“Measuring Everest”: Q & a

How tall is Mt. Everest exactly?
8,844.43m [± 0.21m], according to the Chinese State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping. This is based upon the highest point of rock and ignores the snow and ice upon it, if they are included we arrive at the widely accepted figure of 8,848m.
Are they the only group to have measured the mountain?
No. The peaks of the Himalaya range have been officially measured by British, Indian, American and International expeditions, the earliest having been commissioned around 200 years ago.
What techniques do they employ?
A variety. These have ranged from the use of theodolites to anchoring GPS devices upon the summit, to satellite measurement.
Do all the results agree?
No, although the variations are so small that they will not affect its position as the world’s highest peak. It is even suggested that the summit may be increasing in height due to the movements of the tectonic plates constantly shifting deep beneath Everest base camp.
Who first measured the height of Everest?
Between 1847 and 1856, during their occupation of India, the British measured the Himalayan peaks as part of the wider-ranging Great Trigonometric Survey. At first believing Kangchenjunga to be the tallest mountain, Andrew Waugh and his team eventually discovered that Everest (or peak XV as they called it) was over 250m higher. They declared it to be 29,002ft tall, despite their measurements showing an even 29,000ft, in order to avoid the accusation that they’d simply rounded the figure up or down.
Peak XV?
Where possible Waugh’s expedition used local names for the peaks they measured (e.g. Kangchenjunga and Dhaulagiri) but, as many were unnamed and Nepal and Tibet were closed to visitors at the time, they often had to simply apply numeric titles.
So Everest was unnamed?
No. In fact the mountain already had many names. It was variously known as Chomolungma (Tibet), Sagarmatha (Nepal), ShèngmÔ F ng (China), Deodungha (Darjeeling) and a host of other local names. Refusing to favour one name over another, Waugh argued that naming it after his predecessor as Surveyor General of India, George Everest, was the wisest solution.
He must have been flattered.
Actually, no. Everest opposed the naming of Peak XV after himself, reasoning that his surname could neither be written in Hindi nor pronounced by a native of India. His objections were, however, futile and in 1865 the mountain was officially named Everest by the Royal Geographic Society.

Is Everest without doubt the highest peak on Earth?
Logically speaking, yes. It is the highest point above sea-level. However, Chimborazo in Ecuador actually reaches over 2,000m further from the centre of the Earth than the summit of Everest due to the fact that the planet bulges at the equator; but it’s peak is still only 6,267m above sea-level. Mauna Kea in Hawaii likewise reaches over 10,000m from its base in the mid-ocean floor, despite being only 4,205m above sea-level. Attempting an Everest Base Camp Trek is therefore far easier than attempting the same feat for Mauna Kea.

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