The Himalayan mountain range in Asia is home to not only Mount Everest, but also the vast majority of the World’s tallest mountains. The vast range stretches over Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bhutan and China and within its 1,500 mile length is contained the World’s largest deposit of ice and snow after the Polar regions. All ten of the World’s tallest mountains are part of this majestic glacial region so for our list of the top 10 tallest mountains in the World we’re going to look at things a little differently.
Topographic prominence takes into account the height between a mountains summit and the height of its base, basically it’s a measure of how much any peak rises up from the surrounding landscape. It’s a system that looks at the independent elevation and prominence of mountains and it gives us a far more varied list, so don’t look down if you don’t like heights as we climb our list of the top 10 tallest mountains in the World based on their topographic prominence.
#10 – Mount Elbrus – Prominence 15,554 feet
Mount Elbrus is located in the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia close to the border with Georgia. Elbrus is a volcano that has two summits of almost identical height, although the western peak is the highest at 18,442 feet. The mountain is the highest in Russia and generally considered the tallest mountain in Europe too, although there is some disagreement as to exactly where in the Caucasus mountains Europe ends and Asia begins. The volcano that formed Elbrus is not completely extinct but merely dormant, and even though it is not known to have erupted since 50 AD, the area does have several recent looking lava flows and many hot springs, and magma is also known to be buried deep beneath the mountain. It was first climbed in 1829 and these days as many as 100 climbers a day attempt to summit it during the summer. Although there is a cable car system that can take climbers up to 12,500 feet Mount Elbrus still claims up to 30 lives a year, mainly due to inexperienced and poorly-equipped climbers attempting the feat.
#9 – Puncak Jaya – Prominence 16,024 feet
Puncak Jaya, also known as the Carstensz Pyramid is located in the Sudirman mountain range of Indonesia on the island of New Guinea, and it is the tallest mountain on the Australian continent, although once again this is disputed as some claim that Indonesia is part of Asia. It is the highest island summit in the World and the highest point between the Andes and the Himalayas, although Ngga Pulu, a neighboring peak is believed to have been higher until the glacier on its summit completely melted back in the 1940’s. Puncak Jay’s icy peak has now also completely disappeared but climbers still face a difficult technical climb through several unstable snow patches and Puncak Jaya is considered the most technically difficult of the fabled seven summits, the highest mountains of each of the seven continents. Although a summit attempt takes only one day from base camp, climbers must first undergo an arduous five day trek through dense jungle before they can even get to base camp, making rescue attempts by helicopter virtually impossible.
#8 – Vinson Massif – Prominence – 16,050 feet
Mount Everest and its infamous death zone is feared by all who attempt to climb it, but Antarctica is technically one enormous death zone in itself. Vinson Massif stretches over 16,000 feet from the icy windswept wasteland of snow and ice, and although it is not considered a particularly difficult climb in itself, the -30 degree average temperature, and that’s during the summer, is enough to give all but the most prepared climbers severe problems. Vinson is situated 750 miles away from the bottom of the globe and wasn’t even discovered until 1958, when US navy pilots from Byrd station spotted the peak. It was first climbed in 1966 by a four man team from the American Alpine Club led by Charles Hollister but the more difficult Eastern face was only conquered in 2001, by an eight man team led by veteran mountaineer Conrad Anker, the Californian author who became internationally famous after finding the body of George Mallory on Everest in 1999. TV network Nova, who sponsored the expedition made a documentary about Conrad’s successful summit attempt, ‘Mountain of Ice’, in 1993.
#7 – Pico de Orizaba – Prominence 16,148 feet
Pico de Orizaba is Mexico’s highest peak and with a summit of 18,491 feet the third highest mountain in North America. It is also known as Citlaltépetl, which means ‘Star Mountain’, mainly due to the fact that the white snow-capped peak can be seen all year round for hundreds of miles in all directions. It is a dormant volcano that last erupted in the nineteenth century and is the second highest volcano in the World behind Mount Kilimanjaro, yet despite the explosive magma that is buried deep within it, the lofty altitude of the summit enables it to support nine glaciers all year round, including Mexico’s biggest glacier. The first known climbers to reach the summit were two American soldiers in 1948, during the US-Mexican War, but these days it attracts large numbers of climbers every year due to the multitude of routes that can be chosen and the wide range of technical skills required depending on the experience of those who attempt it. The most popular route is merely a steep hike to the caldera, yet steep ice-laden routes are available to those who wish to experience a technically challenging climb.
#6 – Mount Logan – Prominence 17,220 feet
With a highest point of 19,551 feet Mount Logan in Canada is North America’s second highest peak, and due to its location in a tectonically active area, it’s still growing. The annual average temperature makes even Antarctica seem cosy in comparison, with winter seeing a bone-chilling -45 degrees, and that’s before we even take wind-chill into consideration. The extreme cold on its slopes has produced ice caps of almost 1,000 feet in places due to the minimal snow melt and even during the high point of summer the temperature rarely achieves anything higher than freezing. Mount Logan was first climbed in 1925 by an international team of Climbers from Canada, America and Britain who reached the summit after a 120 mile hike through the icy Canadian wilderness. The journey to the summit and back to civilization took 65 days in total but all of the team eventually made it back with no significant injuries. Even today climbing teams face significant delays lasting several days before the turbulent Canadian weather allows them a chance to attempt the climb.
