Mount Kosciusko

Erik's 7th Continental Summit

Elevation 7,310 feet (2,228 meters)
Continent Australia
Location  New South Wales, Australia
Mountain Range Great Dividing Range
First Ascent 1840 by Pawel Edmund Strzelecki
My Ascent August 2002

Kosciuszko is a day hike and, by far, the least difficult of the traditional Seven Summits. In fact, it's climbed by thousands of tourists a year. Kosciuszko's standing as a continental summit has been hotly contested by climbers, who find it hard to accept such a tiny bump as one of the seven.

The original list of Seven Summits, developed by Dick Bass, listed Kosciusko as the highest peak on the Australian continent. However, Reinhold Messner based his list on a different definition of a continent, in part because Kosciusko is an easy walk while Carstensz Pyramid is a serious challenge. To be sure, I decided to climb both peaks.

There is no universally accepted definition of a "continent." Depending upon which expert you consult, there are either five, six, or seven continents. Some also argue that Mount Elbrus is actually in Asia, which makes Mont Blanc the highest peak in Europe.

Australia is a very flat and dry continent with only 1% of its landmass being an alpine climate. So Kosciuszko is unique in the fact that it receives snowfall through the Australian winter, from May to September. Below the mountain is a popular ski area, so my team and I decided to celebrate my seventh summit by skiing off the top. Even though Kosciuszko is considered an easy stroll, mountains have a way of lashing out when you least expect it.

Excerpt from The Adversity Advantage:

Only a half hour out of the parking lot, as the howling wind roared down the slopes and drove hard bullets of ice directly into our faces, I already began questioning the wisdom of continuing. One of my teammates was actually lifted up by the wind and sent sliding 100 yards down the snow slope. When he waved up that he was fine, and we knew he wasn't hurt, we all let out a relieved laugh. 
 
It seemed like the winds had focused their attention on our team, because next I was struck by a tremendous gust. The wind flung me back into Eric Alexander, who was right behind me, and we both went down in a pile. We were a tangled heap of arms and legs as we slid twenty feet down the hard-packed slope before Eric managed to dig in his ice axe and stop us. Back on our feet and working our way upward again, we were learning a new definition of suffering and had the bruises and windburn to show for it. 
 
As we got above the tree line, we were faced with an indistinct wind-scoured landscape, made even more disorienting by the blizzard. Jeff Evans took the lead and had to navigate with a compass. For three hours, we wandered around through the whiteout looking for the actual summit.
 
Finally, after trudging up a last snow face, with the wind fighting us at every step, Jeff described to me the truck-sized boulder layered in ice that signified my seventh summit. It took four of us holding tightly to our banner to pull it out of my pack and hold it for a few summit shots as the wind tried to rip it away. Then, sticking stubbornly to our summit celebration, we popped open the bottle of champagne. The cork sailed away, zinging, I assume, past all seven continents on its way down.