Surpassing Eight-thousand Meters
There are 109 mountains on our planet that are taller than 7,000 meters (23,622 feet). Only fourteen of them have been identified as independent mountains with elevations above 8,000 m. (26,247 ft.). The “Eight-Thousanders” are majestic, intimidating, awe-inspiring, and also alluring to many within the mountaineering community.
It is important to understand how mountains are measured when beginning to compare and contrast the tallest mountains on Earth. The tallest mountain above sea level is Mt. Everest in Nepal. It has the highest altitude of all other mountains on the planet.
The tallest mountain on Earth from base to summit is Mauna Kea in Hawaii. It is over 10,000 meters (almost 33,000 feet) tall, though only 4,205 meters (13,790 feet) are above sea level. Mauna Kea, on the island of Hawaii, is located in the chain of Hawaiian Islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano.
The highest mountain above earth’s center is Mt. Chimborazo in the South American country of Ecuador. It measures 6,310 meters (20,703 feet). How could a mountain of this altitude be the highest above the Earth’s center?
Our planet is not a perfect sphere; it bulges out 42.65 kilometers (26.5 miles) around the area of the equator due to gravity and the planet’s rotation on its axis. Since Mt. Chimborazo is almost directly on the equator, it is located near the widest area of our planet (greatest diameter), making it further from the center of the Earth than Mount Everest.
The mountain with the highest base to summit vertical rise above sea level is Mt. McKinley (Denali) in the U.S. state of Alaska. The vertical rise is 5,486 meters (just under 18,000 feet). Denali’s altitude was recalculated in 2013 using modern equipment and the new altitude is accepted as being 6,168 meters (20,237 feet), which is 25 meters (82 feet) shorter than claimed by a previous survey.
Denali is not the only mountain about which there is a height debate. The Nepali government accepts the altitude established in a 1955 survey of Mt. Everest, which is 8,848 meters (29, 029 feet). A survey by the Chinese in 2005 indicated that the altitude was just over 8,844 meters (29,015 feet). Upon further investigation, it was realized that the Chinese measured the rock height of the mountain, while the 1955 survey by a team from India included the depth of the snow cap in their measurement.
To further confuse matters, The National Geographic Society of the United States measured Mt. Everest in 1999 using modern equipment and they deemed the mountain to be 8,850 meters (29,035 feet) tall. The elevation of Mt. Everest is officially listed by the government of Nepal as 8,848 meters above sea level. The earthquakes of 2015 supposedly decreased the height of Everest, but as of this writing, there has not been an official statement made regarding the new elevation.
Different sources list mountains’ altitudes at different heights. They are usually within a few meters of one another, but the discrepancies are certainly enough to keep everyone confused about altitudes. On top of that issue, there is the matter of whether or not a peak gets ‘credited’ for its altitude. That brings in the concept of topographical prominence.
In order to be considered an independent mountain, a peak must have a prominence of 300 meters (some sources use the criteria of 200 – 500 meters). The prominence is the height that a peak rises above any saddle that connects it to a higher peak.
Yalung Kang (8,505m.) on Mt. Kanchenjunga provides a good example of the way in which this standard affects a mountain’s status. As a result of insufficient prominence, Yalung Kang is not considered to be an independent peak. Without the limitation of topographic prominence guidelines, Yalung Kang would be the world’s fourth highest peak. Instead, it is regarded as a subsidiary peak of Kanchenjunga.
There is one fact that all sources can agree upon: All of the world’s tallest mountains are found in the continent of Asia. They are in the Himalayan and Karakoram ranges of Nepal, China (Tibet), India and Pakistan. The summits of these mountains were all reached for the first time between 1950 and 1964.