Courtesy of Thames & Hudson

See Everest, K2, Matterhorn, and Other Giant Peaks as Never Before

Scientists at the German Aerospace Center are using satellite data to create incredibly precise, photorealistic views of the tallest mountains on earth.

In September 2010, after hearing mountain climber Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner talk about the difficulties of a recent expedition up K2, one being gaps in her knowledge of the terrain, earth scientist Stefan Dech had an idea to turn satellite data into a three-dimensional map of the mountain.

Two months later, Dech, a director at Germany's Earth Observation Center, found himself in an animation lab, "flying" over the Baltoro Glacier to the summit of K2, then turning around and looking down the north ridge, into the Shaksgam Valley below. The new imagery gave an unprecedented level of precision for scientists—and future climbers—to see every position, every upward trail, and every possible route for a virtual climb along to the summit, the most difficult of all the 8,000-meter peaks.

In the years since, he and his colleagues have collaborated with their French counterpart, the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), and the Airbus Group to take data from the Pléiades satellites and create intricate terrain models of 13 mountains in all. These models have been turned into photorealistic views from perspectives and heights never possible before.

Now they are all collected in a new book, Mountains: Mapping the Earth’s Extremes (Thames & Hudson, 2016). Inside, Bech writes that it will “give nature-lovers, mountain-lovers, and ambitious climbers a new and inspiring way to access to the great mountains of the world without leaving their armchairs.” Here's a sample.

  1. Kailash


    Considered sacred by Buddhists and Hindus, this 21,778-foot-tall mountain in Tibet has never been summited. A pilgrim’s route (here as a dark band) winds around it, though, through the Lha Chu Valley that leads to the Drira Phuk Monastery, and from there up to the pass of Dolma-La.

    Source: DLR

  2. Matterhorn


    The unmistakable peak of the Matterhorn, at the border of Switzerland and Italy, with the Dent d’Hérens in the background, seen from Zermatt in Switzerland.

    Source: DLR

  3. Denali


    Formerly known as Mount McKinley, this is the view of the 20,308-foot Alaskan peak from the northeast. On the right of the image is the Denali Pass, which is where the Harper Glacier begins. Below the massif is the Thayer Basin.

    Source: DLR

  4. Nanda Devi

    Nanda Devi

    Famous for its double peak, the 25,543-foot mountain in India is considered one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. The hanging glacier on the west face (right) is extremely dangerous. 

    Source: DLR

  5. Everest


    The normal route to the top of the tallest mountain in the world crosses the Khumbu Icefall, the Valley of Silence (also called the Western Cwm), the South Col, and the southeast ridge to the summit—all seen here. North of the 29,028-foot summit, the rocky prominences known as the Three Steps can be seen.

    Source: DLR

  6. K2


    A virtual camera view of the Chinese side to the north. Though it's only the second-highest mountain in the world, top climbers regard it as the most difficult and most sought-after of all 8,000-meter mountains. The border with Pakistan runs through the northwest and northeast ridges (diagonally from below right to left); at the foot is the Savoia Glacier.

    Source: DLR

  7.  Dhaulagiri


    The north face shows the summit seracs—blocks of glacial ice—at 26,794 feet in Nepal. In 1960, the year Dhaulagiri was first climbed, the supply plane for the Swiss expedition landed on the northeast col (left).

    Source: DLR