The Seven Summits has captured the imagination of both ordinary adventurers and aspiring mountain climbers and more recently among the rich and famous too.

To climb the highest peak on each of the seven continents is a pinnacle of achievement for the die-hard mountaineer. It is a goal for those who are determined to apprentice and master this high altitude adventure pursuit, spend a lot of time, (lots of money) and energy, years in fact, slogging in remote corners of the world.

The Seven Summits, from highest to lowest, are:

1. Asia (Nepal): Mount Everest 29,035 feet/8850 meters
2. South America (Argentina): Aconcagua 22,829 feet/6962 meters
3. North America (Alaska): Denali also known as Mount McKinley 20,320 feet/6194 meters
4. Africa(Tanzania): Kilimanjaro 19,340 feet/5895 meters
5. Europe (Russia): Mount Elbrus 18,510 feet/5642 meters
6. Antarctica: Mount Vinson 16,067 feet/4897 meters
7. Australasia/Oceania(Papua New Guinea): Carstensz Pyramid 16,023 feet/4884 meters
or
8. Australia: Mount Kosciusko 7,310 feet/2228 meters

For many, the first taste of the quest for the fabled seven starts with the allure of Kilimanjaro, the iconic landmark in Africa, the most attractive and the easiest of the bloc. This is followed by other relatively easier non-technical peaks of Elbrus and Aconcagua whilst developing the resilience and skills to tackle the more remote peaks like Mt Vinson in Antarctica and Denali (Mt McKinley) in North America. The final two include the Carstensz Pyramid, a technical rock summit on the island of Papua New Guinea and the ultimate prize Everest, the summit of Asia and the highest point in the world.

Late American millionaire Dick Bass, an amateur to mountaineering came up with the idea of climbing the Seven Summits, becoming the first to reach the top of all the continents in 1985 at the age of 55. His experience is detailed in the best selling book, Seven Summits but it was not without controversy, as Bass selected Mount Kosciuszko, gentle and an easier hike as the true summit of the Australian continent.

The legendary Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner then went on to create his own Seven Summits list and included Papua New Guinea’s rugged Carstensz Pyramid, a far more higher and challenging limestone peak, as the highest point of the Australian continent that represent a larger Australasia or Oceania land mass rather than sticking with Mount Kosciuszko located in the mainland Australia. In 1986 Canadian Pat Morrow, using the Messner’s list, became the first climber to ascend the seven peaks. Messner himself summitted all seven peaks on his list a few months later same year.

To date there are only around 250 people in the world (About 10 Canadians) to have completed the challenge. They came from many backgrounds, from dot.com millionaires and Wall Street brokers to ordinary adventure seekers and from young teenagers to the older baby boomers in their 70’s. Many thousands continue to pursue the dream of joining the exclusive Seven Summits club.

How much does it cost to do the Seven Summits? It costs anywhere between $200,000 -$250,000 to climb all of the seven which includes outfitter/guide service and travel expenses. A guided client shell out as much as $65,000 to some of the A grade North American guide companies for the chance to reach the lofty summit of Mt. Everest and Mount Vinson in the frozen Antarctica at $30,000 for one attempt. All the hype about climbing the list and the exorbitant costs has led to lots of controversy over the years as some of the rich, famous and the inexperienced paid immense amounts of cash to outfitters to drag, cajole, and short-rope them up the difficult peaks like Everest, Denali, and Mount Vinson often endangering the lives of many by pushing them hard toward summits.

The question to ask however is not whether you can afford it. But would you spend a lot of money and get one of the outfitters to drag you up for the sake of collecting the list for bragging rights or rather garner the necessary experience and skills that would allow you to climb these peaks as a true mountaineer ?

Recommended Reading:

  • Seven Summits by Dick Bass, Frank Wells with Rick Ridgeway
  • Together on top of the World, by Phil Ershler
  • Beyond Everest – Quest For the Seven Summits, by Pat Morrow

They are a community of proud and brave men and women who lead a simple lifestyle based on the principals of Buddhist teachings. The name Sherpa hails from the Tibetan Shar-pa, meaning ” Easterner”. They migrated to Nepal from the Tibetan Plateau in the north, where they lived as nomadic herders and traders, some 600 years ago. Devoutly religious Tibetan-speaking Sherpas presently live in the mountainous Everest Khumbu region of the Nepal Himalayas, the home to the world’s highest peak. Sherpas are friendly and typically greet you with gleaming eyes, the warmest smiles and the strongest handshakes you will ever get. On the softer side, no amount of words can describe their humility, humbleness and their down to earth mannerisms.

With a never say die attitude, sherpas are the life blood of a thriving adventure tourism industry in Nepal today. The international climbing expeditions in the high Himalayas hire sherpas to do the slog work mainly due to their hardiness, expertise, and experience at high altitudes, which is considered a result of a genetic adaptation to living in high altitudes. Such is their physical strength in the mountains that one local sherpa guide holds the world record 19 summits of Mount Everest over a span of less than 15 years. Sherpas make up bulk of the western climbing expedition teams and there is a sherpa hand in every department, as load carrying porters, camp helpers, cooks, cleaners, trail breakers, ice fall and rope fixers or climbing guides – they are quite simply the “been there and done that” type.

Sherpa women are called Sherpanis. Few Sherpanis too work as sirdars( guides) and some carry equal amounts of workload as men to the upper reaches of Base camps or herd yak caravans carrying gear for expeditions. Records say that several Sherpanis have successfully summited Everest.

The popular among adventure enthusiasts to Nepal is the Everest Base Camp trek, a scenic 16 day trek that reaches 17,600 ft and considered the finest high altitude trek in the world. It is in these adventures that trekkers meet these sturdy people and come to rest their lives with. Right from the word go, the sherpas form a strong bond with visitors and treat every client as their first each time they are called upon to serve. They have a distinct ability to please others, when to call the shots and make decisions that will facilitate the interest of a group. Almost every trekker never misses an opportunity to savour the typical sherpa hospitality when guides proudly open the doors for their own homes and invite visitors for home-cooked meals served by the sherpani of the house. From the tea houses(local lodges trekkers stay) to the Buddhist temples and the colourful streamers decorating the trails, you will be immersed in the Sherpa culture while on the Everest Base Camp Trek. You will take home fond memories of an under-appreciated race of people who are happy to share their beautiful country with travellers from all over world.

It was Sherpa Tenzing Norgay who first reached Mt Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953, and Tenzing who plants the flag in the famous photo of triumph. It was only fitting that a Sherpa be part of the first pair to finally reach the world’s highest summit that had long seemed unattainable.

” People who climb Everest boast of their success but few of them mention that 95 percent of the work – the grunt work – was done by the Sherpas”   – Ed Viesturs, a veteran mountaineer in his book – Everest: Mountain Without Mercy