Saturday, January 9, 2010
The Second Seven Summits
Those of you who do not climb mountains or even those who do only sparsely might wonder what is ‘Second Seven Summits’ or ‘Seven Second Summits’ or simply SSS as it is known in my world! And if there are second seven summits then there must be a first or original Seven Summits, and yes it is there. The Seven Summits are the highest peaks of all the seven continents and one who has climbed all of them is called as a Seven summiteer, which till this year numbers around 200. Compare this to the number of Everest summiteers till date at around 3000. So the Seven-Summits club is quite exclusive and only two Indians have done it so far. The SSS on the other hand signifies the second highest summits of all the seven continents. The SSS club is perhaps the most exclusive adventure club in the world today since till date (and to my knowledge) it doesn’t have a member yet. No one has completed the SSS so far. Astonishing isn’t it! Unbelievable I would say, imagine when we are achieving absolutely death and mind defying feats all over the globe, how come such a simple task as SSS is left unaccomplished? Are there any dearth of good and daring climbers or lack of sponsorship; I don’t think so. The reasons are quite different and varied as I will explain subsequently.
When we look for the ultimate challenges in the vertical world, the Seven Summits, Mt Everest, Climbing all the 14 eight-thousand meter plus peaks on Earth, doing a new route or first ascent, etc take priority. Not many have done these. Completing the Seven Summit, or climbing Everest or the 14 eight-thousand meter peaks get you more fame, sponsorship and credibility at large. The concept of SSS is rather new and novel, another means of looking for greater challenges. So in priority it always comes after the aforementioned few. By the time one starts thinking of the SSS, the climber has either exhausted all his sponsors, or his will and capacity to climb, or has got diverted into more sensible pursuits of life. The SSS are more difficult and demanding than their higher (many cases only marginally) and more famous kin. There are no regular commercially guided trips to the SSS unlike the SS or on Everest, etc. hence the infrastructure support is not available. Most of us simply do not wish to go the extra length or the effort to climb the SSS once we have completed the SS and for people like me as you will see, the SSS must always remain a dream in a pipe, unless of course I migrate to another country. I am not sure and no one knows accurately as to how many people have actually climbed how many of the SSS, though I can safely presume that with 5 of the SSS below my belt I could as well be the one with the highest score till date.
First a look at the SS and SSS to give you an aspect of the scale we are talking about (for the sake of clarity, I am a believer in the Australia-New Guinea continent concept)
Continent Summit Altitude
Africa Kilimanjaro 5895
Antarctica Vinson 4892
Australia Carstensz Pyramid 4884
Asia Everest 8848
Europe Elbrus 5642
N America Denali 6194
S America Aconcagua 6962
SECOND SEVEN SUMMITS
Continent Summit Altitude
Africa Mt Kenya 5199
Antarctica Mt Tyree 4852
Australia Puncak Trikora 4730
Asia K2 (Chogori) 8611
Europe Dykh-Tau 5205
N America Mt Logan 5959
S America Ojos del Salado 6893
Mt Kenya is obviously in Kenya and I climbed it several years ago through its normal route to the top of Batian peak, which is the highest summit of this massive mountain. It’s a mid-grade rock climb covering 2 days for a good team. It is not so difficult to approach though much more than its higher cousin of Kili.
Mt Tyree, being in Antarctica might remain one of the two reasons why I would never accomplish SSS. I wish I had climbed it when I was going for its neighbor and the highest Antarctica summit of Vinson. Tyree is much harder to climb than Vinson and my guess is that only a dozen or so people must have climbed it till date. Reaching Antarctica by itself is so expensive, difficult, fortuitous and rare that once we get there our first priority is to either climb Vinson (it being the highest) or skiing to the South Pole or both (like my case). For topping it up with Tyree you needed plenty of luck too besides the others. The foul Antarctica weather has the ugly habit of rearing its head once every week. Even if I now wish to return and get to the top of Tyree, who would give me the money to do so!
Puncak Trikora happened to me by mistake. Our guide for the trip, goofed up our maps and our minds and we climbed it thinking that we were aiming for Puncak Jaya (the highest summit). Though while we climbed this difficult rock peak we did wonder about the complete absence of any ropes or signs of a previous ascent, which at that time had seemed impossible and highly improbable. But then in such places one doesn’t argue with ones machete brandishing guide. When we stood at the top and took bearings we realized that Puncak Jaya was leering at us from a distance. Where the hell were we, we had wondered, though the altimeter pointed out that we were barely lower than our original objective. With hard evidence we finally got our guide to admit his faux-pas and he took us to Puncak Jaya without any extra pay or bonus. We had returned home then with the mystery intact as to what had we really climbed on that day. It took us several years of painstaking data collection and superlative survey skills to finally conclude that we had actually ascended the second highest summit of Australia-New Guinea continent. At that time this fact had not stirred any excitement into any of us. But today whenever the two remaining survivors of that expedition (one being me) ruminate, we do thank our guide for his misguidance.
Well, being an Indian has its downside as well. One of them being that I would never get a permit to climb or even attempt K2. Unless a miracle happens before I die. This is the second reason why SSS would always remain out of my grasp. But then a US passport could get me there. I think sneaking into the other side across the Saltoro Ridge under the cover of darkness and climbing K2 is an easier proposition than getting an American citizenship. Needless to say, K2 is way far too difficult than Everest by any route.
Dykh-Tau is a cute (no other expression comes to my mind) little Caucasian peak in Russia that is easily a more challenging climb than Elbrus. It has few steep technical ice pitches and only experienced climbers can make a go for its summit ridge. Being rather close to Elbrus, it is climbed rarely. I climbed it during my Elbrus trip since I saw it from the top of Elbrus and simply wished to get it in my bag as well. The joy of discovering more unclimbed and unheralded summits from the top of the one I am standing upon has been one of my major motivators to climb.
Mt Logan shares the name of a friend. Incidentally both are stunningly beautiful and tall and charming at close quarters. Located in the Yukon Territory of Canada, Logan is perhaps equally challenging as Denali, but by far less climbed. It has a massive hulk (my friend in comparison is svelte) and has a more steady weather than its more famous taller kin. Climbing Logan never did really pose any problems. It is a steady high altitude climb. Clubbed with good weather we had some brilliant moments on the second highest peak of North America.
Mention of Ojos del Salado always brings a smile to my face. Its moniker reminds me of salad and Mexico, for reasons that I know not of. I had climbed it with a balmy pal of mine in the most ridiculous fashion possible. You could read the details in my post by the same name (in August 2009). Despite an easy peak I don’t think it is climbed often due to its remoteness. It is like walking in the park. You can climb it either from Argentina or Chile.
So what was the purpose of this post except to tell you that I have climbed five of the seven second summits? The purpose is also to tell you that don’t lose heart, even today there are challenges in the adventure world that is left to be accomplished. I am not sure though if completing the SSS will give you anything else besides the sheer pleasure of having done it, but then for an adventurer that’s all that perhaps matters in the end. I am often asked if there are still places and spots on Earth about which we know nothing of, where no human steps have fallen yet. While there are plenty such places beneath the great oceans, there aren’t so many on land, yet there are plenty. Do I know of them; of course I do, will I tell about them, not until I have been there first myself and lived to tell the tale. But then, exploration is not my sole domain. All you need is a back pack, an impossible dream, a vagueness of purpose and absolutely no plan. Let me know when and if you get back. Back where, you ask, anywhere, wherever you wish to be back… I will still see you on top!