‘Scaling the seven summits’ has never made it to my bucket list. I guess that’s because the phrase conjures images of the world’s most experienced mountaineers and their near-death experiences (or worse, deaths) on Everest.
I admire the heck out of those people, but I certainly don’t picture myself as one of them.
Before researching this article, I’d never really absorbed the names of the seven summits. It had certainly never occurred to me that I’d already ‘scaled’ one of them – don’t be too impressed… I only mean little old Mount Kosciuszko (side note: little did I know that its status as one of seven is up for discussion, depending on your definition of a continent).
I have, however, most definitely dreamed about summiting Kilimanjaro and watching the sunrise break over the vast East African savannah. I even got as far as planning my own Kilimanjaro adventure once upon a time, only stopping short of booking flights because life had other ideas.
The fact that you’re here on The Bushwalking Blog suggests you probably don’t mind the idea of gallivanting around the world and summiting mountains… but I’ll also hazard a guess that, like me, you’re not quite up for the challenge of Everest or K2.
So It’s a good thing that standing proudly below the world’s sky-piercing giants, there are still impossibly high mountain peaks that beckon the ordinary adventurer – the high-altitude enthusiast who has no desire to conquer Denali.
Let’s check out which of the highest mountain peaks on each continent is most hikeable for adventurers like you and me. With Antarctica the obvious exception, it’s possible to summit them all completely free of ice axes, crampons, harnesses, or oxygen tanks. All you need is a strong pair of legs, a solid pair of boots, a hefty dose of willpower and – let’s be honest with ourselves – a solid six months to a year of hardcore training.
Editor’s note: I’m aware that some readers may have found my use of the word ‘accessible’ in the title misleading, so where possible I’m including the most truly accessible summit on each continent.
Also, according to Wikipedia, there are seven possible definitions of the ‘seven summits’ – I’m basing this article on the ‘Bass version’, named after Richard Bass – the first man to climb the ‘seven summits’.
Africa: Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (5895m / 19,341ft)
Apparently, there’s some debate as to whether Kilimanjaro actually does rise ‘like Olympus above the Serengeti’ but, regardless, it’s been high on my bucket list for a very long time.
No, it’s not on my bucket list because of the awesome song by Toto, but it’s also not not because of the song. It really is an amazing song.
Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa – it’s fitting that we start with one of the actual ‘seven summits’ – and is also the highest freestanding mountain in the world (meaning it’s the highest mountain peak which isn’t part of a mountain range, as Everest is part of the Himalayas).
Often referred to as the ‘roof of Africa’, it’s regarded as a non-technical peak – there’s no need to bring technical climbing or mountaineering skills or gear to take on the summit, unless you’re attempting to do so during the brief periods of harsh weather.
Just don’t assume that this means your Kilimanjaro trek will be easy. Aside from needing a good level of fitness to ascend for several days, the thin air at altitudes above 2,500 metres is a considerable level up for hikers who aren’t used to it. Altitude sickness can develop quickly and can be life-threatening. Not everybody who attempts to summit Kilimanjaro is successful.
For those who are, though, the reward will be more than worthwhile – you’ll depart the villages of the Tanzanian countryside and venture into the lush jungle, thick with tree ferns and spectacular wildflowers, and home to Colobus monkeys, Blue monkeys, and fascinating birdlife like the Silvery-cheeked hornbill. Climbing gradually higher, you’ll pass through misty, boggy semi-alpine heathlands, passing giant Heather trees, Lobelia and Erica shrubs and crossing into grassy heathlands when the conditions due to altitude mean that not much else can survive there.
You’ll soon notice that higher altitude means less and less vegetation as you enter the alpine desert and are battered by the dry and often relentless winds. But here, as the real challenge of the final push to the summit begins is where the best views are – the ultimate reward.
Getting down to business, it’s illegal to summit Kilimanjaro without a guide. For a guided tour, you’ll be looking at around $2,000 to $2,300 USD per person. While there’s no shortage of tour companies to choose from, Altezza Travel stands out for its fantastic TripAdvisor reviews. They have options to take on all three of the most popular Kilimanjaro routes – Marangu, Machame and Lemosho – but their ‘6 days Rongai route‘ comes highly recommended. They have tours leaving every 2-3 days, making things very flexible for you would-be mountaineers.
