The famed 7 Summits, the highest peaks on each of the seven continents, are well known throughout the mountaineering community. You’ve most certainly heard of some of these illustrious mountains, and may even know a person who has set their feet atop one or a few. While the challenge of summiting each peak on the list is admirable, they aren’t all sunshine and roses. The popularity of some of these peaks has lead to overcrowding, costly permits fees and other expenses, and long travel times just to get to an honestly just not that cool of a mountain. Thus, if what you’re after is less about just standing on a high point, and more about having a really awesome and unique experience on each continent, here is a list of better alternatives to each of the 7 Summits.
1. Ama Dablam Instead of Mt. Everest
Everyone in the world has heard of Mount Everest, the highest point in the world standing at 20,029 feet. It has made international news over time with the tragedies that have occurred there, like the 1996 event that spurred books like Jon Krakaur’s Into Thin Air, or both the 2014 and 2015 seasons that brought deadly avalanches and earthquakes, respectively. Climbing to the highest point in the world is very commendable and difficult, but is quite out of reach for many people. The permits alone to climb from either the side of the mountain are outrageous, not to mention the cost of a guiding service that everyone but the elite alpinist needs to use. Aside from the high financial cost associated with this climb, Everest has unfortunately become a commercial circus in the past decade. Many have seen the much stigmatized photo of the conga line of climbers heading up Everest on summit day. If you’re looking for peaceful solitude in nature, find it here you will not.
The Himalayas are one of a kind, however, and should not be overlooked as a truly amazing place to climb. Very nearby to Everest stands Ama Dablam at 22,494 feet, commonly referred to as ‘The Matterhorn of the Himalayas’ for it’s majestic beauty and iconic pyramid mountain shape. From the summit of Ama, a climber has a spectacular view of not only Everest, but three other 8000 meter peaks in the area, Cho Oyu, Lhotse, and Makalu, giving Ama Dablam an unparalleled perspective. The climb is also an interesting one, not just a snow slog, but has fun technical sections free from avalanche danger. There are guiding service available for anyone that does not lead that level of technical difficulty at that altitude, but there are also harder routes on the mountain for alpinists wanting more of a challenge. Furthermore, it’s much cheaper and a much less crowded peak: you won’t have to share your summit with 500 of your closest friends and strangers like it’s neighbor.
2. Alpamayo Instead of Aconcagua
While significantly cheaper than Everest, the next highest peak on the 7 Summits list is, well, just a little lackluster in comparison. Aconcagua stands at 22,841 feet as the highest point in South America and the Western Hemisphere, but that’s about all it has going for it, especially when South America has so many, many amazing mountains to boast of. Altitude just shy of 7,000 meters is nothing to balk at, and if altitude training is what you’re after perhaps the standard route walk-up is for you. The Normal Route, Aconcagua’s standard and most often climbed route, may not even carry snow when you’re there – so it’s potentially a very high-altitude scree climb with really crappy weather. An uninspiring climb to say the least.
Instead, why not look to a peak called Alpamayo in the Cordillera Blanca range of the Peruvian Andes. Generally regarded as the most beautiful mountain in the world with it’s fluted snow slopes that look life fingers, this peak stands majestic at 19,511 feet and will still get you to a pretty high altitude. From the summit climbers have a magnificent view of neighboring peak Artesonraju, a mountain made famous by the Paramount Pictures logo. Due to Alpamayo’s popularity it can be a little crowded at times, but no more crowded than Aconcagua, and it is dependent on the day. It is possible to find your party the only one on the mountain, and still back down in time to trade stories in the quaint huts surrounding the camps.
3. Mount Logan Instead of Denali
It’s hard to say bad things about Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley, with it’s awe-inspiring views and plentiful routes for every level of climber. But upon closer inspection it does have it’s drawbacks, the extreme weather certainly being one of them with it’s desperate cold in the upper reaches of the Alaskan wilderness. Many climbers going after the 7 Summits list actually save this one for last, as even though it only reaches an altitude of 20,308 feet, the latitude and weather conditions can make it a much more difficult climb. Each year it turns many parties away without successful summits after waiting weeks for a weather window, or sends them home with frostbite if they dared to try. It is also a busy place during peak season, once again not offering up a true place to find peace in nature.
And if solitude is what you seek, look no further than the second highest peak in North America. Mount Logan is an often overlooked peak, standing at second highest on the continent at 19,551 feet, but has another claim to fame still: though it may not be the tallest, it is actually the biggest having the largest base circumference of any non volcanic mountain on Earth. Remotely located in the St. Elias Range in the Canadian Yukon, it does still suffer from some of the same awful weather that haunts Denali. If you’re worried about each little piggy going all the way home, perhaps best to climb the Grand Tetons and stay out of these ranges all together because there isn’t much up there that won’t freeze your digits right off. But if you can stomach the cold, consider making the trip to Logan. It’s standard route is exciting in and of itself, but the peak also offers a couple other technical routes – one of which made it on to the Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. No matter the route, you and your party will truly feel ‘out there’ and like the great pioneering alpinists after you’ve been flown in and dropped onto this mountain in the middle of nowhere, with not another soul in sight for hundreds of miles.
