Ballpark Estimate: $130,000 to $220,000
Climbing the Seven Summits, the highest peak on each of the seven continents, was an idea invented in the early 1980s by Dick Bass, a wealthy, middle-aged businessman and novice climber. He accomplished this feat by hiring, at great expense, a succession of professional mountain guides, and completed his quest in 1985, when guide David Breashears led him up Mt. Everest. Bass’s list included Mt. Kosciusko (elevation 7,313 feet) the highest point on the continent of Australia, and an easy peak that tourists ascend regularly.
Australia or Oceania?
World-famous mountaineer Reinhold Messner revised the Seven Summits list to include Carstensz Pyramid which, at 16,023 feet, is the highest peak on the Oceanic continent (which includes Australia), and a more serious endeavor than Kosciusko. In 1986, Canadian photographer and mountaineer Patrick Morrow was the first to climb all the peaks on the Messner List, followed shortly thereafter by Messner himself.
Today, those who climb the Seven Summits either go by the Messner List, or climb both Carstensz and Kosciusko, to cover all their bases. In December 2011, Jordan Romero of California became the youngest person to climb the Seven Summits, at the age of 15. Irish climber Ian McKeever holds the world record for speed climbing the Messner List in 156 days. Canadian Werner Berger became, at age 69, the oldest person to have scaled the Seven Summits when he completed his ascent of Mt. Everest in May 2007.
There is controversy in the climbing world about climbing the Seven Summits. Many feel that it is a gimmick that encourages wealthy, casual climbers to endanger their own lives and the lives of others in a frivolous pursuit. Often, undue and unfair stress and responsibility are placed on the shoulders of guides who are expected to get inexperienced and poorly prepared clients safely to the tops of peaks and down again.
If the Seven Summits sounds like your kind of challenge, though, consider starting with the least technical climbs, and work your way up toward the ultimate challenge of Mt. Everest. Start with Mount Kilimanjaro and the Carstensz Pyramid, to learn about acclimatization and practice easy alpine and rock climbing techniques. Graduate to Mount Elbrus for more glacier experience, and then try Aconcagua, to test yourself with altitude, a long hike, and a heavy pack. From there, you’ve got Vinson and Denali as good high altitude, extreme weather climbs. If you’re serious about your training, consider climbing other 8000-meter peaks in preparation for Mount Everest. At 21,820 feet, Himalayan peak, Cho-Oyu, is the 6th highest mountain in the world, and a popular choice as a pre-Mount Everest training climb.
Cost to Climb the Seven Summits
If you’re sure of your intent to climb the Seven Summits, you may be able to save some money by finding a guide service and talking with them about package deals. The prices listed below, however, are for single expeditions, excluding airfare, training course, gear, and clothing.
Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa): $2,500 to $8,000
Mount Kilimanjaro has a reputation for being a long but easy hike. In fact, the most popular trail is called the “Coca Cola Route” because drinks are available for sale along the way. While the routes on Mount Kilimanjaro are not particularly demanding, the altitude and your choice of tour guide play important roles in your success or failure. Guide service is compulsory on the mountain and some local guides promise you the summit in four or five days’ time. But Mount Kilimanjaro’s summit is at 19,340 feet, and altitude sickness is the main reason why people fail to reach the top. If you take 7 to 9 days, and come prepared for an expedition rather than a hike, it’s very likely that you’ll summit successfully (See What It Costs To Climb Mount Kilimanjaro).
Mount Vinson (Antarctica): $29,400 to $32,450
Majestic scenery, intense cold, and an incredibly remote location are key characteristics of Mt. Vinson (elevation 16,050 feet). Climbers need expert winter mountaineering skills, experience with winter rescue and route finding, and the ability to cope while waiting out huge storms that may put the climbing schedule on hold. Since there is no porter support on this climb, you must be exceptionally fit and able to carry a pack weighing as much as 65 pounds (See What It Costs To Climb Mount Vinson).
Mount Everest (Asia): $60,700 to $87,000
The most challenging of all the Seven Summits, Mt. Everest, at 29,035 feet, is the top of the world and climbing it will definitely put a strain on your wallet. In recent years, the mountain has actually become crowded as groups from around the world stream into base camp. Some are highly skilled and qualified climbers, but others are frighteningly unqualified tourists who are paying top dollar for the thrill of their lives. Sadly, conditions on Mount Everest are so extreme that even the smallest mistake by one team member can lead to disaster for many (See What It Costs To Climb Mount Everest ).
