[This section of the website on the Volcanic Seven Summits is under review.]
It is clear that the challenge of climbing all of the Volcanic Seven Summits is becoming more popular. No-one had climbed them all before 2011. Even as of January 2019 when I created this page only 19 had claimed to have done so – see below. However, the numbers attempting the challenge are growing and I anticipate ever increasing numbers. There are now 23 claimants.
You can no longer be the first. Increasing popularity is therefore shown by those who now claim to be the oldest or youngest to have completed the V7S or the oldest or youngest to have completed the Seven Summits/V7S combo. Expect to see those who have also skied to the North and South Poles and completed other challenges.
With increasing tensions surrounding relationships between some countries and Iran, the growth in numbers of V7S completers by nationals of those countries may well be restricted going forward. That is if they have not already climbed Damavand. Time will tell.
The Volcanic Seven Summits
Other parts of this website contain blogs on the seven volcanoes that are regarded as the highest on each of the seven continents. They are listed here in the order that I climbed them.
Kilimanjaro – Africa (5895m/19341ft).
Kilimanjaro is probably the best known of the volcanoes. Every year thousands climb it and, overall, is probably the easiest even though it is the second highest of the seven. It is also the fourth most topographically prominent peak in the world and one of the seven summits.
There are no technical difficulties with most routes to the summit. But at only just over 100m below 6000m it is a high mountain and altitude is probably the factor that defeats most who do not manage to summit. Around 35% of climbers fail.
There are six or seven routes commonly used which take between five and nine days. On my climb I went on the Lemosho Glades route and spent seven nights on the mountain, including one on the descent.
The mountain contains three volcanic cones – Shira, Mawenzi and Kibo. Kibo is now the highest and the high point, Uluru, is situated on its south west side. There are no recorded historical eruptions. But Kilimanjaro is not extinct. Indeed, within the Kibo crater there are fumaroles and an ash pit which is new in geological terms. The ash pit has a diameter of around 400m and is around 150m deep.
Mount Giluwe – Australasia (4368m/14331ft).
I climbed Mount Giluwe in 2014 in the middle of a holiday in Australia. At the time I could find only one (Australian) outfitter who could organise the trip. They wanted too much money for the privilege, so I organised it myself.
I was told then that only between 10 and 20 climbed the mountain each year. With the increasing popularity of the V7S there will be more ascents. And commercial operators are now in on the act. But it will still be the second least climbed mountain of the seven.
It is still quite easy to organise independently and can be made into quite a cultural experience.
Giluwe is the only one of the seven volcanoes that is a shield volcano albeit this was formed over the remnants of an even older strato-volcano. Being in the tropics, the mountain has an annual rainfall of around 2.5m. It is also only one of three tropical volcanoes that has experienced sub-glacial eruptions. The other two are Kilimanjaro and Mauna Kea.
The last eruptions occurred between 220,000 to 300,000 years ago.
Pico de Orizaba – North America (5636m/18491ft).
Orizaba is the third highest mountain in North America. It is almost the classically shaped strato-volcano and is the seventh most topographically prominent peak in the world.
It is quite a popular climb with the usual route going from the Piedre Grande Hut via the Jamapa glacier. Summit day can be made a little easier by camping 300m to 400m higher (as I did) where there are some platforms cleared in amongst the rubble.
The summit has a spectacular crater. The last major eruption was in 1846.
Ojos del Salado – South America (6893m/22615ft).
The highest of the seven, the second highest mountain outside Asia and the 44th most prominent peak in the world. This is a massive strato-volcano on the Argentine-Chilean border and in the Atacama desert.
Most ascents are tackled from the Chilean side. This is largely because you can drive to base camp at 5255m and, in certain conditions, up to top camp by the Tejos Refuge at 5825m. The approach from the Argentinian side requires a multi-day trek carrying tent and provisions, with potable water not always easy to find.
Acclimatisation is the key to this climb. Other than a low key rock climb up on to the summit block, the ascent above the Tejos Refuge is normally a slog up interminable scree.
The mountain is now climbed regularly. Other than the altitude, it is the winds that tend to defeat climbers.
There are no records of major eruptions. However, there is some evidence of recent minor activity and an unconfirmed report of a minor gas and ash eruption in 1993. The last major event seems to have occurred around 1,000 to 1,500 years ago.
Damavand – Asia (5610m/18406ft).
Damavand is a beautiful strato-volcano located within sight of Tehran and, on a clear day, the Caspian Sea. As with four of the other volcanoes it has significant prominence. It is the 12th most prominent peak in the world. As with Elbrus, Damavand stands proud of a surrounding non-volcanic mountain range, in this case the Alborz mountains
It is a very popular climb for Iranians. Again it is not a technically difficult climb. The summit has a small crater and there is a large active fumarole near the summit. On the most popular, southern approach, gases seep from the ground on the approach to the top. I remember the gases swirling around my lower legs at times.
The height is sometimes given as 5670m on local maps.
