I’ve recently been reading The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues & Signs by the unusually named Tristan Gooley. It’s an excellent book that will cause you to look at nature in a different light (to paraphrase climbing writer Jim Perrin on the back cover, every outdoor lover should hold at least one Gooley in their library).
For example, if you’ve ever wondered why rainbows always seem to precede rain showers in the morning but follow them in the afternoon, there’s a simple explanation (if you live in the UK or western Europe, anyway). It’s because the laws of physics mean that you are always directly between the sun and the centre of the rainbow. This means that rainbows will always be seen to the west in the morning and to the east in the afternoon. Prevailing weather comes from the west in the UK, so if you see a rainbow in the morning then it means wet weather is on the way, and if you see a rainbow in the afternoon the rain has already passed.
In the chapter on the sun Tristan Gooley provided a simple way of proving the world is round without sailing to America like Columbus did. You can lie on a beach in Cornwall, while the sun is setting over the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Then, when the last rays of sun have dipped below the horizon, you can stand up and watch them all over again (of course, this method doesn’t work if you’re nowhere near Cornwall).
There are some great tips in this book.
Here’s one explaining how to prove the world isn’t
flat without sailing all the way to America…(just by lying on a
beach in fact) 🏖 pic.twitter.com/wWMN8ZF2RB
Mark Horrell 🌋 (@markhorrell) July
This paragraph had me thinking a bit more about views and horizons. If like me you’re 5’11” tall and standing in the middle of a perfectly flat plain (or looking across a perfectly calm sea) then the horizon will be 4.8km away. This is because the earth is curved, and the horizon marks the point where we can no longer see beyond its curve. If you happen to be 10 feet tall then you can see a bit further, and if you climb a tree or stand on top of a very tall tower, then you can see further still. If the tower is 200m tall then the horizon will be 50km away.
This helps to explain why the view is better from the top of a mountain. From the summit of Snowdon (1,085m), the horizon is 118km away, from the summit of Mont Blanc (4,810m) it’s 248km away, and from the summit of Everest (8,848m), it’s a whopping 336km away.
But Everest doesn’t even have the world’s longest view. That’s because all these figures assume the horizon is flat, but what if it isn’t? What if there are mountains on the horizon, or mountains beyond the horizon that are tall enough to peep over the top?
If there are mountains on the horizon, then we should be able to see even further. In fact, it stands to reason that the world’s longest view will be from the top of one very high mountain to the top of another.
In my book Seven Steps from Snowdon to Everest, I speculated whether this view might be from Kilimanjaro (5,895m) to Mt Kenya (5,199m) or vice versa (as you can see, this was on p.77, and it’s available from all good bookshops).
I based this speculation on the fact that Mt Kenya and Kilimanjaro are both free-standing volcanoes, and there are no other mountains to get in the way. But actually, from the top of a 5,895m mountain, you could in theory still see a 5,199m mountain if it were 531km away (if you’re wondering how I’m able to make these remarkably precise statements, there’s a handy little horizon calculator here).
All of this useless, yet highly interesting speculation led me to a website called Beyond Horizons, which appears to be run by a trio of Catalan photographers on a mission to photograph some of the world’s longest views in clear light conditions.
On this website is a photograph, taken by photographer Marc Bret, which reputedly holds the world record for the longest photographed line of sight, from Pic des Finestrelles (2,820m) in the Pyrenees to Pic Gaspard (3,883m) in the French Alps, a distance of 443km.
16/07 Photo Anniversary: #Finestrelles –> #Ecrins
.The most distant contemplated landscape perhaps on our planet. It was thanks to excellent conditions of transparent air, even in July! 440-443 kmshttps://t.co/ynLXLDS1Gc #world #record #landscapephotography @infoclimat
— beyond-horizons.org (@beyondhorizons1) July 16, 2020
In case you’re wondering what lies in between (as I’m sure you were) someone has even put together this snazzy little Google Earth fly-through.
