The high elevation and rugged relief (>3 km) of the Gamburtsev Subglacial Mountains (GSM) have long been considered enigmatic. Orogenesis normally occurs near plate boundaries, not cratonic interiors, and large-scale tectonic activity last occurred in East Antarctica during the Pan-African (480–600 Ma). We sampled detrital apatite from Eocene sands in Prydz Bay at the terminus of the Lambert Graben, which drained a large pre-glacial basin including the northern Gamburtsev Mountains. Apatite fission-track and (U-Th)/He cooling ages constrain bedrock erosion rates throughout the catchment. We double-dated apatites to resolve individual cooling histories. Erosion was very slow, averaging 0.01–0.02 km/Myr for >250 Myr, supporting the preservation of high elevation in interior East Antarctica since at least the cessation of Permian rifting. Long-term topographic preservation lends credence to postulated high-elevation mountain ice caps in East Antarctica since at least the Cretaceous and to the idea that cold-based glaciation can preserve tectonically inactive topography.