Over 400 people have climbed the highest mountains on each continent – the so-called Seven Summits challenge.
So what do you do once you have climbed the seven highest mountains on all seven continents?
You look for another challenge that others haven’t managed.
All eight-thousanders? Done by too many and is a little ‘mainstream’…
How about…a challenge only managed by 25 people to-date…
All seven of the highest volcanoes in the world…
…The Volcanic Seven Summits!
This challenge has the added risk of being turned to ash should one explode.
From obscenely difficult to a stroll in the park by mountaineers’ standards, let’s look at the seven highest volcanoes on the seven continents (and islands nearby).
Ojos del Salado
The highest in South America
The highest of all volcanoes in this adventure, it lies high in the Atacama Desert, the driest and highest desert on the planet, astride the border between Chile and Argentina.
It is easier to ascend the Chile side as this has permanent encampments with huts at all the bases – the Argentine side requires you to carry tents to all the camps.
This region also has the highest concentration of 6,000+ metre mountains in the world, allowing for a season of mountaineering while you’re up that way.
Among all the volcanoes in this article, this is one of the least friendly as it is still active and prone to eruptions.
That means you need to be aware of any likely activity before making immediate plans.
While volcanoes can go off without notice, there is generally seismic activity that gives scientists an idea when is safer than otherwise to make a summit attempt.
As part of one of the expeditions we have seen you will climb an easy 5,000 metre mountain, then the 6,018 metre San Francisco volcano before submitting Ojos del Salado – twice the chance of getting cooked for one all in price!
The highest in Africa
You can qualify to climb Mount Everest with a summit of this and another 5,000+ metre mountain.
That isn’t saying much as this is one of the easiest mountains to climb if you can manage it without getting mountain sickness.
That said, Kilimanjaro is a fun expedition that should be attempted if you want to do something special in Africa.
You will experience five different climate zones as you ascent from dense African jungle at the base to Alpine wilderness at the top.
Experienced climbers can summit the mountain in just five days.
That should be your target if you are doing the Seven Volcanoes Challenge, as there are a fair few tougher ones to take on in this seven!
As to your chances of being cooked?
Though not classed as ‘dormant’ the last time Kilimanjaro last popped its cork an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 years ago so other than the toxic gases that come out of its vents that could suffocate you, you should be OK.
The highest in Europe
Close to the border with Georgia in the Russian Federation between the Black and Caspian Seas, Mt Elbrus has been privy to seismic events in recent human history, even while last exploding when the Romans were about.
Not much of a chance of you being cooked, sadly!
With two cones at over 5,000 metres, this is a biggie as volcanoes go, and on some expeditions you can arrange to ski home after the ascent to the summit – quite a buzz indeed.
The mountain was first summited in the 1800’s by a Russian soldier, and is not one of the most challenging summits in this series.
That said the Caucasus Mountains are well off the beaten track and if you want to go somewhere that few of your travelling companions have gone without forking out obscene amounts to get to Antartica then this could be worth a run!
Picos de Orizaba
Highest in North America
With its single cone this is the sort of volcano shape kids draw at school – quite beautiful in its classic lines.
Around 2,000 people attempt to summit this mountain every year of which around half make it.
You need a bit of experience to climb this, which is the third highest mountain of all in North America.
You will encounter scree at the base and then cross glaciers as you climb before the steep summit at the top.
Thanks to the height of the mountain, you should get some acclimatisation from climbing other mountains.
The other mountain ascents will get your body ready for the low oxygen levels in so the 15-18 hour ascent and descent doesn’t cause altitude sickness.
You could get cooked on this one since the last time Orizaba exploded was the 19th Century – it’s sleeping but not dead!
The highest in Asia
First climbed over 1,000 years ago, Damavand is nonetheless a challenging climb for the trekker.
The mountain sits deep in old Persian mythology and is now considered a ‘national symbol of resistance’ as well as something that has long inspired the civilisation’s artists.
At over 5,000 metres there isn’t a lot of oxygen at the top and you need to take your time to get to the top so your body can handle it.
On a clear day though you can see the Caspian Sea 70 miles off from the top!
Last reckoned to have erupted 7,000 years ago, there isn’t a great chance of being cooked by this one.
Part of the expedition is a chance to explore Tehran, the Iranian capital that is just an hour’s drive away.
Despite what the media would have you believe, Iran isn’t an ‘evil’ country but is in fact one of the oldest civilisations in the world with a culture that predates the Romans and Greeks.
The leadership may be hostile but the people very welcoming and happy to take foreign currency.
You may get funny looks at the border should you travel to the USA afterwards!
The highest in Australasia
This is not a difficult mountain as altitudes go but it is a brute getting there.
You basically have to cut and slash your way through jungle to get to the base and then the summit attempt is largely a sweat through grassland for much of the climb.
Though one of the lowest volcanoes in this article, it is also one of the hardest get to short of the next one in Antarctica.
That makes the trip worth its while and one for the serious adventurer as opposed to the ‘extreme holidaymaker’!
Once above the tree line you will be slogging on grassland.
This is one of the reasons the season is so short as this is PNG’s dry season and you won’t be subjected to wet bogs on the ascent.
Many climbers tie this in with PNG’s highest mountain, Mt Wilhelm on the same trip, adding four days to the journey.
It won’t likely cook you as the last explosion was over 200,000 years ago…
The highest in Antarctica
Yes, that is four zeroes after the six in the cost!
Mt Sidley is one of the least climbed mountains in the world thanks to the hostile environment in which it sits.
The volcano has only been climbed by 50 people in known human history, and is arguably the biggest reason for the Seven Volcano Summits to be such a challenge.
In a previous article we have looked at going to Antarctica and for a trip such as this it involves all sorts of bureaucracy on top of the actual summit attempt.
While all the mountains bar Giluwe have a spell in permanent ice and snow, this is permanently surrounded by it in the most pristine wilderness in the world.
The summit attempt is technically challenging too, so while for some of the trips we cover could be tackled by the confident trekker you need to be an experienced mountaineer to manage this one.
Last erupting over a million years ago, this is a volcano that will freeze you to death rather than cook you!
So there you have it – the two smallest volcanoes are the hardest to summit, albeit due to their remote locations.
Having said that someone with a comfortable income who’s reasonably fit could do six of these mountains over a few years without breaking the bank.
If you do and one day inherit a decent sum from an older relative then explaining to your family that you want to only be the 26th person to have achieved this feat if you spend £45,000 on the Sidley summit expedition (instead of a deposit on a house) may leave them somewhat more amused…