Seven or eight summits?

Published on 24.11.2009 - General Info

In polar circles and adventurer jargon, you often hear of people who have attempted or succeeded in climbing the "Seven Summits". As things are not always as clear as they should be in this area, we thought we'd better explain.

The actual concept behind the Seven Summits refers to the seven highest mountains on each continent: Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, North America, Oceania and Antarctica. And when you dig a little deeper, you quickly realise that the summits selected and mentioned by the climbers involved are not always the same.

This season again gives us an example of this with the adventurer, Meagan McGrath, who is a major in the Canadian Air Force. Looking at her list of credits, we can see that she has completed the challenge of the Seven Summits all right, but when we look at the actual mountains themselves, there are eight of them!

The reason for this is as follows: originally, climbing the highest peaks on each continent was the brainchild of Richard Bass, an American businessman and mountaineer born in 1929 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, dating from the 1980s. The list of the Seven Summits proposed by Bass -and completed when he managed to conquer Mount Everest on 30th April 1985- is as follows: Everest (8848 m) in Asia, Aconcagua (6962 m) in South America, Mount McKinley (6194 m) in North America, Kilimanjaro (5892 m) in Africa, Elbrus (5642 m) in Europe, Mount Vinson (4892 m) in Antarctica and Mount Kosciusko (2228 m) in Australia. Richard Bass also wrote a book (Seven Summits) after completing the list, which is also called the 'Bass List' or 'Kosciusko List'.

A few years later, the Austrian mountaineer, Reinhold Messner, took a fresh look at the idea behind the 'Bass List'. Messner's view is that Australia, as a continent, is part of the Sahul continental shelf, which not only includes Australia, of course, but also Tasmania and New Guinea (the Indonesian province of Papua and West Papua). As it happens, there is a mountain in New Guinea that is higher (and far more difficult to climb) than Mount Kosciusko in Australia. This mountain is Puncak Jaya or Carstensz Pyramid, which rises to a height of 4884 metres. So Messner suggested a new list of the Seven Summits by substituting Puncak Jaya or Carstensz Pyramid (4884 m) for the poor 'little' Mount Kosciusko (2228 m).

The first mountaineer to complete Messner's version of the Seven Summits was Patrick Morrow, a Canadian photographer, who reached the summit of Carstensz Pyramid on 7th May 1986. He also became the first man to scale the eight highest peaks on each continent.

So, to sum up, it could be said that there are three versions of the Seven Summits:

  • the 'Bass' version, which was the starting point for this new concept
  • the 'Messner' version, which is more recent and more challenging
  • and the version that consists of climbing 8 summits instead of 7 -which is precisely what our Major Meagan McGrath has succeeded in doing.
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