(CNN) — In 1986, American businessman Richard Bass landed in the record books by becoming the first to climb the Seven Summits, the highest peaks on each continent. This list includes some of the most famous mountains in the world: Denali in Alaska, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and of course Mount Everest.
But mountaineers are not the kind of people who let records rest. For many climbers, it’s the seven second peaks – also known as the second highest peak on each continent – that are considered a more significant achievement.
These mountains are less famous, less popular with beginners and less commercialized. The most famous of the group is K2, located on the border between Pakistan and China in the Karakoram Mountains.
The rest, however, are anything but household names.
Ojos de Salado (“Salty Eyes”) on the Chilean-Argentine border is the highest volcano on earth. Mount Tyree in Antarctica is relatively easy to climb by mountaineering standards, but the challenges of reaching the White Continent and coping with weather conditions mean that only about a dozen climbers have ever made it to the summit.
Only one person has officially scaled all seven second peaks, but someone is hot on their heels to complete the set. And she’s not what most people think a mountaineer looks like — she’s a mother of seven who lives in Utah and didn’t start climbing until she was in her 30s.
Drop the challenge
Meet Jenn Drummond. Drummond has always been athletic and she loves a challenge.
With her 40th birthday approaching in 2020, she decided to take her hiking skills to the next level.
That year she hired a climbing coach with the goal of climbing Ama Dablam, a mountain in Nepal.
But upon completion, the coach presented a new challenge – the Seven Second Summits. “He said, ‘You have seven children, there are seven continents,'” she recalls.
But mountaineering requires much more than physical training. Covid sent the whole world into a frenzy – suddenly Drummond had to homeschool her children and international border closures made travel impossible.
So far she has climbed Dykh-Tau, Mount Kenya, Mount Tyree and most recently Mount Logan in Canada. K2 is planned for summer 2022.
Drummond’s attempt to scale the seven second peaks has evolved into a somewhat lengthy project due to some disagreement over which peaks count as the official seven.
Looking at the continent just as the country of Australia itself, the second peak there is Mount Townsend in the state of New South Wales.
But for geographers who consider Australasia and Oceania part of the continent, the second peak is Sumantri in Indonesia’s West Papua province. To ensure their record is unquestionable, Drummond plans to climb both.
Drummond in action climbing Mount Kenya.
Because it is there
In an anecdotal story, someone once asked explorer George Mallory why he was so desperate to climb Mount Everest, the mountain that eventually took his life.
“Because it’s there,” he replied.
While it’s not clear if Mallory actually uttered those words, they’ve long been a touchstone for other climbers who struggle to explain why they’re risking life and limb to scale the world’s most challenging mountains.
Drummond agrees. She loves to climb mountains for the sake of the story. But she also knows that records mean something.
“If I had a Guinness World Record my kids would think I was really cool,” she laughs.
She also wants to address some of the inequalities that exist in the small but fine world of mountaineering. For years, the image of a mountaineer was someone like Reinhold Messner or Edmund Hillary – bearded, serious, ice-axe-wielding white men from Europe or North America.
Organizations like Full Circle, an all-Black group of mountaineers who scaled Everest in May 2022, are showing the world that extreme activities like mountaineering are available to anyone with the courage to try it.
Mountaineering can be extremely dangerous. People can die from altitude sickness, falls and cold. But not only the mountains themselves offer challenges.
At the base of Sumantri, two rival tribes are arguing over who owns the rights to the mine there. And the ongoing conflict in Russia has seen many airlines suspend flights to the country, meaning Dykh-Tau is hard to reach.
It is also expensive and time consuming.
Permission to climb Everest alone costs $11,000. Airfare, local transport, equipment and guide fees are not included.
Also, due to the acclimatization process, it can take weeks or even months to scale some of the world’s highest peaks.
For Drummond, being a woman on a mountain is an asset, not a weakness.
“There are definitely people who approach the mountains the way I approach the mountain,” she says.
“For me, being with the mountain is much more of an experience. If you go to Everest and you are in the Himalayan mountain range, I think this mountain range is very feminine. It’s very loving. It’s enormous. It is wonderful. The people are incredible. You honor life. They pray before they climb the mountain.”
Her rock climbing trips have also become a way to connect with her children, ages 9 to 15. Some have joined her on climbs, while others prefer to stay at lower altitudes.
But they all watched their mother pursue her goal. Drummond has used her mission to motivate the children to take charge of their own lives.
“We’re looking at Mount Everest,” she tells them during a homework session, “but first you do your math.”