Ever wonder what it would feel like to stand at the top of the world, literally? The Seven Summits are the highest mountains of each continent. One of the biggest and most popular challenges in mountaineering consists of climbing them and grasping the immensity, not only of each individual mountain, but of the world itself.
So which are these seven glorious continental giants? The list varies according to different mountaineers. These variations are mainly due to different ways of considering territorial divisions. The two most popular lists were put together by Richard Bass, who was the first to complete the seven summits and Reinhold Messner who was the first to climb Everest solo. The main difference in the two is regarding the highest peak of Oceania. While Bass posed Mt. Kosciuszko as the tallest summit in Australia, Messner proposed that Puncak Jaya, also known as Carstensz Pyramid was both taller and a more technically difficult peak to climb. We have decided to go by the Messner list because it proposes a more challenging circuit of mountains.
Grouped according to their altitude, the seven summits then are Mt. Everest (8,850 m) in Asia, Aconcagua (6,962 m) in South America, Denali (6,190 m) in North America, Kilimanjaro (5,895 m) in Africa, Mt. Elbrus (5642 m) in Europe, Puncak Jaya/ Mt. Carstensz (4,884 m) in Oceania and Mt. Vinson (4,892 m) in Antarctica. Be forewarned though, the lower ones are not necessarily the easiest! Read on to find out more about each, and start planning your seven summit challenge now!
Mt. Everest (Asia)
The Everest must be by far the most famous of the seven summits. This is because it is not only the highest mountain in Asia, but also, the highest in the world. Located in the Himalayas, this gigantic peak boasts an altitude of 8,850 m.a.s.l. Consequently, climbing to the top is no easy feat.
If you are up for tackling the Everest summit, then consider that the longer the time of ascent, the easier it will be for you to acclimatise. And you do need to acclimatise! Of course, it goes without saying that going to the top of the tallest mountain in the world is best done under expert guidance. Most guided tours to the summit of this big friendly giant take around 60 days and tackle the climb from the south side in Nepal as it is overall easier. A good guide will not only know how to gauge the mountain, but they will also handle logistics that really must be carefully planned out from the start.
The best time of the year to reach the pinnacle of Everest is spring and autumn, that is to say April to mid June or September to November. Although the summer is warmer, it is also monsoon season so it is not the ideal time for mountaineering, and winter of course is very cold.
If you want to try this summit, you will need some heavy duty training and a lot of mountaineering experience under your belt. However, you don’t need to get to the very top to visit the Everest. There are shorter treks such as this one to the Everest Base Camp which are less demanding, and the Himalayas are a beautiful mystical place that you will definitely enjoy visiting even if you are not a super advanced climber. On this 35 day Himalaya mountaineering course for example, you can start preparing and training to tackle Everest, or just improve your skills as you get to know the stunning Himalayan region. If you are interested in this, don’t miss our article about trekking in the Himalayas.
Interested in tackling the seven summits? Then find a great guided tour to the top of Everest here.
Aconcagua (South America)
Next up on the seven summit list is the breathtaking Aconcagua. At 6,962 m.a.s.l, it is the highest mountain in the Andes chain and in South America. It is also the second highest on the seven summit list, and the highest non-technical mountain in the world. Therefore, although it is most certainly a mountaineering challenge that many a peak-lover dreams of, depending on the route taken, it doesn’t require that much prior climbing experience. As an added plus, Mendoza province is at its foot with bottles of fine wine waiting for the celebration upon the victorious return.
Aconcagua has two peaks. The North Peak is the highest of the two with an altitude of 6962 m.a.s.l, and the South Peak the lowest at 6930 m.a.s.l. The ascent of the north face via the normal route is the easiest in terms of technical skill, although acclimatisation and a good fitness level are essential. Guided trips to this summit take approximately 20 days, and can also be done at a slower pace which is the best bet for those with less experience. A good option could be this 22-day Aconcagua ascent. A slightly more challenging route to get to the top of Aconcagua is the Polish Glacier route that takes around the same time to complete as the normal route. Finally, the South Face ascent is a much more challenging route that is usually only tackled by pro mountaineers.
Another thing to consider for this climb is the season. The Aconcagua Provincial Park is open from November to March, although last access is in late February. These are the warm weather months in the Southern Hemisphere, and high season is from mid December to the end of January.
Further up north, Mount Denali, in the heart of the Alaska Range, lies at an altitude of 6,190 m.a.s.l. Not only is it famous for being one of the seven summits, it is also well known for its stunning Peters, Muldrow, Ruth, Traleika, and Kahiltna glaciers. Climbing Denali is challenging, and although the regular West Buttress route is not a technical climb, it is steep and has glaciated terrain. Acclimatization, as with all tall mountains, is key.
