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Unclimbable
February 14, 2011 8:21 PM   Subscribe

Is there any mountain on earth that is considered unclimbable?

I'm working through a purely armchair obsession with extreme mountaineering (I enjoy having my fingers, toes, and nose, which few of the people in the documentaries available have).

Is there a peak that nobody has yet summited? (Due to technical or logistical difficulty, not political or religious reasons.)
posted by Camofrog to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (37 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was going to say Mr. Erebus, but apparently it was summited b Shackleton, of all people. Hard to imagine harsher weather, though.
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 8:28 PM on February 14, 2011


There's the peak summited by the fellows in Touching the Void. Yes, technically they made it and technically they also didn't die, but they really didn't deserve to, and it's really hard to call it a successful journey (great documentary, it's on streaming Netflix, if you haven't already seen it...)

I'd imagine, though I don't know, that there's other in the area around there that are also un-summited.
posted by brainmouse at 8:32 PM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


There are mountains on the bottom of the ocean which are unclimbable.
posted by TheBones at 8:33 PM on February 14, 2011 [16 favorites]


I think there are unclimbable mountains in Antarctica.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:34 PM on February 14, 2011


There are peaks in Pakistan and Bhutan and perhaps some other countries which have not yet been summited. Whether they are unclimbable because of their geologic features or solely because of the political circumstance of the countries they are in, I am not sure.
posted by dfriedman at 8:37 PM on February 14, 2011


Wiki to the rescue.
posted by dfriedman at 8:38 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not unclimbed. Unclimbable. Like, because it is ridiculously steep and technical and cold or whatever.
posted by Camofrog at 8:44 PM on February 14, 2011


You should check out the film North Face for the true story of one of the first (tragic) attempts to ascend the north face of the Eiger.

"While the summit was reached without much difficulty in 1858 by a complex route on the west flank, the battle to climb the north face has captivated the interest of climbers and non-climbers alike. Before it was successfully climbed, most of the attempts on the face ended tragically and the Bernese authorities even banned climbing it and threatened to fine any party that should attempt it again. But the enthusiasm which animated the young talented climbers from Austria and Germany finally vanquished its reputation of unclimbability when a party of four climbers successfully reached the summit in 1938 by what is known as the "1938" or "Heckmair" route."
posted by edguardo at 8:46 PM on February 14, 2011


Not unclimbed. Unclimbable.


who can know this? the surest way to determine if something is unclimbable is if a bunch of people want/try to climb it, but no one has.
posted by milestogo at 8:47 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is a pretty good list of difficult mountains. Cerro Torre is awe-inspiring, even though it's not particularly high.
posted by lukemeister at 8:48 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I mention this because, for decades, the North Face was considered, as you say, unclimbable.

It was only discovered not to be so at great cost.
posted by edguardo at 8:48 PM on February 14, 2011


As I understand these things, Fitz Roy is considered about as difficult as they come.

"Monte Fitz Roy may only be successfully ascended once a year."

Yvon Chouinard et al make an unsuccessful attempt in the film 180° South.
posted by RockyChrysler at 8:54 PM on February 14, 2011


who can know this? the surest way to determine if something is unclimbable is if a bunch of people want/try to climb it, but no one has.

Well, I know this, but I'm wondering if there is a peak for which the general consensus among the mountain-climbing elite is that it is impossible. Or if there is a holy grail of unscaled peaks, what is it?
posted by Camofrog at 8:55 PM on February 14, 2011


There are many, many, many unclimbed peaks throughout the world's mountain ranges. Joe Puryear was very into exploring unclimbed peaks in Tibet and China until he was killed this past October attempting another first ascent. There are a number of alpine climbers who practice this kind of exploratory alpinism. The vast majority of climbers stick to easily accessed, logistically non-complex objectives. But there's plenty of adventure for those that want to look for it.

So i guess yeah, there are a ton of unclimbed mountains out there that haven't been climbed because of technical or logistical difficulty. A lot of times in the Himalaya though, logistical difficulties have a lot to do with political difficulties. But every year there are still expeditions to Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Tibet, etc. despite red tape and instability.

I don't think there are any mountains that would be considered "unclimbable", but there are certainly mountains that people would probably not be interested in climbing due to the unaesthetic nature of the climbing itself, i.e. loose rock, seriously objective hazard, etc. Most of those things can be overcome if you have the risk tolerance and the skills, but then the big question becomes why?

There's always been this idea of "last great problems" in climbing. Inevitably those problems are solved and mountains or routes thought impossible years ago get climbed regularly. So the sport progresses like any other pursuit. One route that comes to mind and is considered a "great problem" is the NW Face of the Devils Thumb up in SE Alaska. It's been attempted many times and killed a few people. Some posit that it is unclimbable.

