I have been asked the question “just how much does it cost to climb the Volcanic Seven Summits?” Let me start at the beginning.
Getting into the great outdoors does not need to be an expensive activity. Just put on your shoes and walk out of your front door. There are many micro-adventures to be had. If there is one thing that the Covid-19 crisis has shown, it is that (well speaking for myself anyway) you do not know every nook and cranny of your neighbourhood well.
Familiarity with that neighbourhood means that not much preparation is required. Take a jacket if it looks as though it is going to rain or be windy or cold. Perhaps carry some water or food depending on how long you are going to be out. You may not even need a map.
During the Covid-19 lockdown we in the UK have been permitted to walk from our front doors. So one objective of mine has been to visit my local “mountain” many times. This is a crag called Almscliff Crag. It stands a mighty 213m above sea level. The Crag is fairly prominent from the Wharfe Valley over which is rises. It comprises a series of rocky outcrops and the south faces have some fine rock climbs and this was one of the locations in the development of early British rock climbing.
Bizarrely the Crag became the location for a volcano in the British sci-fi series, Blake’s Seven. But beyond that tenuous link to volcanoes, the point I am making is that there really is no excuse from a financial point of view in starting out in mountaineering and exploration. Experience in hill-walking and hill-craft is the first step to greater adventures.
Of course, there is a big difference between scrambling up Almscliff Crag and climbing Ojos del Salado. There are the years necessary in developing your experience, obtaining the necessary kit, developing your physical and mental fitness and weaving all of that around the other pressures of life. All of that comes at a degree of cost.
But this blog does not really address those costs. Those costs will be markedly different for everyone. However, in order to give some idea of what I took to Mount Sidley in terms of kit, here is a photo I took before I went. I hired boots and sleeping bag as I did not want the outlay for those. But most of the rest I already had. I did a blog on this before my trip.
I also do not address the costs of transportation to the mountains as this will also differ depending on where you are from. You may need to fly there. Or you may live nearby. I suspect that most people reading this will need to fly.
And there will be incidentals such as visa fees, insurance and getting to departure points. If you use American outfitters to organise your trips they also tend to exclude a lot of food from their deals – especially lunches and anything other than breakfasts when saying in hotels. My figures below include travel once on the trip together with permit and park entrance fees. I have based the figures largely on what UK operators will charge for a “land only” trip. The only exception to this is for Mount Sidley where the figure includes the flight to Antarctica (but not those to Punta Arenas).
However, where I give the cost for my trips I state explicitly whether or not flights are included.
You will also want to consider if you want a local guide leader or one whose native language is your own. The advantage of the latter is that it may be easier to resolve problems that arise during the course of the trip. But each to their own on this point.
A DIY approach for some of the trips is clearly possible. But most will require some logistical support. For Kilimanjaro it is compulsory. It is difficult to see how Giluwe could be climbed without some local assistance. For Damavand, even assuming you can obtain a visa, Iran requires that citizens of UK, Australia, USA and Canada must be on a guided trip. And, naturally, you are not going to be able to get to Sidley without the assistance of ALE unless you are going to organise a full blown Antarctic expedition.
So here goes. I do it in the order in which I climbed the seven volcanoes.
Kilimanjaro is the most accessible and popular of the seven. But there are certain fixed costs that will apply whether you employ a guide service for the climb or whether you organise a DIY climb. There are daily charges for being in the Kilimanjaro National Park together with one off rescue and conservation fees. Some of these apply equally (albeit at a lower rate) for guides and porters. There is a requirement that any climber must use guides and porters as well.
So you are looking at around £530 in fees for a 7 day climb before you even start looking at wages, tips, transport, food and equipment. There is no doubt that you can turn up in Moshi or Arusha and find operators that will accommodate you. Do your research first because the quality is variable. That said all guides are licensed by the Park authorities.
So for a 7 day climb I would estimate the cost with a Tanzanian operator at around £1,200. Otherwise look to around £2,500 to £2,800.
When I went I used the services of Jagged Globe. The flight inclusive cost for me for the slightly longer Lemosho Glades route in 2014 was £2,685.
After Mount Sidley, this will be the least climbed of the volcanoes. Papua New Guinea is not the most blessed place when it comes to tourist facilities.
Most of the European operators will fly their clients in via Mount Hagen. But there are local operators who will guide you from the Southern Highlands or Western Highlands side of the mountain.
Because of tribal sensitivities it would be almost impossible to climb Giluwe by yourself. Back in 2014 when I went, there were no European operators that offered a trip to Giluwe. I found one Australian operator but the pricing was too high for my liking. So I went direct to a local and hoped all would be well. It was. And it was a great experience. Of course if you do a DIY trip you will not have the back-up of medical support.
Now that the Volcanic Seven Summits challenge is catching on there are various European operators who will get you there. They will normally tag on Mount Wilhelm (the highest mountain in PNG).
