(CNN) – It is probably neither the highest mountain in the world nor the hardest to climb.
The famous climber Reinhold Messner never bothered about this dark summit and won’t land a NatGeo special or a sequel to “Into Thin Air” in the near future.
Why exactly are we nominating Muchu Chhish – a 7,453-meter-tall chunk of glacier-flanked rock and ice hidden in a remote valley of the Karakoram Range in northern Pakistan (home to bigger, worse, better-known 8,000-meter A-listeners like? K2, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum I & II) – as the youngest holy grail of the mountain peaks?
Because among all the countless and largely nameless mountains that have not seen a human foot, flag or breathless YouTube post on their restless peaks, Muchu Chhish is the highest unclimbed hill on earth for all wild and crazy intentions and purposes. (See picture above)
Only one mountain is illuminated at a time, no matter how bright or (in this case) rather weak.
Everest had its long tenure until 1953 when the Himalayan giant and the highest point on earth were first successfully reached.
The second highest peak in the world, K2, was ticked off a year later in 1954. Number three, Kanchenjunga, was climbed in 1955. Lhotse, the fourth highest peak in the world, was conquered in 1956. And so on.
Now it’s Muchu Chhish’s turn. Mighty number 61 or something like that. The ranking of the mountain heights starts to get blurred around this point. But the natural human ambition to reach that next great first ascent remains as clear and compelling as ever.
“Every first ascent has some kind of authorship – like a writer or painter creating something from scratch,” says Jason Martin, executive director of the American Alpine Institute, who has had his stake in climbing premieres in the American West. I haven’t got anything yet heard of Muchu Chhish.
“I think the biggest and most interesting thing about first-time ascents of huge, remote mountains like this, where you’re basically an astronaut, is just that – reaching that otherworldly place that no one has been to. Another element, of course, is that big additional challenge as there is practically no information on how to do it. ”
The highest unclimbed mountain in the world **
Hiding in the western Karakoram on the Batura Wall – a massive ridge of 7,000-meter-high peaks above one of the largest non-polar glaciers in the world – Muchu Chhish has thwarted all attempts by sporadic expeditions to reach its elusive ridge in the past few decades .
The rarely visited summit (also known as Batura V) has been marked with a double star as the highest unclimbed mountain for several years.
Why the two asterisks in this case?
* Another Asian peak, the 7,570 meter high Gangkhar Puensum, is currently the highest unclimbed mountain on earth. Because of its location in Bhutan (where mountaineering has been banned since 2003), this blocked summit is respectfully removed from secular disputes.
** There is a disputed point that Muchu Chhish is technically a secondary peak (or “subpeak”). According to National Geographic, most geologists define a mountain as an independent landform that is 300 meters above its surroundings.
A three-man UK expedition to Muchu Chhish in August 2014 was one of the most recent and few serious attempts.
Muchu Chhish eschews this notoriety, but is revered as a real mountain in very legitimate Karakoram climbing circles.
Hair-splitting aside, who would really want to deny Muchu Chhish his temporary status as the highest, permissible, unclimbed peak of one kind or another on earth?
Certainly not an outlier alpinist who defies his unsolved slopes in late summer during a narrow climbing window.
“There are still a lot of great unclimbed peaks – more than people think – but if you don’t start playing with definitions, Muchu Chhish really is the tallest one left,” says mountaineer Phil de-Beger, which was part of a three-. Person UK expedition to Muchu Chhish in August 2014 – six years ago, but still one of the most recent and few serious attempts on this mountain.
“They have some of the largest mountains in the world in the Karakoram and it’s always a real adventure out there,” adds de-Beger, who with his climbing partner Tim Oates and expedition leader Peter Thompson has made further first ascents in this area.
“I’m constantly asked about Muchu Chhish by climbers who want this ‘first ascent’ on the highest permissible, unclimbed peak. But that’s nowhere near as interesting as the mountain itself, if you ask me.”
What makes climbing Muchu Chhish more interesting than bragging rights?
“It’s the unknown,” de-Beger told CNN Travel.
“On a non-climbed peak in the Karakoram that hasn’t been mapped like the overcrowded price peaks in the Himalayas, it’s still essentially very exploratory. That really got us going to that area in general, and that’s what keeps us going . “”
Until it’s time to turn around.
“Approximately 80% of deals with these climbs are lucky”
During the 2014 expedition, the three climbers left the 6,000-meter mark well below the summit when they came across a long, steep snow ridge that had unexpectedly turned into a ball-hard ice sheet.
