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You've been lied about Mount Everest

Some untold facts about Mount Everest that we didn't know

By Sam MPublished about a month ago 6 min read
A view of Mount Everest at dusk

There are certain things in life that are universally known. There are 8 planets in the solar system, the blue whale is the biggest animal that ever lived, diamond is the hardest naturally occurring substance on earth, and Mount Everest is the tallest mountain. But my dear viewer, that last fact is a total lie. And if you think this video is just going to be about a certain Hawaiian volcano, you’re only half right. What if I was to tell you there are in fact two mountains other than Everest that can quite reasonably claim to be the tallest on earth. You see, despite the fact that every textbook, website, encyclopedia, and natural history documentary you’ve ever seen has confidently told you that Mount Everest is the tallest peak on the planet…

Unexpectedly, it's not, as I will inform you. One of the largest cartographical efforts in history was started by the East India Company in 1802. Known as the Great Trigonometrical Survey, its goal was to map the Indian Subcontinent precisely over its whole area of 4.5 million square kilometers. The Great Trigonometrical Survey, which spanned over 70 years, is credited with literally putting India on the map and accurately measuring the heights of many of the planet's greatest mountains. This was only a few generations ago, maybe 200 years ago, yet many of these largest mountains were unknown to western scientists at the time. Not only did we not know their exact height, we had no idea they existed at all.

Because of this, the Great Trigonometrical Survey was truly a voyage of discovery, encountering ever-more-monstrous mountains as its surveyors, explorers, and cartographers descended into the farthest regions of the Himalayas. Because of this, during the nineteenth century, the mountain—which was once thought to be the highest on Earth—saw significant changes as new summits were found and measured precisely for the first time. For the roughly 300 years that before the study, it was commonly acknowledged that Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador was the world's tallest mountain in terms of elevation above sea level. This changed in 1808 when the Survey found Dhaulagiri, a peak in Nepal that was not only larger than Chimborazo but nearly two kilometers larger. Before Kangchenjunga was revealed to be a few hundred meters higher than Dhaulagiri in 1847, the peak was thought to be the highest on Earth. Kanchenjunga then lost the title to K2 when it was discovered in 1856. K2's record was only in effect for a few months, since Mount Everest—named for George Everest, the former head of the Great Trigonometrical Survey and Surveyor General of India—was formally proclaimed the world's highest mountain later that year. That has been its title ever since.But Mount Everest's grasp on that "lofty" record is shockingly weak, considering that it has been the world's highest peak for more than 160 years.

If Everest isn't the real king of the mountains, then what is? It's confusing to say that there isn't a straightforward response to that query; it all depends on how you measure it. As it happens, Mount Everest is the highest mountain on Earth if you were to measure every mountain with the longest tape measure in the globe. However, you just committed the traditional error of standing on dry terrain when measuring mountains.

Since Mauna Kea, the dormant volcano that looms over Hawai'i, the largest of the Hawaiian islands, truly deserves the title of highest hill. Furthermore, Mauna Kea barely behind Everest in height—at 10,210 meters, it is almost a kilometer higher. Mauna Kea would *still* be larger if Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Britain, were to be dropped squarely on top of Mount Everest's snow-capped summit. But there's a catch: Everest is legally recognized as the taller mountain since more than half of the massive Mauna Kea is submerged under the Pacific Ocean, leaving just a little over 4,200 meters above sea level. And that can seem very fair to you. Sultan Kösen, a farmer from Turkey, is the tallest man alive at eight feet and three inches. Would his height alter if he were to, say, stand in a swimming pool for a while? Would his record be handed to someone else by the kind folks at Guinness? Obviously not. Why then do mountains defy the same logic? It's true that Mauna Kea, buried in the Pacific Ocean since its formation over a million years ago, isn't quite like a Turkish farmer taking a swim. Even the oceans, though, are not eternal.

It is true that climbing Mauna Kea will not be the same as climbing Everest (you will require access to a submarine, for example). And the top of Mauna Kea isn't even always covered in snow, unlike the pure air of Everest's upper slopes. Maybe that's why Mount Everest is regarded as the big daddy of them all. While it is evident that Mauna is taller, Everest reaches further into the atmosphere. At its apex, you are essentially standing on the edge of the planet, as close to the stars as you can get with your feet planted firmly on the earth. Well, that's not entirely true either. Everest isn't the highest mountain on Earth if you measure from base to tip, as we have already established (and you should always measure from base to tip). What if I told you, though, that you could ascend even higher? If you're not Kyrie Irving, you most likely visualize the planet Earth as a massive sphere. That's how it's always been portrayed, and that's how it looks in pictures taken from space. That's not totally true, though; our homeworld is actually an oblate spheroid. In layman's terms, the world is not spherical nor flat; rather, it is fat. The globe bulges in the middle due to the combined forces of gravity and earth's spin, much like your waistline does after Christmas dinner. The earth's bulge is negligible on a planetary scale; if the world were reduced to the size of a beach ball, the equator would have a millimeter more width than the poles, which explains why the bulge is invisible in space photos of the planet. However, even a tiny deformation has a big effect on a human scale when it comes to something the size of a planet. Compared to someone standing on the equator, a person at the North Pole is roughly 20 kilometers closer to the center of the globe. Naturally, this also applies to mountains.

The highest point on Earth, measured from the globe's center, isn't the summit of Mount Everest, thanks to a boost from the ugly paunch of the planet. It's in Ecuador 10,000 miles away, not even in the Himalayas. When compared to sea level, Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador was believed to be the highest mountain in the world for several centuries. While today's mountaineers swarm to Mount Everest, throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, it was Chimborazo that drew in large numbers of aspirants seeking to reach the summit of the globe. Western science had miscalculated this one spectacularly; at 6,263 meters, Chimborazo is merely the 39th tallest mountain in the Andes and does not even rank among the top 200 highest mountains on Earth. However, in a truly amazing coincidence, Chimborazo is the highest point on Earth since it is situated just one degree south of the equator. Despite being more than 2.5 kilometers shorter when measured against sea level, its peak is a healthy 3,967 miles from the center of the planet, 1.3 miles higher than the peak of Mount Everest. Ultimately, all those intrepid climbers from the 17th and 18th centuries who reached the summit of Chimborazo were truly at the top of the world—just not in the way they believed. So, Chimborazo, Mauna Kea, or Everest? In the end, the choice is yours. However, there is a strong case that Everest has the least claim to be the highest mountain on Earth out of these three. Without a doubt, Chimborazo is the "highest," and Mauna Kea is the "biggest." In contrast, Everest's record for being the highest peak above sea level begins to seem a little specialized, if not arbitrary. Don't get me wrong; Everest is still a breathtaking and motivating location. Its peak is among the most extreme locations that humans have ever visited, with a penetration deeper into the atmosphere than any other mountain. Its reputation as a mountain of mythical proportions is well-earned, and it has an amazing history. However, this does not alter the fact that Everest only succeeds in one of the several completely valid methods for determining the world's tallest peak.

Thanks for reading. I appreciate you clicking on my article out of all the articles on the internet.


About the Creator

Sam M

working with the desire to know the unknown.

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