When you think of all the bodies of water around the world, you tend to imagine they’re all low-lying, don’t you? Hence things being “at sea level”. But there are actually a number of lakes that sit high above the oceans, nestled in mountain ranges like the Himalayas. The following list is the generally accepted top ten highest lakes by altitude and, thanks to the problems in differentiating between lakes and ponds, some of them are actually ponds. Find out where you can see water at height in our Top 10 Highest Lakes.
10. Damavand Pool, Iran
The Damavand Pool can be found on Mount Damavand, a volcano that’s said to have magical powers in the “Shahnameh”, a significant work of literature by the Persian poet Ferdowsi. In Persian mythology, it symbolizes Persia (now Iran)’s independence and its rejection of any forces who would wish to conquer the land. The mountain frequently recurs in Persian literature, as in the eponymous poem by Mohammad-Taqí Bahār, where it’s described as “dome of the world”.
The pool itself sits 5,650m above sea level in the crater summit of the mountain. Most of the year it is frozen, but sometimes melts during the summer to form an icy pool. It’s a rare sight, due to its height and frozen nature most of the year round, but is worth the climb to see!
9. Poquentica Lake, Bolivia/Chile
A spectacularly beautiful lake on the border of Bolivia and Chile, Poquentica Lake sits 5,750m above sea level on the summit of an extinct volcano. It’s mostly frozen and the surrounding terrain is full of crystals – it was described by Nathalie Cabrol, who explored the lake with a team of scientists from the SETI Institute, as “a geologist’s wonderland”. The SETI team explored the lake in 2005 as part of an expedition to ascertain what conditions on Mars might be like and it certainly gives the impression of being somewhere otherwordly. As Cabrol concludes in her journal “Planet Earth has still a lot to teach us”. As with most of these lakes, it is a dangerous and largely uncharted climb but for the SETI team it seems that it was one which was astonishing and may have made a huge contribution to the field of science.
8. Ridonglabo Lake, Tibet
In the mysterious mountains of Tibet (pictured above), there is an equally mysterious lake known as Ridonglabo Lake. It’s 5,801m above sea level and is a moraine lake formed from a melted glacier -an increasingly common occurrence in the Himalayas as global warming heats the planet up. It’s close to Ridonglabo Peak and only 14km away from Mount Everest, but other than that little is known about it. There are no known first hand accounts of anyone visiting the lake or going anywhere near there, and given the secrecy of the Chinese government and the Tibetan unrest, it’s not likely that any expeditions from the western world will go there anytime soon. And as such, there are no confirmed photos of the lake itself – it would be a brave explorer that discovers this gem!
7. Aguas Calientes Pool, Chile
Another volcanic lake, this pool sits at the top of the Cerro Aguas Calientes in the Antofagasta region of Chile. It’s far from the only volcano in the region – its neighbors are Acamarachi, Lascar and Chiliques, the last of which has been dormant for thousands of years but threatening to erupt again. The Aguas Calientes Pool has a distinctive red tinge to it, thanks to the microorganisms that live in it. It’s 5,831m above sea level but unlike Ridonglabo, it has been well explored by climbers and, along with the neighboring volcanoes, it is a popular attraction for mountaineers. It is also sometimes known as Simbad.
6. Lake Licancabur, Bolivia/Chile
Back to the Bolivia/Chile border now, for another volcano which was explored by the SETI team. Lake Licancabur lies a few hundred miles south from Poquentica and its altitude is 5,916m. Its shape is very different to Poquentica, with the look of the mountain a classic volcano shape, rather than the messy shape an exploded volcano takes on. The mountain is divided between Bolivian and Chilean territory, but the lake is entirely in the Chilean side, around a kilometer from the border. It’s substantially bigger than some of the other lakes on the list, at 100m by 70m and with a depth of 8m. It’s also been thoroughly explored and even scuba dived, with Johan Reinhard first free-diving the lake (in 1981) and then returning with four other divers in 1982 to complete the world’s highest scuba dive, although the record has not been officially recognised. The lake is believed to have been a sacred spot for the Incas and so has some archaeological significance, but so far no major finds have been unearthed there.