This story was created for the Google Expeditions project by ePublishing Partners, now available on Google Arts & Culture
In this lesson, we’ll travel to Iceland and mainland Europe, Africa, Central Asia, and Japan to get a close look at peaks that stand as some of the most recognizable landforms on Earth and that have stirred people’s imaginations since we first looked up.
At 463 meters high, Kirkjufell on the north coast of Iceland's Snæfellsnes peninsula is not anywhere near in the same class as monsters like the Matterhorn and Everest, but it is one of Iceland’s most beloved landmarks.
Kirkjufell means “Church Mountain,” and Kirkjufell rises to a narrow spire of a peak. At its base, waterfalls drop down sheer cliffs into the sea. When the Northern Lights are present in the night sky above the mountain, the scene is otherworldly.
The Snæfellsnes peninsula reaches into the North Atlantic Ocean on Iceland’s west coast and forms the southern boundary of Breiðafjörður Bay. It was formed through volcanic action, and at its west end stands Snæfellsjökull, one of the largest volcanoes in Iceland.
Breiðafjörður Bay is a large shallow bay separating the West Fjord peninsula to the north and the Snæfellsnes peninsula to the south. It provides important habitats for fish and aquatic mammals, including porpoises, white-beaked dolphins, killer whales, and minke whales.
Often referred to as “Iceland’s most photographed mountain,” Kirkjufell is an important tourist destination. It is surrounded by beaches and easy walking trails. The climb to the top presents some technical challenges and requires rope ascents at 2 spots.
The town of Grundarfjörður just west of Kirkjufell was established in the 1700s and once supported a community of French merchants. Today, it is home to a thriving fishing industry, which has made it as wealthy as it is isolated.
The Matterhorn, Switzerland/Italy
The Matterhorn straddles the border between Italy and Switzerland 10 kilometers (6 miles) southwest of the village of Zermatt, Switzerland.
At 4,478 meters (14,692 feet) high, it is one of the highest summits in the Pennine Alps and one of the highest mountains in Europe. Recognizable by its 4 steep faces rising from glacier fields to form a nearly symmetrical pyramid, the Matterhorn has become a symbol of the Alps.
It has been an enticing draw to climbers since the 19th century.
In July of 1865, a 7-member team of climbers made the first full ascent of the Matterhorn, but as they made their descent, one of the climbers slipped and pulled 3 others down with him. All 4 fell to their deaths.
The Matterhorn is the butt end of a vast ridge. The 1,000-meter long Hörnli Ridge provides the easiest ascent, and each year from mid-June to mid-August, dozens of climbers take this route, led by expert guides.
The Matterhorn was shaped by the grinding action of multiple glaciers diverging from the peak. The mountain’s sides are steep, and the glaciers on all sides are fed by frequent avalanches of snow from above.
The Italian town of Breuil-Cervinia lies at 2,006 meters (6,581 feet) above sea level at the base of the southern face of the Matterhorn. This ski resort offers access to Europe’s highest lifts and year-round skiing on high-altitude cruise runs.
Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Rising to an elevation of 5,895 meters (19,341 feet), Kilimanjaro is Africa’s tallest mountain. A stratovolcano, Kilimanjaro has 3 distinct cones: Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira. Kibo, the tallest and largest cone, is dormant—it could erupt again—while Mawenzi and Shira are extinct.
Kibo was first summited in 1889 by German geologist Hans Meyer and Austrian mountaineer Ludwig Purtscheller. The mountain continues to draw climbers, and the surrounding national park lands are crossed by popular trekking routes.
Summiting uhuru peak (1987) by Kilimanjaro National ParkUNESCO World Heritage
Uhuru Peak on the rim of the Kibo crater is the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro. Uhuru means “freedom” in the Kiswahili language, and the peak was given this name when Tanzania was formed as an independent republic in 1961.
Earth Observations taken by the Expedition 14 crew (2007-04-03)NASA
The Kibo summit crater was created during the cone’s last volcanic activity between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago. The caldera formed by the collapse of the summit is about 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) wide and contains a crater that contains yet another crater.
Enjoying the magnificient view of the glacier at the summit (1987) by Kilimanjaro National ParkUNESCO World Heritage
Until recently, Kilimanjaro has had a continuous ice cap and extensive ice fields and glaciers. Since 1912, scientists have recorded increasing levels of annual average ice loss and estimate that the ice will be gone completely by 2040.
