Flying back to Delhi from Kathmandu I sat mesmerized as I watched clouds float far below the giant peaks of the Himalayas. It’s hard to consider these mountains without reflecting on the geology and wondering why almost all of the worlds tall peaks are in Nepal. The Himalayas are a result of the collision between the Indian plate and the Eurasia plate that began somewhere around 50 million years. The resulting mountains are an unprecedented landform both today and in terms of historical geology. The Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau combined are one of the most extreme expressions of mountain building on the planet in the last 500 million years. Nepal is the place to go as it’s the present epicenter of this uplifting event and its home to 8 out of 10 of the world’s tallest peaks. The only other 2 peaks in the top 10 are in the Karakoram of Pakistan. To be fair of these 8 peaks several straddle the borders of India and China but however you look at it Nepal has a clear claim to housing the greatest concentration of the world’s tallest peaks not only today but probably in the last hundreds of millions of years. Everyone is familiar with Everest the world’s tallest mountain but what about the other 7 giants of Nepal.
Mount Everest (8,848m, 29,029ft)
The world’s tallest mountain was first climbed by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary in 1953 making use of the southeast ridge route which is still the most used route today. It’s still a mystery whether George Mallory reached the summit in his 1924 attempt. Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine is climbing partner were last seen in 1924 about 250m below the summit while attempting to climb the peak from the Northeast Ridge. Mallory’s body was found in 1999 but it still remains unclear whether he successfully summated the peak. Since so many people attempt to reach the summit today its common to hear people remark that Everest is a walk-up or a simple mountain to climb. The truth is that it’s still a risky proposition all-in-all since 1922 a total of 6,214 have reached the summit and 234 people have died trying. For many climbing Everest is a lifelong dream and despites its cost and difficulties it’s likely that the number of people attempting to climb the mountain will continue to increase. In fact during the 90’s an average of 88 people made it to the summit each year and by comparison during the first decade of the current century 432 made it on average each year a dramatic increase. This author hopes to one day add his name to the list.
Kangchenjunga (8,586m, 28,169ft)
Kangchenjunga which straddles the border between India and Nepal is the world’s 3rd tallest mountain after Everest and K2 in the Karakoram of Pakistan. The massif actually consists of five individual peaks and is frequently called the Five Treasures of Snow. Up to 1852 it was assumed that it was the worlds highest peak but new calculations by an Indian survey revealed Everest as the highest peak. The mountain is considered holy by the people of Darjeeling and Sikkim and every climber looking for the summit has actually stopped short in respect to the mountain. The “summit” was first reached by Joe Brown and George Band who were part of a British expedition. The expedition used the south base camp where the route starts from the Yalung Glacier from where the route climbs what is known as the Yalung Face a nearly vertical face of 3000m. Just getting to the south base camp takes 14 days and requires over 15000m in vertical elevation gain.
Lhotse 8,516m 27,940ft
Lhotse is the fourth highest mountain in the world and the least summated 8000m peak in Nepal. The peak adjoins Mount Everest and raises nearly 600m above the South Col. The word Lhotse itself means “South Peak” in Tibetan and refers to the tallest of 3 peaks the other two being Lhotse Middle at 8,414m and Lhotse Shar at 8,383m. The south face is one of the steepest cliffs in the world raising 3.2km in approximately 2.5 km. In 1955 an attempt led by Norman Dyhrenfurth as part of the International Himalayan Expedition which was assisted by over 200 porters reached 8100m. Lhotse Middle was in fact the last highest unclimbed point on the planet until it was summated in 2001 by a Russian team. In total the summit has been climbed 371 times.
Makalu 8,462m 27,762ft
Makalu is the worlds fifth highest peak and lies 22km from Everest in the Khumbu region. The peak is known for its perfect pyramid shape and its sharp ridges and steep angles make it a difficult climb. Just getting to the Makalu base camp is a nine day trek from the small airstrip of Tumlingtar. Climbing groups must be self sufficient the entire way from Kathmandu and only 206 ascents of the summit have been made which is less than most of the other 8000m peaks.
Cho Oyu 8,201m 26,906ft
Cho Oyo is the world’s sixth highest mountain and its name means “Turquoise Goddess” in Tibetan. The mountain which is roughly 20km from Everest was first climbed in 1954 by Austrian expedition led by Herbert Tichy, Joseph Jöchler. The mountain is rarely climbed from the Nepal side and the typical route is from the Tibetan side. The mountain is typically considered one of the easier 8000m peaks but in reality no 8000m peak is easy and each carries with it the risk of death.
Dhaulagiri I 8,167m 26,795ft
Dhaulagiri means “White Mountain” in Sanskrit. Perhaps it obtained the name as its one of the few 8000m peaks that’s clearly visible from the hot plains of India. It was considered the world’s highest mountain between 1808 and 1838 until surveys indicated that Kangchenjunga was in fact higher and then in 1858 it dropped even further on the list when Everest was identified as the world’s tallest peak. It was first climbed in 1960 by a Swiss-Austrian team taking the Northeast Ridge which is the rout normal. The mountain gains nearly 7,000 m (22,970 ft) from the Kali Gandaki River just 30 km away. Disaster struck in 1969 when a massive avalanche swept away 10 people of an 11 man team led by an American, Boyd Everett.
Manaslu 8,156m 26,759ft
If Everest belongs to the British and Annapurna to the French then Mansalu the world’s eight highest peak belongs to the Japanese. The mountain was first climbed in 1956 by Toshio Imanishi and Gyalzen Norbu part of a Japanese expedition. The mountain has been struck by both tragedy and controversy and sometimes both at the same time. An avalanche killed 18 and destroyed the Pung-gyen Monastery after the first Japanese attempt in 1952. The subsequent expedition in 1954 was blamed for this tragedy and hostility from villagers forced the climbers to give up until another attempt could be made in 1956. No other climber reached the summit until 1971 when another Japanese team lead by Kazuharu Kohara and Motoki reached the summit. In 1972, a Korean expedition reckoned with 15 fatalities from a huge avalanche. It’s the 4th most deadly of the 8000m peaks behind only K2, Nanga Parbet, and Annapurna.
Annapurna I 8,091m
Last but not least in the list is Annapurna I the 10th tallest peak in the world whose name in Sanskrit translates to “full of food” or goddess of harvest. Annapurna I is part of a larger massif that includes five other major peaks. The massive mountain is separated from Dhaulagiri by approximately 32km and the Kali Gandaki which by some accounts is the worlds deepest canyon. The mountain was first climbed in 1950 by Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal (part of a French team). Herzog’s book “Annapurna” has sold over 11 million copies and inspired a generation of climbers. He lost several toes on the climb due to frostbite which were amputated in the field. His book ends with the line “there are other Annapurnas in the lives of men.” Annapurna is one of the most dangerous 8000m peaks.