I would look to price in the region of £3,000. If you go direct to a local operator then you can probably make a significant saving, probably in excess of £1,000 (or more if Wilhelm is not included).
In 2014 it cost me around £900 plus flights for a 6 day trip.
Pico de Orizaba
I climbed Orizaba in November 2014. Again I organised it through Jagged Globe but as a private trip with my brother. That meant that we had slightly more control over the itinerary. In the lead up to the climb we also climbed Malinche and Iztacchuatl.
UK and American operators offer similar trips, perhaps swapping Toluca for Malinche. If you are a North American resident, particularly if you speak Spanish, this might be a peak that could be climbed with very little local support. Public transport (or a hire car) can get you to Tlachichuca near the base of the mountain. If you climb from the north, then you may need some assistance to reach the Piedra Grande Refugio from where most attempts are made. A recce (possibly as part of acclimatisation) should be made of the way through the Labyrinth which is a tricky bit tackled in the dark on the ascent. But otherwise there are no serious technical problems.
There is also a southern route, the start of which I understand can be reached from a public highway.
I would suggest that a guided trip would cost in the region of £2,250 (including climbs of two other volcanoes). An unguided DIY version without the other volcanoes might be achievable for around £500.
My trip in 2014 cost £1,720 plus flights.
Ojos del Salado
I climbed Ojos del Salado with my brother as part of the same trip as the Mexican leg. We used local support (including guide and driver) and again controlled the itinerary. That was just as well because we had to sit out 5 days of poor weather before we could make our ascent on what was a perfect day.
Back in 2014 my experience was that only local operators would offer trips to the highest volcano in the world. There were no European or American ones that I could find. Indeed, it was not a mountain that was that often climbed – perhaps 30 or 40 parties a year. Certainly the summit log did not indicate that many reached the top.
Now you will find plenty of local and international operators who will get you there with an array of itineraries. As it is a fairly remote mountain, the cost of the climb is higher than all of the volcanoes with the exception of Mount Sidley.
So I would allow for a cost in the region of £3,500 to £4,000 which will include acclimatisation climbs. If you are a Spanish speaker, can find a serious 4WD vehicle to rent and can navigate the DIFROL permit system, then you would probably be able to climb it for well under half this amount.
For me the cost in 2014 was in the region of £2,800 plus flights.
I went on a guided trip organised through Adventure Peaks in 2015. This was the first commercially organised trip by a British operator in, well, a long time.
Adventure Peaks sub-contracted the whole thing to a local operator. Being a UK citizen the whole visa process was a little tortuous, but once in country the experience was great. As I mention above, UK, Australian, American and Canadian citizens must be accompanied whilst in Iran. Other European citizens (and those from other parts of the world) do not need to be accompanied and, in normal times, may be able to obtain visas on arrival. Given the current political situation, any entry requirements need to be checked.
I was on an 9 day visit which involved a climb of Mount Tochal, a nearly 4,000m summit on the fringes of Tehran, before climbing Damavand.
I would estimate a cost of around £1,500 to £1,600. Arriving in Tehran and organising a climb locally might save you some money. You would need to take pot luck. It is worth staying on after the climb to savour some of the cultural gems of the country.
In 2015 my trip cost me £1,495 excluding flights.
Elbrus is a climb that can largely be self-organised. International and internal flights will take you to Mineralye Vody. You will probably need local assistance to obtain a permit (and the letter of invitation for a visa). Packages are available for purchase from local operators providing different levels of support, at least on climbs from the south. You may need a guide for a climb from the north.
It is, however, easier to have someone do the legwork for you. Which is what I did!
Elbrus is a popular mountain and there are plenty of options to choose who to guide you. I think that a price in the region of £2,100 including an acclimatisation schedule could be expected. A DIY trip might be achievable for around £1,000.
It cost me £1,550 excluding flights on a trip organised by Adventure Peaks.
OK. Take a deep breath. There is only one way you are going to reach the mountain and it is mind-bogglingly expensive. But the experience of being one of a group of 12 almost 950 kilometres from the nearest other person and of being in a place where (at the time I went) fewer than 80 people had ever been is an experience that is difficult to put a money value on.
Only ALE can get you there. Despite the price, the 2021 trip was sold out even before the 2020 trip had taken place. There is no question of a DIY trip. So the cost? This time in US dollars:
The price has escalated somewhat from when I went. I organised it through Adventure Peaks and it cost me £39,500 plus flights to Punta Arenas.
So there you have it. Some figures on the cost of climbing the Volcanic Seven Summits. In summary you are looking at around £64,000 (plus travel costs to the start point) if you do them all on guided trips. Going fully DIY might save you around £6,500.
So it is still an expensive undertaking. But if you achieve it you become a part of an exclusive group who have completed the challenge.