HOW TO EXPLORE THE FOURTEEN 8000ERS- approaching the highest peaks on the Earth

HOW TO EXPLORE THE FOURTEEN 8000ERS- approaching the highest peaks on the Earth

The Himalayas and the whole region of Tibet, as well as all mountains of the Greater Ranges, are the highest lands on the Earth. These lands are mostly known with the climbing expeditions to the highest peaks, especially the fourteen 8000ers. They are also popular with the local Nepalese or Tibetan culture, the capital Lhasa, the “holy mountains”, such as Kailash and other peaks, lakes, grasslands, stupas, and monasteries.

But the main glory of these lands are the highest peaks on the Earth, located there, headed by Everest, then K2 and the other 8-thousanders, and then other high peaks between 5500 and 8000, some of which stunningly beautiful. But reaching their tops is not for everyone. Normally, only good mountaineers can climb them. All other people can just watch the news about climbing expeditions, or… to make trekking to the foots of the giant peaks and enjoy their views from below.

So, let’s take a look at the 14 highest peaks on the Earth- the fourteen 8000ers. All they are inaccessible by the “normal” travelers, but only by well-trained mountaineers.

Is it worth reaching the highest points of the peaks? Definitely yes. But what if you can’t reach it? Can you have a good experience of these peaks? Again- yes! Even if you can’t climb Everest, you can enjoy its stunning view and its beauty. In fact, if you climb it, you can’t enjoy its image, but only the panorama around it. But if you want to see it in its glory, you can do it only from below. And you can make it by trekking.

Mount Everest in the Himalayas, Nepal, one of the fourteen 8000ers

The fourteen 8000ers

The 14 highest peaks on the Earth are located in the Himalayas and Karakoram. This is their list:

Everest (Jomolungma, Sagarmatha)

Height: 8848 m
Location: Himalayas, Mahalangur
Country: Nepal/China (Tibetan Autonomous Region) border

This is the highest peak on our planet and the most famous one. It attracts thousands of mountaineers and much more tourists to visit it and to reach as high as possible to its summit. Unfortunately, it takes its toll, and more than 200 people have found their death on the peak’s slopes.

K2 (Chogori)

Height: 8614 m
Location: Karakoram
Country: Pakistan/China (Xinjiang) border

Although lower than Everest, this peak is much harsher. First, it is more remote and difficult to reach. Then, for climbing, its difficulty is much higher. K2 is rising “lonely” over the other neighboring peaks, which are much lower than it. It makes the view to this peak really breathtaking. K2 is also known as one of the deadliest mountains in the world, and indeed, its steep slopes from every side make it extremely difficult, especially combined with its height and the harsher weather than in Everest area.

Kangchenjunga

Height: 8586 m
Location: Himalaya, Kangchenjunga
Country: Nepal/India-Sikkim

This is the third highest and the easternmost 8000er on the Earth. It is relatively remote, so it doesn’t have the popularity of Everest. The peak massif rises stunningly from the surrounding terrain. It is considered as a “holy mountain” by the locals, so those who climb it, actually just reach it a little short before its highest point. It is relatively difficult and deadly. Treks, featuring Kangchenjunga are still not very popular, but little by little start to attract travelers too.

Lhotse

Height: 8516 m
Location: Himalaya, Mahalangur
Country: Nepal/China (Tibetan Autonomous Region)

Lhotse is the second 8000er in Mahalangur massif and the closest peak to Everest by distance. Although it is “in the shadow” of Everest, it is still a popular peak for climbing. And it is featured with Everest in the same trek.

Makalu

Height: 8485 m
Location: Himalaya, Mahalangur
Country: Nepal/China (Tibetan Autonomous Region)

Makalu is the easternmost 8000er of Mahalangur massif of the Himalaya. It is quite isolated than the other 8000ers of the area and is of the middle climbing difficulty in comparison. This peak is also a popular trekking destination, including trek featuring Everest and Lhotse too.

