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Climbing the Seven Summits: Up and down the world's highest peaks

By Terry Wood. Special to The SeattleTimes     About. Mike Hamill is a professional mountain guide, writer, and photographer. He regularly leads expeditions to the mountains of the Seven Summits, among others, and has climbed all ... read more

By Terry Wood. Special to The SeattleTimes



About. Mike Hamill is a professional mountain guide, writer, and photographer. He regularly leads expeditions to the mountains of the Seven Summits, among others, and has climbed all of the original Seven Summits at least four times, some as many as twenty. He has climbed them all in the course of one year several times, finishing them in 2008 in 220 days, the tenth fastest time to date. Mike was featured in the Discovery Channel’s television production entitled Everest: Beyond the Limits.

Mike has been guiding for more than a decade and callsSeattlehome when not on the road. He began his climbing career on the steep rock and ice of New England andNew YorkStatewhile obtaining a bachelor of science from St. Lawrence University inCanton,New York. He hails originally fromHanover,New Hampshire, andBridgton,Maine.



Mike Hamill is part of an exclusive club, one of about 350 people who have climbed the highest peaks on all seven continents.

Hamill, 35 — a Maine native now with a West Seattle home address — has stood on top of each summit at least four times: four ascents of Mount Everest (29,035 feet), nine of Alaska's Denali (20,320 feet) and 19 ascents of Argentina's Mount Aconcagua (22,841 feet).

Figuring he knows the territory, Hamill has written "Climbing the Seven Summits" (The Mountaineers Books, 352 pp., $29.95), which outlines the details involved in reaching each continental high point, from Australia's Mount Kosciuszko (7,313 feet) to Antarctica's icy 16,050-foot Vinson Massif.

Hamill actually describes eight peaks, since some argue thatIndonesia's 16,024-foot Carstensz Pyramid, 60-plus miles off Australia's north coast (but part of the same continental shelf), is a preferred alternative to Kosciuszko. His book devotes a chapter to that debate alone.

A guide for International Mountain Guides inAshford,Wash., Hamill fielded a few questions in advance of his Sunday appearance at Wallingford's Wide World Books & Maps:


Q: Which summits stand out to you?

A: The two climbs I enjoy the most are Vinson Massif andDenali. Vinson is a truly unique experience. The remoteness and vastness of the continent are like nowhere else on Earth. The Alaska Range is an incredibly beautiful place, andDenaliis my excuse for getting back there each summer. The people are amazing, and there's such an energy in the summer from the sun never setting.

Of course, there's no feeling like walking down theKhumbuValleyinNepalafter a successfulMount Everestclimb.

Q: Can you pinpoint a common trait among people drawn to this goal?

A: They're goal-oriented, motivated people. They climb for a variety of different reasons, but the common thread is that they all enjoy working hard and attaining a goal that takes a lot of work and tenacity to reach.

Some are serious climbers, while others are people who began pursuing climbing to see the world and experience unique cultures. I've climbed with people from all walks of life and have had the pleasure of sharing these mountains with some of the most unique people on Earth.

Q: The hardest?

A: Mount Everest, followed by Denali,Aconcagua, Vinson, Carstensz, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro and Kosciuszko, in my opinion.

Q: How about Rainier?

A: I've summited Rainier 43 times and turned back high on the mountain another handful of times due to weather. Climbing Rainieris just about as hard physically as any mountain in the world. There are of course exceptions, like summit day on Mount Everest, butRainieris a huge climb and very strenuous even for fit guides.

The big difference is that climbs like Denali, Vinson, Aconcagua and Carstensz are much longer and so the effort is sustained over weeks, not two or three days.

Q: Your best tip for anyone contemplating the quest?

A: Start small and work your way up. It's important to get the basics down first. Safety is a big concern, so enrolling in some of the basic snow schools before attempting some of these big peaks is important. Being fit takes you a long way, even if you don't know the skills at first. You can pick those up. Toss a pack on and run upMountSia bunch of times. Fitness is the base to everything in climbing.

Climb Mount Baker,Rainierand other accessible peaks. Then work up to the higher, more technical peaks such as Denali and Mount Everest by climbing the easier of the Seven Summits as well as intermediate mountains such as the Mexican volcanos, in the European Alps and inSouth America.




The Book

Mike Hamill’s consummate coverage of the Seven Summits is far more studied and detailed than anything I could have ever written. I feel deeply indebted to him for enabling me to vividly recall, roughly three decades later, each climb and to relive the insightful incidents and many magical moments which Frank Wells and I experienced and shared. Mike’s extraordinary guide will definitely encourage more left-brained, objective realists than usual to participate in the Seven Summits along with the many right-brained, dreamer adventurers who are naturally attracted to taking such giant leaps into the unknown.

— Dick Bass, First Person to Complete the Seven Summits

Watch for the book Climbing The Seven Summits by Mike Hamill to be out in May of 2012, published by The Mountaineers Books.



The Mountaineers Books:

Amazon Books:


CLIMBING THE SEVEN SUMMITS: A Guide to Each Continents’ Highest Peak

Author: Mike Hamill

Mountaineers Books

352 pages, 8.5″ X 10″, 978-1-59485-648-8

First and only guidebook to climbing all Seven Summits

Full color with 125 photographs and 24 maps including a map for each summit route

Essential information on primary climbing routes and travel logistics for mountaineers, with historical and cultural anecdotes for armchair readers.Aconcagua.Denali. Elbrus. Everest. Kilimanjaro. Kosciuszko. Vinson. To a climber, these mountains are known as the “Seven Summits”* — the highest peaks on each continent. And from Antarctica toAlaska,NepaltoTanzania, each year thousands of climbers from all over the world attempt at least one of them, while a growing number have plans to climb each and every mountain. Drawing on years of experience, veteran Seven Summit mountain guide Mike Hamill describes overall considerations for expedition planning and high-altitude trips, gear recommendations, tips on international travel and logistics, and estimates of financial costs.




In-depth descriptions of each of the Seven Summits includes a regional map, a map of the primary climbing route, a route overlay on a photo, and a sample climbing itinerary that covers peak-specific technical climbing tips and what to expect on summit day. Throughout Hamill’s descriptions, renowned alpinists offer their own advice: Eric Simonson on Everest, Vern Tejas onDenali, and Melissa Arnot on Kilimanjaro. Hamill also includes the “other” Seven Summit, the Carstensz Pyramid inNew Guinea; climbing facts and figures for each peak; a history of the Seven Summits challenge; and a unique “compare and contrast” chart that reveals how the peaks stack up against each other. From the first steps of trip dreaming, to figuring out gear and plane tickets, to kicking those final, sublime steps up to the snowy top of Denali or Aconcagua — this is the one-and-only authoritative book to guide readers to all of the world’s Seven Summits.

*Within mountaineering circles there is debate over which peaks are considered the official Seven Summits. For the purposes of this guidebook, the Seven Summits are based on the continental model used in Western Europe, theUnited States, andAustralia, also referred to as the ‘Bass list.’

“If you have your sights set on the Seven Summits – the highest point on each continent – you can do no better in print than a copy of Climbing the Seven Summits by Mike hamill (the Mountaineers Books).

Peppered with tips on gear and technique, maps for the major routes and quotes from mountaineer- ing’s greats, it is an excellent reference for those serious about an undertaking that has been achieved by only 350 people.” - Action Asia Magazine