Although Mount Kailash has never been climbed, a number of mountaineers have prospected the mountain with a view to climbing it. In 1926, Hugh Ruttledge studied the north face, which he estimated was 6,000 ft (1,800 m) high and "utterly unclimbable" and thought about an ascent of the north-east ridge, but he ran out of time. Ruttledge had been exploring the area with Colonel R. C. Wilson, who was on the other side of the mountain with his Sherpa named Satan. According to Wilson, Satan told Wilson, "'Sahib, we can climb that!' ... as he too saw that this [the SE ridge] represented a feasible route to the summit." Further excerpts from Wilson's article in the Alpine Journal (vol. 40, 1928) show that he was utterly serious in his intention to climb Kailash, but, as with Ruttledge, he ran out of time.
Herbert Tichy was in the area in 1936, attempting to climb Gurla Mandhata. When he asked one of the Garpons of Ngari whether Kailash was climbable, the Garpon replied, "Only a man entirely free of sin could climb Kailas. And he wouldn't have to actually scale the sheer walls of ice to do it – he'd just turn himself into a bird and fly to the summit."
Reinhold Messner was given the opportunity by the Chinese government to climb the mountain in the 1980s but he declined. In 2001 the Chinese gave permission for a Spanish team led by Jesus Martinez Novas to climb the peak, but in the face of international disapproval the Chinese decided to ban all attempts to climb the mountain. Messner, referring to the Spanish plans, said, "If we conquer this mountain, then we conquer something in people's souls ... I would suggest they go and climb something a little harder. Kailas is not so high and not so hard."