Mount Elbrus (Europe): $1,175 to $5,600
At 18,510 feet, Mt. Elbrus is another of the Seven Summits that should be taken more seriously than it is. Located in the Caucasus Mountain Range in Russia, the area doubles as a ski resort and climbers can use cable cars, chair lifts, and huts during their ascents. However, to get to the summit, slow and careful acclimatization is still essential, as are crampon and ice axe skills. Most critical of all is the weather. Mt. Elbrus is more than 3,300 feet higher than the surrounding peaks, and creates its own weather systems – unexpected fog, wind, and snow storms generate dangerous white-out conditions in a matter of minutes (See What It Costs To Climb Mount Elbrus).
Denali (North America): $1,225 to $6,850
Although, at 20,320 feet, Denali is significantly lower than Mt. Everest, its proximity to the Arctic means that temperatures sometimes get colder than at the top of the world. Denali’s challenges include crevasse danger, intense and sudden storms, and altitude sickness. While many climb this mountain on their own, rather than with a guide service, past experience with winter mountaineering, route finding, advanced crampon and ice axe use, and knowledge of avalanche danger is essential. Many climbers use Denali as a practice climb before tackling Mount Everest (See What It Costs To Climb Denali).
Carstensz Pyramid (Oceania): $10,000 to $25,000
The greatest obstacle to climbing the highest point on the Oceanic continent is political, rather than natural. While the technical rock climbing on the upper sections of Carstensz Pyramid are more difficult than on the rest of the Seven Summits, the real challenge lies in gaining legal access to the mountain itself. Influence, connections, time, and money are needed to contend with the overwhelming number of forms, fees, and permits required by federal, local, and tribal governments. Once you gain access and acclimatize, however, moderate rock climbing skills and a willingness to scramble, rappel, jumar, and climb in the rain are all that’s needed to reach the 16,023-foot summit (See What It Costs To Climb The Carstensz Pyramid ).
Aconcagua (South America): $850 to $5,000
Aconcagua is another climb that many people tend to underestimate. True, it is mainly a very long, hard trudge to the summit. But at 22,840 feet, a hasty ascent will spell disaster in the form of acute altitude sickness. Plan to spend three weeks or more on this expedition. Be prepared for extreme and intense cold as well as long delays due to bad weather. Proper endurance and strength training prior to the climb, as well as teamwork and patience once you’re on the mountain are critical factors in your summit attempt (See What It Costs To Climb Aconcagua ).
Gear and Clothing: $8,000 to $13,000
All the climbs require specialized gear. There is a great deal of overlap, particularly between Mt. Everest, Mt. Vinson, and Denali, which all call for extreme high altitude expedition gear that will protect you in temperatures down to -40°F to -70°F. Aconcagua requires extreme expedition gear as well, although temperatures are not so severe. Mt. Elbrus is icy and cold at the top, but you are usually sleeping in huts, so your gear list is somewhat modified. Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Carstensz Pyramid have milder climates, although Mt. Kilimanjaro, in particular, can be very cold at the summit and still requires crampon and ice axe skills. If you go with a guide company, they will send you a detailed gear list (See What It Costs For Expedition Clothing And Gear).
Mountaineering Training Course: $5,000 to $8,000
If you are an experienced high altitude mountaineer, you obviously don’t need a training course. However, if many months, or even years, go by between big mountain ascents, an alpine mountaineering course is a good idea to get you back in the game, with opportunities to familiarize yourself with the latest tools and techniques, and remind your body what it’s like to climb at altitude.
Passports And Visas: $100+
Except for climbing Denali, you will need a current passport for all destinations, plus specific visas and fees.
Airfare: $9,925 to $22,970 (total)
These prices are approximate and assume that you leave from New York City and buy separate round trip tickets to each of the seven summit destinations.
- Mt. Kilimanjaro: NYC to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania – $1,900 to $2,200
- Mt. Vinson: NYC to Punta Arenas, Chile – $1,300 to $2,350
- Mt. Everest: NYC to Kathmandu, Nepal – $2,580 to $8,000
- Mt. Elbrus: NYC to Moscow, Russia – $1,250 to $3,150
- Denali: lower 48 to Anchorage, AK – $400 to $550
- Carstensz Pyramid: NYC to Indonesia – $1,260 to $5,000
- Aconcagua: NYC to Mendoza, Argentina – $1,000 to $1,720
Finally, for those who truly want to challenge themselves, the “Second Seven Summits,” the list of the second highest peaks on each continent, include ascents that are much more demanding and dangerous than the original Seven, and are usually climbed without guides. K2, for instance, the second highest peak in Asia, is known as the Savage Mountain due to its difficulty, remoteness, and high fatality rate.