Lace up those boots, adventurers, and remember that the journey of a thousand miles – or, in this case, nearly 6,000 meters – begins with a single step.
Want something a bit easier?
Didn’t you promise something properly accessible?
Antarctica: Mount Vinson (4,892m / 16,050ft)
From the “Roof of Africa,” we now journey towards the heart of the chilliest, least explored, and arguably most ethereal of continents – Antarctica.
Enter Mount Vinson, the highest peak on the continent and, of course, another of the ‘seven summits’, it hasn’t made it to this list because it’s particularly accessible, but let’s be real – we’re talking about Antarctica, so accessibility isn’t exactly going to be a selling point here. It is, however, considered a non-technical peak and doesn’t require technical climbing or mountaineering skills. But don’t let this fool you because what it lacks in technical demands, it compensates with a harsh, unforgiving climate and an environment so remote that it feels otherworldly.
A stark contrast to Kilimanjaro’s surrounding verdant landscapes and thriving wildlife, Mount Vinson stands above a frozen desert with nothing but white as far as the eye can see. And yet, it’s this bleakness, this vast expanse of white and blue that makes it an utterly memorable, almost spiritual expedition.
The climb typically takes about five days, though you may spend additional time waiting at base camp for suitable weather. While it isn’t the most technically challenging climb, the physical demands can’t be understated. The high level of fitness required, coupled with the mental fortitude to endure extreme cold and wind, makes this climb a true test of one’s resilience.
Crevasses, hidden under deceptive snow bridges, pose potential dangers on the climb, but as with Kilimanjaro, very few people will ever embark on this journey without a guide. Let the guides worry about the route-finding while you focus on the experience of the challenging trek and, hopefully, the immense satisfaction of standing atop one of the most elusive peaks on the planet.
Mount Vinson is a mountain of superlatives – the last of the seven summits to be discovered, named, and climbed. It also holds the titles for being the most remote, the most expensive, and the coldest of the seven. The prospect of summiting this icy behemoth is not for the faint-hearted or the thin-walleted. A guided summit expedition will cost between $30,000 and $40,000 USD.
Speaking of which, a quick Google search brings up a whole bunch of tour companies that will support you on this expedition. Unsurprisingly, there aren’t a lot of reviews floating around for such a wild adventure. You might have to do your own research when choosing a guide.
If you are willing to brave the elements and have the financial means, then Mount Vinson could be the adventure you’ve been seeking.
Whatever you do, though, don’t forget your gloves.
Something a little easier?
This is Antarctica, soooo no. Just existing there is kind of hard.
Not much hope for a truly accessible option, then?
Accessibility in Antarctica is a complex issue, given the extreme weather conditions and lack of infrastructure. No peaks are readily accessible to people with physical disabilities. However, cruises that comply with the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) guidelines provide as accessible an experience as possible, offering views of the icy landscapes and mountains from the ship.
Asia: Mount Damavand, Iran (5,610m / 18,406ft)
Now for the continent where all of the earth’s giants reside – Asia is home to the 188 highest peaks in the world. Choosing the highest hikeable Asian peak was a challenge, however, since a good chunk of the mountains on that list are reserved for the experienced mountaineers I keep mentioning. Even the ones classed as ‘non-technical’ peaks will mostly require crampons and ice axes, and in some cases, trekkers will even need to clip onto ropes.
Mount Damavand might not be the household name that Everest is, but reaching the summit of Iran’s highest peak is a much less daunting task. It’s generally considered one of the most approachable 5,000-meter peaks in the world.
Plus, its allure extends far beyond mere elevation. Damavand is deeply rooted in Iranian mythology, having been immortalised in countless mythical stories and the famous epic poem Shahnameh by Ferdowsi. Folklore paints this mountain as both a prison for the defeated tyrant Zahak and the launching pad for the legendary hero Arash’s arrow, which defined the territorial boundary between Iran and Turan.
Damavand’s southern face, punctuated with hot springs, is the preferred trail for most. The southern routes are considered less challenging than the other options, and there’s even a well-equipped mountain resort at 4,250 meters.