Climbing Denali takes around 20 days. The most common route is the West Buttress, however for an even more challenging climb, you can try the Upper West Rib. For prior training, you can also take this 8-day prep course in Mount Rainier.
In terms of best climbing season, because of the extreme weather, climbing season in Denali is from May to late June, with the last week of May being the preferred choice to start the climb. Of course, as with any of the other mountains on this list, it is essential to go with a seasoned guide that knows the terrain and weather.
Take a look at this list of guided tours to this stunning mountain in North America!
Next up, Kilimanjaro in the Eastern Rift Mountains in Tanzania. This breathtaking dormant volcano lies at an altitude of 5,895 m.a.s.l and is famous for its stunning natural forests and wildlife. Additionally, because the ascent to Kilimanjaro does not require technical skills, it is challenging as any climb, but absolutely doable with proper acclimatization.
There are many routes to reach this gorgeous summit. Although slightly more challenging than others, and due to its beautiful scenery, the Machame Route, also known as the “Whisky route” (you’ll have to ask the guide why), is the most popular. Other options include the Marangu or “Coca-cola route” which is one of the easiest, Rongau on the other hand, although not the most difficult, is more remote, and the Lemosho Route is one of the newer more scenic alternatives. Umbwe is a steeper route that is less frequently chosen for the ascent as it is not the best for acclimatization. Finally, the Northern Circuit is a longer option. Average trip time to the summit on most routes is a week.
Because Kilimanjaro is located close to the Equator, extreme cold is not a problem. However, keeping dry during certain times of the year is. Therefore, the best season to climb this Tanzanian stunner is in the warmer and dryer January and February, or during the cooler but dryer still July, August, September and October.
Is this peak on your bucket list? Find a great choice of guided tours to the Kilimanjaro summit!
Mt. Elbrus (Europe)
In Europe, the tallest top is Mt. Elbrus, although due to territorial issues, other seven summit lists consider Mont Blanc an option. Disputes aside, Elbrus lies at an altitude of 5642 m.a.s.l in the Caucasus Mountains and is quite the looker. This stunning peak has routes for both intermediate and very advanced climbers.
Two main routes are the usuals to get to the summit of Elbrus. The first and most common is via the south face and is not technically very demanding although of course, it is an invigorating challenge to say the least. Otherwise, for advanced climbers, the Kiukurtliu is more demanding technically. Other routes are even more challenging, and the paperwork required is more complicated than paperwork for the more popular routes. Most trips to the summit take between one and two weeks for acclimatization purposes, and some tours offer the option of snowcating up part of the way.
The best time of the year for Elbrus is the warm summer months between May and September.
If you want to try it, then check out this list of great tours right to the top of Elbrus.
Puncak Jaya / Mt. Carstensz (Oceania)
Located in the island of New Guinea, this lovely peak with two names is not only the highest mountain in Oceania, it is also the highest island mountain in the world! At an altitude of 4,884 m.a.s.l, it is one of the lowest of the seven summits, however it also technically one of the most difficult and should only be tackled by experienced climbers.
Difficulties to climb Puncak Jaya are not only technical. It is quite a remote mountain that is difficult to access and requires permits to climb. The usual route taken to the summit is via the north face and up the rocky summit ridge. To get there, it’s necessary to take a small aircraft to one of the small villages at the base of the mountain. Then, the hike up to base camp is through a dense and very rainy forest where injuries are just not an option as it is very difficult to be rescued by a helicopter. All in all, between ascent and descent, the whole climb takes approximately 12 days.
Climate wise, because of its location with regards to the equator, temperatures tend to be pretty steady. It does however rain a lot, and that makes the terrain slippery and unsteady. Climate variation is also unpredictable and therefore, there is no best season to tackle this summit.
Mount Vinson (Antarctica)
At 4,892 m.a.s.l, Mount Vinson in the Sentinel Range is the lowest of the seven summits, however it is also the most remote. Reaching the summit is of course a challenge, doubled by the challenge of reaching Antarctica in itself. Access and weather are two of the biggest obstacles to the top of this white capped stunner. You will definitely need an Antarctic logistic service to help you get there and set up camp.
The summit in itself is not so difficult to climb. It doesn’t require advanced technical skills. However, acclimatization is still important and you do need to prepare for the extreme cold and wind. The whole trip to the Vinson summit, which includes a short plane ride from Punta Arenas in Chile to Antarctica, takes approximately 20 days.
As to when, keep in mind that though always cold, the poles are polar regarding night and day. Therefore, summer months between December and March when you get sunlight 24/7 are the best times to go.
And, if you’re planning on visiting Antarctica to try this amazing summit, you might also be interested in this 13-day ski touring and sailing expedition in the region.
If you want to try a unique mountaineering challenge, then the seven summits might be just what you are looking for. Start planning now to rise above it all and look at the world from the very top!