The eight-thousanders are the only mountains on the planet with death zones, where the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere is insufficient to sustain human life (about 30% of that at sea level). The mountains are all are located in the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges in China, India, Nepal and Pakistan and are the only ones in the world over 8,000m (26,247ft).

The first person to climb all 14 eight-thousanders was the legendary mountaineer Reinhold Messner who completed the feat on October 16 1986. To date, there have been 33 climbers with verified ascents of all 14 eight-thousanders.

With the help of mountain guiding experts Adventure Consultants, we look at the challenges and vagaries of the 14 highest mountains on Earth. With nearly 25 years of Himalayan guiding experience, 225 Everest summits and expeditions on seven of the 14 eight-thousanders, there is no better authority on the subject.


Photo: foxaon1987/Shutterstock

8,027m (26,335ft)
Location: China
First ascent: 2 May 1964
Ascents: 302
Duration: 42 days

Shishapangma is the lowest of the eight-thousanders and benefits from a short approach to base camp as well as a gentle ascent, but is not necessarily the easiest to summit. Due to its location entirely within the Tibetan region of China, it was actually the last of the eight-thousanders to be climbed.

It is not a technically difficult mountain, making it an ideal first eight-thousander to tackle, but its remoteness is a major consideration.


Photo: Piotr Snigorski/Shutterstock

Elevation: 8,035m (26,362ft)
Location: Pakistan / China
First ascent: 7 July 1956
Ascents: 930
Duration: 50 days

Located in the Karakoram mountain range of the Himalayas on the Pakistan-China border, Gasherbrum II has some pretty impressive neighbours with Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I and the formidable giant of K2 seemingly within touching distance.

Don’t be put off though: Gasherbrum II is not in the same league as K2. Regarded as a good training peak for Everest, Gasherbrum II is climbed using three camps with the summit attempt mounted from camp three. Like Shishapangma, the climbing is not overly steep.


Photo: thsulemani/Shutterstock

Elevation: 8,051m (26,414ft)
Location: Pakistan / China
First ascent: 9 June 1957
Ascents: 404
Duration: 47 days

Part of the same massif as the Gasherbrums, Broad Peak has a summit ridge over 1.5 kilometres (0.93 miles) long, hence the name Broad Peak. It is often used by K2 hopefuls as a precursor as it offers good training and altitude acclimatisation.

Again, classed as a less technical climb than many of the eight-thousanders, Broad Peak often appeals to the less technically-skilled mountaineer wishing to climb in the shadow of K2 and the Karakoram range.


Photo: Piotr Snigorski/Shutterstock

Elevation: 8,080m (26,444ft)
Location: Pakistan / China
First ascent: 5 July 1958
Ascents: 334
Duration: 53 days

When Gasherbrum I was first spotted from more than 200 kilometres away during the Great Trigonometric Survey of India it was initially designated K5 (meaning the 5th peak of the Karakoram). It was often referred to as “Hidden Peak” in reference to its extreme remoteness and today remains one of the least popular of the eight-thousanders, partly due its remoteness but also its illustrious neighbours. Private guided expeditions tend to either focus on either Gasherbrum II or Broad Peak, while K2 is the real draw for serious mountaineers.


Photo: My Good Images/Shutterstock

Elevation: 8,091m (26,545ft)
Location: Nepal
First ascent: 3 June 1950
Ascents: 191
Duration: 54 days

Annapurna is often cited as the most dangerous of the eight-thousanders. Overall, it has the highest fatality-to-summit rate (191 summits and 61 fatalities) and also the fewest overall summits. From 1990 onwards, however, Kangchenjunga has had a higher fatality rate.

Either way, Annarpurna I and the wider Annapurna massif is a very dangerous place to go climbing. The massif is usually reserved for only the very best mountaineers with just a handful of privately guided expeditions ever taking place on the range.


Photo: Lukas Bischoff Photograph/Shutterstock

Elevation: 8,126m (26,660ft)
Location: Pakistan
First ascent: 3 July 1953
Ascents: 335
43 days

Don’t let this mountain’s beauty fool you: Nanga Parbat is a notoriously difficult climb and was once known as the “killer mountain.” Along with K2, it has never been climbed in winter and is the third most dangerous 8,000m peak after Annapurna and K2.

Before 1990, Nanga Parbat had an astonishing death rate of 77% , meaning summiteers were more likely to die than survive! Nanga Parbat is the westernmost eight-thousander. Surrounded by lush forests and glacial lakes, the mountain towers with tremendous vertical relief over the local terrain in all directions.

UPDATE: The first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat was achieved on 26 February 2016.


Monastery in Nepalese Himalayas

Photo: Olga Danylenko/Shutterstock

Elevation: 8,163m (26,781ft)
Location: Nepal
First ascent: 9 May 1956
Ascents: 661
Duration: 42 days

Ah, back to a more “achievable” climb. Manaslu, the eighth highest mountain in the world, is described by Adventure Consultants as an “enjoyable expedition in an exceedingly scenic region.”

Despite its dominating peak, Manaslu boasts long ridges and valley glaciers that offer generally feasible approaches from all directions. Climbers arrive at the base of the mountain via helicopter before acclimatising with day hikes around the surrounding slopes. The climb, partitioned by four camps, ascends moderate slopes before a final steep snow arête below the summit.


