.
Standing on the highest point on the planet (after 8 weeks of acclimatising and hardship) is a wonderful feeling, but it is only half way and a long way back to safety. After the summit, our team retreats back to the South Col and then all the way down to Camp ll for a night. The next day we continue descending back down through the Icefall, arriving back to the comfort of Base Camp in 2 days.
Indonesia-4884M/16,024FT March 14 '15
Australia-2228M/7,310FT [Thredbo] Dec 25 ‘05
Mount Kosciuszko forms part of the Kosciuszko National park, one of the few areas of Australia which is blanketed under snow during the winter months. This entire region is Alpine with most of the walk above the tree line. Kosciuszko lies in the Great Dividing Range, a mountain range which runs down the entire east coast of Australia from Queensland to Victoria.
From Thredbo Alpine Village, there is a chairlift that takes you to the top of the mountain to the start of the raised metal walkway, but that would have been cheating right?! Therefore, we hiked up from the village to the top of the Kosciuszko Express chairlift. After crossing Merritt’s Creek, the hike runs beside the rocky outcrops of Rams Head Range and passes through herbfields and heath to Kosciuszko Lookout. It then crosses the headwaters of the Snowy River, climbs to a saddle above Lake Cootapatamba and continues past Ethridge Range to Rawson’s Pass. From here it is a gradual climb up the old road to Mt Kosciuszko’s summit. We returned to Thredbo along the same route. The views from the summit are pretty awesome and being the highest person in all Australia made it very worthwhile!
[West Buttress] June 23 ‘05
Denali, “The High One”, is the highest mountain in North America. Located in Alaska at latitude 63 degrees north, 390 miles from the Arctic Circle, the summit is at 20,320ft/6,194m. From base to summit, it rises nearly 18,000ft, an elevation gain unsurpassed anywhere in the world and it is the most northerly of any big mountain over 20,000ft. The panorama from Denali's summit includes Mt. Foraker, Mt. Hunter and Mt. Huntington in all their majestic glory. The flight onto the glacier is a trip in itself, presenting overwhelming vistas of the Alaska Range. The West Buttress route is our chosen route for the expedition.
After checking in at the ranger station in Talkeetna and having an orientation and slide show from one of the Park Rangers., we fly by small fixed wing from Talkeetna to Base Camp, situated on the SE Fork of the Kahiltna glacier, arriving at 7,300 ft/2,225m at the foot of Denali. This is where we start the climb of the West Buttress and in true expedition style. During the next few weeks we establish four camps on the mountain and double load carries and building food caches, are necessary between the camps. This allows our team more time to acclimatize and manage loads up the mountain, to get into final position for our summit attempt. Denali can experience very extreme weather conditions with very cold temperatures and high winds and storms can last a week or more. The days however can also be quite hot and clear with the long Alaskan day-light hours in the summer.
Once at Base Camp, we rig our sleds, dig our Base Camp cache and head to Camp l at 7800ft/2378m below Ski Hill. Camp ll is at 11,200ft/3413m, above the Kahiltna Pass and below Motorcycle Hill. We then climb up around windy corner as we move towards Camp lll (14 Camp) at 14,200ft/4328m. The views of Mount Hunter, Mount Foraker, and the sunset over the Alaska Range are incredible from this camp. After the 'Headwall' we gain the crest of the West Buttress that eventually leads to High Camp at 17,200ft/5242m.
To get up to Highcamp, this is a long hard day to get here and we no longer have the use of sleds, so all the expedition gear is carried in our packs for the ascent. The trip from 17,200ft to the Summit (20,320’/6194m) is the hardest day of the expedition, but incredibly rewarding with magnificent views over North America. It takes two full days to descend from High Camp back to the landing strip, where we fly off the glacier and back to Talkeetna
[Branscomb Glacier] Dec 8 ‘04
Our expedition begins in the Chilean town of Punta Arenas. The flight time from Punta Arenas to the Union Glacier landing strip is approximately 4.5 hours, depending on the winds. The initial part of our flight passes over Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost point in South America. The section of ocean we fly over has been notorious for its wild storms, violent winds and heavy seas. Waves higher than 100 feet have been encountered in the Drake Passage.
At 66 degrees latitude, we cross the Antarctic Circle. Along this circle the sun never sets at the austral summer solstice and never rises at the austral winter solstice. Further south, these Antarctic days lengthen as we get closer to the South Pole, where the sun rises and sets only once a year. Passing over the Ellsworth Range, the highest range in Antarctica, our runway comes into sight. The wheeled aircraft lands on an area of blue ice at 3,300 ft/1,000m above sea level. The blue ice remains clear of snow because of the Katabatic winds that funnel down from the mountains with great force. Union Glacier provides a warm welcome to the frozen landscape, but we stop only briefly at Union Glacier en-route to Vinson Base Camp. We ascend Vinson using the "Branscomb Glacier Route" and our expedition takes us 12 days.
Vinson Base Camp is at 7,000ft/2133m and is located on the lower part of the Branscomb Glacier (west side of the Ellsworth Mountains). We ascend the Branscomb Glacier for six miles to reach Low Camp at 9,000ft/1750m. From Low Camp, we ascend to the foot of a large headwall and up the headwall on moderate snow slopes, to a broad col between Vinson and Shinn, to establish High Camp at 12,400 ft/3779m. From High Camp, we have incredible views while we rest and acclimatize for the summit attempt. Summit day is a long journey that includes a 3,000-foot gain in elevation. The final summit ridge is a spectacular rock and ice traverse. The views from the top are incredible over this frozen continent. The descent to Vinson Base Camp is achieved in one day from High Camp, re-tracing our route down the fixed ropes and back along the Branscomb Glacier. At Vinson Base Camp we return to Union Glacier by ski aircraft and then return to Punta Arenas, by Ilyushin aircarft.
