Mauna Kea, the highest point on the island of Hawaii.
The inactive volcano is a modest 4,206 m (13,799 feet) above sea level, but when measured from
the seabed to its summit, it is 10,200 m (33,465 feet) high – about three-quarters of a mile taller than Mount Everest.
As far as mountains are concerned, the current convention is that ‘highest’ means measured from
sea level to summit; ‘tallest’ means measured from the bottom of the mountain to the top.
So, while Mount Everest, at 8,848 m (29,029 feet) is the highest mountain in the world, it is not the
Measuring mountains is trickier than it looks. It’s easy enough to see where the top is, but where
exactly is the ‘bottom’ of a mountain?
For example, some argue that Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania – at 5,895 m (19,340 feet) – is taller
than Everest because it rises straight out of the African plain, whereas Everest is merely one ofmany peaks topping the enormous base of the Himalayas, shared by the world’s next thirteen highest mountains.
Others claim that the most logical measure ought to be the distance of a mountain’s peak from the
centre of the Earth. Because the Earth is a flattened rather than a perfect sphere, the equator is about 21 km (13 miles) further from the centre of the Earth than the poles. This is good news for the reputation of those mountains that are very close to the equator – like Mount Chimborazo in the Andes – but it also means accepting that even the beaches in Ecuador are
‘higher’ than the Himalayas.
Though massive, the Himalayas are surprisingly young. When they were formed, the dinosaurs had
been dead for 25 million years. In Nepal, Everest is known as Chomolungma – ‘Mother of the Universe’. In Tibet, it is called Sagamartha – ‘Forehead of the Sky’. Like any healthy youngster, it is still growing – at the not very exciting rate of 4 mm (less than a quarter of an inch) a year.
ALAN Do you know that one in eight of people who’ve tried to climb Everest die? PHILL So, when you’re putting your party together to go up Everest, just … If there’s seven of you, just get one really … someone you don’t like. Preferably with asthma … ‘Lead on, Wheezy!’