Cho Oyu

Height: 8188 m
Location: Himalaya, Mahalangur
Country: Nepal/China (Tibetan Autonomous Region)

Cho Oyu is the westernmost 8000er of Khumbu massif. It is also the easiest 8000er for climbing- if not considered its height, which is within the death zone, it can be reached by hikers with almost no mountaineering gear and experience. Its summit is flat like a plateau. Another factor that makes it easier is the neighboring Nangpa La pass, which is on the trading route between the Tibetans and the Sherpas.

Dhaulagiri

Height: 8167 m
Location: Himalaya, Dhaulagiri
Country: Nepal

Dhaulagiri is a massif in the Himalayas, west of Kali Gandaki valley. It is a cluster of peaks, from which Dhaulagiri I is the highest. It is famous for its notable prominence, looked from the lowlands of Nepal and India. In clear weather, it can be seen even from the plain of Ganges. It is also popular for its trekking- Dhaulagiri circuit, which is one of the most difficult treks in the world, a big challenge for the trekkers.

Manaslu

Height: 8163 m
Location: Himalaya, Mansiri
Country: Nepal

Manaslu is another prominent peak, located between Everest and Annapurna. It is rising steeply over the surrounding terrain. It is also popular with its trekking routes, especially Manaslu circuit, considered as one of the most difficult mountain trails. The area of Manaslu is a protected reservation zone.

Nanga Parbat (Diamer)

Height: 8126 m
Location: Himalayas, Nanga Parbat
Country: Pakistan

Nanga Parbat is the westernmost 8000er. It is also one of the most prominent peaks in the world, rising dramatically over the surrounding mountain terrain. This peak also forms the western anchor of the Himalayas. It is nicknamed “Killer Mountain”, is one of the deadliest mountains in the world.

Annapurna

Height: 8091 m
Location: Himalaya, Annapurna massif
Country: Nepal

Annapurna massif is a giant mountain range, rising over Pokhara and Kali Gandaki valleys. It consists of more than 20 peaks. Annapurna is known as the most deadly and difficult 8000er to climb. It is recently very popular as a trekking destination, with its Annapurna Circuit trail. Now all the massif area is a protected natural reserve.

Gasherbrum I

Height: 8080 m
Location: Karakoram, Gasherbrum massif
Country: Pakistan/China (Xinjiang) border

There are a few peaks, named K1 to K5 (with “K” means “Karakoram”) by the British lieutenant Thomas Montgomerie in 1856. These peaks are all clustered in one group, containing three 8000ers, and Gasherbrum I is the highest of them. Its “K” name is K5, however, later it was out of use and the name Gasherbrum remained.

Broad Peak (Falchan Kangri)

Height: 8047 m
Location: Karakoram, Gasherbrum massif
Country: Pakistan/China (Xinjiang) border

Broad Peak is another peak of the Gasherbrum peak cluster. It didn’t “K” name because it remained hidden from Montgomerie’s view. And its name “Broad Peak” come from its 1,5 km long summit. It has one main peak and a few additional peaks, still belonging to the same mountain.

Gasherbrum II

Height: 8034 m
Location: Karakoram, Gasherbrum massif
Country: Pakistan/China (Xinjiang) border

This peak is the third, the lowest 8000er in Gasherbrum peak cluster. It was named K4 by Montgomerie. The neighboring Gasherbrum III peak, which is 7952 m high, is sometimes considered as a part of Gasherbrum II. Anyway, it doesn’t reach 8000 m boundary, so Gasherbrum II remains as the 13th highest peak on our planet.

Shishabangma (Gosainthan)

Height: 8027 m
Location: Himalaya, Jugal Himal Range
Country: China (Tibetan Autonomous Region)

This peak is entirely inside China, and much further from the lowlands of India and lower Nepal. That’s why it is not too steep and is surrounded mostly of grassland plains. For this reason, it is considered one of the easiest to climb 8000er. Nevertheless, it is still in the death zone, and there is not “easy” in such high altitude.

Mount Everest in the Himalayas, from the Chinese side, one of the fourteen 8000ers

The Base Camps

Some of the most popular places around the fourteen 8000ers (and many other high peaks) are the base camps for the mountaineers. Many of the peaks have two base camps, usually on the two opposite sides of the peak. And now the base camps are not only the starting point for climbing the summits, but they also became destinations for the trekkers.