Sorry this was kinda rambling...
posted by alpinist at 8:59 PM on February 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm pretty sure there aren't any unless you count the ones that are actually impossible to climb, like at the bottom of the ocean and buried under a sheet of ice in antarctica.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:00 PM on February 14, 2011


Re: the Eiger North face and last great problems, check out this link. Ueli has the speed record for the 1938 route at an astonishing 2 hours and 47 minutes. The full video is amazing.
posted by alpinist at 9:09 PM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


Mr. Erebus is actually a walk up. Scientists go to its summit for research all the time.


Your question may make more sense if you have any guidelines on *how* its climbed. Most any mountain can be climbed by artificial means, if that means placing bolts into the rock face itself and just attaching a rope to that - or if you mean, can the mountain be climbed, "Cleanly", without the aide of permanent fixtures.

Most mountaineering now is really obsessed on how you climb, how fast you've climb it and/or from which route. Even Everest can be summitted by people that have no business being there, by using Sherpas that actually do all the work and by taking oxygen with them, but there are routes on it that even the most prepared climbers will fail to finish. The same can be said about some routes on local 14'ers here in Colorado, to be honest.

Anything unclimbable these days is because of red tape, be it govermental or sometimes, religious (sacred spots, for example)
posted by alex_skazat at 9:14 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you don't already know the difference between aid climbing and free climbing you might find the topic interesting. I agree with others above that nothing is probably impossible to climb because when climbers are establishing new routes they nearly always use some aid techniques. So, a route can have a section that is completely smooth, featureless and overhanging but it can still be climbed by drilling a bolt ladder. Now, is climbing the gear that is stuck in the rock (or ice, or mountain) the same thing as climbing the mountain?
posted by fieldtrip at 9:18 PM on February 14, 2011


Or, what alex_skazat said
posted by fieldtrip at 9:20 PM on February 14, 2011


Your question may make more sense if you have any guidelines on *how* its climbed.

Okay, I'm imagining there is a peak that climbers look at and want to climb, but have no way to actually carry it out. At high enough altitudes, doesn't the use of highly technical aids, like screws, become impractical simply because you can't take your mittens off long enough to install them and you can't think clearly enough anyway?

Or maybe a summit that is so pointy that you can't even really stand on it? Like how it appears in this picture. (The Rupal Face on Nanga Parbat.)
posted by Camofrog at 9:31 PM on February 14, 2011


RockyChrysler: "As I understand these things, Fitz Roy is considered about as difficult as they come.

"Monte Fitz Roy may only be successfully ascended once a year."
"

at first read that as "conditions will only allow Monte Fitz Roy to be climbed once per year", but the whole sentence makes a little more sense: "Today, when a hundred people may summit Mount Everest in a single day,[4] Monte Fitz Roy may only be successfully ascended once a year."
posted by ArgentCorvid at 9:32 PM on February 14, 2011


I would think that Mount Etna couldn't be climbed, because anyone who tried would be poisoned by sulfur gasses, or choked by ash, or baked by lava.

Etna has been erupting pretty much continuously for hundreds of years.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:42 PM on February 14, 2011


With enough money, time and expertise, my gut instinct says everthing becomes climbable.

Is the ice on the route too unstable? Wait for it to harden.
Is the route too steep? Aid gear, permanent anchors, and a hell of a lot of porters.
Is the route too remote? In the age of helicopters, albeit cheating, its not only a viable approach to certain areas, it becomes necessary saftey gear for large multi-expidition base camps. So with that, almost everything becomes climbable - almost.

About the only thing that I don't think is climbable is a surface which exists for a short period of time and is not measured by a summit: Ice. It is unpredictable, it melts, its can become impossible to tell the thickness of at all times (and you can put yourself into a jam by going up a trough that has either no support behind it or becomes too brittle and thin for safe forward practice. Even in permanently frozen areas, you'll still get movement, evaporation, breakage, and some serious variability such that not only is it not safe, it is guaranteed to be a different route every time - many of which are unclimbable.

Also, you can get into an ice field with enough unsafe conditions where the threat of unseen crevasses is too high that travel through is unwise. Once again though, wait a while and with a solid cold snap, you have a much better chance of crossing something like that when it is frozen solid.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:46 PM on February 14, 2011


If you look around, there are plenty of blog entries by people who have climbed Mt. Etna.

Also, apparently "the first recorded mountain ascent in the Common Era is Roman Emperor Hadrian's ascent of Etna [...] in 121."
posted by JiBB at 10:18 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Depends what you mean by climbable. As nanukthedog said, just use more tech (permanent anchors, oxygen, etc.) and anything becomes climbable.

"Free Solo" climbing (no ropes, big cliffs) might be what you're looking for.
posted by sninctown at 10:43 PM on February 14, 2011


Mt Etna has guided tours. Worked on a land rig site on the mountain across from Mt Etna and at night the glow from the cauldron was fantastic. We had a mafia company man, made for interesting (if one-sided) negotiations. Good times!

