Mianzimu (6054m) towers in Tibet, sacred and still unclimbed. Image courtesy of Janne Corax (click to enlarge).
The Meili range in full view from a Tibetan temple. Mianzimu to the left; Meili Feng is the high peak on the right side. Image courtesy of Janne Corax (click to enlarge).
The impressive SE face of Karjiang - whose avalanche-prone slopes and difficult flanks have resisted all climbing attempts. Image courtesy of the Dutch Karjiang 2001 expedition (click to enlarge).
Pilgrims of three religions flock to Mt. Kailash each year. They circle the peak in prayers, but never set foot on its slopes. Climbing is strictly forbidden. Image of the peak courtesy of Project Himalaya.

Unclimbed: ExplorersWeb special on the world's tallest virgin peaks

Posted: Jan 24, 2007 03:37 pm EST
(MountEverest.net/K2Climb.net) A while back, some climbing big shots stated that they had closed the book of mountaineering - there was nothing left to do, they said. But the first automobile was a far cry from the fast cars we drive today. The mountain legends paved the way, now the new generation has a tough task ahead: Climb the more difficult routes, or find other peaks.

One looking for such challenges is Simone Moro, currently on a Broad Peak winter attempt. A few years back Simone made some research and launched an attempt on Batura II, a peak he was told is the highest unclimbed summit in the world. Simone failed to reach the top - so the challenge is still there, along with other mountains still waiting for the first footprints on their summit.

But which are they and what are the criteria? Climber, researcher and ExplorersWeb contributor Janne Corax has compiled a list of the six highest yet unclimbed peaks in the world - and submitted a number of other cool suggestions. Here goes:

The pleasure of being the first
By Janne Corax for ExplorersWeb

Unclimbed summits have always held a great amount of magnetism. To reach a high point where no one has ever been before is something very special to an alpinist. In 1950 Herzog and Lachenal summited Annapurna - the first 8000er had been topped out, thus opening the hunting season for the other 13 giants. Last was Shisha Pangma, summited by a Chinese team 14 years later.

Now high altitude mountaineers had to look for slightly lower targets.

Namche Barwa, a difficult 7782m peak with extreme prominence and notoriously bad weather, deflected all attempts until in 1992 a Japanese team finally managed to reach its summit. Also the secondary summits of all 8000ers were climbed one by one - last one to fall was Lhotse Middles 8414m summit, climbed by a strong Russian team in 2001.

Now, what's next?

The question now is, which is the highest unclimbed mountain in the world?

To answer, we first have to decide the parameters for qualification. The first two are obvious: The mountain has to be very high and, of course, unclimbed. The third is the one which creates a problem and lots of debate: Its prominence.

Real mountains vs. bumps on a ridge

Sometimes its not so easy to set a difference between whats a mere bump on a ridge and whats an actual mountain.

For example, most agree Lhotse Middle falls in the former category, as the height difference between the summit and the closest saddle/low point which connects it to a higher peak is very small.

Unfortunately an absolute standard doesnt exist and some sources use a relative prominence of 7%, while others use the 400 meter limit. If we play it safe and use a 500 meter limit, the list will look as follows.

The highest unclimbed peaks: 1-6

Gangkar Punsum, 7570m, located in Bhutan and ranked as the 40th highest peak in the world is without doubt number one on the list. An educated guess is itll stay there for some time to come. In the mid eighties some attempts were made, but they all failed. In 1994 a partial ban of mountaineering was declared in Bhutan and in 2003 the government decided to prohibit all kinds of climbing. The reason for this was out of respect for local religious beliefs and traditions.

Number two on our list is Saser Kangri II East, 7518m. Its located in Indian Kashmir and has never been attempted. The slightly lower sub-summit to the west has been climbed twice. Permission to climb in this area is a bit tricky, but possible. The peaks 7672 meter main summit was ascended in 1973.

Kabru North, 7394m, the highest point of the Kabru massif which in turn is a sub-group of Kangchenjunga Massif has never been summited. Paradoxically, its lower south summit was climbed already in 1935. The remarkable ascent made by Conrad Cooke stood as the highest solo ascent record for 18 years. The 7394 meter high Kabru North was attempted by a Serbian team in 2004, but avalanches forced them to give up.

Labuche Kang is a little known mountain group in Tibet. Its main summit was climbed by a Japanese team in 1987. The East peak, called Labuche Kang III is approximately 7250 meters high and is still waiting for its first ascent.

Karjiang, 7221m is located in Tibet. It has been attempted a couple of times but so far no one has managed to reach its elusive summit. Extreme avalanche danger and high technical difficulty close to the summit has defeated all attempts.

Number six on our list is the obscure Tongshanjiabu, 7207 m. Towering on the Tibetan/Bhutanese border, the Koreans which made the first ascent of the nearby Shimokangri (7204m) mention the peak in an expedition report and a photo in the Japanese Alpine News is the only info available.

Claims and rumors

I would say the six peaks mentioned above are above all dispute when it comes to prominence and none of them has been summited. That said, there are always rumors and claims on the mountaineering scene. Almost wherever you go either the local guys or other climbers will point at a peak and claim: Look at that one. Its still unclimbed!

On another level, prominent climbers sometimes stage expeditions claiming they are going for the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. The last time I heard it was in 2004 when Moro & Ogwyn/a small Italian/US party went for Batura II. The 7762 meter giant in Pakistani Karakoram was according to them (and scientific sources) the highest never visited by mankind. If you count a bump on a ridge with a prominence of slightly over a 100 meters a mountain, the statement holds some truth, but then again; there are other such high points on ridges and some of them are higher than Batura II.(*1)

The virgin celebrities

The most famous and well known unclimbed peaks are lower. Kailash, in West Tibet, a peak which is sacred by Hindus, Buddhists and followers of the Bön religion has never been summited and permits are not granted because of the peaks holy status.

The whole Meili range, a.k.a. Kawa Korpo, in the extreme north-west of the Yunnan province in China is located also sacred to the local people. Some peaks in the range have seen attempts back in the times when permission was granted. At the time of writing, the whole range is firmly closed for mountaineering.

Mianzimu in the Meili range is regarded as one of the worlds most beautiful peaks and so is Kailash.

(*1)Ed. Note: In a previous interview, ExWeb asked Simone Moro why he considered Batura II the highest yet unclimbed peak. Simone referred to German expert Wolfgang Hichel and suggested all those interested in the subject to contact him directly at wheichel@T-Online.de.

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