Sea to Summit Climbs of the World

Sea to Summit is a path for the hardiest of adventurers keeping the spirit of the old world explorers alive. We start at sea level–“Because it is there”–then by any combination of biking, hiking and climbing we attempt to summit the chosen peak. Luckily, this means it’s not necessary to risk our lives in the Himalayan “death zone” to have an epic, mountain adventure! “Sea-to-Summit”can make even a modest, safe route extremely challenging.

Of course, it is not an original idea, it’s the way most of the mountains in the world were climbed until the 20th century. Try to explain this to your friends and you will probably get blank stares! It’s no easier with most mountaineers, who see nothing improper about riding as high as possible in off-road vehicles, mules, helicopters etc.

“Why make a climb so hard?” they invariably ask. “It’s not meant to be easy!” is my answer. To prove my point, here are some recent human-powered circumnavigations that re-define the meaning of “going the distance.”

Everest Sea-to-Summits

1990: Everest from the Bay of Bengal by Tim Macartney-Snape: a journey on foot that included swimmimg the rivers and a solo climb without oxygen. The superb film “Everest Sea to Summit” was shown on the Banff Mountain Film Festival’s 2001 American tour celebrating its 25th running. (Personally, I don’t find the media and the climbing world’s continued obsession with Everest a positive trend.)

1996: Everest from his house in Sweden by Goran Kropp: by bike 7,000 miles from Sweden to Nepal (carrying all his gear!), then on foot unsupported, no porters, solo climb without oxygen, bike back to Sweden. (Interview) Göran Kropp was recognized around the world for this adventure. He was a popular motivational speaker and was frequently covered by the international press. His documentary film “I Made It” won the distinguished Best of Banff Award at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in 1998. He moved to Seattle to continue his career, but was killed Oct. 2002 in a rock climbing fall in eastern Washington.

2005: Everest from the Dead Sea–The Everestmax Expedition left the Dead Sea,  biked and hiked to Everest basecamp, and three of the five riders climbed to the summit in April 2006

Europe-Mont Blanc

1995: John Henzell climbed Mont Blanc from Mentone on the Mediterranean riviera, hiking along the GR (Grand Randonee – long-distance footpath) 52 and 5 and then the Gouter Route to the summit, arriving in a storm on the second attempt. It took “29 days, 28,030m of cumulative ascent (three Everests, or six Mont Blancs), about 500km of walking, innumerable cafe au laits, and even more frequent episodes of butchering the French language.”

In 2016, two US military veterans Climbed Mont Blanc from Omaha Beach to honor allied troops. They wrote:
“Hello, I just found your site and want to thank you for being one of the only hosts of sea to summit info on the Internet. All exciting adventures and something I enjoy reading about.  I want to let you know about one that my climbing buddy and I just completed. We departed Normandy (Omaha Beach) on May 25, summited Mont Blanc on 5 June, and continued across France to Marseille.”          Christopher (US Marine Corps)

This expedition was done on bicycles, no support vehicles, although they did stage their climbing gear in Chamonix. However they did bike all the gear out. 

North Africa

In 2015. Croatian climber Matej Perkov made the first s-t-s ascent of  Jeb al Toubkal (4167 m) in the High Atlas in Morocco, starting from Essaouira on the Atlantic Ocean, 280 kms away.

Near East (Asia Minor)

In 2017, Croatian climber Matej Perkovin climbed Damavand in Iran (5671 M) starting from the port of Babolsar on the Caspian Sea, on foot and unsupported for 210 kms. According to the Iranian Mountain Federation, this is the first s-t-s ascent.

Around the World Epics

“Around the World by Bike: Alastair Humphreys (UK) 50,000 miles, 5 continents, 50 countries in four years. No buses, no hitching, no support.

Around the World on Foot: Karl Bushby (UK)set off in 1998–did he return?

“First Around the World by Human Power:” were two Canadians who set out together then split up. Colin Angus became Expedition Canada, Tim Harvey became Vancouver to Vancouver). Both returned successfully to their starting point.

Expedition 360 (UK) started in 1993, and went on so long no one noticed if/when it ended.

Erden Eruc (US) from Seattle took on an equally ambitious long-term goal: The Six Summits while rowing around the world! He managed the American portion very well, then entered a phase when he drifted for 312 days until he was rescued in the SW Pacific. He returned the next year with a kayak to carry on from from the same GPS position, marking a new low in the ethics of human-powered travel.

North American Sea-to-Summits

Alaska & the Canadian Coast Range

1996: Denali 20,320′ (Highpoint of North America) from Death Valley -240′ (Lowpoint of North America) by Sean Tracey
2004: Erdun Eruc summitted Denali after riding unsupported from Seattle, then rode back, a total of 5,546 miles. (This was partly a memorial to Goran Kropp, who died while rock-climbing with Eruc.)                                                                                   2000: Ultra-walker Andrew Terrill completed his 6000-mile trek along the Rockies to Denali.

