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Mountain Prominence

19 April 2018

From the early days of mountaineering people have incessantly tried to sort the mountains out. How could they know which one is more important than another? Which one is harder to conquer? The obvious measurement based on elevation very often doesn't provide any meaningful information. A very high mountain could be just a "hill" on a high altitude plateau or a barely noticeable ledge on another mountain. Let's solve this puzzle!

Mon Viso, Italy
Mon Viso, Italy

When you usually see a mountain in its natural ambinets from several angles you pretty much get an idea about its worth. Yet, "you know when you see it" is barely an answer to our question. In fact, being puzzled with this problem, wise men came with a very smart solution which is called Topographical Prominence. Prominence characterizes the height of a mountain by the vertical distance between it and the lowest contour line encircling it but containing no higher summit within it. It might seem complicated but in reality prominence is the least vertical drop to be covered to get from the summit to any other higher terrain. Here is an illustration to make things crystal clear.

Prominence vs Elevation
Prominence vs Elevation

When we are looking at a horizon full of mountain tops we are curious about the most prominent peaks as they usually are the most interesting ones. To many mountaineers prominence is important because it strongly correlates with the subjective significance of a summit. Mountains with the prominence higher than 1,500 meters are called Ultra prominent peaks or, simply, Ultra. While there are hundred thousands mountains all over the world, so far only 1,515 Ultras have been identified: 637 in Asia, 353 in North America, 209 in South America, 119 in Europe (including the Caucasus), 84 in Africa, 69 in Australasia and 39 in Antarctica.

In PeakVisor, we treat Prominence with special care. It is a prerequisite for our decision of which mountain to highlight with a label. When reaching a significant summit in the Alps you could easily be exposed to vistas with hundreds and even thousands peaks. There is no way you can squeeze them all into your phone screen! Luckily, PeakVisor does all the heavy lifting for you, every second it finds the most important peaks around you and tags Ultra mountains with a special red icon.

Ultra Mountains in Italy
Ultra Mountains in Italy

For an illustration of Prominence importance we compiled a list of 22 Italian Ultra Prominent Mountains. This short journey will take you to marvelous Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and almost all regions of Belpaese. Let's see if you know all of them! And maybe this weekend you will explore one of them or at least will see it in your camera view? If you do then please send us your Ultra views at

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