Horombo huts at 3720m along the marangu route (1987) by Kilimanjaro National ParkUNESCO World Heritage
There are climbing routes up the mountain on all four faces, and each route has camps at different elevations. A camp known as the Kibo Huts is located here.
"K2 on way to camp" by fot. Janusz KurczabCulture.pl
K2, also called Mount Godwin Austen and, in Chinese, Qogir Feng, is, at 8,611 meters (28,251 feet) tall, the world’s 2nd highest peak after Mount Everest. It lies partly in the Autonomous Region of Xinjiang, China, and partly in the Kashmir region of Pakistan.
Verso il K2Istituto Luce Cinecittà
The mountain was first summited in 1954 by an Italian expedition led by geologist Ardito Desio. Mountaineers consider K2 to be one of the greatest climbing challenges due to its treacherous slopes and frequent severe storms.
The great peaks and massive system of glaciers of the Karakoram Range of Pakistan are seen in this photo. (2009-06-25)NASA
Because the climb up the Chinese side of K2 is so difficult, most climbers make the ascent from the south. But don’t think the southern route is easy—for every 4 people who successfully make the climb, 1 person dies.
Heart Mountain by Yoshio OkumotoHeart Mountain
The ridge running southeast from K2’s summit is known as the Abruzzi Spur, named for Luigi Amedeo, Duke of the Abruzzi, who made the first attempt to climb it in 1909.
Glaciers in the Himalayan Mountains taken from Atlantis during STS-106 (2000-09-16)NASA
On the Chinese side of the summit is the North Ridge. The route along this ridge requires climbers to cross a hanging glacier that is highly prone to avalanches—one reason few climbers attempt this approach.
"Concordia" by fot. Janusz KurczabCulture.pl
Below the Abruzzi Spur, vast glaciers converge in what is called the Concordia. This is a popular trekking area as it provides views of 4 “8-thousanders”—mountains that reach heights of more than 8,000 meters (26,247 feet).
Mount Everest, China/Nepal
In Nepal, it’s known as Sagarmāthā. The Tibetans call it Chomolungma. In any language, at 8,848 meters (29,028 feet) high, Mount Everest is the highest peak on Earth. The combined extremes of height, thin air, wind, crevasses, avalanches, and cold make this peak nearly impossible to climb.
But despite the obstacles, and despite the fact that the mountain has claimed some 200 lives, more than 4,000 people have climbed Mount Everest since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first reached the summit in 1953.
Located on the border of Chinese-ruled Tibet to the north and Nepal to the south, Mount Everest has been periodically closed to foreigners by both countries. In recent years, concerns about the environmental impact of climbers on the mountain have come to the fore.
An Everest expedition can take up to 2 months. From Base Camp, climbers make multiple rotations up and down the mountain to adjust to the incredibly thin air. They sleep at ever-increasing altitudes to trick their bodies into making necessary physiological changes.
At 8,516 meters tall, Lhotse is the 4th highest mountain in the world. Climbers making the ascent from Nepal scale the Lhotse face and then cross the South Col to Everest. Camp IV, the last camp before summit, is on the col.
Death zone and summit
Just below the summit is the “death zone,” so called because of the challenges it presents to survival. Up here, it’s desperately cold and dangerously icy. The summit itself is a bit of rock about the size of a dining room table.
Mount Fuji, Japan
Mount Fuji sits close to the Pacific coast of central Honshu, Japan’s big island. For people all around the world, this mountain, with its snow-covered slopes and symmetrical conical shape, is a symbol of Japan.
One of Japan’s “holy mountains,” Fuji has special significance in both the Shinto and Japanese Buddhist traditions. The mountain has also been the subject of innumerable works by Japanese artists, including Hokusai (1760–1849), who depicted the mountain as seen from 36 different viewpoints.
Fuji Subaru Line 5th Station, northern slope
The ascent of Mount Fuji is divided into 10 Stations. Although it is possible to hike from the 1st Station on the northern slope, most climbers take a bus to the 5th Station and continue on foot from there.
At 3,776.24 m (12,389 feet) high, Mount Fuji is Japan’s tallest mountain. The summit has been considered a sacred place since ancient times. Many Japanese make the ascent at night in order to witness sunrise from the summit.
Fuji is an active volcano which last erupted in 1707–1708. That eruption formed a new crater and a second peak—a flank volcano—on Fuji’s southeastern side. Scientists consider the current danger of eruption to be very low.
There are several structures on the summit of Mount Fuji, including a post office and a lodging house. Okumiya is a Shinto shrine devoted to Princess Konohanasakuya, the goddess of the mountain.