Some of the base camps are accessible by vehicle- by 4×4 jeeps or even by bus. Examples are the Everest and Shishabangma base camps in Tibet. In this case, the treks usually start FROM the base camp and the trails are circuits around the peaks.

But most of the base camps are accessible only on foot. So the treks to the peaks and their base camps start from a lower destination, then you hike TO the base camp. In this case, the base camp is your final destination, although in some cases is possible to eventually proceed around or just near the peak. Examples are the base camps of Everest from its Nepalese side, the base camps of K2 and most of the other peaks.

The base camps are NOT resorts, villages or even clusters of huts. In most cases, they are just natural places under the open sky. But what makes them be “base camps” is the convenient place with two main features. First- good location as a starting point to attack the peak. And second- plain and safe (from avalanches and other natural disasters) place, proper for camping. So, when you go there, you have to bring your own tent.

There are no permanent buildings or other structures in most of the base camps, and in the low season, you can find there nothing but only nature (and unfortunately, some trash). But the most popular base camps are exceptions. For example, there is a constant tea house in Everest base camp. However, since the tea house is again placed in a big tent, it stays there only during the active season.

The circuit treks

Some of the treks around the peaks, including some of the fourteen 8000ers are in circuit shape. In other words- you make a full circle around the peak. Such trails are very exciting, and usually quite long and difficult. It is because the peaks are usually connected by watershed summits and passes with the rest of the mountain. And there are one, two or more valleys between the summits. Thus the trail has to cross one or more mountain passes, then descend to the next valley, then again ascend to the next pass. And all this can be sometimes quite steep and difficult. But the adventure and the breathtaking views are really worth.

Of course, there is an important condition for a circuit trail- the peak must be located completely within a country, i.e., no border should cross on the peak. Thus the trail should not cross any borders. And there are four 8000ers which fulfill this condition- Annapurna, Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, and Nanga Parbat.

The most famous circuits are those around Annapurna and Dhaulagiri. They are between 160 and 230 km long and usually take 15-20 days to one month. Annapurna circuit is easier and richer in natural and cultural zones. And Dhaulagiri circuit is a real challenge, with much higher difficulty.

The accommodation on the circuit trails can be in local lodges and guesthouses, but there are certain nights that you have to spend in a tent. Especially Dhaulagiri circuit is completely wild, and camping is the only option.

Trekking in the Himalayas, on one of the fourteen 8000ers trek

The high altitude

Although the treks don’t ascend to the fourteen 8000ers’ summits, their trails still go to quite a high altitude, which requires acclimatization. Most of the trails reach more than 5000 m altitude. Usually, the highest points of the treks are the mountain passes between the valleys or the base camps where they are the final destination of the trek. The highest base camp of the fourteen 8000ers is those of K2 in Pakistan, located in 5650 m altitude (if not count the highest “Advanced Base Camp on the north side of Everest, located in 6500 m).

All this requires following the acclimatization rules. Here are some of the most important things to remember:
Ascend slowly! Let the altitude difference per day to be around 600 to 1000 m, but not more.
Hike high, sleep low! It is a recommendation which is not always possible to fulfill but is very proper for good acclimatization. This means that if you start your day at 3000 m altitude, it would be good to reach 4000 within one day. But for the night you have to descend lower- at around 3500-3600 m.
Keep yourself from getting cold, since it decreases your body’s ability to acclimatize.
Don’t take your children to these treks if they are younger than 5 years. They don’t have the adult’s ability to acclimatize.

The weather

As you may assume, the weather in the high altitude can be harsh. The higher, the colder. And the winds, rains, and snows can be stronger and more and more sudden and unpredictable. And even the weather is good and stable, in the night the temperature can drop below 0℃, especially over 4000-4500 m altitude, sometimes even lower.

