For many mountaineers, the “Seven Summits” represent the pinnacle of mountaineering achievement: the highest point on each of the world’s continents. Each peak varies dramatically, in height, difficulty, and technical challenge – but tagging the Seven Summits is a lifetime goal for many serious climbers and adventurers.
Can you name all seven summits?
North America: Denali (Mount Mckinley) 20,310’
Located deep in the Alaska Range, Delani, formerly known as Mt. McKinley, is the highest point in North America by nearly a thousand vertical feet. At 20,310’ above sea level, Denali has a prominence of 18,000’ from its base, meaning it actually has a greater vertical rise from the surrounding ground than Mt. Everest! Denali is a popular spot for mountaineers to test out their skills, but the success rate for summiting is only about 50%.
Africa: Kilimanjaro 19,341’
Arguably the most accessible of the Seven Summits, Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa, and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world (meaning it is not part of any mountain range). A hiking trail reaches all the way to the top, but this is still not a climb to take lightly; the extreme altitude makes acclimatization necessary, and weather near the summit can turn an expedition around. Still, many people start their Seven Summits list by checking Kilimanjaro off their list.
Asia: Mt Everest 29,029’
It should come as no surprise that Asia’s (and the world’s) highest peak sits in the soaring, rugged Himalayas. As the world’s youngest mountain range, they have the largest concentration of peaks over 8,000m anywhere on Earth. Mt. Everest has long captivated the world’s imagination, and is one of the most challenging of the seven summits – for its technical sections of climbing, and also for the amount of time spent in the “death zone,” above 8,000m. Trekking to Everest Base Camp is a popular way to glimpse the mountain.
Europe: Mt. Elbrus 18,510’
The name Elbrus comes from a legendary mountain in Iranian mythology, and the mountain suites the name well. Towering over the rest of the Caucuses, Elbrus is a dormant volcano in Russia with two summits of nearly the same height. Summiting Mt. Elbrus requires some winter mountaineering skills, but is accessible to new climbers and mountaineers.
Mt. Elbrus sits just a few miles within the accepted borders of the European continent. There is some dispute about its status as a “European” mountain, though, and some lists consider Mont Blanc, at 15,781’, the tallest mountain in Europe. Straddling Switzerland, France and Italy, Mont Blanc is certainly much more quintessentially European than Elbrus, but the Caucuses’ peak is still considered by most to be Europe’s highest point.
Australasia: Carstensz Pyramid (Puncak Jaya) 16,024’
The Carstensz Pyramic, also known as Puncak Jaya, is located in the central highlands of Indonesia. Although it’s the shortest of the Seven Summits, it’s arguably the most challenging to climb. Not only is it the most technically difficult, with sections of rock climbing up to 5.8 in difficulty, it is also the most challenging from a logistical standpoint. Organizing a climb requires a complex and often unpredictable permitting process, as well as dealing with Indonesia’s often unstable political situation. It’s not unheard of for kidnappings to deter would-be climbing parties.
Mount Kosciusko (7,310’)
The Carstensz Pyramid is the tallest mountain in Oceania, which is the geopolitical region containing Australia as well as the surrounding islands. But if we go by the traditional continents that we all learned in grade school, we have to look to the tallest peak within the landmass of Australia itself, which is Mount Kosciusko. Since it’s possible to drive to the summit, though, most mountaineers prefer the challenge of the Carstensz Pyramid for their Seven Summits list.
South America: Aconcagua 22,838’
Not only is Aconcagua the highest mountain in South America, it is also the tallest point in the Western and Southern Hemispheres, and the highest mountain outside of Asia. Though it is not a technically difficult mountain (in fact, it is the tallest non-technical climb in the world), the high altitude and severe weather make it significant challenging, with a success rate of only 30-40%.
Antarctica: Mount Vinson 16,050’
While not a notably tall or technically difficult mountain compared to the others on this list, Vinson represents challenges unique to its location. The isolation, extreme cold and unpredictable weather of the Antarctic make this mountain a serious undertaking. Despite the challenges, an estimated 1,200 have summited (compared to the 4,833 people that have summited Everest!) without a single death on the mountain.