Mount Waddington (13,260′)is the highest mountain in the Coast Range of British Columbia. It is a remote peak requiring a lengthy approach, typically from sea. Boats are usually hired in Vancouver for the long seaward approach through the Strait of Georgia and Knight Inlet, although shorter journeys are possible by hiring a boat from any of the small coastal harbors of Vancouver Island. It is an immense snowy massif, whose valleys are filled with glaciers that stretch for miles. Many steep faces rise up to 5,000 feet. The mountain’s structure has inspired comparisons to the Mont Blanc massif.
1926-39: Don & Phyllis Munday explore the Coast Range of British Columbia from Bute and Knight Inlets, and reach NW summit of Mount Waddington in 1928.                                   1999: Mount Waddington by John Harlin & Mark Jenkins: Outside magazine July 1999.

Mt Fairweather, Alaska, considered to be the highest “coastal” mountain in the world. It is reached by an airlift, but can be climbed via boat and foot.
1931: First ascent of Mount Fairweather (15,320′) by Carpe & Moore
1981: Mt Fairweather, Alaska from Glacier Bay by foot. by Kim Grandfield & Gary Clark. “In 1981, aircraft landings were not permitted in Glacier Bay National Park except on the ocean beaches. We started from sea level, completing the round trip in 21 days; a tactic we have repeated for other peaks in the Park because of the beauty and adventure to be experienced in this way. This may be one of the few areas left in the world that can provide such quality climbing experiences in a true wilderness setting.”
1997: Mt Fairweather, Alaska from Seattle by Outward Bound staff, on a 40′ racing yacht & foot from Lituya Bay.

Cascade Range (U.S.A.)

Numerous volcanic peaks 10,000-14,000′ high, close to the coast, easy access. However, the weather can be changeable and there is usually one of them close to erupting!

Several pioneers made human-powered ascents in the early 1900’s

1985: Dr Steve Boyer climbed Mount Hood (11,240′) from Portland (30′) in 6:39: with a bike ride of 59 miles to 6,000′ at 13.3 mph. He completed the round trip in 10:16:28. No one has ever come close to this time.

Cascades S-t-S Climbs by Peter Marsh 1997-2002
Mt Baker 10,778; Mt Rainier 14,410′; Mt St Helens 8,365′; Mt Adams 12,307′;  Mt Hood 11,240′; South Sister 10,368; Mt Shasta 14,163; Mt Lassen 10,457

California Desert

Death Valley, California -282’is the lowest, hottest, driest point in the western hemisphere and is just 85 miles from Mt Whitney 14,496′, the highest point of the 48 states. There is an annual running race along the 135-mile route and halfway up Whitney (record 24 hours) and the S-t-S has been run in 30 hours. However, this route is not without its challenges even for those using a bike-and-hike approach, especially if traveling unsupported, when a minimum of a week is needed…at least to fully enjoy the trip.
Telescope Peak from Death Valley is a very challenging hike as it is considered the mountain with the greatest rise from base to summit in the lower 48 states: -253 feet at Shorty’s Well to 11048 feet at the summit. It is also rated as the hike with most elevation gain that can be covered (at least reasonably) as a day hike. The full round trip is 26 miles, although most parties actually start at Mahogany Flat campground (8,133 feet) for a round trip of 14 miles.

1995/2001: With his bike ride from Death Valley over the Sierra Nevada, Peter Marsh connected with his earlier climb of the Royal Arches wall in Yosemite Valley (17 pitches 5.9), thereby achieving the dubious distinction of “first Yosemite wall from below sea level.”

1999: San Jacinto Peak +10,804′ from the Salton Sea -150′ via Palm Springs resort by Peter Marsh

“Three Peaks of the US West Coast”

In 2001, Peter Marsh completed his millennial project to climb the three prominent peaks of the US west coast, unsupported, in three summers. Mount Rainier (14,410′) in 1999, Mount Shasta (14,163′) in 2000, and Mt Whitney 14,496′ in 2001. (The first S-t-S series within a single country or range.)

Central America

2001 Volcan Tajumulco 13,845′ (Highpoint of Central America) and Vulcan Santa Maria 12,335′ by Peter Marsh

2002 First modern S-t-S of a Mexico City volcano: Acapulco-Nevado de Toluca 14,600′ and Popocateptl 17,887′ (1976/2002) by Peter Marsh

South America

1999: John Henzell climbed: Aconcagua 22,841′ (Highpoint of the Americas) from the Pacific Ocean at Con Con north of Valparaiso in Chile. This took “18 days, about 9000m of cumulative ascent, about 250km of walking, one ignominious retreat when my 18-day-old tent was smashed by a viento blanco, and the philanthropy of a 69-year old retired millionaire called Norm who let me share his tent.”

