Iapetus, a moon of Saturn, has a strange equatorial ridge along part of its equator.
The geology of Iapetus is very different from that of an Earth like planet, so I don't know if the forces that produced the equatorial ridge on Iapetus could produce one on an Earth like planet.
It is not clear how the ridge formed. One difficulty is to explain why it follows the equator almost perfectly. There are at least four current hypotheses, but none of them explains why the ridge is confined to Cassini Regio.
A team of scientists associated with the Cassini mission have argued that the ridge could be a remnant of the oblate shape of the young Iapetus, when it was rotating more rapidly than it does today. The height of the ridge suggests a maximum rotational period of 17 hours. If Iapetus cooled fast enough to preserve the ridge but remained plastic long enough for the tides raised by Saturn to have slowed the rotation to its current tidally locked 79 days, Iapetus must have been heated by the radioactive decay of aluminium-26. This isotope appears to have been abundant in the solar nebula from which Saturn formed, but has since all decayed. The quantities of aluminium-26 needed to heat Iapetus to the required temperature give a tentative date to its formation relative to the rest of the Solar System: Iapetus must have come together earlier than expected, only two million years after the asteroids started to form.
The ridge could be icy material that welled up from beneath the surface and then solidified. If it had formed away from the position of the equator at the time, this hypothesis requires that the rotational axis would have been driven to its current position by the ridge.
Iapetus may have had a ring system during its formation due to its large Hill sphere, and the equatorial ridge could have then been produced by collisional accretion of this ring.
The ridge and the bulge could be the result of ancient convective overturn. This hypothesis states that the bulge is in isostatic equilibrium typical for terrestrial mountains. It means that under the bulge there is material of low density (roots). The weight of the bulge is compensated by buoyancy forces acting on the roots. The ridge is also built of less dense matter. Its position along the equator is probably a result of the Coriolis force acting on a liquid interior of Iapetus.
Some of those methods might be more plausible on an Earth like planet than others.
Since it would take billions of years for life and intelligent life to develop on a planet, either the equatorial ridge would have been produced by gradual geological processes instead of by a terrible disaster, or else those terrible disasters would have to be billions of years in the past by the time of the story.
If an Earth like planet had an equatorial ridge without any passes low enough to have air thick enough to breathe easily, but instead was everywhere so high that oxygen tanks would be needed to cross it, the two hemispheres will be out of contact until and unless high flying aircraft are invented.
Depending on the age of the ridge, life in the two hemispheres could have a common origin or else have developed totally separately and have radically different biochemistry.