Mountains have always represented something in human culture that’s almost impossible to overcome – hence “Climb every mountain”, “Move every mountain” and “making mountains out of molehills”. But some mountains aren’t that difficult to conquer – some are no more than big hills. On the other hand, there are some mountains in the world that are deadly and near impossible to conquer. It’s hard to know how to rate which of the extremely challenging peaks is the most challenging, but we’ve used a mixture of statistics, anecdotes and sweeping assumptions to present this list of the Top 10 Most Challenging Mountains to climb.
10. Baintha Brakk
One indication that a mountain is difficult to climb is how many times it’s been summited…hence the appearance of Baintha Brakk in this list. The 7,285m steep peak in Pakistan has only been conquered 3 timers, despite numerous attempts. The last successful ascent was last year, in September 2012, and there was a gap of 24 years between the two other ascents in 1977 and 2001. By contrast, Everest is summited 300 times a year. It is an extremely steep and rocky climb, with the South Face rising 3km in only 2 km horizontal distance. Even the Britons who conquered the mountain in 1977 paid the price for it on the descent – one broke both legs, the other contracted pneumonia and broke 2 ribs. A mountain to tackle if low odds of success motivate you!
9. Cerro Torre
This is a Patagonian mountain which is steeped in controversy. The first claimed ascent was by Cesare Maestri in 1959, where he claimed that he and Austrian Toni Egger reached the summit but that Egger had been killed in an avalanche and had taken the photos of the summit with him. A later attempt in 1970 stopped just short of the summit and left the mountain littered with equipment, including a bolt ladder along the southeast ridge. The bolts remained there until a pair of North American climbers – Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk – removed most of them on their “fair means” ascent in 2012. They were both praised and criticised for this action, but the mountain remains extremely challenging, with or without bolts. It’s only 2685m high – a baby compared to some of the Asian peaks – but it was for a time considered the hardest mountain in the world.
8. Nanga Parbat
Nicknamed “the Man Eater”, Nanga Parbat has seen 62 deaths on its rocky slopes, approximately 5.5% of all the climbers who have attempted it. In the 1930s, there were a number of German attempts on the mountain, as the British allowed them no access to Everest at the time, but the losses were heavy – an avalanche in 1937 killed 16 men instantly, while an ill-fated expedition in 1934 saw 9 deaths, including the famous climber Willy Merkl. It was eventually conquered in 1953 by the Austrian Hermann Buhl, who completed the ascent alone but there have been many deaths since then. It is still considered a very challenging climb and contains the world’s largest mountain face – the Rupal Face, at 15,000 foot high. It has never been climbed in winter and is still claiming victims. The most recent, Joel Wischnewski, disappeared in February 2013 and has not yet be found. A chilling reminder of how this mountain got its nickname.
7. The Eiger
The North Face of the Eiger is another mountaineering spot that’s been turned into a metaphor for an insurmountable obstacle. And there’s a good reason for that – the sheer 6,000ft face of the so-called “Ogre” is subject to rockfalls and melting ice and the mountain has seen 64 climbers die while trying to replicate the 1938 summit. The North face is also known as “Mordwand” (“Murder Wall”, a play on “Nordwand”.)
Its notoriety also lives on in an unlikely tribute from British children’s author J.K.Rowling. In the “Harry Potter” series, a Dark Wizard is called Gellert Grindelwald, Grindelwald being a village close to the mountain. It’s unlikely to be a coincidence, as Rowling likes to weave real-life references into her character names and the association only strengthens the mountain’s connection with death and destruction.
This is a lesser-known but deadly mountain, with over 100 deaths on its slopes. Also known as Mt. McKinley, it is North America’s highest peak at 6,194m. Its Alaskan location towards the North Pole means that the atmosphere is far thinner than on other mountains, and only around 50% of climbers reach the top. It was apparently first conquered in 1906, by Frederick Cook, but that was later proved false, and a further claimed ascent in 1910 was also viewed with some suspicion. The first verifiable conquest of the mountain was in 1913 by Walter Harper and it has been climbed many times since. However, the death toll and success rate are still grim enough to deter all but the most skilled climbers.
It’s the highest mountain in the world, at 8,848m so naturally you would expect it to be among the most challenging. However, the number of climbers that successfully summit every year – including disabled climbers – would suggest that it’s not the most difficult climb. The number of climbers, though, can add to the danger as the congestion of 50 or more people on the mountain in a single day slows everything down and can delay others’ descent – always dangerous at a height where altitude sickness can strike down even the most experienced climber.
The commercialization of Mount Everest can lead to complacency, but events likes the 1996 Mount Everest Disaster prove that, even in modern times, the mountain is still a deathtrap. 15 people died that season, and 8 of them in storms on May 10-11. The death rate for modern times is 5.5% of all who try and summit and there have been around 200 deaths in total. It may have been conquered by the most unlikely people, but it takes nothing but bad luck to have an accident on Everest and it should not be underestimated.
When it comes to death tolls, this mountain is fearsome, with 500 deaths between 1865 and 1995. It’s an iconic and popular mountain, but its popularity is part of the danger, as paths get overcrowded. The peak is also prone to avalanches and rockfalls, making it extremely hazardous. It was first climbed by Edward Whymper in 1865, who had been obsessed by the Matterhorn for some time. But even on this first triumphant trip, there was to be disaster as one of the party slipped while descending and he and 3 other men fell down the north face, leaving only Whymper and a father and son by the name of Taugwalder alive. The accident was later depicted by the artist Gustave Doré in his work “The Matterhorn Tragedy“.
So, the mountain was tinged with tragedy from the start but but didn’t stop another party setting out just two days later. And climbers continue to tackle this symbol of the Alps, fully aware that they may not come back.
Our top 3 mountains each have their own claim to being the single most challenging mountain in the world. Kangchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world, certainly has earned a reputation for peril as the death toll has climbed in recent years rather than decreased. It stands at 22% of all attempts, and only 187 climbers have ever summited it.
At 8,586m high it was once considered the highest in the world but was replaced by Everest in 1852. There’s no direct route up it, the weather conditions are difficult and there are frequent avalanches. There is also limited access from the Indian side and it is revered as a sacred mountain, so it is largely untouched. For that reason, it’s an enticing challenge for climbers but it’s also an extremely dangerous one.
Another Himalayan peak that could quite easily take the title of “most challenging”, K2 has had a death rate of 19.7% since the 1990s and is considered one of the most technically difficult mountains in the world. There have been two disasters on the mountain in recent years – the 1986 disaster, which claimed 5 climbers during one storm and 8 in the weeks prior to the storm, and the 2008 disaster in which 11 people died, with 3 others seriously injured. One of the most dangerous areas is the Bottleneck, a narrow area which is technically the quickest route to the top but also extremely risky. 13 out of the last 14 fatalities on K2 have occurred around the Bottleneck.
Despite these risks, 280 people have summited K2 and it is regarded as the “holy grail of mountaineering”. It certainly is an achievement to conquer it.
Annapurna I is the 10th highest peak in the world, at 8,091m but it has a staggering death rate. Exact figures vary, but it is estimated that 130 people have climbed the mountain and 53 have died in the attempt. That gives a ratio of 40% summit-fatality, by far the highest of all the mountains. A number of these deaths were due to avalanches and the ascent via the south face is considered the most difficult climb in the world.
Hindus regard Annapurna as a god. Gods should be respected, and in this case it seems that they should also be avoided.