I’m no accomplished mountaineer. Having previously described myself as “somewhat of an adventurer,” the reality is I’m an ordinary guy who tries to challenge myself and explore the world around me.
I often take an idea and run with it without having all the information at hand, and knowledge becomes an afterthought acquired somewhere along the way of an experience.
My learning curve is wide, and inspiration sometimes abstract, but I train hard, aim high, and double-down when the going gets tough … which also makes me a lousy gambler.
I originally intended climbing eight summits to “cover my bases” on a topic defining what a continent actually is, and how it applies to my Seven Summits, Seven Marathons challenge.
The more I have travelled, the more this subjective topic has come up, and I have become unsure of my happy-go lucky-approach, and harboured doubts on the overall authentic experience.
Different geographers and scientists have long debated how many continents there are on the planet, because the geography isn’t clear. Some claim six, some seven and, more recently, eight.
From the Oxford Dictionary:
- any of the world’s main continuous expanses of land (Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, Australia, Antarctica).
Mid-16th century (denoting a continuous tract of land): from Latin terra continens “continuous land.”
That’s seven continents!
Australia is clearly a continent, which starts the confusion and debate by some mountaineers.
To add to the confusion, North America and South America are treated as separate continents in the seven-continent model. However, they may also be viewed as a single continent known as America or the Americas.
And, in 2017 a group of geologists claimed we should recognise an eighth. Earth’s “hidden” continent, they say, is a mostly submerged land mass beneath New Zealand and New Caledonia – an elevated part of the ocean floor, about two-thirds the size of Australia – called Zealandia.
And who’d argue with the experts that Europe and Asia are separate because mountains run between them?
In the most widely accepted view, there are seven continents: Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Antarctica, and Australia.
Even so, the climbing community insists there are seven summits, so let’s focus on that.
The argument at the centre of the dispute is partly due to the late Richard Bass, an American businessman who, in 1985, became the first person to climb all “Seven Summits.”
Bass had a degree in geology from Yale University, and with a fellow-climber called Frank Wells (future president of The Walt Disney Company), their list of the seven summits was:
Kilimanjaro (5,895m) Tanzania
Elbrus (5,642m) Russia
Aconcaguua (6,961m) Argentina
Vinson Massif (4,892m) Antarctica
Kosciuszko (2,228m) Australia
Denali (6,194m) United States
Everest (8,848m) Nepal
Sounds in line with the said definition? Or not sure?
Enter famed Italian mountaineer Reinhold Messner, who was the first to summit some of the world’s highest peaks and created his own list, eponymously called the Messner List.
In 1978 Messner and Peter Habeler reached the summit of Everest without supplemental oxygen. In 1980, without Habeler, Messner repeated the feat from the Tibetan side in what was also Everest’s first solo summit.
Messner followed a different version of the Seven Summits, that of Patrick Morrow.
Morrow, a Canadian climber, was the first to climb the Seven Summits using the Carstensz-Version.
Carstensz Pyramid, also known as Puncak Jaya, is a mountain in West Papua, which is a part of Indonesia.
The confusion around the Carstensz-Version of the Seven Summits is because one either includes all of Oceania, of which West Papua is a part, or only mainland Australia, which is a true continent.
So, these days there are two “official” lists of the Seven Summits – The Bass version with Mount Kosciuszko – on the Australian continent – as the seventh summit, or Messner’s list with the Carstensz Pyramid – as part of Oceania – as the seventh summit.
Legend has it Bass and Morrow were competing to finish the triumph first.
Patrick Morrow, and then Reinhold Messner, felt Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia should be on his list simply because it’s higher than Mount Kosciuszko, and perhaps because it’s an actual “climb” rather than the relative ease one can scale Kosciuszko.
Then again, if it’s regarded as too easy, consider achieving the summit via a 50km Ultra Marathon as I did – that will challenge you, should it be your seventh summit.
Bass finished first, then Morrow shortly afterwards, their main differing point being whether the definition of a continent should include the continental shelf.
Maybe the whole debate and controversy wouldn’t exist if Morrow and Messner, an influential climber of his day, weren’t so highly respected?
Due to their definition of continents, divide was created through the climbing community, opinions varied, and this remains the case today.
For the most part, I feel geology is against the interpretation.
Interestingly, Morrow and Messner later went to the top of Kosciuszko, where maybe the whole idea of “covering your bases” came from. I’m unaware if Dick Bass and Frank Wells ever climbed Carstensz Pyramid.
All the men in this story deserve distinction for their contributions, and undeniably created a path for the future of the Seven Summits, which many more have followed.
I’ve been to Indonesia several times and can’t excuse travel and cultural experience as the sole reason to scale Carstensz Pyramid, which is no doubt a worthy achievement in its own right.
But does a worthwhile climb make it one of the Seven Summits?
A lot of thought went into the concept of continents as a “social constructionism.” In the end, cultural diversity lead my rationalisation and ultimate decision not to include Carstensz Pyramid in my Seven Summits, Seven Marathons Challenge.
Even this challenge was once a concept, which I entirely underestimated, and has now transpired into amazing memories, and continues to challenge me as a human being. The incredible places I travel to do that.
I ultimately believe the decision has been left to me to define my Seven Summits, and equally you’re entitled to your own opinion.
For me, that’s now seven mountains.
The beauty is we’re free to make up our own minds.
Enjoy your adventure.