The 35th Anniversary of Dick Bass’s 7 summits. Going beyond the “empty bauble of accomplishment”

On 30 April, 1985 Dick Bass climbed to the summit of Everest, becoming the first person to ascend to the top of each of the worlds seven continents.

A rare view of Everest seen from the base of the French Couloir on Makalu. Lhotse left, South Col just visible through the cloud at centre and Everest disappearing behind it’s mornings’ plume on the right.

 

Dick had tagged along on the back of a Norwegian Expedition, reaching the top with David Breashears after the Norwegians had already reached the top that season.

Dicks subsequent book, Seven Summits, suddenly made the high peaks and the world seem much more accessible to a host of people, climbers and non-climbers alike. Dick had been a businessman first, but like many who are successful, soon tired of that and looking for more commented in an interview in Adventure Journal:

“Before [the book] there were relatively few guiding services. But in addition to Seven Summits, people also began to realize that there’s more to life. I’ve been successful in business. If that’s all I was chasing, it would be an empty bauble of accomplishment.

I know a lot of executives who wake up and say, “My God, there’s got to be more.” That’s why they want to climb mountains at an older age. They want to win the self-respect that comes from doing something that really lays it on the line.”

As Dick was prescient to realize early on and Vern Tejas, author of 70 Summits would point out to me many years later in Nepal, “It was great Dick did the 7 summits, he gave the rest of us guides a job for life.”

Of course Dick’s 7 summits, as much as they fit the geographical definition, weren’t enough for many and other climbers added Carstenz Pyramid to the list, so now we get the excuse to go to one more amazing place and climb yet another distinctive and incredible peak – as if any of us needed an excuse.

The idyllic Base Camp below Carstenz Pyramid. A 10 minute approach, a steep and exposed route, beautifully featured rock. The route goes up the steep cleft on the right, then straight up to the ridge right of the pinnacle, then back left to the summit in the clouds. 

If doing the 7 Summits is only about saying you have done them, 7 will probably do.

If you are climbing the peaks for the mountain experience, the people you meet and the cultures you pass through, then you may as well do 9 or 10 of the 7 summits. On some lists you will find up to 11.

Here are the ones that are undisputed and you should climb, and then there are a few more to add to your list…

Everest, North Ridge and North Face from the Pang La, Tibet. 

Everest – undisputed, no matter what your geology, political or tectonic plate beliefs are, you’ll just have to do it. Even if you have to wait in line.

North Side and the North Ridge shown here, perhaps a touch harder, but you don’t have to go through the Khumbu Icefall.  Both sides laden with history, from Mallory and Irvine on the North, to Hillary and Tenzing on the South side.  If you are looking for obscurity, danger and a real adventure, head over to the Kangshung or East Face.

Aconcagua, looking down the ridge from atop the Polish Glacier Route (a spectacular finish to a route with very little actual glacier), South Face on right, 3,000 meters to the Valley below.

Aconcagua – undisputed, until they build a big rock tower on Ojos-del-Salado, which has on occasion been claimed as taller. On current GPS calculations they are just 68 meters apart. Choose the Polish Glacier or South Face and you could well find yourself all alone.

Headed up the Kahiltna Glacier, Denali South Face and Cassin Ridge center of the face.

Denali – undisputed, unless you feel the land bridge from South America to North America makes it all one continent, then maybe you should climb Aconcagua twice?

Denali also stands out as by far the highest of the 50 states for Highpointers, those ascending the highest point in every U.S. state.

Topping out on the summit ridge of Denali. With 15 minutes to the top in rather perfect weather. 

Taking the West Buttress in season you will have plenty of company, expect a social climb and lots of hopefully like minded climbers. If you want a wilderness experience, you can go just about anywhere else on the mountain and you will likely be all on your own.

 

Kilimanjaro, from the Barranco. The ice routes long melted out now, the Western Breach behind the ridge on the left.

Kilimanjaro – undisputed. Though if you want to see the ‘snows of Kilimanjaro’ you need to go soon.

The classic “Coca-Cola” route is the most heavily trafficked, anywhere else you will find far less company. While you can climb it any time of year, choose the off season for a bit less traffic.

The dual headed summit of Elbrus. Go left at the col if climbing from the south. The very old Pruitt 11 hut just visible on the line between sun and shade just left of center at the base of the rocks.

Elbrus – now it gets tricky. You can draw the European line at the Caucasus, which separates Elbrus out from Asia, or go further east, and you have Mt Blanc.

Headed up the classic Gouter route on Mt Blanc, a touch pre-dawn.

Best to climb both peaks, as Mt Blanc is such a great climb not to be missed.

Carstenz and Kosciusko – geographically and land mass wise, Kosciusko wins. Carstenz is certainly a great climb, much more fun as a climbing adventure – again, best to do both. And if your continental definition extends to ‘Oceania’ you certainly have to climb it.

There are so many new route possibilities on Carstenz – it is a real mecca to be explored – just look at it – the entire face has two known routes.

Chris Heintz headed for the top, climbing along the summit ridge of Carstenz. A balance of cloud, sun and a good breeze, perfect in other words. 

Recent articles have advocated for a New Zealand continent, which means you can add Mt Cook to your list, certainly a worthy objective, with its fierce weather, steep slopes and a classic Ed Hillary route or two that are very rarely repeated, and a good reminder why he and Tenzing made the top first.

And you can go for the 2nd 7, the second tallest peak on all continents, certainly more challenging, then the 3rd 7 summits, which has so far only been done once.

Perhaps more interesting are the 7 volcanoes, which gets one out to Iran to do Damavind, down to Antarctica on Sidley and over to the previously mentioned Ojos-del-Salado in South America.

And if you have done the 7 summits, and want to add the 7 Volcanos, you have already completed Elbrus and Kilimanjaro, so only 5 to go. You’ll have some great new countries to visit and you can get back to Papua for the obscure Mount Giluwe.  And there are also the rarely repeated climbs, like the SW side of Vinson, relatively easy to access and with only 2 unrepeated routes, 003 and the Rolex Ridge.

 

The Rolex Ridge on Vinson. Only 1 ascent, and never been completed from the absolute base, as I went up the right hand glacier, then up to the col at the base of the steeper section.

If following lists and keeping track of peaks puts you off, the good thing is other sides of the peaks, and the whole host of other areas in the world are easier, often cheaper and more adventurous to visit. With the traffic concentrated on the 7 summits and 8,000 meter peaks, just about anything else can be very quiet.

 

Looking for obscurity, Greenland is a good option and you can make good use of that second tool holder for the rifle you will want to keep you safe from the Polar Bears.