The world’s highest and most remote mountains inspire awe in all of us, but few are aware how truly dangerous they can be. The fact is that any time experienced climbers and mountaineers put crampons to ice, they will confront some degree of danger. Accidents can occur even at relatively benign roadside crags. Still, there are certain mountains that command respect from even the most experienced climbers — dangerous mountains that continue to cause fear and anxiety decades after their first ascents. And while it may be the most famous, Mt. Everest is not the deadliest mountain. From K2 to Mt. Denali, these are the 11 hardest mountains to climb in the world.
Where: Himalayas, north-central Nepal
Elevation: 8,091 m (26,545 ft)
Since its first ascent on the 1950 expedition led by Maurice Herzog, Annapurna Massif in Nepal has been climbed by more than almost 300 people, but at least 73 have died trying. This high fatality rate makes Annapurna, the 10th highest mountain in the world, the most statistically dangerous of the 8,000-meter peaks. Trekking the Annapurna circuit is possible with lots of preparation and training, but more novice hikers would be better suited to summiting less dangerous peaks within the Annapurna Conservation Area, visiting teahouses in Nepal in the Khopra Ridge, or heading to the Mardi Himal Base Camp.
Where: Karakoram range, China-Pakistan border
Elevation: 8,611 m (28,251 ft)
K2, the world’s second-highest mountain is known among climbers as one of the most technically difficult in the world. Ascents of even the easiest route require crossing a complicated glacier, ascending steep sections of rock, and negotiating a path around a series of ice pillars, called seracs, which are prone to collapse without warning. The technical difficulty of this mountain makes it one of the most committing and dangerous in the world. In 2020, Viridinia Álvarez Chávez became the first Latina to summit K2, pressing her ascent even after watching another climber fall to his death. There is also a recent K2 documentary worth watching, which follows a group’s attempt to summit K2 without supplemental oxygen.
3. Nanga Parbat
Where: Himalayas, Pakistan
Elevation: 8,126 m (26,660 ft)
The world’s ninth highest peak, Nanga Parbat in Pakistan, competes with K2 in terms of technical difficulty. The route of the first ascent follows a narrow ridge to the summit. On the southern side is the largest mountain face on earth, the 15,000 foot Rupal Face. Although the name Nanga Parbat comes from Sanskrit for “naked mountain,” and the peak is known locally as Diamir, “king of the mountains,” the climbers have another name for it: “The Man Eater.”
Where: Himalayas, Nepal-India border
Elevation:8.568 m (28,169 ft)
When you look at the fatality rates on the world’s most dangerous mountains, you’ll see that most decrease as time goes on. One notable exception is Kangchenjunga, the third-highest peak in the world. Death rates averaged over 20 percent, a reflection of the avalanche and and weather hazards that plague this dangerous mountain. With climate change causing yet more unstable snow conditions and extreme weather, death rates for the Kangchenjunga ascension could yet worsen.
5. The Eiger
Where: Bernese Alps, Switzerland
Elevation: 3,967 m (13,015 ft)
The Nordwand, or north face, of this peak in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland is an objective legendary among mountaineers for its danger. Reaching nearly 6000 feet, it is the longest north face in the Alps. Though it was first climbed in 1938, the north face of the Eiger continues to challenge climbers of all abilities with both its technical difficulties and the heavy rockfall that rakes the face. The difficulty and hazards have earned the Eiger’s north face the nickname Mordwand, or Murder Wall. The mountain was made famous in the 1975 film The Eiger Sanction in which Clint Eastwood plays an assassin who joins a climbing team on an ascent of the Eiger north face to avenge the murder of a friend.
6. The Matterhorn
Where: Alps, Switzerland
Elevation: 4,478 m (14,692 ft)
This iconic mountain, which looks like a horn rising out of the surrounding valleys, has one of the highest fatality rates of any peak in the Alps. This is caused by a wide range of factors, including technical difficulty, the prevalence of avalanches and rockfall, and severe overcrowding on routes during peak climbing seasons. An easier way to see the Matterhorn would be at a safe distance by train, gondola, or helicopter. You can even ski with stunning views of Zermatt.
7. Vinson Massif
Where: Sentinel range, Antarctica
Elevation: 4,892 m (16,050 ft)
Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antarctica, is not notable for its technical difficulty or fatality rate. However, Mount Vinson is over 16,000 feet high. That elevation, combined with the isolation, extreme cold and unpredictable weather of the Antarctic continent, makes Vinson a very serious undertaking. Even a small accident here could be disastrous.
8. Baintha Brakk
Where: Karakoram range, Pakistan
Elevation: 7,285 m (23,901 ft)
Commonly known as The Ogre, Baintha Brakk in Pakistan is considered one of the most difficult mountains to climb in the world. Though it saw its first ascent in 1971, The Ogre was not summited again until 2001. One of the first ascensionists, Doug Scott, broke both of his legs on the descent, forcing him to crawl through a major storm to the team’s base camp. This famous epic and more than 20 failed attempts on the peak have earned it a reputation as one of the most dangerous in the world.
9. Mt. Everest
Where: Himalayas, China-Nepal border
Elevation: 8,848 m (29,029 ft)
More than 1,500 people have climbed Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world, with as many as 50 people or more reaching the summit on a single day. This congestion, when combined with Everest’s extreme altitude, makes it an undeniably dangerous objective. While Everest regulations are now focused on cleaning up waste and preventing more pollution, it is still succumbing to climate change, which some climbers say is making it yet more dangerous. Congestion from too many climbers has also been a major risk factor, leading to multiple deaths in 2019. Everest Base Camp’s elevation is 5,600 meters, making that an achievement unto itself.
10. Mt. Denali
Where: Alaska Range, United States
Elevation: 6,190 m (20,310 ft)
Mt. Denali is located in Alaska and is the highest mountain in North America. It was officially known as Mt. McKinley from 1896 to 2015 when it was renamed back to its Indigenous name under President Obama. Though its altitude is only 20,320 feet, its high latitude means that the atmosphere is far thinner than it would be at the equator. For the many people who climb Denali each year, the altitude, weather, and extreme temperature pose a serious danger. For these reasons, the success rate on Denali is around 50 percent, and more than 100 climbers have died attempting the summit. The mountain towers over Denali National Park, with its admirers possibly unaware of its deadly statistics. In fact, 2018 was the first year in fifteen that no one died in the Denali range. You can see Mt. Denali from a distance on a bus tour of Denali National Park.
11. Fitz Roy
Where: Andes, Argentina-Chile border
Elevation: 3,405 m (11,171 ft)
Cerro Chalten, or Mount Fitz Roy, is the tallest mountain in Patagonia‘s Los Glaciares National Park. Fitz Roy’s summit is guarded on all sides by steep rock faces requiring difficult, technical climbing to ascend. Because of this, it was considered one of the most difficult mountains in the world for decades. Even today, the region’s unpredictable weather and relative isolation make it extremely dangerous. Despite the number of people who may admire it on a trek through this stunning region, Fitz Roy may see only a single ascent in a year: truly the mark of a dangerous, difficult mountain.
A version of this article was previously published on October 24, 2008, and was updated on October 29, 2020, with more information.
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