Last month the Italian climber Hans Kammerlander became the first person to climb the Second Seven Summits, in other words the second highest peak on each continent. According to 7summits.com, 348 people had climbed the main Seven Summits, the highest on each continent, by the end of 2011. Does this mean the Second Seven Summits is more of an achievement, or is it just because nobody’s much bothered about climbing the second highest of anything, so hardly anyone tries?
Let’s have a look (with thanks to summitpost.org for details on climbing routes).
Highest: Everest (Nepal/Tibet), 8848m (29029 ft)
2nd highest: K2 (Pakistan/China), 8611m (28250 ft)
Although the Khumbu Icefall on Everest’s southern side can be dangerous, and there’s the Hillary Step to contend with just below the summit, none of these compare in difficulty to features such as House’s Chimney and the Bottleneck Couloir on K2’s standard Abruzzi Ridge route. K2 is a much steeper, more difficult and dangerous climb than Everest, and this is borne out by the statistics. While Everest now receives around 500 successful summits per year, in 2009 and 2010 nobody climbed K2 at all!
Which is harder? K2
The score: 1-0 to the Second Seven Summits
Highest: Aconcagua (Argentina), 6959m (22832 ft)
2nd highest: Ojos del Salado (Chile/Argentina), 6893m (22615 ft)
Non-technical, Aconcagua can be walked up, often without even encountering snow. Its main challenge is physical. Mules can transport equipment to base camp at around 4500m, but above this climbers must carry their own equipment, usually to three higher camps. While Ojos del Salado involves a bit of tricky scrambling close to its summit, its possible to take a jeep to 5200m on its Chilean side, from where climbers only have to carry equipment to a mountain hut at 5800m before their summit day (assuming they’re sufficiently acclimatised).
Which is harder? Aconcagua
The score: 1-1
Highest: Denali (USA), 6194m (20320 ft)
2nd highest: Mt Logan (Canada), 5959m (19550 ft)
Although Denali in Alaska gets some ferocious weather, the standard West Buttress route is generally free from objective danger with few technical sections. While climbers must tow their food and equipment to the higher camps by sledge, planes will fly them on a regular service to base camp at 2200m on the Kahiltna Glacier. While not a technically difficult mountain to climb, Mt Logan’s greater difficulty is in its isolation, standing alone and miles from anywhere in Canada’s Yukon Territory. With no regular air service like on Denali, unless you have the means to charter a plane then you’re looking at towing a 50-80 kg sledge for more than 100km.
Which is harder? Mt Logan
The score: 2-1 to the Second Seven Summits
Highest: Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), 5895m (19340 ft)
2nd highest: Mt Kenya (Kenya), 5199m (17057 ft)
Although its altitude is significant and it should therefore not be underestimated by inexperienced trekkers, Kilimanjaro is a trek rather than a climb, and a bit of a doddle for any reasonably fit person with experience of high altitude. On the other hand, the imposing jagged rock towers of Nelion and Batian, Mt Kenya’s two main summits, are serious multi-pitch rock climbs. Enough said.
Which is harder? Mt Kenya
The score: 3-1 to the Second Seven Summits
Highest: Elbrus (Russia), 5642m (18510 ft)
2nd highest: Dychtau (Russia), 5204m (17073 ft)
The standard route on Elbrus is long and physically tiring, but it’s not technically difficult. Its main problems are political. Being on the border of Chechnya, in an area the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office deems to be unstable, it’s difficult for British climbers to get insurance, for instance. Dychtau, on the other hand, has no easy routes. Its easiest is graded at Russian alpine 4B, which invloves steep rock sections and 55 degree snow and ice slopes. Not for the faint hearted.
Which is harder? Dychtau
The score: 4-1 to the Second Seven Summits
Highest: Mt Vinson (Antarctica), 4892m (16049 ft)
2nd highest: Mt Tyree (Antarctica), 4852m (15919 ft)
Vinson is technically straighforward, with some 40 degree sections of snow climbing. Access to base camp is limited, but possible on Twin Otter aircraft from Union Glacier Camp, a seasonally-occupied expedition camp on the Antarctic plateau. Mt Tyree base camp is usually accessed by ski plane from Union Glacier Camp, but it has only been climbed seven times, which means to date there is no standard route and no guided climbs like there are on Vinson. This alone makes it a more serious undertaking than its neighbour.
Which is harder? Mt Tyree
The score: 5-1 to the Second Seven Summits
Highest: Carstensz Pyramid (Indonesia), 4884m (16023 ft)
2nd highest: Puncak Trikora (Indonesia), 4730m (15518 ft)
Carstensz Pyramid is a steep granite wall on the island of New Guinea, which some regard as the most technically difficult of the Seven Summits (this is debatable, however, as the extreme altitude of some of the other mountains render direct comparisons somewhat meaningless). It’s necessary to trek for several days through dense jungle, usually in the soaking rain, in order to get there, but then it’s a single day’s rock climb. Reliable information about Puncak Trikora is difficult to get hold of, but it also appears to be a rock climb, so for this reason alone (the lack of information on climbing routes) I’m going to call it harder. I’m happy to be contradicted, however!
Which is harder? Puncak Trikora
The score: 6-1 to the Second Seven Summits
And the winner is …
So there we have it. Manchester City fans will recognise 6-1 as the score they beat Manchester United by at Old Trafford earlier this season, their biggest home thrashing since 1955. I can therefore proclaim the Second Seven Summits to be a good deal harder than the normal Seven Summits. Congratulations go to Hans Kammerlander; and for the 348 who have only climbed the latter, never mind – they now have a fresh challenge to aim for.