The Seven Summits

19 03 2008

Sinai

The summit of Everest on an unusually good day

(or maybe just Mt Sinai)

In 1924, when asked why he wanted to tackle Mount Everest, British mountaineer George Mallory gave the now legendary answer: “Because it’s there”. When many years later I told my mother that I was going to spend 6 weeks riding in a truck from Harare to Nairobi, I gave the same reason. Fortunately, my mother didn’t realise that Mallory died on his expedition. And perhaps even more fortunately, I returned safely from mine!

Mallory set off for Everest sporting the finest expedition gear available at the time: a tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows. My equipment was far superior and yet the toughest thing I had to do was negotiate seven border crossings. Although we still do not know for certain whether Mallory did reach the summit, his heroic attempt and his ultimately sad demise assured him a place in adventure history amongst the greatest of 20th Century explorers and mountaineers.

It was almost 30 years before Everest was unquestionably conquered, this time by Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary. In the years since, more than 1500 people have reached the top of the world’s highest peak while a far more exclusive club of barely 200 has succeeded in conquering the Seven Summits: the highest peaks on each of the seven continents.

Climbing Everest requires supreme physical and mental strength, tireless preparation and training, and a very considerable amount of money, but some of the other six peaks are not quite so daunting. In fact, it’s relatively easy to knock-off two of those mountains and spend the rest of your life propped on a bar stool, sporting a tweed jacket with leather patches and impressing people with tales of your mountaineering prowess. 

The easiest to climb is Mount Kosciuszko in Australia. At 2228 metres (7,310 feet) and just a 9 kilometre (5.5 mile) trek from the nearest access road, Kosciuszko can be comfortably beaten in a day and still leave enough time to throw a few shrimp on the barbie. If you’re heading to Australia give this trek some consideration. Not only will you have conquered one of the Seven Summits, but if so inclined you can also conquer the highest public toilet in Australia!

More demanding is Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. At 5895 metres (19,341 feet), Kilimanjaro shouldn’t be underestimated or undertaken without some proper planning and preparation. Although you don’t have to be a super athlete and the climb requires no technical equipment or special skills, it does require a fair degree of physical fitness and determination.  Apart from getting into reasonable shape, perhaps the most important preparation is finding a reputable organization with whom to climb the mountain.

There are many companies advertising treks to the summit of Kilimanjaro. Some offer prices that seem too good to be true – and you’ll discover why when your guide races you up the mountain so quickly that you collapse from exhaustion or altitude sickness on the second day and have to retreat to the base –without having reached the summit and without the hundreds of dollars you paid for their ‘service’. Conduct proper research before you leave home and use the experience of adventure travel experts to find a reputable company to maximise your chances of conquering the tallest free-standing mountain in the world.

Climbs generally take five or six days, but additional days can often be added to improve your chances of reaching the summit. There are a number of different routes available that offer greater facilities or fewer fellow climbers depending on whether you desire support or solitude.  Regardless of the time or route you take to the top, you will certainly never forget standing in the equatorial snow and savouring the view from the top of Africa…and you will have conquered another of the Seven Summits.

If these two whet your appetite for mountaineering, a whole new world will open up for you filled with ablations, seracs, crags, cols, tors and ridges. Or, you can simply retire after Kosciuszko, don your tweed jacket and pipe and head for your local pub armed with your tales of mastering one of the Seven Summits!

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008

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