But the excitement doesn’t end here. The Catalans have proved there is somewhere in the world that you can see 443km (well, you can if you’ve got a big enough zoom on your camera). But shouldn’t there be at least two of these points? If you can see Pic Gaspard from Pic de Finestrelles, then you should in theory be able to see Pic de Finestrelles from Pic Gaspard. But is there somewhere that you can see even further?
To put it another way, which two mountains on earth have the world’s longest view?
In the true spirit of scientific discovery, the boys from Beyond Horizons have published a list on their website, of places where you should theoretically be able to see even further. ‘We have spent a great time going through our planet to find out the Longest Lines of Sight on Earth,’ they say. They don’t explain how they ‘went through’ the planet, but there are various tools you can use these days, such as Ulrich Deuschle’s amazing auto-panorama generating website that a reader pointed out to me in a previous blog post.
They list the longest line of sight from Pik Dankova (5,892m) in Kyrgyzstan to Hindu Tagh (6,421m) in China, 542km away. The team’s generosity in providing this information is tempered by the fact that there are unlikely to be many people racing to take the record off their hands. The mountains are sufficiently obscure that I’ve had difficulty finding information and photographs of either of them. One appears to be a serious mountaineering challenge; the other lies in a politically sensitive area.
Pik Dankova is the highest point in the Western Kakshaal-Too Range, part of the Tien Shan Mountains, close to the Chinese border north of Kashgar. The ‘Snow Leopard’ peak, Pik Pobeda (7,439m) lies at the eastern end of this range. Pik Dankova was first climbed by N Strikitsa in 1969 by its SW face. It was climbed again by the NW face in 1972, and then wasn’t climbed again until 1998 because the area was politically restricted until the mid 1990s.
Hindu Tagh is more of a mystery. There is no 6,421m mountain called Hindu Tagh that I could find, only a 5,450m historical pass in the Kunlun Mountains. The Kunlun Mountains extend for more than 3,000km across western China, and form the northern edge of the Tibetan plateau. A Summitpost user jbramel discovered that from the summit of Pik Dankova, you can look south across the Taklamakan Desert to the Kunlun Mountains. Using Ulrich Deuschle’s tool (so to speak) he found a point 6,442m high that could be seen 538km away.
I searched for this mountain on Google Earth, and found a distinctive mountain at 36.30433°N, 78.75395°E. When I put the tool into reverse, to look north from the Kunlun across the Taklamakan Desert to Pik Dankova, it placed the altitude at 6,397m and the maximum distance at 537km.
So it seems there are two distinct mountains with the longest view on earth; but I can’t confirm the name of the higher southern one. But if you want to see the long view then you may have more success on Pik Dankova. The southern peak in the Kunlun Mountains lies among borderlands that have been heavily disputed for years. The Siachen Glacier, just to the west, has been the site of a conflict between Pakistan and India that is still unresolved. Meanwhile, the Galwan Valley to the south has recently been the site of a deadly border dispute between the China and India.
At the time of writing then, the prize for mountain with the world’s longest view goes to Pik Dankova in Kyrgyzstan. If there’s a longer view then nobody’s found it, but there appears to be a promising area west of Pik Dankova that also looks south across the plains of western China. If you have time on your hands then you might like to investigate it with Ulrich’s tool.
Update, 7 August 2020
This post seemed incomplete without a photo of either of the two mountains in question. I’m therefore deeply grateful to Austrian photographer and adventurer Christian Bock for allowing me to use his magnificent photo of Pik Dankova above.
For those of you excited by such things (I know I am), the right-hand skyline looks eminently climbable.
Christian spent four consecutive summers from 2012 to 2015 covering around 4,000km of the wildest parts of the Kyrgyz Tien Shan Mountains. In the first year, he travelled by mountain bike, but in later trips he discovered horse travel.
As well as breathtaking mountain panoramas, Christian captured a series of evocative images of the Kyrgyz herdsmen and horses that were his companions during his travels there. German speakers may also be interested to know that he will soon be publishing a book about these adventures.