Summiting the World’s Highest Unclimbed Mountain
There are 14 mountains in the world that stand 8,000 meters (26,2467 feet) or higher, and they’ve all been climbed. Next on the mountaineering hit list are the peaks measuring 7,200 to 7,999 meters. Those are a bit trickier to track, seeing there are nearly 100 of them, and they all reside in central and southern Asia. But the mountaineering community mostly agrees that the highest unclimbed mountain is Gangkhar Puensum, at 7,570 meters (24,836 feet). It’s the highest mountain in Bhutan, and currently ranked the 40th highest on Earth.
The reason this vertiginous summit continues to elude the climbing community isn’t so much for lack of skill as it is for lack of access. The peak sits squarely on Bhutan’s northern border with Tibet. Bhutan didn’t allow mountaineering until 1983 because high peaks are believed to be the dwelling place of spirits. Four expeditions attempted the unknown peak between 1985 and 1986, but none succeeded, presumably due to inaccurate maps (Bhutan has never actually surveyed the peak). Then in 1994, Bhutan once again nixed mountaineering, this time for any peak over 6,000 feet, which clearly includes Gangkhar Puensum. In 1998, a Japanese team got permission from China to climb the elusive peak from the Tibet side, only to have the permit revoked at the last minute due to a border dispute with Bhutan. The team changed gears and instead climbed a subsidiary peak, Gangkhar Puensum North at 7,535 meters. The success suggests that a summit attempt of the main peak was also within their capabilities, but technically Gangkhar Puensum remains a virgin. And considering Bhutan banned mountaineering completely in 2004, it will most likely remain so.Back to top