You’ve probably known since elementary school that Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world. You heard the stories about intrepid explorers, daring rescues like this one, and you’ve seen the blockbuster movies. But a lesser-known, and surprising, mountaineering fact is the number of mountain peaks out there that are not as tall as Everest, but that have not been climbed, unlike Everest.
Determining which of these is the “tallest” can be tricky business, since it can be difficult to determine exactly where the “top” of a mountain is, and because there’s no concrete record of mountains where people have and have not reached the top. But most sources consider a mountain in Bhutan, Gangkhar Puensum or “White Peak of the Three Spiritual Brothers,” to be the highest unclimbed peak in the world. This mountain lies on the border of Bhutan and China and reaches 24,836 feet above sea level. For reference, Mount Everest is 29,029 feet above sea level.
If Everest is the tallest mountain in the world and thousands of people have climbed it, why is this shorter mountain still unclimbed? It actually doesn’t have much to do with the physical conditions. While scarce rescue services in the area are part of the reason, the primary reason has to do with national law. In this area of Bhutan, local customs consider mountains to be sacred places, home to holy spirits. As such, a law in Bhutan, which has been in effect since 1994, prohibits mountaineers from climbing higher than 6,000 meters (Gangkhar Puensum is more than 7,500). And, considering the way climbers are ruining Mount Everest, we can’t say we blame them.
Before the law took effect, a few expeditions did try to climb the mountain but had to turn back. A Japanese team also tried to climb the mountain post-law, in 1998, hoping that approaching the summit from the Chinese side would allow them a loophole, but officials in Bhutan got wind of it and convinced the Chinese government to revoke the climbers’ permit. So, tempting as it may be to dream about being the first to reach the world’s highest unclimbed peak, you’re better off keeping a Gangkhar Puensum hike off your travel itinerary. Instead, consider planning a trip to one of these other 14 most remote locations in the world.