The best time to take on Damavand’s challenges is between June and September when the weather is friendlier, and the mountainside is painted with vibrant wildflowers. Although it is legal and technically possible to take on Mount Damavand without a guide, not many trekkers do so for safety and logistics reasons. Very few guides will take you in the winter months, when the expedition becomes much more challenging and, you guessed it, will definitely require technical equipment.
The climb to the summit typically takes four to five days, allowing time for acclimatisation to prevent altitude sickness. As for the guiding team, Alibabatrek is a renowned local outfit offering tours up the mountain, known for their safety practices and respect for the environment. If you prefer a more globally recognised company, World Expeditions also provide Damavand adventures.
Summiting Mount Damavand is not only a triumph of physical endurance but also a journey steeped in cultural richness. The Iranians hold their mountain in high regard, and successfully conquering it will earn you an elevated level of respect from the locals.
This trek is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, offering a unique lens into the heart of Iran.
Want something a bit easier?
On South Korea’s stunning Jeju Island, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Mount Hallasan (1,950m / 6,397 ft) can be traversed in a day. Your long morning of climbing culminates at a serene crater lake at the summit. Okay, so it obviously pales in comparison to literally hundreds of Asia’s other peaks, but it’s the highest in South Korea and offers well-marked trails, lush green landscapes in summer, a riot of colour in autumn and spring, and delicate snowscapes in winter. There’s no requirement to be accompanied by a guide, and the return hike takes 8-10 hours.
What’s Asia like for high accessible peaks?
The best I can find is Mount Moiwa (531m) in Sapporo, Japan. The ‘ropeway’ (a type of cable car) glides visitors smoothly up the mountain – not quite to the summit, but the remaining path can be traversed in a wheelchair – cutting through lush vegetation, gradually revealing views of Sapporo city and its surroundings. It’s a peaceful retreat from the bustling city below.
Australia: Mount Kosciuszko (2,228m / 7,310ft)
I probably don’t need to point out that Australia is more famous for its beaches and deserts than its mountains. When the continent’s highest mountain isn’t much over 2,000 metres, it’s not hard to understand why.
But in true Australian style – think Steven Bradbury at the 2002 Winter Olympics – Mount Kosciuszko takes its place on the ‘seven summits’ list by default.
In the Snowy Mountains range in Kosciuszko National Park, Mount Kosciuszko’s summit is fairly unintimidating to the seasoned hiker. What it lacks in altitude, though, it makes up for with its rich biodiversity and views of the unfathomably beautiful surrounding alpine landscape.
There are several options for reaching the summit. The first, a 13-kilometre round trip, starts at the top of the Kosciuszko Express Chairlift at Thredbo, a popular ski resort. This chairlift whisks you up 560 vertical meters, cutting off a significant chunk of the ascent (and descent). From the top of the chairlift, paved paths and boardwalks take hikers across the Ramshead Range and past the stunning Lake Cootapatamba, the highest-altitude lake in Australia. The track then zigzags its way up to Rawson Pass before finally leading you to the summit of Mount Kosciuszko.
For those summiting from Thredbo without the aid of a chairlift, you’ll be up for a very long day hike, but it’s perfectly achievable for the fit and adventurous. There are two trail options between Thredbo and the top of the chairlift – Merritts Nature Track is the most direct and will make for a total 17-kilometre return hike, and Deadhorse Gap & Riverside Walk, a much longer option making for a total 23-kilometre hike. Alternatively, you could turn it into a circuit hike and take one of those options on the ascent and the other to return.
The other commonly walked, and probably more popular, Kosciuszko summit trail is the Main Range Walk, which departs Charlotte Pass (an hour from Thredbo). It’s a more challenging 18.6km round trip where hikers should bring a map and compass (and know how to use them). Crossing the iconic Snowy River, this route ascends to Rawson Pass and across the range to Kosciuszko summit.
I’d advise against attempting any of these routes in winter unless you are experienced in snowshoeing and navigation above the tree-line. Guided tours are available for hiking Mount Kosciuszco’s summit, but I recommend going without.
Regardless of your chosen path, on a clear day, you’ll be treated at the summit to views across the sweeping alpine plains, lakes, and rolling hills that define this beautiful region of Australia.
