The Seven peaks – Seven Islands challenge encompasses freezing Polar ice to burning tropical savannah, ski touring to scrambling, volcanoes to glaciers and everything in-between. It may not have the altitude of the Seven Continents climbs, but brings huge challenges and rewards for those will to take up the baton.
It took me five years to complete the challenge, first given to me by Guatemalan climber Jaime Vinals as we both sat out a storm on Baffin Island. Over the next few weeks I’m going to publish a series of miniblogs about all the peaks, but first, here’s an overview of the challenge itself…
Both Baffin Island and Greenland require ski touring ascents of remote mountain peaks, pulling your gear on a pulk and skills in Arctic survival. I was caught in a six-day storm on Baffin, negotiated crevasse fields in Greenland and skied on some of the most wonderful powder snow I’ve ever seen. These peaks are the most remote and peaceful of the challenge. I didn’t see another team at all whilst I was there…
Japan is another matter. The Bustling streets of Tokyo are a far cry from the ice, but once you’re on Mt Fuji, things slow down a little. The temples are beautiful, and much of the lower route is almost forgotten as many people take the bus (yes, the bus), halfway up the peak. There is an old Japanese proverb that says – ‘Everyone should climb Mount Fuji once; only a fool would climb it twice’. It’s definitely worth the climb, but there is an industrialised feel to the peak. It can get so busy that there is a one way system on the higher paths to aid congestion!
The island of Borneo is famous for its Orangutans, beautiful coral reefs and dense jungles, but the Crocker range towers above them all. The most famous peak is Mt Kinabalu, a huge rock massif over 4000m high which towers over the jungle and has wonderful ecosystems which are unparalleled across the world. A night ascent can be rewarded with one of the most wonderful sunrises on the planet, followed by a relaxing day in hot springs or on the beach!
The beautiful volcano of Gunung Kerinci on Sumatra is still active, and as you approach the craters rim, the air fills with the smell of sulphur. It dominates the Kerinci Seblat National park and is surrounded by beautifully manicured tea plantations. You can complete the climb in a couple of days (which makes it an excellent acclimatisation peak for Carstensz), but the surrounding jungles offer opportunities to see beautiful orchids and even the elusive Sumatran tiger!
Now the technical climbing starts with an ascent of Carstensz Pyramid. This rock monster is the highest island peak in the world and lies deep in the interior of Iran Jaya. The climb is a major scramble, with a dragons back ridge thrown in for good measure. Glaciers still shape the land here and you can expect to see Scottish winter conditions in the tropics.
And finally, the legendary island of Madagascar. Maromokotro sits in the Tsaratanana Massif to the islands north and is hardly climbed, due to its remoteness. Beautiful rolling savanna turns into dense jungle as you ascend, before stunning waterfalls and moorland guide you to the summit. The peak is sacred to many of the Malagasy people, so you must ask permission of the village chief before you can summit. Offerings must be made to the gods as you stand on the top of this beautiful island.
If you want to follow in my footsteps, Adventure Peaks in Ambleside are promoting and running all the expeditions. For more details, click here. My book ‘Seven Peaks – Seven Islands‘ is also available on Amazon.