“As the highest and most dramatic features of the natural landscape, mountains have an extraordinary power to evoke the sacred. The ethereal rise of a ridge in mist, the glint of moonlight on an icy face, a flare of gold on a distant peak—such glimpses of transcendent beauty can reveal our world as a place of unimaginable mystery and splendor.” –Edwin Bernbaum
Floating above clouds, rising above meadows and mist, the world’s highest and holiest peaks draw people in from across the planet, inviting exploration, prayer, adventure, and meditation. Mountains embody power, strength, and otherworldly spiritual aspects that we long to understand, and humans have crafted countless stories in an attempt to encapsulate their majestic spirits. Here are a few of our favorite famous peaks and the legends and lore they’ve inspired.
Mont Blanc, Switzerland
Mont Blanc is the highest peak in the Alps, as well as all of western Europe, and at 15,771 feet, it towers above 40 square miles of glaciers that flow to the Chamonix Valley. According to 16th-century tales, a temple and statue of the sky god, Jupiter, was once located on a high pass on the mountain. Ancient Christian myths tell of St. Bernard battling this pagan devil, and the mountain was called Mont Maudit, or the “accursed mountain.” The current name of the nearby Great Bernard Pass comes from this historical figure. Eventually, the mountain was re-named Mont Blanc, “White Mountain,” and its wondrous white slopes continue to attract travelers, adventurers, and climbers from all over the world.
Take Me There on Tour du Mont Blanc, Mont Blanc to the Mediterranean, and more!
So high and alone is the world’s tallest free-standing mountain, Kilimanjaro, that there are literally hundreds of myths and legends to explain its unique positioning and snowy white summit that has attracted adventurers for centuries. Local people, the Chagga, believe that mountain dwarves, or pygmies, have lived in caves beneath the mountain, and are possibly still there. Present-day stories of climbers emanate from the mountain today, creating new legends of this iconic peak for generations to come.
Take Me There on Climb Kilimanjaro!
Mount Everest, Nepal
To the people of Nepal, Mount Everest is known as Sagarmatha, which translates to, “Holy Mother,” or “Goddess of the Sky.” Tibetans, who share the slopes of Everest, call her Chomolungma, meaning, “Goddess Mother of the World,” or “Goddess of the Valley.” As the tallest mountain in the world, Everest commands much reverence and is a sacred place to Nepalese and Tibetans. Legends have been swirling around this peak for centuries. The Yeti, or the Abominable Snowman, may be the best-known among them. In most tales of the Yeti, he is an ominous, dangerous, and mysterious creature. Though many tales of sighting the Yeti have been told, most have been debunked. But, who knows, maybe in this sacred realm something wild is lurking—yet to be discovered!
Take Me There on Everest Lodge to Lodge and Everest Base Camp
Mount Tongariro, New Zealand
The mountains of New Zealand are shrouded in stories. According to Maori belief, all mountains were once gods and warriors. Fabled Mount Tongariro is the subject of a myriad of myths. In one, Mount Tongariro and five other nearby mountains on the North Island were said to have awoken from years of peaceful slumber by Pihana, a female mountain who had blossomed into a fern-covered beauty—so beautiful she woke them up! They battled over her, and Tongariro won. But drama ensued, eventually filling the landscape with tears that became the Whanganui River. Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest national park, home to several tapu, or sacred, summits, and it’s the first World Heritage site to earn dual designation—for both culture and landscape—because of the deep spiritual links between the community and the environment.
Take Me There on Te Araroa: New Zealand Top to Bottom
Italy’s Dolomites are rich in tales of dwarves, witches, ogres, and dragons who’ve tromped around the slopes above hidden passages to the underworld. There are even spots where witches are said to gather on summer nights. One famous story tells of a clumsy wizard who caused a rainbow to collapse into the luminous Lago di Carezza, and another tells how the mountains gained their pale color after a princess who was visiting from the moon demanded the mountains be turned white to ease her homesickness. These rose-tinted pinnacles are so mesmerizing that even the handiwork of wizards and witches may not fully explain their spellbinding beauty.
Take Me There on Ultimate Dolomites and Hiking in the Cortina Dolomites
In Incan mythology, apu was a word used to describe spirits within mountains, as well as the mountains themselves. Mountains offered the Incas a way to connect with the most powerful gods in the heavens, with apu spirits serving as protectors. The phenomenal Cordillera Blanca in Peru consists of more than 70 peaks over 18,000 feet, including Peru’s tallest mountain, Huascarán (22,204′)—named after Huáscar, a 16th century Inca emperor. Its history of being shaken by numerous earthquakes over centuries has made it the main character of countless ancient myths. In this staggering landscape of Andean peaks soaring above the clouds, it’s easy to feel a sense of awe, wonder, and respect for the celestial spirits they may hold.
Take Me There on Trekking in the Cordillera Blanca
Croagh Patrick, Ireland
Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holiest mountain, has been a pilgrimage site for thousands of years. Christians believe that Saint Patrick spent 40 days on top of the mountain in a Lenten ritual of fasting and praying. Croagh Patrick or “The Reek,” as it is known locally, is also said to be the mountain from which Saint Patrick banished snakes and demons from Ireland forever. Given its unique pyramid-shaped structure and eye-catching, quartz-speckled glimmer, it’s no wonder it has been a place of prayer and pilgrimage for centuries. We especially love hiking to its summit, where views stretch from inlets and bays to remote islands across the dazzling west coast of Ireland.
Take Me There on Treasures of Ireland’s West Coast
Mount Vesuvius, Italy
Mount Vesuvius is notorious for destroying the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD, and its name still evokes a sense of fierce strength and power. Not surprisingly, the mountain had a long mythical history even prior to the big eruption. In ancient art and literature, it is described as a divinity and as having connections to Jupiter and Hercules. Today, it remains a powerful vision and one of the most recognizable skylines in Europe…and a great place to hike above a sensational coastline!
Take Me There on Amalfi and Capri and Italy’s Volcano Trails
Ben Nevis, Scotland
The Scottish highlands are full of folklore and many a story are told around a peat fire. As the story goes, Beira, the Queen of Winter and mother of all gods and goddesses in Scotland, used her favorite mountain, Ben Nevis, as her throne. She dominated the seasons and, using her magic hammer, is said to have created the lochs and mountain ranges all over Scotland. In this story, Loch Ness was named after Beira’s maid, Nessa, who neglected her duties so was turned into a river by Beira…ouch! An ancient giant of the land and once a massive volcano, the name of mighty Ben Nevis comes from a Gaelic phrase meaning, “mountain with its head in the clouds” or “venomous mountain,”—you decide!