2000: Volcan Villarrica from Lago Villarrica in the Chilean Lake District was my consolation climb after getting altitude sickness on Aconcagua.

2000: “Amazon Extreme”- starting at the Pacific, an unsupported three-man team hiked over the Andes to 18,000′, then made the second descent of the Amazon from its source to the Atlantic by raft (Colin Angus.)

Patagonian Andes Peaks here are close to the fjords of the Chilean west coast but still very inaccessible. No info yet on S-t-S climbs here…
Cerro San Valentín 4035/13,2380
Fitz Roy-3375/11,073
Cerro Torre-3128/10,262
Cerro Darwin 2488/8163 (Tierra del Fuego)

The Antarctic Islands

The most remote, obscure and barren climbs in the world! Map of the South Atlantic and Antarctic Islands
1916: First Crossing of South Georgia by Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition, in 36 hours, after a heroic, 16-day voyage in winter in the 22′ open boat James Caird from Elephant Island Haakon Bay. (Media-inspired re-enactments of this feat will not be listed here!) South Georgia highpoint is Mount Paget 2915/9564

Heard Island–halfway between S.Africa & Australia

1965: First Ascent of Big Ben (2,745m) on Heard Island, from Perth, Western Australia-3,000 miles under sail. (Bill Tilman acting master of the fishing schooner Patanella) The book of the voyage was titled The Sea and the Snow by Philip Temple.

1983: Heard Island from Perth by yacht Anaconda.

2000: Heard Island via working fishing boat- the four Australian army climbers worked alongside the crew.

Mount Foster on Smith Island, South Shetland Islands
1996: First ascent of 6,900′ Mount Foster on Smith Island, Antarctic Peninsula-“the last of the great island peaks to be climbed”-by a Victoria, Canada team in the steel yacht Northanger.

A few other island peaks in the region are:
Mount Gaudry 2315/7595 on the Adelaide-Biscoe Islands
Mount Haddington 1630/5348 on the Antarctic Peninsula
Brown Peak 1524/5000 on the Balleny Islands
Mount Nivea 1265/4150 on the South Orkney Islands
Skip Novak with his charter yacht Pelagic is one of the few options for climbers to reach these islands.

                                                 Hawaiian Islands

Mauna Kea is 13,790′ above sea level, but 32,000′ above its “base”-the ocean floor, an ascent which is unlikely to be completed any time soon!
There is a road on the above-water portion of this dormant volcano all the way from Hilo to the summit, where you will find the largest concentration of telescopes in the world-but not necessarily see any people. A number of world travelers have biked this route, probably walking the dirt section, between 9,500′ and 12,000′.

(It took the webmaster 12 exhausting hours, but only two to come down, so he only experienced altitude sickness briefly.)

Tropical Islands with 3000m/10,000′ Peaks

There are a surprising number of 3000m/10,000′ volcanic peaks on tropical islands popular with tourists. So simple climbs here can be combined with a “real” vacation with friends or family: Cap Verde, Canary Islands,, Sicily, Hawaii, Madagascar, Reunion, Dominican Republic, Bali, Phillipines, East Timor etc.

Australia & New Zealand

John Henzell achieved extreme versions of Sea-to-Summit during the turn of the millennium.

1999: John Henzell climbed Mount Cook from the mouth of the Karangarua River on New Zealand’s South Island West Coast. This took “10 days, 7055m of cumulative ascent, about 70km of distance, blistering heat, chest-deep snow, lots of moraine, and a perfect day on the summit.”

2000: John Henzell climbed Mt Kosciuszko from South Point (the southernmost point of the Australian mainland) on Wilsons Promontary. This took “33 days, 20,690m of cumulative ascent, 763km of walking/skiing, dozens of unsolicited offers of lifts by passing drivers, 16 days of precipitation in a row, up to 12 days of carrying skis without using them, and the wonderful hospitality of Australian back-country users.”

S-t-S Climbs by Peter Marsh–

Sea-to-Summit–In the 1990’s I was a pioneer sea-to-summit climber in the Cascades, climbing all the major peaks from sea level, then adding the 14,000’+ volcanoes of Mexico and high points of Guatemala, the Caribbean and Hawaii. (Climbing from the Pacific Ocean into the Andes, I discovered 5,000 meters/16,400 feet was my altitude limit.)

Meetings with Extreme Adventurers:

My personal experience includes attending lectures or conversing with  several of these adventurers, including Alastair and Colin in Portland, and interviewed Erden and two other ocean rowers on Puget Sound for NW Yachting magazine. (My negative opinion of ocean drifting as a so-called “sport” can be found in the blog under OPINION.)


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