It’s difficult to accurately say how many unclimbed peaks are left in the world, but it’s now safe to say that list has one less mountain on it. After four years of trying, Chamonix-based British climber Jon Griffith has summited Link Sar West in Pakistan, accomplishing the task with Andy Houseman.
“It’s a technical, 7,000-meter peak — unclimbed, that’s a rare find,” Griffith said. “There are not many of those left, and most of them are in the Karakoram, off limits to foreigners.”
So what does "technical" mean in this sense? It means that the peak, while over 1,000 meters shorter than Everest, requires the climbers to be roped-up and harnessed at all times — and to build their protection into the mountain as they go.
"It’s a mixed face of ice, snow and rock," Griffith explained. "It’s roped climbing from the bottom to the top. Proper climbing. You’re hacking ledges to bivvy out of north-facing ice. You sleep in a harness.”
The mission was not an easy one, and it took Griffith four tries to succeed. For four years in a row, he made the trip into the famous Charakusa Valley, humping gear up the 6.25-mile approach, and beginning to make his way up a peak that had never before seen the steps of humans. Three years in a row, he was turned back — by weather, by impassable terrain and by dwindling supplies.
That didn’t mean that this try was a walk in the park. “We had crap weather on the walk in,” Griffith said. “You can’t get seven days of good weather in the Himalayas. You have to walk in during crap weather to get good weather for climbing.”
Even worse, Griffith got sick shortly before the summit, and even a slight temperature is a big deal at 7,000 meters (nearly 23,000 feet). But summit they did, claiming new ground as their own before making their way down the backside of the mountain.
It’s the first unclimbed peak for Griffith. "What kept drawing me back is [that] I kept getting closer and closer," he said. "It’s a very complicated mountain to understand because you can’t scout it. You have to experience it to understand where the lines end up going. It’s not straightforward in any way. It’s a real puzzle.”
The appeal of the unknown is addictive, and it’s definitely going to keep him coming back for more. What’s next on the list? Griffith says his personal summit bucket list is private, but he shared a few of the world’s most tantalizingly untouched mountain tops and unclimbed lines with us below.
1. Gangkhar Puensum
Height: 24,836 feet
Location: Bhutan-China border
Why it's unclimbed: The law
Gangkhar Puensum sits on the disputed border between China and Bhutan, but what's not disputed is this: It's the highest unclimbed mountain in the world and will be for a long time, if not forever. There were four attempts in the '80s before Bhutan restricted mountaineering above 6,000 meters (19,685 feet), and they may be the last.
2. North Face of Masherbrum 4
Height: 25,659 feet
Why it's unclimbed: Extreme technical difficulty
Masherbrum was first summited in 1960 — the easy way. That's not how David Lama wants to do it. The Austrian-Nepalese climber has it next on his list, and will probably keep trying until he gets it. His route? The infamous North Wall, which John Griffith says will require a climbing style that is "incredibly futuristic."
3. Mount Siple, Siple Island, Antarctica
Height: 10,203 feet
Location: Siple Island, Antarctica
Why it's unclimbed: It's in the middle of nowhere, Antarctica
Truth be told, at least one reference on the Web states that Mount Siple "has probably been climbed," but there is definitely no record of it or claim thereof. With good reason — it's on an island off the coast of Antarctica. So never mind the cold, it's also incredibly difficult to even get to. Bonus? It might be a volcano — might be. At least that will warm you up.