Dhaulagiri: 7th Highest Mountain in the World

Climbing Facts and Trivia About Dhaulagiri

Dhaulagiri, the 7th highest mountain in the world, towers above the village of Shikha in the Annapurna Conservation Area in Nepal. Photograph copyright Feng Wei/Getty Images

Elevation: 26,794 feet (8,167 meters); 7th highest mountain in the world; 8,000-meter peak; ultra-prominent peak.

Prominence: 11,014 feet (3,357 meters); 55th most prominent mountain in the world; parent peak: K2.

Location: Nepal, Asia. high point of the Dhaulagiri Himal.

Coordinates:  28.6983333 N / 83.4875 E

First Ascent: Kurt Diemberger, Peter Diener, Albin Schelbert (Austria), Nawang Dorje, Nima Dorje (Nepal), May 13, 1960.

Dhaulagiri in Himalaya Range

Dhaulagiri is the high point of the Dhaulagiri Himal or massif in Nepal, a sub-range of the Himalaya that rises between the Bheri River on the west and the Kali Gandaki River on the east. Dhaulagiri is the highest mountain located completely within Nepal; all others lie along the Tibet/China border to the north. Annapurna I, the tenth highest mountain in the world at 26,545 feet (8,091 meters) high, is 21 miles (34 kilometers) east of Dhaulagiri.

Dhaulagiri Rises Above Deepest Gorge in World

The Gandaki, a tributary of the Ganges River, is a major Nepalese river that flows south through the Kali Gandaki Gorge. The deep canyon, which plunges between Dhaulagiri on the west and 26,545-foot Annapurna I on the east, is the world’s deepest river gorge if measured from the river to the summits. The elevation difference from the river, at 8,270 feet (2,520 meters), and the 26,795-foot summit of Dhaulagiri is an astounding 18,525 feet.

 The 391-mile-long Kali Gandaki River also drops 20,420 feet from its 20,564-foot headwaters at the Nhubine Himal Glacier in Nepal to its 144-foot mouth at the Ganges River in India with a steep gradient drop of 52 feet per mile. 

Nearby Mountains in Range

Dhaulagiri I is the peak’s official name. Other high peaks in the massif include:

  • Dhaulagiri II:  25,340 feet (7,751 meters); 2,391 meters of prominence; 30th highest mountain in the world
  • Dhaulagiri III:  25,311 feet (7,715 meters); 135 meters of prominence (not enough to be a separate mountain in the Himalaya)
  • Dhaulagiri IV: 25,135 feet (7,661 meters); 469  meters of prominence (not enough to be a separate mountain in Himalaya)
  • Dhaulagiri V: 24,992 feet (7,618 meters): 340 meters of prominence (not enough to be a separate mountain in Himalaya)

Ranked peaks in the Himalaya have at least 500 meters (1,640 feet) of topographic prominence.

Sanskrit Name for Dhaulagiri

 

The Nepalese name Dhaulagiri originates with its Sanskrit name dhawala giri, which translates to “beautiful white mountain,” an appropriate name for the high peak which is always cloaked in snow.

Highest Surveyed Mountain in World in 1808

Dhaulagiri was thought to be the world’s highest mountain after being discovered by Westerners and surveyed in 1808. Prior to that, it was believe that 20,561-foot Chimborazo in Ecuador, South America, was the world’s highest. Dhaulagiri held its title for 30 years until surveys in 1838 replaced it with Kangchenjunga as the top of the world. Mount Everest, of course, grabbed the crown after surveys in 1852.

Read the article Surveys of India Discovers Mount Everest in 1852 for the complete story about the discovery and survey of the peak.

1960: First Ascent of Dhaulagiri

Dhaulagiri was first climbed in the spring of 1960 by a Swiss-Austrian team and two Sherpas (16 members total) from Nepal. The mountain, the original goal of the French expedition that eventually climbed Annapurna I in 1950 and the first of the fourteen 8,000-meter peaks to be climbed, was called impossible by the French. After attempting Dhaulagiri in 1958, Swiss climber Max Eiselin found a better route and made plans to climb the mountain, landing a permit for 1960. American Norman Dyrenfurth from California was the expedition photographer.

The expedition, funded by a promise of postcards from base camp for donations, slowly climbed the Northeast Ridge, placing camps along the way.

