Climb every mountain, sail every sea

All eight of the seven summits

Some hill-walkers I've met in Scotland are a bit sniffy about mountains below 3,000ft high. Up there they grimly collect the series of peaks over that height, collectively known as the Munroes. Some of them are nice summits, but an awful lot of them are just high bogs.

Some hill-walkers I've met in Scotland are a bit sniffy about mountains below 3,000ft high. Up there they grimly collect the series of peaks over that height, collectively known as the Munroes. Some of them are nice summits, but an awful lot of them are just high bogs.

The absurdity of this system sank in during my childhood when my father and I climbed in the hills of Arran, the island in the Firth of Clyde. I maintain that these are some of the most beautiful little mountains in the world. They are close to the sea and easily accessible in a day. But all of them are under that qualifying height.

Climbers are like that, though, always drawing up arbitrary rules in their game of conquest. And they are incurable collectors. If the Munroes aren't high enough, they dream of climbing the Russian "Snow Leopard" – the five 7,000m peaks in the CIS, or even the Seven Summits, the highest point of each of the continents. Up to now, more than 65 climbers have become Seven Summiteers. That means they've climbed Mounts Aconcagua (South America), McKinley (North America), Vinson (Antarctica), Kilimanjaro (Africa), Elbrus (Europe), Everest (Asia), Carstensz Pyramid (Australasia) and Kosciuszko (Australasia).

Hang on, that's eight. Well yes, that's the problem. On 30 April 1985, the American entrepreneur Dick Bass reached the summit of Mount Everest, and claimed that he was the first to have climbed the highest peak on the world's seven continents. Bickering began just over a year later when a rather stronger Canadian mountaineer, Pat Morrow, got to the top of Elbrus and announced that he, not Bass, was the first to climb the Seven Summits.

The difference was that Morrow had climbed the stone peak of Carstensz Pyramid in the western half of New Guinea now known as Irian Jaya, and asserted that this was the summit of the true seventh continent he called Australasia, while Bass had regarded the highest point of Australia, Kosciuszko, as his seventh summit. Now, Kosciuszko is a bit of high moorland, and not really a mountain. For those of us who think the best off-road vehicle is a rental car, it is possible to drive up it in a hatchback. It seems ludicrous to mention it in the same breath as Everest or McKinley.

A debate then ensued which neatly allied two usually warring factions of the climbing fraternity. The people who regard themselves as hard-core mountaineers sided with Morrow, as presumably they couldn't accept Kosciuszko as a real mountain. But so did the adventure companies, who saw that they could make some money guiding clients up the remote Carstenz Pyramid. The irony was that usually the hard-core mountaineers wouldn't be seen dead with people who actually charge people to go climbing.

The arguments for one summit or the other are geologically arcane, too. Morrow maintained that the continent of Australasia includes New Zealand, New Guinea, and some Pacific islands, as well as Australia. But when you take plate tectonics into account, New Guinea does not sit neatly on Australia's continental shelf. The island is a composite of three plates that geologically link Southeast Asia, the South Pacific and Australia. Only the island's southern lowlands sit on the Australian plate, divided from the north part of the island by the Java Trench, which is generally accepted to be the geological border that separates Asia from Australia. Carstenz pyramid lies to the north of the Trench, therefore is part of Asia.

The political arguments are no clearer. Carstenz is located in Irian Jaya, which at the moment belongs to Indonesia, which is classified as part of Asia. Only the eastern part of New Guinea, the independent country of Papua New Guinea, has any ties with Australia. And if you settle on the idea that the country of Australia is a continent, Kosciuszko is not the highest peak on Australian territory. That would be the 2,745m mountain called Big Ben on Heard Island, way down in the Southern Ocean, a seriously difficult place to get to.

If none of the seven summiteers are confident that they've ticked all their boxes, this might be one they would like to knock off, too. This, of course, is all rather absurd, and just goes to show that mountaineering doesn't bear too much rational scrutiny. The Seven Summits is maybe just a great way for a wealthy person to see some of the most exotic corners of the world.

How much? Jagged Globe, an expedition company based in Sheffield, will take you up all seven for about £60,000. Plus flights. But let me suggest a way that avoids the cost of flights. This is an idea I've been nursing for some years, something you could call Seven Seas, Seven Summits. My plan is to sail around the world from continent to continent, climbing to the highest point of each one. This might just become the next challenge for climbing collectors. Sailing does have similarities with mountaineering. Both activities involve uncomfortable battles with the elements interspersed with short moments of pleasure, and both seem to attract similar personalities, although there is surprisingly little crossover between the two. For the adventurer who would like to come with me, here's our itinerary.

