Europe's High Points – summits of 50 European countries
Europe's High Points
Getting to the top in 50 countries by Rachel Crolla, Carl McKeating
A guide to reaching the summit of every country in Europe - driving, walking and climbing routes to the tops of 50 countries in Europe. Detailed route descriptions, sketch maps - advice on transport, seasons, grading and gear. From afternoon strolls in Malta to three-day mountaineering ascents on classic Alpine routes such as Mont Blanc. More...
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A Eurovision for mountains
This guide to climbing the high points in every European country serves as a celebration of the wide variety of national identities in Europe – a ‘Eurovision for mountains’, if you like. The European mainland is on our doorstep and may feel like familiar territory, but there is a wealth of adventure waiting in every one of its countries.
Heading to the highest point of any European country – a high altitude mountain or a comparative molehill – is an experience we wholeheartedly recommend. The sheer variety of Europe’s national high points, collected here in a book for the first time, offers a wealth of fantastic experiences. In short, you are holding in your hand the key to a treasure trove of discovery, adventure and fun. Some of Europe’s greater mountains and ranges may already be well known and celebrated, but many remain untrampled by international hiking boots. The vast majority of Europe’s countries take great national pride in their highest points and most have their own version of a treasure like Ben Nevis, be it gargantuan or diminutive.
Attempting to climb all Europe’s high points is a challenge like no other. You can experience the majesty of Mont Blanc and the Alps, confront Zeus on Mount Olympus, and feel quite baffled in the former Yugoslav nations. Lose yourself body and soul deep on Finland and Sweden’s highest mountains while the aurora borealis shimmers across the night sky. Race uphill and plod down dale. Head east, west, north and south, springing from peak to peak like a mountain gazelle. Leap crevasses, dodge marmots, watch eagles soar from beneath your feet. Climb above rolling blankets of white clouds. Shake hands with shepherds and wayward travellers. Share drinks (and even foods you may wish you had never been offered) with Bulgarians, Albanians, Norwegians, Italians and Bosnians as each makes a pilgrimage to their national high point.
Inevitably we have found that a country’s highest point tends to be in one of its most beautiful areas. From the splendid 100m waterfalls of Iceland’s Skaftafell in the west to Russia’s awe-inspiring Caucasus Mountains in the east, and from the arid red rock of Spain’s Sierra Nevada in the south to the Arctic tundra of Finland’s Halti in the north, this book will take walkers and climbers to some of the best scenery in Europe.
There is no governing body or infallible source for the designation of European state high points, and readers may be surprised to discover that disputes (or maybe debates) over national high points exist in many countries including Italy, Denmark and Montenegro. This is not a phenomenon unique to Europe; even the summit of Everest is claimed in its entirety by both China and Nepal. We have aimed to sift out the chaff to give the high-pointer a clearer picture, and disputes are all discussed in the relevant chapters. As well as disputed high points, there are also some common misconceptions about certain peaks. For example, some people mistakenly assume that Mont Blanc is Europe’s highest mountain, when in fact that award goes to Russia’s Mount Elbrus by a considerable margin.
The start of our own quest to climb Europe’s highest points can be traced back more than ten years. Just after Christmas in 1996 we drove up to Scotland with three friends to climb Ben Nevis. Five teenagers piled into a Ford Fiesta, badly equipped and utterly naïve as to what lay in store. We drove through the night. In the morning we were fed to the brim at a B&B and eventually followed the icy tourist path to the summit of the Ben. We arrived at the top just as the sun set over the highlands. There was just enough time for us to stand on the highest ground and say, ‘Look at me, there is no one higher in Britain right now,’ before a storm and impending night engulfed us. It was our first national high point and an adventure to boot. At the heart of that day there was the elation of a personal and spiritual fulfilment.
Climbers talk a lot about the clarity and personal enlightenment brought about by mountaineering and for the outsider it is all too easy to scoff; but such emotions are voiced time and time again, even by the most down-to-earth Yorkshireman. A common theme keeps arising: man and woman’s search for an understanding of themselves and their place in the world. It is this philosophical search which inspired the ancient Greeks to make their highest mountain the home of the gods; that caused Babel-like towers to be built on the highest ground in Portugal, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia and Latvia; which triggers Tibetans to utter prayers as soon as Chomolangma (Mount Everest) comes into view.
We all like to have a hobby and a challenge. Climbing the European national high points is, in our view, one step (or maybe two) above stamp collecting.
Why this guide?
Never before have all the national high points of Europe been gathered together in one place. While information and route descriptions for some of the high points exist elsewhere, collating them can be exceedingly time-consuming and troublesome and, even then, knowing which routes to choose might not prove easy. For some national high points there are no route descriptions beyond the pages of this book. Additionally, complicated geographical disputes have arisen over the designation of certain national high points and this book aims to resolve them. We have outlined any such disagreements and explained the reasoning behind our own choices. (Readers may be surprised to find Italy amongst these and perhaps the most complicated. Italy surprisingly has four different claims for its high point, but at the centre of the dispute is a virtual tug-of-war for the summit of Mont Blanc/Monte Bianco (see the France/Italy chapter).)
The beauty of the European high points in walking and mountaineering terms is that they range from ludicrously easy ascents (Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands and so on) to ones that will prove challenging to most people (France, Switzerland, Russia). There are also plenty in between. Someone who enjoys a good Lakeland hike will, by acquiring a few mountaineering and climbing skills along the way, be easily capable of working up to ascents of the more demanding national high points. None of the mountains require you to be the next Chris Bonnington or Julie Tullis, but a competent approach to mountaineering will prove invaluable (the foolhardy are rarely rewarded in any mountain range).
Naturally not all of us can take off four months and go racing around Europe to climb all the mountains in one big push. You might not even want to climb them all. Whatever you choose to do, this book is a great resource to call upon. Climbing a national high point is guaranteed to spice up a trip to any European country, and could provide the focus for planning future holidays.
This guide aims to answer the needs of anyone whose primary concern is getting to the top of these national high points. For the most part the simplest and most straightforward routes are described – but not always. Speed and ease of ascent routes is balanced against the subjective merits of those routes that might initially appear more time-consuming and even more technical, but ultimately prove more spectacular and pleasurable.