In pursuit of the Explorers Grand Slam, and the other things too.
"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."
- President John F. Kennedy
Image Credit: Jake Norton
The Explorers Grand Slam
The Explorers Grand Slam is an adventurer's challenge to reach the summit of the tallest mountain on each continent and to ski to both the North and South Poles. Fewer than 70 people have completed the Explorers Grand Slam since it was first accomplished by David Hempleman-Adams in 1998.
Learn more about the Explorers Grand Slam.
Image Credit: Geordie Stewart
2006 - 2019
Mt. Kilimanjaro is the world’s largest free standing volcano and is located in the Eastern Rift range of northeast Tanzania near the border with Kenya. The summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro marks the highest point in Africa. Mt. Kilimanjaro offers a great introduction to high-altitude mountaineering as it does not require technical climbing skills, but does challenge climbers with exposure to all of the Earth’s temperate zones— from low bushland and rain forest to arctic zone — and it is a good test of one’s ability to acclimatize to high altitudes and stay healthy on a big mountain. Mt. Kilimanjaro is where I was inspired to pursue more difficult and challenging mountains and it provided my first awareness of the “Seven Summits” challenge. I have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro six times and return for my love of the place, the people, and for my work operating a school in the area which I co-founded in 2006.
July 10, 2008
Denali (also known as Mt. McKinley) is located in the Alaska range in the United States and is the tallest mountain in North America. Denali is a difficult undertaking and climbers are challenged by cold environments, the requirement to haul heavy loads by sled and pack, a myriad of technical challenges, and three weeks of hard work. Success is not a given even for the most experienced climbers due to extreme weather and dangerous objective hazards. Denali has more vertical climbing (from base camp to summit) than even Mt. Everest. I climbed Mt. Rainier several times on multiple routes to gain the necessary technical skills and completed a winter ascent on Mt. Washington to gain cold weather experience in preparation for my attempt on Denali. A successful Denali expedition is a crown jewel for many climbers and an important prerequisite for Himalayan mountains.
January 11, 2011
Aconcagua is located in the Andes range in Argentina and is the tallest mountain in South America and the Western Hemisphere. The primary challenges of climbing Aconcagua are acclimatizing to high altitude and staying healthy while working with trail animals and dealing with the environment on a mostly dusty mountain. The approach is a week long trek to base camp where climbers utilize mules to pack equipment, food and fuel, and to make a river crossing which protects access to base camp. The final approach to the summit is navigated through a high section called the Canaleta after two weeks of hard work. Success on Denali and Aconcagua are widely considered prerequisites to qualify for a credible Mt. Everest expedition team. The Andes region is spectacularly beautiful and climbers enjoy the many refinements of Mendoza upon return from the mountain.
August 6, 2013
Mt. Elbrus is located in the Caucasus range in Southern Russia and is the tallest mountain in Europe. The Caucasus mountains separate the European and Asian continents. After climbing Denali and Aconcagua I finally felt qualified to legitimately set my sights on Mt. Everest. I climbed Mt. Elbrus with Vern Tejas - a world renown climber who was the first to complete a solo winter ascent of Denali, among many other mountaineering firsts - in order to gain his assessment of my climbing skills and his endorsement to join an Everest expedition team. I did well on Mt. Elbrus and received Vern's blessing and left there determined to make an attempt on Mt. Everest. The crux of an ascent on Mt. Elbrus is a steep section near the summit that requires a climber's full attention. It was there that I first experienced the terrors of an avalanche and the sensation of the ground melting beneath me.
Mt. Everest is located in the Himalayan range and is the tallest mountain in Asia and the world. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay were the first to reach the summit in 1953 as members of a British expedition team. Climbing Mt. Everest is an extraordinary experience steeped with history, mystic, and challenges of all varieties. I first attempted an ascent of Mt. Everest in 2014 but didn't go above Base Camp after 16 sherpa were killed in the Khumbu Ice Fall in the early weeks of my expedition, marking the deadliest day in the history of the mountain. In the aftermath of 2014, I did not return in 2015 when eight climbers were killed by debris from an avalanche triggered by an earthquake that ravaged the Khumbu Valley. No one summited Mt. Everest in 2014 or 2015. I returned in 2016 and after eight weeks of hard work was fortunate to reach the summit with my climbing partner, Pemba Sherpa under a blue moon.
October 17, 2018
Carstensz Pyramid is located in the Sudirman range of western Papua, Indonesia, and is the tallest mountain in Oceana. Although not technically one of the Seven Summits or part of the Explorers Grand Slam, many climbers choose to climb Carstensz Pyramid because of its remoteness and technical difficulty and proximity to Australia. The approach to the mountain was traditionally made over a week-long trek through a forbidding rain forest. The overland approach is no longer an option because of the dangers of conflict from local tribes, so most of the current generation of climbers reach the mountain by helicopter. A highlight of the climb is a travolian traverse across two peaks high on the mountain. The climb is riddled with hazard from falling rocks and other technical challenges. Climbing Carstensz Pyramid is a true adventure in one of the most remote and separated places on Earth.
October 25, 2018
Mt. Kosciuszko is located in the Australian Alps and is the tallest mountain in Australia. The summit is approached from the resort village of Thredbo and requires about 4 hours of hiking round trip. Reaching the summit in good weather is a straightforward endeavor, however in a storm the route becomes hard to discern and there are reports of climbers every year who require rescue as a result of discounting the potential hazards. Some climbers who pursue the Seven Summits challenge opt to climb Carstesz Pyramid instead of Mt. Kosciuszko given its relative size and the time and expense required to reached the mountain. In my opinion it is hard to claim success in climbing the tallest mountain on every continent without having paid due respect to Mt. Koscuiszko. It is a beautiful place and well worth the effort.
January 18, 2019
Mt. Vinson is located in the Sentinel Range of the Ellsworth Mountains about 750 miles from the South Pole and is the tallest mountain in Antartica. It is the only mountain of the Seven Summits that has not been climbed in winter, and probably never will be. The primary challenges of climbing Mt. Vinson are reaching the mountain due to its incredible remoteness, managing the extreme cold, and overcoming a steep headwall which protects the high camp and requires nearly a full day of hard technical climbing. Standing at the summit of Mt. Vinson, like Denali and Mt. Everest, is a prized achievement for many climbers. I had a rare privilege to climb the mountain on the last day of the season in 2019 and my climbing partner and I were the only people above Camp 2 the day we summited. Mt. Vinson is extraordinarily beautiful and is rich in mystic and exploration history.
January 13, 2019
The South Pole is the southern most point on the surface of the Earth. In January of 2019 — during the height of summer in Antartica — I skied to the South Pole from the last degree latitude over a period of ten days and a distance of 69 miles, pulling a sled with my personal equipment, food and fuel. The journey to the South Pole is multifaceted. The first challenge is simply to arrive at the last degree to begin skiing. The journey begins in Puenta Arenas, Chille, and includes a long flight on a Russian military cargo plane, then an overland flight on a small Twin Otter with a refueling stop along the way. The reality of the project quickly became real as our team was left on the Antarctic plateau with just our equipment and wishes of good luck from our pilots. The actual skiing is a straightforward affair, however the challenges are dragging a heavy load, staying healthy in an extreme environment with temperatures consistently -30 Fahrenheit and at times much colder, navigating without any visual references, and for extended periods being in places without an option for rescue. It was an extraordinary experience to traverse a route that likely had not ever been seen by other humans. See a trip report here.