With their epic, craggy, and snow-laced surfaces, mountains have been an enduring source of fascination and wonder for centuries. Through the ages many thousands of explorers have been drawn to the world’s tallest and most treacherous peaks in search of the ultimate sublime experience, some risking life and limb in the process. For us mere mortals back in the real world, towering mountains present some of the harshest and most inhospitable places on earth. Below we look through the top 5 tallest mountains in the world, along with a few hair-raising facts and stories about each one.
1. Mount Everest: 29,029 Feet
Topping the bucket list of explorers around the world, Mount Everest is widely recognized as the tallest mountain in the entire world, reaching up some 29,029 feet towards the sky. Set within the Mahalangur Himalayas, the notoriously challenging mountain range was named after the Surveyor General of India, George Everest. Around 500 people try to climb Mount Everest during the spring-time every year, where they must face harsh weather conditions, altitude sickness and high winds.
Such a dangerous trek is not to be taken lightly; around 300 people have died while trying to reach the summit of the mountain, many of whom have never been found. It wasn’t until 1953 that a group of British explorers were able to reach the summit of Mount Everest, led by Colonel John Hunt, along with the Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay and the mountaineer Edmund Hillary, who took the less deadly southeastern ridge route.
2. K2: 28,251 Feet
Coming in at a close second, the succinctly named K2 is set within the Karakoram Mountain Range in the Himalayas. The ‘k’ in the mountain’s name is abbreviated from Karakoram, while the ‘2’ meant it was the second mountain to be discovered during the 19th century Great Trigonometrical Survey. Known for being the deadliest mountain range for explorers to tackle, K2’s notorious nickname is ‘Savage Mountain,’ a nod towards its sheer slopes and exposed terrain. In fact, its mortality rate is at 29%, compared with Everest’s modest-by-comparison 4%.
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While historical studies of the mountain were observed from less inhospitable terrains, the first attempt to climb to the top was in 1902, in a group including the notorious Aleister Crowley. An Italian group were first to reach the mountain summit in 1954, led by Ardito Desio, who headed a team of 11 accomplished climbers.
3. Kangchenjunga: 28,169 Feet
Mount Kangchenjunga in the Himalayas (between Nepal and India) is listed in most geographical surveys as one mountain, although it has five peaks – its name translates into ‘Five Treasures of Snow.’ Once thought to be the highest mountain in the world, the mountain’s height of 28,169 feet, first calculated in 1856, makes it officially the third tallest. The first climbers to make their way all the way to the top were the British explorers Joe Brown and George Band, who stopped just before the summit as requested by Tashi Namgyai, the Chogyal of Sikkim, who considered it to be a holy, sacred site. Local Lhopo people believed the mountain range hid sacred treasures including salt, gold, turquoise and precious metals.
4. Lhotse: 27,940 Feet
Lhotse (pronounced ‘low-tsee’) is found within the Himalayan Mountain Range, on the border between Nepal and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China. It is connected to Mount Everest by a ridge – both climbers of Lhotse and Everest follow the same initial route to camp 3, before their paths diverge. Lhotse has three peaks, each of which present their own challenges, known as Lhotse Main, Lhotse Middle, and Lhotse Shar. First to reach the peak of Lhotse Main was a Swiss team led by Ernest Reiss and Fritz Luchsinger in 1956. They scaled the mountain’s West Face, which has now become the mountain’s typical route.
5. Makalu: 27,838 Feet
Makalu is, like Everest and Lhotse, is located within the Himalayan Mountain Range, 12 miles southeast of Everest, on the China-Nepal border. Its name means ‘Great Black One’, due to its black rock formation, while its four-sided, pyramid-like symmetrical shape attracts photographers from all around the world. First to attempt to scale its peak was an American team led by Riley Keegan in 1954, whose team included members of the Sierra Club, however a series of deadly storms pushed them back. In 1955, a French expedition group led by Lionel Terray and Jean Couzy made it to the mountain summit, via the north face and northeast ridge, thus earning them a place in history.