Supplies were ferried up the mountain by a small plane nicknamed “Yeti,” which later crashed on the mountain and was abandoned.  On May 13 Swiss mountaineers Peter Diener, Ernst Forrer and Albin Schelbert, Austrian Kurt Diemberger, and Sherpas Nawang Dorje and Nima Dorje reached the summit of Dhaulagiri on a clear, sunny day. About a week later Swiss climbers Hugo Weber and Michel Vaucher reached the summit. Expedition leader Eiselin hoped to also summit as well but it didn’t work out for him to attempt it. He later said, “For me the chances were quite small, as I was the leader dealing with logistics.”

1999: Tomaz Humar Solos Unclimbed South Face

On October 25, 1999, the great Slovenian mountaineer Tomaz Humar began a solo ascent of the previously unclimbed South Face of Dhaulagiri. Humar called this huge 13,100-foot-high (4,000-meter) face, the tallest in Nepal, “damned overhanging and steep” and his “nirvana.” He carried 45-meter static 5mm rope, three Friends (camming devices), four ice screws, and five pitons, and planned to solo the entire climb without self-belays.

Humar spent nine days on the South Face, climbing directly up the center of the face, before having to traverse right below a cliff band for 3,000 feet from his sixth bivouac to the Southeast Ridge. He finished up the ridge to 7,800 meters where he bivouacked. On the ninth day, just below the summit, Humar decided to descend the opposite side of the mountain rather than reach the summit and risk spending another cold and windy night in the open near the top and dying of hypothermia. During the descent down the Normal Route, he found the body of English climber Ginette Harrison, who had died the week before in an avalanche. Humar rated his landmark ascent as mixed climbing M5 to M7+ on 50-degree to 90-degree ice and rock slopes.

Deaths on Dhaulagiri

 

As of 2015 there have been 70 climber fatalities on Dhaulagiri. The first death was on June 30, 1954 when Argentine climber Francisco Ibanez died. Most of the fatalities were climbers killed in avalanches, including seven Americans and Sherpas on April 28, 1969; 2 French climbers on May 13, 1979; two Spanish climbers on May 12, 2007; and three Japanese and one Sherpa on September 28, 2010.

Other climbers died from altitude sickness, falls in crevasses, disappearing on the mountain, falls, and exhaustion.

1969: American Disaster on Dhaulagiri

In 1969 an 11-man expedition of American and Sherpa climbers led by Boyd Everett attempted the unclimbed knife-edge Southeast Ridge of Dhaulagiri, despite none of the team having Himalayan experience. At about 17,000 feet, six Americans and two Sherpas were bridging a 10-foot-wide crevasse when a massive avalanche swept down, sweeping away all but Louis Reichardt. At that time it was the worst disaster in Nepalese climbing history.

Lou Reichart Remembers 1969 Avalanche

In the article “The American Dhaulagiri Expedition 1969” by expedition member Lou Reichardt in The Himalayan Journal (1969), Reichardt writes about surviving the avalanche that killed seven other climbers and the immediate aftermath:

“Then an afternoon fog descended upon us. A few minutes later...a roar entered our consciousnesses. Neutral for a moment, it quickly posed a threat. We had only an instant to seek shelter before it consumed our world.

“I found only a change of slope in the glacier for shelter and was repeatedly struck on my back with debris—all glancing blows which did not dislodge my hands. When it was finally over, assuming that it was snow that had been unable to bury us, I stood up fully expecting to be surrounded by the same seven com­panions. Instead, everything that was familiar—friends, equip­ment, even the snow on which we had been standing—was gone! There was only dirty, hard glacial ice with dozens of fresh gouges and scattered huge ice blocks, the grit of the avalanche. It was a scene painted in white of indescribable violence, reminiscent of the first aeons of creation, when a still molten earth was forged; and at the same time it was uncannily silent and peaceful on a warm, misty afternoon. A triangular cliff of ice, thrust out of the glacier by some invisible band of rock, had collapsed and the resulting debris had cut a 100-foot wide swath across the broad basin, filled the crevasse and overwhelmed us.”

Reichardt searched the area after the avalanche and found no trace of his seven companions. He wrote: “Then I made the loneliest of trips down the glacier and rock to the 12,000-foot acclimatization camp, shedding crampons, overboots and, finally, even disbelief on the way. I returned with equipment and people to make a more thorough search of debris, but with no success. Probes were useless; even ice-axes could not penetrate the huge ice mass, roughly the size of a football-field and 20 feet deep. We had no rational basis for hope. The avalanche was ice, not snow. The few items of equipment found were completely shredded. No man could have survived a ride in such debris.”