Mt. Gangkar Puensum
Gangkhar Puensum on the Bhutan-Tibet border in Central Asia is likely to hold the title of the world’s highest unclimbed mountain for many years to come. Out of respect for local spiritual beliefs, mountaineering is forbidden in Bhutan. There were four unsuccessful summit attempts before the mountain was closed to climbing in 1994.
Gangkhar Puensum is the highest mountain in Bhutan at 24,836 feet (7,570 meters) in elevation. It is 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.
The elevation of Gangkhar Puensum was first measured in 1922 but, until recent years, maps of the region were not at all accurate and the mountain was shown in different locations and with markedly different heights. Indeed, because of inadequate mapping, the first team to attempt the summit was unable to find the mountain at all.
The book of the 1986 British expedition gives the mountain’s height as 7,550 metres (24,770 ft) and states that Gangkhar Puensum is completely inside Bhutan, whereas the nearby Kula Kangri is completely inside Tibet. Kula Kangri, 7,554 metres, is a separate mountain 30 km (20 mi) to the northeast which was first climbed in 1986. It is variously mapped and described as being in Tibet or Bhutan.
Since 1994, climbing of mountains in Bhutan higher than 6,000 m (20,000 ft) has been prohibited out of respect for local spiritual beliefs. Since 2003, mountaineering has been forbidden completely.
In 1998 a Japanese expedition secured permission from the Chinese Mountaineering Association to climb the mountain, but permission was withdrawn because of a political issue with Bhutan. Instead, in 1999, the team set off from Tibet and successfully climbed the 7,535-metre subsidiary peak Liankang Kangri (also known as Gangkhar Puensum North).
Unlike most maps, the expedition’s report shows this summit as being in Tibet and China–Bhutan border is shown crossing the summit of Gangkhar Puensum, described as “the highest peak in Bhutan”, at 7,570 metres.
As the ban is unlikely to be lifted anytime soon, Gangkhar Puensum is likely to remain unclimbed.