“From what we had heard from previous expeditions that had climbed the same ridge in previous years (to reach a neighboring peak) we were hoping to take basic kick steps and it would just be a long slog,” tells de- beggar.
“But when we got there, it was essentially a prolonged ice ascent. Not very tough on its own, but also not something we were really prepared for at this altitude and for this duration without being able to set up camp.” “”
The surprisingly sloping ice rink, likely caused by climate change over the years, was predicted from the start by harsh, unexpected conditions at the summit.
After a dramatic commute to the remote mountain along the steep Karakoram Highway and a multi-day hike out of the Hunza Valley with noisy herds of yaks and a glacier labyrinth strewn with rocky crevasses on the way to the base camp, the three climbers had their ascent optimally planned dry conditions.
“The real highlight was just being there. To be in this environment,” says mountaineer Tim Oates of his 2014 Muchu Chhish summit attempt.
Instead, they were hit by a relentless blizzard.
“When we got to base camp, it started to snow heavily every day, which was quite a surprise,” recalls co-climber Tim Oates.
“This area is theoretically north of the monsoon shadow, so it should be much drier. But we were snowed in for quite a long time, surrounded by a ring of mountains that formed avalanches day and night. Plus all of those dry crevasses were suddenly covered in snow, like that that you couldn’t see where they were, that was a bit of a problem too.
“About 80% of deals with these climbs are lucky with the right conditions,” says Oates.
Despite bad weather and more bad luck on the upper slopes, after the sky had finally cleared, the shortened expedition was a qualified success in the opinion of both climbers.
“Hunza is absolutely breathtaking. Truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to, and the locals in the surrounding villages couldn’t have been more friendly or welcoming,” says Oates.
“The real highlight was just being there. To be in this environment. The actual journey and the attempt were the goal. If we had actually reached the summit, that would have been the bonus.”
“I always describe the Karakoram as an even more adventurous version of Nepal without almost the same infrastructure, but unlimited pure mountaineering potential,” says de-Beger.
“No Sherpas to take care of you. Just you and the mountain. You are definitely alone.
“Our tactic on Muchu Chhish, based on what we thought we knew, wasn’t exactly right. There were a lot of problems with route finding and sleeping with half a buttock on a rock at 6,000 meters, but that’s all Part of it. And so these trips often require at least a few tries. I am convinced that Muchu Chhish will be climbed – and maybe soon. “
A failed August attempt
The last climbing campaign on the virgin 7,000 meter peak took place in August – a scaled-down Czech expedition in 2020, consisting of three climbers, Pavel Korinek, Jiri Janak and the 57-year-old alpinist and politician Pavel Bern, a former mayor of Prague and successful Everest and K2 Summiter.
“The goal of this year’s expedition will be the highest peak in the world that the human foot has not yet stood on and that is legal to climb! It’s worth it, isn’t it?” advertised a Facebook post by the original Czech team with nine climbers for 2020 in early March – just before six of them dropped out after the coronavirus pandemic.
While expeditions to Nepal’s popular Himalayan peaks, including Everest, have been suspended due to Covid-19 during the spring climbing season, and recent plans were slated to resume this fall, Pakistan’s far less-visited Karakoram has been lifted since May when a nationwide lockdown has remained open to climbers.
By the end of August, the three climbers would make “great strides” along the daunting upper ice crossing of Muchu Chhish, which their British predecessors halted six years ago.
An avalanche of cloudy, harrowing Facebook updates from 6,313 meters would soon follow.
“Terribly mentally asleep on a ledge, half a meter from the hole, a mile lower. Already three days without rest. Not a single place to sit while climbing. We’re spending today in a tent outside because of the terrible mess. Get off tomorrow and prepare Before you try again in a few days … “
Soon after, the expedition was officially suspended due to bad weather.
Descending from base camp, the Czech team would overtake two more ambitious alpinists – Spanish climber Jordi Tosas and Austrian Philipp Brugger – on the way up in the hopes of becoming the first climbers to reach the top of Muchu Chhish.
Regardless of whether the next attempt is successful or not, or the next one, Muchu Chhish will undoubtedly scale sooner or later. At this point, CNN Travel is sure to warmly introduce you to the next higher unclimbed peak that you have never heard of.
Where does it end?
“I don’t really think it’ll ever end,” says Martin of AAI. “There are just too many unclimbed mountains in the middle of nowhere, let alone new routes on old ones, for every next generation of incredibly talented climbers to be determined to challenge themselves.
“The real question at this point,” adds Martin with a laugh, “is whether anyone cares.”