4. Mount Kenya Instead of Kilimanjaro
Kilimanjaro, the high point in Africa is a monster of a mountain. As with all the others on this list, it too is gaining in popularity. About 35,000 tourists try to summit each year, and with the required porters and guides you must pay for and take with you up the mountain, there may not be a lot of breathing room to yourself! At 19,341 feet this mountain is actually a giant volcano, and while the altitude is still quite high, but it’s still just a hike. There is no technical skill required, and due to the required porters it could be said it can hardly be considered an actual climb, but rather a light backpack at high altitude.
Another continent’s second high point, Mount Kenya sits just under the shadow of it’s big brother Kili, only topping out at 17,057 feet. Mount Kenya shines regardless of that shadow, however, offering climbers various routes of rock, snow, and ice up to one of it’s three volcanic summits. Situated very close to the equator, the sun rises and sets at exactly the same time every day on this peak. It also offers various geographical landscapes to traipse through, as one may need to bushwhack through rainforest, rock climb, and contend with snow before one trip is done. It sees significantly less people than it’s big brother, but there are still guiding services available to those that aren’t comfortable leading technical climbing sections at altitude.
5. The Matterhorn Instead of Mount Elbrus or Mount Blanc
According to Greek mythology the God Zeus chained the Titan Prometheus to Europe’s highest peak, Mount Elbrus, for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humankind. This now dormant volcano stands in Russia at 18,510 feet above sea level. There is really only one route that people climb, and it is technically very easy, putting it with Kilimanjaro as the easiest of the 7 Summits. It does, however, have year round constant snow and pretty awful weather, and with the amount of climbers it attracts – some of whom are unfortunately ill-prepared and experienced – boasts a very high death rate. Add to that the somewhat tenuous political climate one may face (depending on where you hail from) when traveling into Russia, there are certainly more appealing choices to look at in Europe.
Nothing says mountain more than the iconic Matterhorn. With its quintessential pyramid shape, this peak is recognizable the world over. Located both in Italy and Switzerland, it’s four corners face each cardinal direction meeting at a summit which stands at 14,692 feet. It presents various routes to climbers of differing level of difficulty, but the easiest is the Hornli Route which is mostly scrambling 4th class on exposed terrain of rock and snow, with some fixed ropes through the difficult sections. This is a time when the popularity of the peak actually comes in handy, as there is a quaint little village called Zermatt located at the base of it for rest, relaxation, and a good post-climb beer.
6. Mt Cook Instead of Carstensz Pyramid
At 16,024 feet the highest peak of Oceania and Australia is both the most technically difficult – with a rock climb going at 5.8 – and arguably the most annoying mountain to achieve of the 7 Summits list. The red tape surrounding permit access requires many months or even years of jumping through bureacracy, but beyond that the travel to get even to the base of the mountain is extremely difficult as well. It requires either a long, rainy, jungle hike, or a helicopter flight in. Not to mention the climate is always bad, and you will have to deal with every type of inclement weather and tempestuous upheaval nature can throw at you during your time out there. And please don’t think any of this will be easy on your pocketbook.
Instead, why not look to New Zealand’s Mount Cook, or Aoraki by it’s Maori name. Also a technically challenging mountain, it’s sometimes overlooked by the international community due to it’s somewhat lower elevation of 12,218 feet. It shouldn’t be though, as it is a beautiful peak set in an ever more majestic landscape: it has been used for movies such as The Lord of the Rings and Vertical Limit. With a prominence of over 12,000 feet from sea level Aoraki rises huge above it’s surrounding scenery, with sheer vertical drops giving climbers crazy amounts of exposure and steep elevation gain to contend with. Not for the feint of heart, it’s still a classic climb for any mountaineer’s list.
7. Just Climb Vinson Massif
Climbing in Antarctica is a hassle, simply put. The logistics of travel to get there can make it a harrowing experience, not to mention the cost, which can be as extreme as the weather. Weather has been mentioned as a problem on a number of the peaks on this list, but it’s definitely a deciding factor for this one. Vinson Massif, at 16,050 feet, enjoys a unique climate of dessert cold with very low precipitation and either perpetual darkness or light depending on the time of year. And it’s cold. Very cold. Antarctica is the most remote place in the world, with only a maximum of 2,500 people during the summer on a continent the size of the U.S. There are many unclimbed and unexplored peaks and faces yet to see ascents there, and even some interesting volcanoes we considered for this list. However, everything costs a lot of money just to get there, and unless you’re a very talented alpinist, most likely you aren’t putting up any FA’s down there or even hopping on some of the other seldom climbed peaks like the second highest Antarctica point, Mount Tyree. So we suggest you stick with the oldie but goodie here, as Vinson is a remote, moderate climb with excellent views of thousands of miles of glaciers, ice caps, and once-in-a-lifetime scenery.
Meg Kies is a former Wisconsin girl currently living in Boulder, CO. An avid ice climber & mountaineer, Meg is currently working her way through climbing all of Colorado’s 58 named 14er summits. She’s also become our features editor here at SUMMIT. Besides submitting her own pieces she’ll be helping to curate other content here on the Dispatch blog. You can find out more about Meg and read some of her other exciting posts at megofthemountain.com
|LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?|
If so, please join over 1,500 people who receive exclusive weekly podcast bonuses, gear reviews & pro deals, sweet REWARDS and a SNEAK PEEK at upcoming podcast episodes. Click on the green button below!