Photo: danm12/Shutterstock

Elevation: 8,167m (26,795ft)
Location: Nepal
First ascent: 13 May 1960
Ascents: 448
Duration: 44 days

Often overlooked for its more accessible counterparts, the remote Dhaulagiri is considered one of the lesser climbed eight-thousanders despite 448 successful summits.

Dhaulagiri is the highest mountain lying entirely within Nepal and was the penultimate eight-thousander to be summited. Dhaulagiri’s sudden rise from the surrounding terrain is almost unequalled. It ascends an astonishing 7,000m (22,970 ft) from the Kali Gandaki River just 30 kilometres to the southeast.


Photo: Ga Stock/Shutterstock

Elevation: 8,201m (26,906ft)
Location: Nepal / China
First ascent: 19 October 1954
Ascents: 3,138
Duration: 44 days

The sixth highest mountain in the world is the easiest eight-thousander to summit. The mountain is often referred to as the “mock exam” or “stepping-stone” for Everest, as the high camp at 7,400m provides excellent practise for using oxygen and refining skills, clothing and equipment.

Next to Everest, Cho Oyu is the most frequently climbed of the eight-thousanders. The climbing route is relatively straightforward and hazard-free with only a few short technical sections. Off you go then…


Photo: Yongyut Kumsri/Shutterstock

Elevation: 8,485 m (27,838ft)
Location: Nepal / China
First ascent: 15 May 1955
Ascents: 361
Duration: 60 days

Makalu is a handsome mountain with an isolated peak shaped like a pyramid. Situated just 22 kilometres (14 miles) east of Everest in the Khumbu region, its prominent shape has long impressed climbers on the slopes of Everest.

With its good looks, however, come exposure and danger. The mountain is notorious for its steep pitches and knife-edged ridges that in places are completely exposed to the elements, making it one of the harder eight-thousanders to climb. The final ascent of the spectacular summit pyramid demands some very challenging technical rock and ice climbing.


Elevation: 8,516m (27,940ft)
Location: Nepal / China
First ascent: 18th May 1956
Ascents: 461
Duration: 56 days

If Makalu is handsome then Lhotse is statuesque. Its eye-catching contours make it one of the more popular of the eight-thousanders. As part of the Everest massif, it is often climbed as part of a “combo climb” with Everest. The route follows the Everest climbing route as far as camp four before splitting off along a narrow gully which makes for an exhilarating finale to the climb. Lhotse is often climbed immediately after an Everest summit from South Col which connects the two peaks.


Photo: Szerkach Viktar/Shutterstock

Elevation: 8,586m (28,169ft)
Location: Nepal / India
First ascent: 25 May 1955
Ascents: 283
Duration: 52 days

Lying on the India-Nepal border, Kangchenjunga is the highest mountain in India, second-highest in Nepal and third-highest in the world. It is also the easternmost of the eight-thousanders.

The Kangchenjunga area is a very remote region and has only recently opened up to tourism. The mountain itself is not highly technical, but has only been summited 283 times, making it the second-least climbed of the eight-thousanders. Only the perilous and brutal Annapurna has been summited less.

13. K2


Photo: Pornchai_Ar/Shutterstock

Elevation: 8,611m (28,251ft)
Location: Pakistan / China
First ascent: 31 July 1954
Ascents: 306
Duration: 68 days

A mere mention of this legend is enough to make one’s blood run cold. K2 is known as the Savage Mountain due to the extremely difficult ascent and the second-highest fatality rate among the eight-thousanders. Unlike Annapurna, the mountain with the highest fatality rate, K2 has never been climbed during the wintertime. Unpredictable avalanches mean that one in four summiteers die on the slopes of this treacherous mountain.

K2 demands greater technical climbing skills than Everest and all of the dangers that come with climbing over 8,000m remain. Be afraid. Be very afraid.


Climbers on Everest

Photo: Daniel Prudek/Shutterstock

Elevation: 8,850m (29,035ft)
Location: Nepal / China
First ascent: 29th May 1953
Ascents: 5,656
Duration: 63 days

I said recently that I expect the allure of standing on top of the world will never really dissipate and it is that allure (or perhaps obsession) that makes Everest the most climbed mountain above 8,000m.

Adventure Consultants describe it well when they say Everest is “still the ultimate mountaineering adventure and to stand at the pinnacle of the Earth is one of life’s most rewarding experiences.” It may not be the hardest, most challenging or most dangerous, but it is the highest mountain in the world.

The last two years have seen the mountain shaken quite literally by natural disasters. In 2014 an avalanche killed 16 people, making it the worst Everest disaster in history. A year later, the Nepal earthquake triggered an avalanche, killing another 18 people and breaking another tragic record. When Japanese climber Nobukazu Kuriki abandoned his summit attempt in the autumn of 2015, that year became the first in since 1974 (41 years) without a successful summit of Mount Everest.

Veteran mountaineer Alan Arnette put it perfectly when he said, “2016 will be a milestone in the history of Everest climbing. I wish for a boring year with normal summits, few deaths and no drama.”

This article originally appeared on Atlas & Boots — Travel with Abandon and is republished here with permission.