Starting from the pool of London in our 60ft steel yacht, we first head south through the North Atlantic, the first of the Seven Seas, sail past Gibraltar through the Mediterranean and then into the Black Sea. Here we land and travel to the interior to climb Elbrus, Europe's highest mountain. This extinct volcano is the highest point of the Caucasus,in the far south of Russia, not far from Chechnya. If we manage this fairly straightforward snow plod, we can return to our yacht and head south.

We'll to pass through the Suez Canal, emerge into the Red Sea and sail down the Eastern seaboard of Africa. We'll hop off here and tackle Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest, another ex-volcano, surrounded by spectacular vegetation and wildlife. Not a great challenge, but one of the few places where you find snow on the equator.

We're heading east now, to tackle the Big One. We sail across the Indian Ocean, the second Seven Sea, and land at Bombay. To get to Mount Everest, Asia's highest, you can travel across northern India by train and then arrive at Kathmandu in Nepal by road. Too much has been written about this mountain, but please note that it is heading north-east an inch and a half every year and growing bigger, so be quick.

We'll rejoin our boat, which our kind skipper has sailed round to Calcutta for us, and rest our weary bones on the foredeck while we head past the Andaman Islands off the coast of Thailand on our way to Irian Jaya, to try to climb Carstenz Pyramid. There's some seriously dense jungle here, inhabited by the Dani people. The men wear penis gourds, and bird-of-paradise feathers in their hair, while the women wear raffia-grass skirts. Their way of life is seriously under threat by their rulers 2,000 miles away in Indonesia.

Season-conscious climbers ask: when do you climb Carstenz? Answer: any time, it rains constantly. After this, we may as well head through the South Pacific (our third Sea) and land in New South Wales, Australia. Hire a rental car and knock off Kosciuszko while we ponder the next and most difficult sea-leg of our journey, the voyage through the Southern Ocean (our fourth Sea) to the shores of Antarctica. This is why I specified a 60ft steel yacht, as we may be nudging growlers (small icebergs) on the way to Vinson, the last continental summit to be discovered and climbed. This fact is hardly surprising as it lies well south, at 80 degrees latitude, but it's a fairly simple climb. Hop back on board and head north through the Southern Ocean, up into the South Atlantic, the fifth of our Seven Seas.

Jump ship at Buenos Aires and make for Aconcagua, the second highest of the Seven Summits, near the Argentinian border with Chile. They've built a hotel at Base Camp since I was last there, so we can rest in comfort. Now we're heading north to climb the eighth of our Seven Summits, if you see what I mean. Our skipper has passed through the Panama Canal and we rejoin ship to continue up the western seaboard of North America, through the North Pacific, the sixth of the Seven Seas.

We land at Anchorage, Alaska and the skipper will continue north into the Arctic Ocean. We now head for the one-horse town of Talkeena. There might be only one horse, but it has more small aircraft per capita than anywhere in the USA. The reason is partly the large number of lakeside holiday lodges serviced by private float-planes, but also because of all the climbers heading for Denali (formerly known as McKinley), the highest mountain in North America.

To reach base camp you get into a cramped Cessna which has skis as well as wheels. You fly for 100 miles across lakes and bear-infested forests. You then skim through a gap between the jagged teeth of rocky ridges; the plane lands heavily on the glacier at the foot of Mount Denali.

This is a very cold mountain with fearsome weather. At first you approach on skis, dragging your supplies on a sledge. But if you succeed, you've climbed your last mountain. Rejoin the boat on Alaska's north coast and return through the Arctic Ocean, our seventh and last Sea. Congratulations, you've completed the Seven Seas, and all eight of the Seven Summits.

 

Jagged Globe Expeditions, 0114 276 3322; www.jaggedglobe.co.uk

Aconcagua South America 6,960m/22,834ft
McKinley North America 6,194m/20,320ft
Vinson Antarctica 4,897m/16,066ft
Kilimanjaro Africa 5,895m/19,340ft
Elbrus Europe 5,642m/18,510ft
Everest Asia 8,848m/29,028ft
Carstenz Pyramid Australasia 4,884m/16,024ft
Kosciuszko Australasia 2,228m/7310ft
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London