An ultra is a classification of mountains based on prominence. For a mountain to be recognized as an ultra, its height should be at least 4,921 feet. The presence of cols on some high peaks disqualify them from being ultras, with an example being the Matterhorn in the Alps, which despite being 14,692 feet in elevation, has a prominence of 3,418 feet due to the presence of Col Durand. Stephen Fry is credited with introducing the term in the 1980s, which was initially used for mountains exceeding 5,000 feet in prominence. A total of 1,515 mountains in the world qualify to be regarded as ultras, where 84 are found in Africa, 562 in the Americas, and 637 of them are in Asia. 119 of the world’s ultras are found in Europe, while 39 are in Antarctica.
Asia has the most numbers ultras of any continent, having a total of 637 ultras. The continent is also home to the world’s highest ultra, Mount Everest which has a prominence of 29,028 feet, the highest of any ultra. The mountain is one of nine in the Himalayas that are considered to be ultras. Asia’s second-highest ultra-prominent peak based on prominence is Nanga Parbat, with a prominence of 15,118 feet.
There are a total of 84 peaks in Africa with prominence exceeding 4,921 feet and therefore qualifying to be ultras. Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest of Africa’s ultras, with a prominence of 19,307 feet, followed by Ras Dashen which has a prominence of 13,057 feet. The Jbel Toubkal is the highest of the Ultras that make up the Atlas Mountains, having a prominence of 12,319 feet. Other Ultras found in the Atlas Mountains include the M’Goun peak which rises to 6,246 feet in prominence and the Jbel Igdet peak with a prominence of 5,278 feet.
562 peaks in the Americas are higher than 4,921 feet in prominence and hence are all ultras. 353 of these peaks are found in North America, while 209 of them are situated in South America. The tallest of the ultras in South America based on prominence is Aconcagua in Argentina which has a prominence of 22,841 feet, which is only surpassed by Mount Everest in prominence. Denali peak of the Alaska Range has the highest prominence of any ultra in North America, having a prominence of 20,147 feet. The third-highest peak in the Americas based on prominence is Colombia’s Pico Cristobal Colon with a prominence of 18,074 feet.
Europe has 119 peaks which are recognized as ultra-prominent peaks as all have a prominence exceeding 4,921 feet. Russia’s Mount Elbrus is the highest ultra in Europe, having a prominence of 15,554 feet. Many of Europe’s ultras are found in the Alps. The highest of the ultras in the Alps is Mont Blanc which is 15,410 feet in prominence, with Grossglockner peak being the second-highest ultra in the Alps, having a prominence of 7,949 feet.
Many of the world’s highest mountains are ultras and therefore are famous for mountaineering. However, there remain a few ultras in the world that are yet to be climbed. Gangar Puensum and Sauyr Zhotasy are two examples of ultras that are yet to be ascended.