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Gangkhar Puensum: World’s Highest Unclimbed Mountain

Fast Facts About Gangkhar Puensum

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Gangkhar Puensum: World’s Highest Unclimbed Mountain

Gangkhar Puensum, the 40th highest mountain in the world, is also the highest unclimbed mountain left for mountaineers.

Photograph courtesy Mark R. Green

Elevation: 24,836 feet (7,570 meters)
Location: Bhutan-Tibet border. Central Asia.
First Ascent: Unclimbed as of 2009, but had four attempts until the mountain was closed to climbing in 1994.

Fast Facts:

  • Gangkhar Puensum is the highest mountain in Bhutan; the 40th highest mountain in the world; and the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. Any unclimbed points in the world higher than Gangkhar Puensum are not considered separate summits or mountains but subsidiary summits of higher peaks.
  • Gangkhar Puensum means “White Peak of the Three Spiritual Brothers.” Literally it is “Mountain of the Three Siblings.” Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan, is related to Tibetan. It has many sounds that are not in English, making exact pronunciation difficult for English speakers.
  • Gangkhar Puensum lies on the border of Bhutan and Tibet, although the exact boundary line is disputed. Chinese maps put the peak squarely on the border whereas other sources put it wholly in Bhutan. The mountain was first mapped and surveyed in 1922. Subsequent surveys have placed the mountain in different places with differing heights. Bhutan itself has not surveyed the peak.
  • Gangkhar Puensum was attempted by four expeditions in 1985 and 1986 after Bhutan opened its mountains for mountaineering in 1983. In 1994, however, climbing mountains higher than 6,000 meters was prohibited out of respect for spiritual beliefs and customs. In 2004, all mountaineering was banned in Bhutan so Gangkhar Puensum will likely remain unclimbed for the foreseeable future.
  • In 1998, a Japanese expedition was granted permission by the Chinese Mountaineering Association to climb Gangkhar Puensum north of Bhutan from the Tibetan side. Due to a border dispute with Bhutan, however, the permit was revoked, so in 1999 the expedition climbed Liankang Kangri or Gangkhar Puensum North, a previously unclimbed 24,413-foot subsidiary peak of Gangkhar Puensum in Tibet.
  • The Japanese Liankang Kangri Expedition described Gangkhar Puensum from the summit of Liankang Kangri in an expedition report: “In front, the glorious Gankarpunzum, remaining as the highest unclimbed peak but now a forbidding mountain because of a political barrier pertaining to a border problem, was glittering immaculate. The eastern face precipitously falls down to a glacier. A climbing route from Liankang Kangri to Gankarpunzum seemed viable although difficult knife-edged ridge with unstable snow and ice continued and finally spiky pinnacles guarded the summit. Unless the border problem took place, the party could have traced the ridge toward the summit.”
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