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Amusing Take on the 7 Summits Debate

February 27 2002 at 10:13 AM
roger  (no login)

Response to Indonesia Closes Carstenz Pyramid to Climbers (?)

Here's an amusing take on the seven summits debate from the Independent. Excerpts:

Some hill-walkers I've met in Scotland are a bit sniffy about
mountains below 3,000ft high. Up there they grimly collect the
series of peaks over that height, collectively known as the
Munroes. Some of them are nice summits, but an awful lot of
them are just high bogs.

Climbers are like that, though, always drawing up arbitrary
rules in their game of conquest. And they are incurable
collectors. If the Munroes aren't high enough, they dream of
climbing the Russian "Snow Leopard" – the five 7,000m peaks
in the CIS, or even the Seven Summits, the highest point of
each of the continents.

Hang on, that's eight. Well yes, that's the problem. On 30 April
1985, the American entrepreneur Dick Bass reached the
summit of Mount Everest, and claimed that he was the first to
have climbed the highest peak on the world's seven continents.
Bickering began just over a year later when a rather stronger
Canadian mountaineer, Pat Morrow, got to the top of Elbrus
and announced that he, not Bass, was the first to climb the
Seven Summits.

The difference was that Morrow had climbed the stone peak of
Carstensz Pyramid in the western half of New Guinea now
known as Irian Jaya, and asserted that this was the summit of
the true seventh continent he called Australasia, while Bass
had regarded the highest point of Australia, Kosciuszko, as his
seventh summit. Now, Kosciuszko is a bit of high moorland,
and not really a mountain. For those of us who think the best
off-road vehicle is a rental car, it is possible to drive up it in a
hatchback. It seems ludicrous to mention it in the same breath

The adventure companies, who saw that
they could make some money guiding clients up the remote
Carstenz Pyramid. The irony was that usually the hard-core
mountaineers wouldn't be seen dead with people who actually
charge people to go climbing.

The arguments for one summit or the other are geologically
arcane, too. Morrow maintained that the continent of
Australasia includes New Zealand, New Guinea, and some
Pacific islands, as well as Australia. But when you take plate
tectonics into account, New Guinea does not sit neatly on
Australia's continental shelf. The island is a composite of three
plates that geologically link Southeast Asia, the South Pacific
and Australia. Only the island's southern lowlands sit on the
Australian plate, divided from the north part of the island by the
Java Trench, which is generally accepted to be the geological
border that separates Asia from Australia. Carstenz pyramid
lies to the north of the Trench, therefore is part of Asia.

The political arguments are no clearer. Carstenz is located in
Irian Jaya, which at the moment belongs to Indonesia, which is
classified as part of Asia. Only the eastern part of New Guinea,
the independent country of Papua New Guinea, has any ties
with Australia. And if you settle on the idea that the country of
Australia is a continent, Kosciuszko is not the highest peak on
Australian territory. That would be the 2,745m mountain called
Big Ben on Heard Island, way down in the Southern Ocean, a
seriously difficult place to get to.

If none of the seven summiteers are confident that they've
ticked all their boxes, this might be one they would like to
knock off, too. This, of course, is all rather absurd, and just
goes to show that mountaineering doesn't bear too much
rational scrutiny. The Seven Summits is maybe just a great
way for a wealthy person to see some of the most exotic
corners of the world.

How much? Jagged Globe, an expedition company based in
Sheffield, will take you up all seven for about £60,000. Plus
flights. But let me suggest a way that avoids the cost of flights.
This is an idea I've been nursing for some years, something
you could call Seven Seas, Seven Summits. My plan is to sail
around the world from continent to continent, climbing to the
highest point of each one. This might just become the next
challenge for climbing collectors. Sailing does have similarities
with mountaineering. Both activities involve uncomfortable
battles with the elements interspersed with short moments of
pleasure, and both seem to attract similar personalities,
although there is surprisingly little crossover between the two.
For the adventurer who would like to come with me, here's our

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