The hikers still remember the biggest disaster on such a trek. It happened on 24 October 2014, around Annapurna. A remnant of a tropical cyclone hitting India took effect in the Himalayas, particularly in Annapurna area, causing fierce snowstorms, which killed 43 trekkers. They were on a trek, prepared for the normal high season, as October is for the Himalayas. But they were unaware of this NOT normal weather, which sometimes could hit the mountains.

High altitude trekking on Dhaulagiri, one of the fourteen 8000ers

The treks of the fourteen 8000ers

The trekking trails of the fourteen 8000ers are not necessarily designed as “1 peak 1 trek”. Some peaks which are too close together, in a cluster, share one trek. In the same time, one peak can have more than one trek. For example, the four 8000ers of Karakoram are grouped and can be explored in one same trek- the trek of K2 from the Pakistani side. It is the same with Everest, Lhotse, and Makalu- they can also be explored in one trek.

On the other side, there are two main treks to K2- from Pakistan and from China. Same with Everest, Kangchenjunga and a few of the other peaks.

So, let’s see the main standard trails of the fourteen 8000ers, from west to east.

K2 trek from Pakistan

Standard duration: 16 days hiking and 8 additional days for a flight from and to Islamabad, and driving to Askule and Skardu.
Highest point: K2 base camp, 5650 m.
Featuring: K2, Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II, Broad Peak (four 8000ers), the other peaks in the area, the stunning Concordia and Trango Towers, as well as Baltoro Glacier.

K2 trek from China

Standard duration: 16 days hiking and 8-10 additional days for driving from and back to Kashgar in Xinjiang, China.
Highest point: 4807 m at Aghil Pass.
Featuring: K2 from three base camps: of China, Italy and South Korea, the glaciers and the northern areas of Karakoram.

Nanga Parbat circuit trek

Standard duration: 15 days hiking and 5-6 additional days for driving from and to Islamabad.
Highest point: 5370 m at Mazeno Pass.
Featuring: Nanga Parbat main peak, the deep gorge of Indus River, the local villages, glaciers and picturesque forests with grasslands, among which the most beautiful are Fairy Meadows.

Annapurna circuit trek

Standard duration: 14 days hiking and 5 additional days of flight and drive from and to Kathmandu.
Highest point: 4950 m.
Featuring: Annapurna massif, the wild Limi Valley, forests, local villages and variety of ethnic cultures.

Dhaulagiri circuit trek

Standard duration: 12 days hiking and 5-6 additional days of flight and drive from and to Kathmandu.
Highest point: 5552 m.
Featuring: Dhaulagiri massif, the deep gorge of Kali Gandaki, Myagdi Valley, Thapa and Dhampus Peaks, local villages, stunning nature.

Manaslu circuit trek

Standard duration: 9 days hiking and 3 additional days of driving from and to Kathmandu.
Highest point: 5160 m at Larkya La Pass
Featuring: Manaslu Peak massif, a lot of local culture and nature.

Cho Oyu trek

Standard duration: 12 days hiking and 4-5 additional days transport from and to Kathmandu.
Highest point: 5375 m
Featuring: Cho Oyu, Gokyo Valley, and views to the other peaks of Mahalangur range of the Himalayas.

Everest-Lhotse-Makalu-Cho Oyu (Three High Passes) trek from Nepal

Standard duration: 16 days hiking and 5 additional days for flight and sightseeing of Kathmandu.
Highest point: 5545 m at Kala Pather Peak
Featuring: Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Cho Oyu, Pumori, Ama Dablam, Nuptse, and many other prominent peaks, also Khumbu Valley, local villages and culture.

Everest trek from China (Standard to Advanced Base Camp- “the highest trek in the world”)

Standard duration: 5 days hiking and a few additional days drive from Lhasa.
Highest point: 6500 m at the Advanced Base Camp.
Featuring: Everest in higher altitude, and the Tibetan scenery and culture (see more here).

Shishabangma trek

Standard duration: 8 days hiking, a few days drive from and to Lhasa.
Highest point: 5410 m at the Advanced Base Camp
Featuring: Shishabangma Peak and the surrounding Tibetan scenery.

