Everest Isn't the Highest Point on Earth

It’s not even the tallest mountain...

Mount Everest. The very name conjures up images of climbers struggling to reach the vaunted peak, enduring the most extreme of conditions to reach the tallest mountain in the world. Except it isn’t, according to science. Kind of. 

That honor goes to the stratovolcano Chimborazo, in central Ecuador. Rising 20,548 ft above sea level, it’s nearly 9,000 ft shorter than Everest. That seems contradictory, but let me explain.


In a strange twist of physics (and geology), it turns out that the Earth isn’t a perfect sphere. Although globes, maps, and our elementary school teachers tend to portray it as a sphere, it’s actually an “Oblate Spheroid” because it’s a bit flatter around the poles and fatter around the equator, due to a combination of gravity and centripetal force. As such, points around the equator can be further from the center of the earth (and closer to the sun) than points further north or south. Because Chimborazo is so close to the equator, it benefits from this bulge.

Using extremely accurate GPS measurements from the summit, a team of Ecuadorian and French scientists found that Chimborazo is 3.966.8 miles away from the center of the Earth, and Everest is “only”  3.965.5 miles.



If we’re REALLY getting into technicalities, Everest isn’t even the tallest mountain on Earth by total height…that’s Mauna Kea in Hawaii, coming in at over 33,000 ft tall (mostly underwater). Don’t worry, Everest is still the tallest mountain by measured from sea level, and magnitudes more difficult and prestigious. But if you don’t have the time and money for an Everest climb, maybe head down to Ecuador for a climb up Chimborazo. While still difficult, it's a much more attainable goal for the mountaineering-inclined and can be done in a single day (or night, as we summited at 6am!).

Published: January 13, 2017

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Kyle FrostAdmin

Boulder

Wearer of many hats at The Outbound Collective. I'm @kylefrost pretty much everywhere.

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