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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Seven Summits vs. Oceans Seven - Which Is Harder?

The Oceans Seven is open water swimming's version of the Seven Summits.

The Seven Summits are the highest mountains in each of the seven continents that 348 people have successfully achieved.

These 348 people have set a bar that others seek to achieve. Their Seven Summits takes years of effort, money, equipment, and mind-boggling focus and endurance.

The Seven Summit mountaineers have climbed Kilimanjaro (5,892m/19,340 ft) in Africa, Vinson Massif (4,892m/16,050 ft) in Antarctica, Everest (8,848m/29,035 ft) in Asia, Elbrus (5,642m/18,510 ft) in Europe, Mount McKinley (6,194m/20,320 ft) in North America, Aconcagua (6,962m/22,841 ft) in South America, and either Kosciuszko (2,228m/7,310 ft) or Carstensz Pyramid (4,884m/16,024 ft) in Australia.

However, no one has yet successfully swum the English Channel (between England and France), the North Channel (between Scotland and Ireland, the Catalina Channel (between Catalina Island and Southern California, USA), the Molokai Channel (between Oahu and Molokai Islands in Hawaii, USA), the Tsugaru Channel (between Honshu and Hokkaido islands in Japan), the Cook Strait (between North and South islands in New Zealand) and the Strait of Gibraltar (between Spain and Morocco).

Although land-based endurance athletes and mountaineers may hold different opinions, we believe completing the seven different channels of the Oceans Seven is more challenging than climbing the Seven Summits. There are various reasons for this opinion.

1. Fundamentally, swimming is more difficult than walking. It is estimated that less than 2% of the world's population can swim 500 meters non-stop so it stands to reason that fewer people can swim a channel than the number of people who can climb a mountain.

2. More solutions are available to combat altitude sickness than seasickness, including time. An athlete can ascend slowly, take the drug acetazolamide, Dexamethasone, Nifedipine or sumatriptan, or undergo oxygen enrichment.

3. If the weather or conditions get bad in a climb, time is on the side of the climber. If the conditions get bad in a channel swim, you have to get out. That is, the windows of opportunities are smaller.

4. Attire can prevent hypothermia in Seven Summits, but not in the Ocean's Seven.

5. Mountaineers can be assisted by others; a swimmer must take every single stroke by themselves.

6. Beasts and creatures generally do not hamper humans on a mountain while sharks and jellyfish are present immense obstacles.

7. Mountaineers can generally talk, see and hear things while climbing, but their visual, auditory and verbal abilities are hampered.

8. Climbers can rest and sleep on their way up the mountain, but open water swimmers still have to tread water when "at rest" and sleeping is definitely out of the question.

But anyone who achieves a Seven is a remarkable individual with the stamina, mental toughness and physical abilities exceedingly rare in this world.

Copyright © 2011 by Open Water Source


  1. Oceans 7 is considerably easier than the 7 Summits. You only have to look at the death / injury rates on the mountains to realize that. In 2010 I watched as all the bodies were being brought off Mt Everest. The same does not happen in Dover.

  2. Lewis / Steven, I don't think we should necessarily confuse risk or danger with difficulty. It would perhaps make more sense to look at the failure rates (no. of finishes/no. of starts) as a measure of difficulty. Obviously, in mountaineering the consequence of failure can be more severe as Lewis points out but the risk of failure may be lower. Lewis's swims excepted, the consequence of most failed swims is a boat ride, although sadly people do also die while swimming.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. My opinion would be that the mountains would be a faster achievement-
    Quite a few of the mountains can now be climbed by agencies (mountain tourism) & charities with assistance right to the nth step of the summit, with equipment, medical, diet etc decided and catered for them-I know a few who have climbed 5/7 and all under guidance. I am not degrading their efforts but they are not as vulnerable to risk as those who climb without assistance and on their own mental capacity and will.
    Without doubt the level of energy output is lower when all risks are managed by another person guiding them. When weather hits they can sit it out, go lower down, shelter and continue to feed, and then reassault-They can have several attempts to reach the summit/goal. So it would first have to be divided into mountain tourism/Charities and pure climbing.

    Swimming the Ocean's 7-Firstly the swimmer HAS to be of a supreme standard. Thankfully there are not any non qualified swimmers taking on these challenges-if there were,the outcome might be comparable to the negative as it is on the mountain. I agree with Steven there is no where to hide in the sea.
    Lewis-I don't know if the number of bodies on Everest would equate to the volume of people on the mountain/their own abilities/their buy in to the project or is it a reflection of the danger of the event-
    My personal opinion would be that swimmers/climbers have negative outcomes not necessarily because of the danger but the lack of experience and ability to cope.
    Certainly I can say that no amount of money can buy your way across the North Channel-13 swimmers in history have achieved it-maybe you could bluff your way across certain seas as pristine conditions-but once darkness hits there is no where to hide in the sea-and I don't mean physical darkness-Sometimes the swimmer can swim but the boat can't cover-swim over!.
    Anne Marie Ward swam for 19hrs in 12 deg water-in the North Channel-for this to compare with a climber, output wise-it would prob be 2 days without sitting down-without closing your eyes-Is climbing more difficult?? If you were to look at the outlay from the human body-emotionally, physically, the effects of the stings/salt water immersion, swelling of throat/face etc-ability to continue swimming when joints seize.. I would have to say that the 21st climber to me is a more protected athlete.

    We are already witnessing many rescues from swimmers/triathletes who don't have a plan B when the conditions change close to shore, event organisers who get in difficulty with tides/conditions but we are heading into difficult times with the explosion of numbers. I feel that the physical/emotional/and psych effect on swimmers post an exhaustive swim in conditons is greater than that of a climber.

  5. Having done a bit of both, I'd say the 7 summits are far more difficult. No one has ever climbed Everest in under 10 hours.


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