A 1,500-kilometre (930-mile) stretch of Central Asia is home to the world’s 14 tallest independent mountains, each of which exceeds 8,000 metres (26,200 feet) in elevation.
Collectively, the peaks are referred to as the 14 Eight-thousanders by the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA) and are one of mountaineering’s most difficult and coveted challenges.
All 14 of these lofty summits are located in Nepal, China (Tibet) and Pakistan in the Himalayas and Karakoram Range. Many of the mountains are located in remote and difficult-to-access wilderness, which makes climbing each one a challenge that usually lasts more than a month.
Most climbers attempting to summit all 14 (and only 43 have done so as of 2019) take an average of about 10 years to get up all of them, with many climbers taking considerably longer to do so.
- There is no technical definition for what constitutes an “independent” mountain. As a result, the UIAA has been considering whether to extend the list to 20 mountains.
- As of January 2021, all 14 eight-thousanders have been climbed in both the winter and summer. K2 was the last mountain to be successfully summited in the winter.
- As of 2019, 43 people from 20 different countries have climbed at 14 eight-thousanders. Only 19 achieved the feat without supplemental oxygen.
History of Climbing the 14 Eight-thousanders
The first record of anyone trying to climb an 8,000-metre peak came in 1895 when four British mountaineers attempted to climb Nanga Parbat in Pakistan. However, the attempt failed after one of the climbers and two supporting Gurkhas were killed in an avalanche.
Over the proceeding decades, several other prominent attempts were made, including George Mallory’s three attempts to climb Mount Everest in the early 1920s.
However, it was not until 1950 when the first eight-thousander would be successfully climbed. On 3 June, French mountaineers Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenel arrived at the summit of Annapurna I.
The duo’s successful ascent ushered in a golden age of mountaineering and within 36 years, Italian climber Reinhold Messner became the first person to climb at 14 of the eight-thousanders. He was also the first person to do so without supplemental oxygen.
Later in 2010, the Basque climber Edurne Pasaban became the first woman to climb the 14 eight-thousanders officially.
Experience Required to Climb the 14 Eight-thousanders
There are two main challenges associated with climbing an eight-thousander: the lack of oxygen and harsh climatic conditions.
At 8,000 metres, there is roughly a third less oxygen in the air than there is at sea level. This means that essential decision-making and physical exertion become very difficult.
The lack of oxygen flowing to the brain can also lead to high-altitude cerebral oedema, typically occurring after a person has spent one to three days at a high altitude.
The weather is the other main challenge. While it is always below freezing at such high elevations, climbers are often left exposed to strong UV rays from the sun and wind.
Weather is also much more volatile at higher elevations. Even during the dry season, storms can form and envelope these peaks quickly, leaving climbers with limited options to seek shelter.