#5 – Pico Cristóbal Colón – Prominence 18,071 feet
Colombia isn’t usually noted for it’s snowy regions but the peak of Pico Cristóbal Colón is permanently snowcapped due to its elevation of 19,700 feet. The mountain is named after the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus and is the highest point in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range, although a neighboring peak, Pico Simón Bolívar is just 3 feet shorter. The mountain range is surrounded by rainforest and dense jungle and is fairly inaccessible, making reaching the area difficult even today. Pico Cristóbal Colón was first climbed in 1939, although exactly who reached the summit first is a somewhat controversial subject. A three man team from the Cobat Expedition comprising of W. Wood, A. Bakerwell and E. Praolini is generally considered to be the first team that reached the peak.
#4 – Mount Kilimanjaro – Prominence 19,308 feet
Africa’s tallest mountain, and the highest active volcano in the World is Mount Kilimanjaro. Various European climbing expeditions attempted to reach the peak throughout the late nineteenth century but it wasn’t until 1889 when a German geology professor Hans Meyer reached the peak on his third attempt, aided by Ludwig Portscheller, an Austrian mountaineer. Early summit attempts were often thwarted by expansive ice caps near the peaks but these have been severely eroded throughout the last century or so and these days Mount Kilimanjaro is a popular tourist destination visited by thousands of trekkers every year. Although not a technically difficult climb the high altitude often causes inexperienced climbers to suffer from altitude sickness during the ascent, and although Mount Kilimanjaro is relatively small compared to the towering Himalayas, altitude sickness is typically experienced by 75% of those who attempt the climb and on average three climbers a year die from the effects of it. For some people even this is not enough of a challenge, in 2014 Swiss mountain guide Karl Egloff ran to the top and back in under seven hours, a journey that takes mere mortals a week or more to complete.
#3 – Denali / Mount McKinley – Prominence 20,146 feet
The highest mountain in North America is Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley in Alaska. It’s the most Northerly mountain in the World above 19,500 feet and is infamous for the incredibly cold weather that climbers must contend with while climbing it. Temperatures as low as -60 degrees are not uncommon and with wind-chill added it can effectively be as cold as an almost unimaginable -90 degrees. Many attempts to reach the summit were attempted in the early 19th century but the harsh weather always forced climbers to turn back. A 1912 expedition gave up just a few hundred feet from the summit due to a storm and a few hours later they were only too glad of their failure, as the great earthquake of that year destroyed the glacier they had been on. The summit of Denali was finally reached in 1913 by a four man team led by Harry Karstens, a famous mountaineer from Chicago. Another team member Robert Tatum from Knoxville described the view from the summit as ‘Like looking out the windows of Heaven’.
#2 – Aconcagua – Prominence 22,838 feet
Aconcagua on the Argentina-Chile border is the highest mountain outside Asia as well as the highest peak in the Southern and Western hemispheres. The origin of the mountains name are unclear but one theory is that it came from ‘Ackon Cahauk’, or ‘Sentinel of Stone’ in the Quechan language of the indigenous Andes people. The first recorded successful summit of the peak was in 1897 by a British expedition and although the climb is considered relatively easy compared to other mountains of a similar height, the effects of altitude sickness are usually experienced by most climbers. Supplemental oxygen is commonly used by those who attempt to reach its summit and frostbite injuries occur every year due to the extreme cold. Several casualties have been reported in recent years and in 2009 five climbers died in a summit attempt in one incident alone.
#1 – Mount Everest – Prominence 29,029 feet
Mount Everest towers above everything, even the rest of the World’s highest mountain range, and it is the tallest mountain in the World today, Even though it is not the most technically demanding climb of all, it’s still feared and respected by the most experienced of climbers due to its incredible altitude, extreme cold and the infamous death zone where there is not enough oxygen to sustain any kind of life. The summit of Everest was first reached by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953, but the extreme challenge of reaching the summit meant that even by 1987 only about 200 people had equalled the feat. The upper slopes are so high that not only frostbite and altitude sickness are significant risks, but the mountain top is frequently struck by the jet stream, with climbers suddenly facing wind speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. In the 1990’s the growth of commercial guide companies and adventure groups saw a vast increase in the number of climbers reaching the peak, and by 2013 the summit had been reached over 6,800 times, but the cost in human terms has also risen sharply since then. Even someone as fit and well-prepared as astronaut Karl Heinze succumbed to a fatal case of altitude sickness in 1993 and 1996 saw fifteen people die in a single season. 2006 saw twelve deaths on the mountain and an avalanche in the infamous Khumbu Icefall killed sixteen Sherpa guides at a stroke in 2014. Just to prove that you can never be entirely safe on Everest the 2015 Nepalese earthquake triggered a devastating avalanche that struck the relatively safe Everest base camp and left at least eighteen climbers and Sherpa guides dead before they even got a chance to climb the mountain. Everest has claimed over 280 lives and many of them still litter the slopes in the death zone, a grim reminder to climbers that Everest forgives no mistakes, and that extreme risks are never far away.