No historically recorded eruptions have happened at Damavand despite the fumarole. The last eruption occurred around 5300BC.
Elbrus – Europe (5642m/18510ft).
Elbrus is a massive double topped strato-volcano that rises just to the north of the main Caucuses chain. It is the highest volcano in the northern hemisphere – though see the discussion below – and the 10th most prominent peak in the world. Most ascents are made from the south side where cable cars and/or chairlifts can lift you to almost 4000m and, if desired, a snowcat can take you up to just over 5000m.
The north side is a completely different experience being more remote and involving stays at three camps and an 1700m summit day.
The climb is not overly difficult if you are familiar with the use of ice axe and crampons, though the summit day on the north side is a long, hard one due to the elevation gain and altitude. The weather can be fickle at any time of the year.
It last erupted around 50AD.
Mount Sidley – Antarctica (4285m/14058ft).
Mount Sidley is one of the most remote mountains on earth. It is located in the Executive Committee range and was only first climbed in 1990.
The only way to reach its base is to use the services of ALE, or to be a part of a scientific expedition that happens to be passing.
As with any Antarctic mountain this is a cold climb and is subject to the vagaries of the weather. Technically it is not too difficult a climb though there is some crevasse risk. But it is necessary to set up an intermediate camp and this will require either a load carry or hauling supplies behind you on a sled.
It last erupted around 4.7 million years ago. There is more information on Mount Sidley in the blog here.
What is a volcano?
The answer to this question is not obvious.
The Smithsonian Institute (for a link see below) has the following definition:
“a volcano is an accumulation of explosively or effusively erupted materials originating from single or multiple vents or fissures at the surface of the Earth…”
It goes on to describe “features [that] range from individual vents (measured in meters) through volcanic edifices (measured in kilometers or tens of kilometers) to volcanic fields (measured in hundreds of kilometers“.
That guidance would include as a volcano sites of volcanic activity that have no or little prominence. If this guidance were to be accepted, then Damavand would not be the highest volcano in Asia. Instead, the title would be given to Ka-er-daxi or Vulkan at around 5810m that is located within the Kunlun volcanic field on the Tibetan plateau. The issue here is that this feature has a prominence only of about 120m.
So convention has developed that “volcanic summits” must refer to volcanic mountains, rather than minor eminences from the surrounding land form.
The other question that has vexed me is the classification of a mountain that once would have been properly called a volcano but where passage of time has eroded away all of the volcanic matter so that you are back to the original land form. Can a volcano cease to be a volcano? I ask this question in this blog.
The Australasia/Australia debate
So what is a continent? With the Seven Summits there has been a healthy debate as to whether Carstensz Pyramid or Mount Kosciuszko should be included. It all depends up your definition of “continent” I suppose.
If you view the landmass of Australia as your continent, what would replace Mount Giluwe? I looked at this question in this blog. And the answer? Well you will have to read the blog.
What is a continent?
To continue the theme, how do you define your continent?
Strictly speaking Iceland in the west to the Kamchatka peninsula in the east are on the same Eurasian tectonic plate. If the major tectonic plates are to define continents, then Elbrus (or possibly Ka-er-daxi/Vulkan) is the volcanic summit and Damavand can be knocked off the list.
North and South America are all part of the same landmass. So do we lose Pico de Orizaba? It would be a shame if we did.
There is a cogent view that (assuming Europe and Asia are to be regarded as two continents) the traditional dividing line along the Urals watershed should not be regarded as where the two continents meet. After all the divisions between the Americas and between Africa/Asia are at low points and not along the spine of mountain ranges.
Instead the Kuma- Manych depression to the west of the Urals is, arguably, the more logical division line. If that were adopted, Elbrus would now be in Asia and Asia’s highest volcanic mountain.
And where would that leave Europe? Mount Etna at 3323m would become Europe’s highest volcanic mountain.
One of the first people to highlight these volcanoes and the challenge was Amar Andalkar. He has a good website here (although it has not been updated for many years). It is well worth a read for historical context.
Wikipedia has a page on the Volcanic Seven Summits here. And for those who would like a lot more detail on volcanoes more generally the Smithsonian Institute runs a Global Volcanism Program site here.
For a media savvy volcanologist, take a look at Janine Krippner’s website. There’s a lot of good information there.
A book by Adrian Rohnfelder contains some stunning photography of the Volcanic Seven Summits – see here.
And a book by Ted Fairhurst covers not only the Volcanic Seven Summits but also the Seven Summits and motivation – see here – Dare to Reach L’Aventure d’une Vie.
The link to V7S completers as at January 2020 is here. I have not heard of anyone completing this challenge since February 2020.
Finally, the website explorersweb.com has recently (January 2020) published a short piece on the Volcanic Seven Summits:
I have written a blog on the costs (as at May 2020) of attempting the V7S challenge which you can read here.
So when I find a moment I will update this page and consider:
- other volcano challenges.
- any other issues that readers of this page (if any!) may have.