Upon summiting Mount Everest this week, the Australian Steve Plain broke the record for the shortest time to complete the Seven Summits—the tallest peak on each continent. Last year the Polish mountaineer Janusz Kochanksi set the previous benchmark of 126 days.
Ishwari Paudel, an official of the Himalayan Guides trekking company that organized logistics for Plain, said: “He has set the record of climbing Seven Summits in the shortest time of 117 days.” To be more precise, Plain took 117 days 6 hours 50 minutes. This is over one week faster than Kochanski.
When he climbed Mount Vinson in Antarctica on January 16, the clock began ticking for Plain, and he needed to top out on Everest before May 22 to better Kochanski’s effort. After leaving Antarctica the race took him to Denali (North America), Elbrus (Europe), Aconcagua (South America), Kilimanjaro (Africa) and Papua New Guinea’s Carstensz Pyramid (Australasia/Oceania).
When climbed by the mountains’ standard routes, the Seven Summit peaks are more a logistical challenge than cutting-edge alpinism. However, to string back-to-back expeditions together leaves little room for illness, lack of preparation or equipment failure.
Guiding Plain on his Everest attempt was the British guide Jon Gupta, who had two previous summits under his belt. The duo, along with Pemba Sherpa, took the South Col route reaching the summit on May 14, and then decided to double up by tagging the neighboring Lhotse after a night’s rest. With an attempt on Nuptse earlier in May, Plain and Gupta had hoped to complete the so-called “Triple Crown”—Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse.
The team arrived at Everest Base Camp back on April 18, completing acclimatization rotations without incident and leaving enough time to tackle Nuptse. Despite facing excellent conditions on the lower parts of the mountain they were turned back only 200 meters from the summit due to poor snow conditions. On social media Gupta wrote:
“The going was tough & deep but it felt amazing…every now & then looking around to see the view literally made me smile! Eventually, we caught up with the Sherpas who delivered the blowing news that the next slopes that lead to the summit were substantially loaded.”
Remarkably, Plain, 36, from New South Wales, Australia, reached the top of Everest only three years after suffering a badly fractured neck in a swimming accident. Now back in lower climes after having left Base Camp, Plain had this to say on social media:
“Leaving Basecamp I was filled with mixed emotions. I had been looking forward to this moment for so long, looking forward to going home to my own bed. With all the delays and waiting over the past weeks however it seemed like it would never come. Then all [of] a sudden, almost within the blink of an eye, we were up, down, and heading out. It was a bit surreal, almost too quick in the end. To be leaving so early, especially while we still had friends up on the hill, was difficult. But we had done what we came here to do. It was time to leave.”
To read more work by Ash Routen, visit ashrouten.com.