However, even as human progress and exploration inexorably scratches and pounds at the fringes of our world and understanding, there are still some places in the world that have remained mostly untouched and undefeated by man. One such place lies high in the cold remoteness of the Himalayan mountains. In this place of desolate, bitter cold, unforgiving biting winds, and jagged peaks looms a virtually unexplored mountain steeped in myth and magic known as Gangkhar Puensum, located in Bhutan near the border with China. It may seem surprising that despite the fact that humankind had already summited the 20 highest peaks in the world by 1975, Gangkhar Puensum remains even in modern times untouched, unmounted, and indeed at an elevation of 7,570 meters (24,836 ft) the highest unclimbed mountain in the world.
Until 1983, mountaineering was not even permitted in Bhutan since the country sought to preserve the pristine condition and spiritual importance of its sacred peaks. Local mythology gives further reason for the traditional closure of the mountains, as they were said to be the haunts of various spirits of myth and legend. When Bhutan finally opened its doors to mountaineering as a commercial pursuit for the purpose of tourism, many mountain climbers immediately set their sights on Gangkhar Puensum, the country’s highest mountain and therefore the one with the most prestige waiting for those who could fight their way to the top.
The closing of Bhutan’s peaks did not discourage everyone. In 1998, a well-funded Japanese expedition made an attempt to scale the mountain by exploiting what they saw as a loophole. They surmised that although Gangkhar Puensum was closed from the Bhutan side, they could simply climb it from China, who claimed a border cutting through the mountain. They subsequently obtained permission from the Chinese Mountaineering Association and it seemed everything was in order for the well-equipped team. However, it was not meant to be, and Gangkhar Puensum would prove to defeat yet another team. Bhutan, who had always claimed sole ownership of the mountain, was less than thrilled with the Japanese expedition’s antics and the border dispute caused China to withdraw its permission and thus block the Japanese team’s bid to climb it.
Gangkhar Puensum is a place full of mystery. Yeti, strange lights, magnetic anomalies, and strange disappearances have all been reported from there. What secrets does this insurmountable peak hold? For the time being, it appears that no one will ever know, and that this towering giant will remain one of the last great untouched frontiers of the world for quite some time.