Would you prefer something easier?
Look, Kosciuszko is really not that challenging a hike for the reasonably fit – even less so if you plan to utilise the chairlift – but to keep things consistent, maybe you could consider Mount Bogong, the highest peak in Australia’s southeastern state of Victoria. It’s significantly lower at only 1,986 metres and, in my opinion, it might even be more beautiful.
So, what about Australia’s highest and most accessible peak?
Believe it or not, Mount Kosciuszko is considered reasonably accessible. Between the chairlift, the well-designed paths, and the ‘TrailRider’ chairs that can be borrowed free of charge from Jindabyne’s Snowy Region Visitor Information Centre, most people can feasibly summit. However, it technically doesn’t meet the specifications of an Australian Standard wheelchair-accessible walking track. I’ve included cable-car-accessible summits for the other continents above, but unfortunately, Australia doesn’t offer anything like that.
Europe: Mulhacén Peak, Spain (3,479m / 11,414ft)
It isn’t just the rhythm of flamenco and the savour of paella that beckons adventurous spirits to Spain. Many who thirst for outdoor adventure come for Mulhacén, Spain’s highest peak and the third highest in Europe.
Named after the Nasrid ruler Muley Hacen, Mulhacén is part of the Sierra Nevada range, nestled in the stunning Sierra Nevada National Park. The park is a treasure trove of diverse flora and fauna, and the view from the top of Mulhacén is awe-inspiring, to say the least.
There are several routes to reach the summit of Mulhacén, suiting a range of physical abilities and timeframes. The most popular, and by far the easiest, begins at the Alto del Chorrillo, reachable via a national park bus service from Capileira, one of the highest villages in Spain. The 11-kilometre path from the Alto del Chorrillo to the summit is relatively straightforward.
For those seeking a greater challenge, another route starts from the village of Trevélez. This path involves a longer and more strenuous trek of about 26 kilometres (return), but the sense of achievement at the journey’s end is well worth the extra effort.
Winter treks are a completely different ball game, transforming Mulhacén into a snowy giant that requires crampons, ice axes, and, in some places, ropes. It’s a time when the mountain is best left to experienced mountaineers.
During the summer months of June to September, when the weather conditions are more favourable, guided tours are readily available. Many companies offer overnight trips that give hikers a chance to experience the enchanting spectacle of sunrise or sunset from the peak.
In many ways, Mulhacén encapsulates the spirit of Spain. As you ascend its rugged slopes and descend its rolling valleys, you can’t help but feel a sense of connection with the land and the history that it carries. And once at the summit, as you take in the panorama of the Sierra Nevada landscape unfurling beneath you, it’s easy to see why the locals treat Mulhacén with such reverence.
Something a bit easier…
Austria’s Kitzbüheler Horn (1,996 meters / 6,549 feet) will be a walk in the park for the seasoned hiking enthusiast. Its summit provides panoramic views of the surrounding craggy peaks, verdant valleys and azure lakes. A range of trails cater to various fitness levels, and a cable car offers a restful alternative, cutting out a large part of the climb.
And now for something completely accessible…
Germany’s highest accessible peak – Zugspitze (2,962m / 9,717ft) – is equipped with state-of-the-art cable cars and cogwheel trains designed with wheelchair accessibility in mind. The journey unveils a dramatic alpine panorama, while the summit offers spectacular 360-degree views across four countries.
North America: Mount Whitney, USA (4,421m / 14,505ft)
California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is home to Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous United States and also the endpoint of the illustrious John Muir Trail.
Some of you will be happy to hear, though, that you don’t have to be a thru-hiker to summit Mount Whitney. The most popular trail for those summiting is the 35-kilometre Whitney Trail, which begins at Whitney Portal and traverses rocky pine forests, passing pristine alpine lakes and expansive granite ledges. Don’t be fooled by its popularity – the Whitney Trail is a challenging route, with a rapid gain in elevation and some steep, rocky sections that can test even experienced hikers.
Whitney’s summit is accessible to hikers from May to November. However, the weather can be unpredictable, and hikers should be prepared for sudden changes in conditions.
