Last week my boyfriend Ben Rainthorpe returned from Argentina having successfully climbed Aconcagua – the highest mountain in South America. At a staggering 6963m above sea level it is the highest peak outside of the Himalayas. The climb took 20 days in total with a massive 14 hours of hiking and climbing on summit day.
Aconcagua is part of the mountaineering challenge known as the Seven Summits. This is achieved by summiting the highest mountain in each of the seven continents. This was first successfully completed in 1985 by Richard Bass. In 1992 Junko Tabei became the first woman to complete the challenge. In December Ben quit his job as a primary teacher to follow his dream of achieving this feat. Which mountains constitute the seven summits is debated and there are a number of different lists. In addition the challenge can be extended by including the highest volcano in each continent.
1.Kilimanjaro – Africa (5895m)
Kilimanjaro is usually the starting point for the challenge. At 5895 m above sea level and no technical climbing required it is a good introduction to high altitude trekking. However, this often means it is underestimated and the most common cause of death on the mountain is altitude sickness.
2. Aconcagua – South America (6963 m)
The next step up from Kilimanjaro Aconcagua is the second highest of the seven summits. However the lack of technical climbing required make it a good second peak to ascend after Kilimanjaro. For Aconcagua however, crampons and ice axes are required. The trek takes three weeks instead of one.
3. Elbrus – Europe (5,642 m)
Heralded as the Kilimanjaro of Europe, Elbrus even has a chair lift part of the way up! This mountain is regularly underestimated causing a high number of fatalities per year. Due to snowy conditions crampons and ice axes are once again required. Some believe that Elbrus should not count as the European peak and instead Mount Blanc should be summited – a much more technical and dangerous climb.
4. Denali – North America (6190 m).
Denali is a difficult mountain to summit. Although slightly lower than other peaks, the distance from the equator means the effects of altitude are more keenly felt. More technical skills are needed. In addition there are no porters to help carry additional gear so climbers must carry a full pack and drag a sled.
5. Vinson Massif – Antartica (4892 m).
Vinson is difficult because of the location rather than any technical climbing. The costs of going to Antartica are great and the conditions are something to be battled with.
6. Puncak Jaya – Australasia (4884 m) or Kosciuszko – Australia (2228 m)
The original Seven Summits included Mount Kosciuszko of Australia – the shortest and easiest climb on the list. However it is now generally agreed that Puncak Jaya is the offering from the Australasia continent. Despite being smaller than others on the list this is the hardest of the seven to climb with the highest technical rating. It is also located in an area that is highly inaccessible to the public due to a large mine, and is one of the few where a rescue by helicopter is not possible.
7. Everest – Asia (8848 m).
Everest is the highest mountain in the world at 8848 m above sea level. Many regard the trek to Everest Base Camp as challenge enough. Some technical climbing is required as well as bottled oxygen to safely reach altitudes of that level. One of the most dangerous parts is the Khumbu Icefall which must be traversed every time the climbers leave base camp. As of 2017 at least 300 people have died on Everest – most of their bodies still remain on the mountain.
Ben has now climbed two of the Seven Summits. His immediate plans are to tackle Elbrus in July (which I might try and tag along to) and Vinson next January. If you are interested in his progress check out his instagram (@benrainthorpe).