Average time to summit: 2–3 days
The difficulty of the Eiger’s north face has earned it a disturbing nickname: Murder Wall. Requiring an technical skill and ice axe finesse, the sharp overhang, 1800m face and ever-increasing threat of falling ice and rock (a result of global warming) has killed at least 64 climbers trying to follow up the first successful ascent in 1938.
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6. Denali, Alaska, USA
Average time to summit: 21 days
The altitude, awful weather, relative isolation and punishing temperatures all pose a serious threat to those who attempt to summit North America’s tallest mountain, previously known as Mount McKinley. Further, its high degree of latitude means that atmosphere and oxygen are spread thin.
Despite the having only a 50% success rate, Denali never fails to tempt climbers to ascend. Perhaps the words of one of the first climbers to summit have something to do with the far-flung Alaskan allure: “The view from the top of Mount McKinley is like looking out the windows of Heaven”.
Majestic caribou bull in front of the mount Denali © Martin Capek/Shutterstock
5. Mount Everest, Nepal and Tibet
Average time to summit: 54 days
Surprised to see the world’s tallest mountain in the middle of our list? Make no mistake, Everest is still a difficult climb. Weather and altitudes can still be deadly, and avalanches have claimed dozens of lives in recent years.
But its glory has faded somewhat with the mountain’s commercialisation: while once it was a feat not many travellers could claim to have achieved, today’s services enable climbers hire local porters to lug their packs, employ chefs to prepare food, and even have a personal medic in case of injury to follow you as far as Base Camp.
However, the crowds that Everest attracts today have become an unfortunate danger in itself. If you do invest in a climb during the more accessible peak season, prepare to join a traffic-jam like queue of hundreds of climbers waiting their turn to summit.
View of Mount Everest from Kala Patthar on the way to Everest base camp, Sagarmatha national park, Khumbu valley – Nepal © Daniel Prudek/Shutterstock
4. Baintha Brakk, Pakistan
Average time to summit: undetermined
Commonly called “The Ogre”, towering Baintha Brakk has only been summited three times. Immense in scale, intricate in shape and harrowing in incline, this mountain is both the blight and desire of mountaineering’s most hardcore enthusiasts. From the start, any bold attempt at this mountain is a veritable struggle for survival.
© Lian Deng/Shutterstock
3. Kangchenjunga, India and Nepal
Average time to summit: 40–60 days
While climbing death rates are generally decreasing, Kangchenjunga stands as an unfortunate exception to the rule, taking more lives as time goes on. It seems fitting that the mountain is regarded as the home of a rakshasa (or man-eating demon). Only 187 have ever reached the top, though out of respect for the mountain’s immense religious significance among the region’s Buddhists, climbers have always stopped short of the summit.
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2. K2, China and Pakistan
Average time to summit: 60 days
Though plenty of peaks in the Himalaya could contest for second on our list, K2’s technical difficulty is legendary. It’s also the second tallest mountain in the world.
In an infamous section called the “Bottleneck”, climbers traverse a towering overhang of precarious glacial ice and massive, sometimes unstable, seracs. It’s the fastest route to the top, minimizing time climbing above K2’s “death zone”: the 8000m altitude above which human life can only briefly be sustained. But too often these seracs come tumbling down, taking climbers to plummet with them.
K2 mountain peak, Pakistan’s side © Punnawit Suwattananun/Shutterstock
1. Annapurna, Nepal
Average time to summit: 40–50 days
By no means should a mountain’s height ever be confused with its technical difficulty. Annapurna, the tenth highest peak in the world, is deadly proof. With a near 40% summit fatality rate, a mountaineer is more likely to die here than on any other 8000m climb.
Threat of storms and avalanches loom over the mountain’s hulking glacial architecture. The south face, in particular, is widely considered the most dangerous climb on Earth.
Annapurna South and Annapurna I (left) from Poon Hill © saiko3p/Shutterstock
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Top image: Matterhorn mountain © Farbregas Hareluya/Shutterstock