A funny name for a mountain

Sorry for all the moaning I’ve been doing over the last few posts, mostly about the Nepalese government. You may have noticed that I’m upset about something. To give you a break from the hair drier, this week’s post is a bit lighter, while maintaining a certain theme.

There have been some strange names given to mountains over the years, often for very obscure reasons. For example, when a gold prospector called William Dickey explored a big mountain in Alaska in 1897 and used surveying equipment to fix its height at over 6000m, making it the highest mountain in North America, he decided to name it after the Republican candidate for the American presidency, William McKinley, to annoy some of his fellow prospectors who had different views on whether America should adopt the gold standard. Economic policy is an unusual reason for naming a mountain, but the name Mt McKinley stuck, and despite efforts to give the mountain back its native American name Denali, people still use it.

Mt McKinley in Alaska, otherwise known as Denali, was named after the Republican candidate for the American presidency, who later became the 25th President of the USA
Mt McKinley in Alaska, otherwise known as Denali, was named after the Republican candidate for the American presidency, who later became the 25th President of the USA

The highest mountain in Australia, Kosciuszko, is named after an obscure Polish general because it was first identified by a Polish explorer who thought it resembled a national monument, the Kosciuszko Mound in Krakow. And this is in a country famous for mundane names like Shark Bay (because it’s full of sharks), the Great Sandy Desert (because it’s big with lots of sand) and the Snowy Mountains (which are of course named after comic book hero Tintin’s pet dog). Incidentally I prefer not to know how two more Australian peaks, Mt Buggery and Mt Arsehole, came by their names (but if you’re interested there’s an explanation here).

Meanwhile in Scotland’s Cairngorm mountains legend has it that a peak called The Devil’s Point earned its name in a moment of panic when Queen Victoria asked her manservant John Brown about it. Brown felt that its Gaelic name Bod an Deamhain (meaning The Devil’s Penis) wasn’t suitable to translate directly, so he came out with a minor variation on the hoof (in point of fact the mountain looks nothing like a penis anyway).

Kangchung Peak (middle) in the Khumbu region of Nepal will henceforth be known as UIAA Peak (Photo: Brent Smith)
Kangchung Peak (middle) in the Khumbu region of Nepal will henceforth be known as UIAA Peak (Photo: Brent Smith)

Perhaps the most controversial name for a mountain is the most famous one of all. When he was in charge of naming Himalayan mountains as Surveyor-General of India Sir George Everest had a policy of always trying to find the local name for them wherever possible. He disapproved when his successor in the job decided to name the world’s highest mountain after him, and in all probability the Tibetan name for it, Chomolungma, could have been identified (the Nepalese name Sagarmatha is even more recent than Everest).

But recently the habit of inventing more modern names for mountains has been taken up by the Nepalese themselves. Last year I reported how two obscure high altitude ridge tops were to be named after Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary, and last week the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) went one better when it announced that two more mountains would be renamed UIAA Peak and UAAA Peak.

Both of these peaks already have more suitable local names Kangchung and Karsang, so why would the NMA want to give them a pair of onomatopoeic titles that resemble the sound of somebody throwing up? The answer probably lies in another announcement the NMA made last year. It’s keen to have five more minor summits – Yalung Kang, Kangchenjunga South, Kangchenjunga Central, Lhotse Middle, and Lhotse Shar – classified as 8000m peaks because it thinks this will make more people want to climb them. It just so happens that the Union Internationale des Association d’Alpinisme (UIAA), also known as the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation and based in Switzerland, is the organisation it needs to appeal to in order to achieve the reclassification. In another post last year I explained how these five ridge tops couldn’t possibly be classified as 8000m peaks in their own right because each of them requires less than 135 metres of re-ascent between their respective parent peaks, Kangchenjunga and Lhotse (known as topographic prominence). It seems that where logic and common sense fail the NMA feels that flattery may work instead. I wonder if they ever thought of just sending flowers.

But perhaps the NMA might be onto something after all. Here’s what the UIAA tweeted last week. The article the tweet links to appears to express gratitude for the renaming.


The new UIAA Peak is 6063m high and can be found between Gokyo and the Cho La pass (see Google Map) in the popular Khumbu region of Nepal. Jamie McGuinness of Project Himalaya describes it as a steep pyramid with snow pitches angled between 40 and 60 degrees. It’s one of 104 peaks the government of Nepal has recently listed as newly open for mountaineering though there is some confusion about whether it wasn’t in fact open already. A semi-official NMA website states that Kangchung (ie. UIAA) Peak can be climbed with an ordinary trekking peak permit for its immediate neighbour Abi (also known as Cholo).

There is risk the UIAA might be offended that the Union of Asian Alpine Associations (UAAA) has had a slightly bigger mountain named after them, 6476m Karsang Peak (as it used to be called, though it’s also marked as Purbung or Putrun Himal on some maps). This can be found in the Annapurna region of Nepal a little north of the popular Chulu trekking peaks (see Google Map).

Sadly for the NMA and the government of Nepal, even if renaming and reclassifying peaks does succeed in bringing in more mountaineers (which seems about as likely as England winning the World Cup, or even a penalty shoot out), it’s unlikely to cancel out the negative effect on tourism caused by Sherpa strikes and fatal avalanches.

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