Although many hikers choose to ascend Whitney in a single, challenging day, others prefer a more leisurely two- or three-day trek, spending the night at one of the trail’s campsites to better acclimatise and enjoy this beautiful slice of the USA.
Guided hikes up Mount Whitney are available, and for those inexperienced with high-altitude treks, they can be a good way to tackle this mighty mountain.
Whichever way you arrive at Mount Whitney’s summit, you’ll be rewarded with one of the most striking views in North America.
Sound like too much? Here’s an easier option…
You might already have this one on your bucket list – Yosemite National Park’s famous Half Dome (2,694m / 8,835ft). The Half Dome Trail is approximately 22-25 kilometres round-trip, depending on which trailhead you start from. In case you haven’t seen the photos, the final climb to Half Dome’s summit involves climbing steeply up the massive granite dome, holding onto a set of cables. Believe me, you’ll want to hang on. Gloves are a smart thing to pack to save your hands from the effects of your clinging on for dear life. Note that a permit is required to climb the cables, and they aren’t easy to obtain, assigned by a lottery system.
And a properly accessible option
For better or worse, Pikes Peak (4,302m / 14,115ft) in Colorado is probably the world’s most accessible high mountain peak, with both a railway and a highway leading right to the summit. Whatever your opinion on the effects of human infrastructure on the natural world, there’s no turning back now, so go and revel in the views from the alpine tundra at the most visited summit in North America.
South America: Cerro Chirripó, Costa Rica (3,821m / 12,536ft)
While it’s no Aconcagua, the hike to Costa Rica’s highest peak – Cerro Chirripó – is an awe-inspiring traverse through tropical rainforests, sub-alpine wet forests, and ultimately the alpine conditions of the ‘páramo’, all packed into two exhausting but exhilarating days.
The main trail to reach the summit is Chirripó National Park Trail, a demanding 20-kilometre (each way) route, starting from the small town of San Gerardo de Rivas. The trip is most commonly broken into two days, stopping for a night at the Crestones Base Camp (roughly 14.5 kilometres into the hike) so they can start hiking again in the wee hours and catch the mesmerising sunrise from the summit.
Chirripó can be attempted year-round, but the dry season, from December to April, provides the best conditions. Remember, permits are required for this hike and can be procured from the Chirripó National Park administration. While many hikers venture independently, hiring a guide can enhance the experience with local knowledge and lore.
The challenge of Cerro Chirripó is one to remember, rewarding hikers with an unmatched sunrise, views of both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and a beautiful trek through the diverse ecosystems of this wonderful part of the world.
From tropical birds and lush vegetation to possible sightings of tapirs and jaguars, the journey to Cerro Chirripó’s peak is not just another trek – it’s one of those experiences that grounds you, gives you perspective and forces you to remind yourself how small and insignificant you (and your problems) really are.
Not keen on Chirripó? How about something a tad easier?
Rucu Pichincha (4,698m / 15,413ft) is a captivating peak located just outside the bustling city of Quito, Ecuador. It might not seem easier than Chirripó based on its altitude but stick with me – you can begin your journey with a scenic cable car ride that ascends over the foothills, leaving you with a summit trail that can be accomplished in about 5 hours. It will still challenge you with steep inclines and rugged terrain, but the view of Quito and the Andean landscape from above is unforgettable.
Need something more accessible for everyone? I’ve got you…
Soar above the vibrant city of Bogotá, Colombia, as you ascend Monserrate (3,152m / 10,341ft). One of Bogotá’s most iconic landmarks, it’s accessible via a cable car system and a funicular railway, allowing anybody to marvel at the views of the sprawling cityscape juxtaposed against the rugged Andean peaks. At the summit, there’s a historic church and accessible restaurants.
Editor’s Note: The above is written from the perspective of a relatively fit and experienced hiker. It’s important to remember that taking on the adventures in this article could put you in genuine danger. You should ensure that you are prepared physically and mentally and carry the right gear to keep you safe. Altitude sickness is potentially life-threatening, so any adventure you undertake at high altitudes requires serious planning and preparation to mitigate the risks.
Have you got a better option for any of the seven continents? Or want to tell us about your experience summiting one of the mountains above? If you have any stories, updates or corrections, please let us know by commenting below.
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