The Eight-Thousanders, a group of fourteen independent mountains on our planet that are over 8000 meters in height above sea level. These mountains are all located in the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges in Asia, which are the home not only to those major peaks, but to several other large mountains renowned for their climbing difficulty. But what exactly makes them so difficult to scale?
Apart from their height, which lodges their respective peaks firmly in the “death zone”, the topography and geological features that lead up to those summits are just as dangerous. Add the risk of avalanches, rockslides, harsh weather and you may begin to understand the reason behind why only experienced climbers are able to partake in the climbs. Even then however, death doesn’t discriminate, with seasoned mountaineers succumbing on their attempts to scale the Eight-Thousanders.
The most deadly, the Annapurna Massif, has the highest fatality-to-summit ratio (32%) and saw one of the biggest climbing disasters in recorded history, with 43 people dying from snowstorms and avalanches during the month of October, 2014. From a topographical perspective, the Annapurna Massif, like all other Ultra-rated prominent peaks, is a mountain which has several jarring features. From cliffs to chasms and jagged edges, there is a reason why most mountains have a distinctive path to the summit.
These features are created when the mountain is created, a violent geological process that happened millions of years ago when two or more continental plates collided, causing the shearing and folding of land masses. This interaction led to the creation of the Annapurna Massif and all other mountain ranges on Earth, and is also responsible for the Pacific Ring of Fire, a group of active volcanoes that form along the active lines of tectonic plates.
The forces at play were considerable, and were instrumental in setting up the Eight-Thousanders. However, those forces are still at play. Tectonic plates continue to move, they are the reason for most earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and therefore are also affecting mountain ranges created due to its’ natural course. For example, the world’s most famous peak, Mount Everest, grows by an average of four millimeters every year (the equivalent of 0.16 inches). Whilst that doesn’t sound like much and certainly won’t change the difficulty level in scaling these giant mountains, it certainly goes to show that Earth’s geological features will continue long after our species departs the planet.
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