The mountain of paperwork on my desk seems unclimbable, but with enough tech and a big enough bin, it too will be summited.
posted by arcticseal at 10:50 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


There are no peaks that a large group of climbers have tried every method at every time of year and failed. Everything can be climbed with enough money, time, access, and method. There are smaller peaks that are unclimbed because a select few climbers have said said was too hard. But those are not what you are looking for.

Not every approach on every peak has been done, you might want to look there.
posted by Felex at 12:06 AM on February 15, 2011


Base to peak without a pressure suit? Mauna Kea. (Ah, I see TheBones got there first.)
posted by salvia at 1:17 AM on February 15, 2011


There are smaller peaks that are unclimbed because a select few climbers have said said was too hard. But those are not what you are looking for.

Actually, those are exactly what I'm looking for. Peaks for which the general consensus is that nobody will ever stand on top of. I want the names of some of these.
posted by Camofrog at 7:31 AM on February 15, 2011


I think if it can stand up to gravity, it can be climbed one way or another. For a long time people thought the faces of Half Dome and El Capitan would never be climbed but then teams of climbers spent weeks laying siege to them, fixing ropes and/or sleeping in hammocks hanging from the wall, and they were climbed. A couple decades later and those same routes get climbed in a day or free climbed or whatever.

There are a lot of "last great problem" routes on mountains but most of them will probably be climbed, either by a skilled team or a lone nut who gets lucky with the right conditions.

Most of the unclimbed peaks are unclimbed because they're not worth the trouble or nobody has gotten around to them yet.

I've often heard that Everest is "exactly the right height" in that if it were 1000 feet lower it would have been climbed 50 years sooner, and if it were 1000 feet higher it would be an engineering impossibility. I'm sure someone would've gotten up it eventually, though probably wearing some sort of space suit.
posted by bondcliff at 7:32 AM on February 15, 2011


Actually, those are exactly what I'm looking for. Peaks for which the general consensus is that nobody will ever stand on top of. I want the names of some of these.

There is no such peak. In fact, if anyone ever claims a peak is unclimbable, that will make the peak that much more appealing and more people will attempt it. Someone will get up it eventually. The more teams try and fail, the more appealing it is. Again, if something is unclimbed it's because nobody has put in enough effort.

I think what you want to find is the mountain that has had the most attempts without any successes. I don't know what mountain that is, but I would bet any amount that it'll be climbed in the next decade.
posted by bondcliff at 7:38 AM on February 15, 2011


How about Pinatubo? Isn't the entire slope covered with ash right now?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:14 AM on February 15, 2011


Not a mountain, but an impossible route. There's a famous anecdote about Mallory in Robert Graves's autobiography, Good-bye to all that:
My friend George Mallory, for instance, who later disappeared close to the summit of Mount Everest, once did an inexplicable climb on Snowdon. He had left his pipe on a ledge, half-way down one of the Lliwedd precipices, and scrambled back by a short cut to retrieve it, then up again by the same route. No one saw what route he took, but when they came to examine it the next day for official record, they found an overhang nearly all the way. By a rule of the Climber's Club climbs are never named in honour of their inventors, but only describe natural features. An exception was made here.

The climb was recorded as follows: Mallory's Pipe, a variation on Route 2; see adjoining map. This climb is totally impossible. It has been performed once, in failing light, by Mr G.H.L. Mallory.
posted by Jahaza at 8:53 AM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Highest unclimbed mountain

According to Wikipedia, Gangkhar Puensum in Bhutan is likely the highest unclimbed mountain, partly for political reasons (illegal due to local spiritual beliefs), and partly logistical reasons (it's so remote that rescue would be impossible).

Runners up include Saser Kangri II (main peak never climbed) and Labuche Kang, climbed only once.

Also, Wikipedia's article on Ultra prominent peaks mentions that "a number of Ultras have yet to be climbed" with a few limited details.
posted by castlebravo at 9:18 AM on February 15, 2011


So back in June 2003 Climbing magazine came out with their Super 7 Summits issue. Supposedly laying down the hardest summits on each continent to climb. Here's their list:

North America- Kichatna Spire
South America- Torre Egger
Antarctica- Rakekniven
Europe- Shkhara
Africa- Mt. Kenya
Australasia- Mt. Cook
Asia- K2

Now obviously this is a relatively subjective list. I tried to climb Kichatna Spire about five years ago and have been completely obsessed with it since. Looks like I'm going back in June. Hopefully.
posted by alpinist at 9:32 AM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would think that Mount Etna couldn't be climbed

I have climbed Etna. It was no big deal. And that's not saying anything about me - I'm not a climber at all. It's just not a big deal.
posted by The World Famous at 11:39 AM on February 15, 2011


Wow, alpinist, amazing. Good luck and good weather!
posted by Camofrog at 1:30 PM on February 15, 2011


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