Kangchenjunga trek from Nepal

Standard duration: 21 days hiking and 5 days flight and drive from and to Kathmandu.
Highest point: 3870 m.
Featuring: Kangchenjunga, a few mountain passes, the rich wildlife of the far eastern part of Nepal, as well as the local culture.

Kangchenjunga trek from Sikkim

Standard duration: 13 days hiking and 4-5 days drive from and to Darjeeling.
Highest point: 4940 m at Gocha La Pass
Featuring: Kangchenjunga from Sikkim side, forests, glaciers and the local culture of Sikkim.

All these treks are the best standard routes for the fourteen 8000ers. There are actually more routes or variations of these main routes, but these are the most popular. And there are two ways to hike on these treks- by company and independent.

On on of the fourteen 8000ers trek

Independent trekking

Actually, independent is not always possible, especially in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (or, it is possible, but on a very high price, and still must be arranged as an organized tour by a local licensed company, just no need to be a group tour). There are some advantages of the independent trekking, for the more adventurous people- of course, you can feel free to go and do what you want. But there are also some disadvantages. First- you are alone, with no assistance. You still must pay all the required permits and entrance fees, as well as all the transportation to and from the starting point.

Yes, you don’t have to pay for guides and porters. But you have to bring all your luggage by yourself. And if something happens, no guarantee that anybody would care. But, everybody has its own style, some people are more adventurous, others- not.

Trekking by a local company

However, in my opinion, the better option is to make a trek by a local company. Because they can organize everything. They would not only arrange to bring your luggage, but also the trek would go smoothly, without mistakes which may ruin your trip (for example getting lost, taking a wrong path, consequently losing one or two days, etc.). Of course, by a company would be also safer. Another good thing is that you could communicate with the local porters and understand more about their life.

There are many travel companies which arrange and offer such treks. In Nepal, I would recommend Mountain Go Trekking and Expedition Pvt.Ltd., settled in Kathmandu. They arrange treks for all the fourteen 8000ers in this country. And not only the treks that I mentioned above, but at least a few other treks per peak. They arrange also many other treks, heading to other geographical destinations- valleys, cultural areas, etc.

Another good advantage of this company is that they have good international contacts. Thus in cooperation with their partners in Pakistan, China (Tibet), India (Sikkim) and Bhutan, they also can arrange treks to the other 8000ers, which are outside of Nepal. For more information, you can see their website.

On a trek around Annapurna, one of the fourteen 8000ers

Join the Everest Base Camp Trek!

Look again at these stunning beautiful peaks! There are hundreds of high snowy mountains, not only in Asia but in every continent (except Australia). But the fourteen 8000ers are the biggest challenge for every mountain lover. Not only the peaks, but the whole mountain area around them- the deep valleys, wild forests, endless grasslands, raging rivers, and the unique local culture of the people. And they rise over all this landscape, together with their “lower brothers below 8000” like mighty glazing giants, creating breathtaking views, in which you can enter, see, feel and touch, making some of the most unforgettable mountain experience in your life.

Check out some books and other inspiring information about the highest mountains on the Earth!

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The fourteen 8000ers are the most challenging dream of every mountain lover. But reaching their summit is not for everyone. However, you can go and explore them by trekking. Approach Everest, K2, Kangchenjunga, Annapurna and all the other highest peaks in the Himalayas and on the Earth!

The fourteen 8000ers are the most challenging dream of every mountain lover. But reaching their summit is not for everyone. However, you can go and explore them by trekking. Approach Everest, K2, Kangchenjunga, Annapurna and all the other highest peaks in the Himalayas and on the Earth!


Krasen and Ying Ying

a travel couple from Bulgaria and China. We love to explore our planet and we want to make it meaningful. Welcome to our travel blog!

1 Comment

  • Forex Review
    April 10, 2019 7:48 am

    From the plains of India, most 80 peaks are obscured by nearer mountains. In clear weather, the Dhaulagiri massif s thirty-mile crest can be spotted as far south as Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. Many triangular peaks jut out above the crest, and below them a series of ice falls, glaciers and twisting ridges.

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