Most mountain enthusiasts have heard of the term “Seven Summits,” but not all of them understand what the Seven Summits are, as there are 4 variations of the list. The Seven Summits are the 7 highest mountain peaks within each of the 7 continents – Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South Americ. The variations have to do with disagreements about the placement of mountains on continents and continental shelves.
We won’t get into that now. For now, we’re focusing on the Seven Summits list as they are according to mountaineering legend, Reinhold Messner:
Mount Everest in Asia
Mount Everest is the highest mountain peak in the world and is located in the Himalayan Mountain Range. Standing at 29,029 ft (8848 m); it was first summited via the South Col. Route by Sir. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa in 1953. During this expedition, part of the mountain was named the “Hillary Step,” located halfway between the South Summit and the Summit Proper at 28,839 (8790 m). The mountain straddles two countries, Nepal and China, and is said to grow about 1.27 millimeters each year.
Mount Everest is a highly commercialized destination that has seen many tragedies over the course of mountaineering history, most notably the 1996 Everest Disaster that tragically killed 8 climbers, including Rob Hall and Scott Fischer. The 2015 earthquake that caused an avalanche that killed 15 Sherpas and 22 people in total is said to have been the cause of the Hillary Step’s Collapse.
Although it is the highest peak on Earth, it is not considered to be the most dangerous or even the most technical. That title is held by K2, the king of mountains, also located in the Himalayan/Karakoram Range.
Aconcagua in South America
Aconcagua is the highest mountain outside of Asia and is located in the Andes Mountain Range in South America. Aconcagua stands at 22,838 ft (6,961 m) and was first summited by Matthias Zurbriggen in 1897 via the Northwest Wall’s Normal Route.
Aconcagua is located in the Mendoza Province of Argentina. Like Everest, although it is the second highest mountain, it is not considered to be a technical mountain per se.
Denali (Formerly Mt. McKinley) in North America
Denali is the tallest mountain in North America, located in the American state of Alaska in the Alaska Mountain Range. Denali stands at 20,310 ft (6,190 m) and was first summited in 1913 by Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, Walter Harper and Robert Tatum via the South Summit Route.
In 1906, Frederick Cook claimed to have summited the mountain, but that claim was later disproven.
Kilimanjaro in Africa
Kilimanjaro is the fourth tallest mountain in the world and is also a volcano in the stratovolcano category. It is located in Africa.
The mountain is made up of three separate volcanos that rose next to each other, Mawenzi, Shira and Kibo, which rose in between the other two. Kibo straddles them and became the highest of the three. Currently, Mawenzi and Shira are dead volcanos, but Kibo is dormant.
Kilimanjaro stands at 19,341 ft (5,895 m) and was first ascended by Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller in 1889.
Elbrus in Europe
Elbrus is the highest mountain peak in Europe. However, its status has been debated (as noted in our Seven Summits list), with many replacing it with Mont Blanc as the highest peak on the continent. Elbrus is a dormant volcano with 2 peaks; the East Summit and the West Summit. The latter is the tallest and was first ascended by a British expedition led by F. Crauford Grove, which included Frederick Gardner, Horace Walker and Peter Knubel.
Elbrus stands at 18,510 ft (5,642 m) and is generally considered to be Europe’s highest mountain. Although, that is debated, predominantly because of the position of its mountain range. The Caucasus Mountain Range is distributed between Europe and Asia. Most scholars draw the line between Europe and Asia at the Caucasus Watershed, placing the mountain on the European side of Russia.
In 1990 a competition between the Soviets and Americans over who could reach the peak the fastest took place, with Anatoli Boukreev winning via the Priut 11 Route for the lower East Summit. Boukreev would later be a survivor of the 1996 Everest Disaster where he saved three people. He went on to write his version of the tale in his book, The Climb.
(Read Book Analysis: “Into thin Air” by Jon Krakauer for more information on Anatoli Boukreev’s controversial role in the 1996 Everest Disaster.)
Puncak Jaya in Australia
Puncak Jaya is also one of the disputed mountains on the Seven Summits list, as it is not technically in Australia, it’s actually in Papua Province, Indonesia. The mountain is also known as the Carstensz Pyramid and is part of the Sudirman Range, standing at 16,024 ft (4,884 m) tall.
The highest island peak in the world, Puncak Jaya was first summited in 1962 by Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer, Philio Temple of New Zealand, Russell Kippax of Australia and Dutch patrol officer Albertus Huizenga.
Vinson in Antarctica
Mount Vinson is located in the Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains in Antarctica. It was first discovered in 1958 by a US Navy aircraft. Later, it was named after Carl G. Vinson, a US congressman representing the state of Georgia. His support of Antarctic exploration was the defining reason for this.
The mountain stands at 16, 050 (4,892 m) and was first summited in 1966 by Nicholas Clinch via the West Side.
Keep this infographic handy as an easy reminder of what the seven summits are according to Messner:
Contibutors, Multiple. “Mount Everest.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Feb. 2002. Web. 17 Jan. 2017. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Everest>.
“Mount Elbrus (mountain, Russia) — Britannica Online Encyclopedia.” Encyclopedia – Britannica Online Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Jan. 2017. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/182158/Mount-Elbrus>.
“Seven Summits.” Www.summitpost.org. N.p., 2006. Web. 17 Jan. 2017. <http://www.summitpost.org/list/171144/seven-summits.html>.