Holy Heights: The World’s 7 Most Sacred Mountains

From Mount Everest to Mount Sinai to America’s rocky Black Hills, these 7 prominent peaks prove pointedly that mountains don’t have to be high to be holy.

Mount Everest, Nepal

(images via: Stuff.co.nz, MNN and The Costa Rican Times)

Starting at the top (altitude-wise at least) is Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain at 8,848 meters or 29,029 ft. Mount Everest’s summit was first reached in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Norgay, who shares in Hillary’s accomplishment but is unfortunately overshadowed by the New Zealander in modern culture, belongs to the Sherpa ethnic group native to the region. The Sherpas consider Everest to be a sacred mountain and before beginning a climbing attempt will typically perform a ritual sacrifice.

(image via: Sweet Dreamland of My Heart)

Mount Everest is becoming more sacred as time goes by… if one considers cemeteries and other such final human resting places to be spiritual locations. Approximately 200 bodies lie on the mountains upper reaches, many of them frozen stiff in the positions they were in when they perished. Though many climbers’ bodies have been recovered, often at great expense and at a further cost in lives, most remain in situ with no possibility of recovery.

Inyan Kara

(images via: Black Hills Travel Blog and Brian Owen Photography)

The Black Hills are located mainly in South Dakota but their western reaches spread into the northeastern corner of Wyoming, and this is where Inyan Kara can be found. At 1,941 meters (6,368 feet), Inyan Kara is not the highest peak in the Black Hills but its relative isolation from other associated landforms makes it visible from a considerable distance. George Armstrong Custer (yes, THAT Custer) was one of the first to climb Inyan Kara in early July of 1874, and the “’74 G Custer” chiseled into the rocks on the summit was left, possibly by another member of the 1874 Black Hills Expedition, as a permanent record.

(image via: Brian Owen Photography)

The local Lakota Sioux and other area tribes had long considered Inyan Kara to be a sacred mountain and any knowledge of Custer’s climb to Inyan Kara’s summit (not to mention the carving of his name there) would have done nothing to improve his reputation with them. According to one Sioux legend, the Black Hills as a whole were the home of the Great Spirit and Inyan Kara in particular was where the thunder gods dwelled – legend has it that mysterious rumblings emanated from the peak.

Mount Olympus

(images via: Stephen Davies and Matt Barrett’s Travel Guides)

Featured in Greek mythology as the home of the Twelve Olympian Gods led by Zeus and Hera, Mount Olympus is only one of several sacred mountains revered by the ancient Greeks but it’s by far the most well known. Located in the eponymous Olympus Range inland from the Gulf of Salonika, Mount Olympus is a multi-peaked landform 2,917 meters (9,570 ft) high and is Greece’s tallest mountain.

(image via: Wikimedia/Alina Zienowicz)

Though sacred to worshipers in Classical Greece and other territories influenced by Helenistic culture, Mount Olympus today is a popular with mountain climbers who note the only difficult portion is the final section leading from Skala summit to Mytikas summit – the mountain’s highest point. Though an estimated 10,000 people climb Mount Olympus annually, most only reach the Skolio summit… all part of Zeus’s privacy plan.