[West Buttress] July ‘04
Mt Elbrus is a giant dormant volcano which separates Europe from Asia in Russia’s Caucasus range. We begin by flying south from St. Petersburg to Mineral Vody on the edge of the Caucasus mountains and base ourselves in the Baksan valley for acclimatistion. After several days we move into the high mountain huts, followed by the ascent itself. Attaining a high elevation at 5633m/18,510ft, we need time to get our bodies acclimatised properly before making a summit attempt. We do this by making an ascent of Cheget mountain at 3600m, by using ski lifts and then hiking to Terskol Peak. This is followed by sleeping in the Barrels huts and a further acclimatisation hike to the Obelisk. After touching the Pastuhova rocks, we are now well prepared for a summit attempt. We leave very early in the am and reach the West summit, at an elevation of 5633m/18,510ft
[Vacas Valley] Jan 4 ‘04
Aconcagua, which translates as "The Sentinel of Stone" is 22,830ft/6959m, making it the highest mountain in the Americas and the highest mountain outside of Asia and the Himalayas. Its located in Western Argentina and is the Heart of the Central Andes. This spectacular mountain is surrounded by numerous peaks over 20,000ft and the surrounding lowlands (up to 13,000 ft) consist of beautiful desert landscapes with a large diversity of flora and fauna.
We climbed the Polish Variation Route, also known as the False Polish Route, on the east side of the mountain along the Vacas Valley. After arriving in Mendoza, Argentina, we travel to the town of Penitentes.
We then drive to Punta de Vacas (8,000ft), where we begin our three-day, 30-mile trek into Plaza Argentina (13,800ft), which serves as Base Camp for our expedition. Mules carry our gear so we enjoy the trek without heavy loads. On the approach, we walk through green desert valleys dramatically enclosed between the mountains of the Andes. During the first half of the approach, Aconcagua is hidden by the nearby mountains, but at the end of the second day, the stunning east face of Aconcagua is dramatically revealed. On the final day of the trek to Base Camp, we cross the Vacas River in the morning, then ascend up the Relinchos Valley. We set up our camp and say goodbye to the mules and Arrieros that transported our gear.
Camp I is located behind an old glacial moraine at 15,500ft. Camp II is located on a high pass known as Ameghino Col, at 17,700ft, where we encounter the "penitentes" which are tall snow triangles that can reach 6ft or more in the air, for which Aconcagua is famous. Ameghino Camp provides spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the upper route of the Polish Glacier. This is the saddle between Aconcagua and neighboring Ameghino peak. Camp III (19,200ft), is located just below the Polish Glacier, where we build camp constructing rock walls around our tents, because of the high winds. From here we have a great view of the Polish Glacier, as well as our route to High Camp. High Camp, or Camp IV (20,600ft), is located on the North Ridge. On the approach, we again enjoy magnificent views of the Polish Glacier. To get there, we traverse west across the Polish Glacier and up the snow/scree slope leading to the camp, which offers breathtaking scenes of many of the highest peaks of the Andes.
Summit day begins at 5.00am and we climb the North Ridge to Refugio Independencia, at approximately 21,400ft. From there, we traverse the West Face and climb up into the Canaleta, an 800ft couloir that leads to the summit ridge. Finally, the Guanaco Ridge traverses to the summit. On the top, we have a spectacular 360° view. All around, you see the Andes Mountains consisting of several 20,000ft peaks, including Mercedario, another of the highest peaks in South America. To the west lies Chile and the Pacific Ocean; to the east, the plains of Argentina. You can also look directly down the 9,000ft South Face of Aconcagua, which is considered one of the great faces of the world.
We descend back down from High Camp to Plaza de Mulas (Base Camp on the west side of the mountain), which involves a 6,000ft descent into the Horcones Valley. From here, we trek out from Plaza de Mulas, following the Horcones River, where we have several great vantage points to again see the South Face of Aconcagua. We arrive at Confluencia camp and head back to Penitentes
[Machame] Oct 15 ‘03
Kilimanjaro is the highest freestanding mountain in the world. It is a dormant volcano and lies 400km south of the Equator, just inside Tanzania’s border with Kenya. It's the highest point in Africa standing at 5895m/19,340ft. It is surrounded by the hot and dry plains of the continent, with wildly contrasting vegetation from rainforest to moorlands, towering cliffs and glaciers. We climb the mountain by the picturesque Machame Route, which traverses several of the scenic micro environments found at the different elevations on the mountain.
Like most dormant volcanoes, the slopes on Kilimanjaro are mostly of reasonably low angle with occasional steeper sections, none of which are more famous than the Breach Wall, a towering cliff of
snow and ice descending dramatically from the summit slopes. Our route of ascent, via the Machame route, is incredibly varied in its topography and plant life. Each day we ascend through the various
climatic zones, each with unique and different views and highlights. What is initially lush rainforest thins to become alpine heather. Then we enter the alpine moorland with a cornucopia of weird and exotic plants. Nowhere is this more pronounced than arriving into Barranco camp, home to a large stand of Senecio Kilimanjari. The upper mountain features varied volcanic terrain that in places has a tortured appearance, the result of heated lava explosions and resultant flows that have long since cooled. As we get close to the summit, remnant glaciers are scattered around the summit crater looking like giant icebergs after the tide has gone and the route takes you close to some of these summit glaciers.
The climb itself is trekking on well formed trails and the camps are at sites established by the Tanzanian National Park Service. At each camp there are Rangers in residence, usually living in small huts, and hence each camp is named with ‘hut’ after the name of the camp. Our final summit day begins in the early hours of the morning, to reveal a magnificent sunrise and panoramic views across the African plains.